New research explores the meteorological sensitivity of a highly-renewable European power system

21 May 2019

The introduction of significant amounts of variable renewable energy (wind and solar) into the power mix leads to new societal risks related to the weather. Scientists from KNMI, in collaboration with the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development (Utrecht University) and the University of Exeter, have identified large-scale high pressure systems that cause unfortunate combinations of extreme low renewable energy production and high energy demand. The results were published in Renewable & Sustainable Energy Reviews.

Energy transition

To mitigate further global climate change, an energy transition to low-carbon energy sources is required. Renewable electricity production from wind and sun depends on the weather, variability of the weather therefore leads to variability of electricity production. The introduction of renewable energy sources thus introduces new challenges for energy system operators, who are responsible for the continuous balancing of energy demand and energy production.

Wind droughts and winter cold

In the new study, meteorological situations that pose high risks for the energy sector are described. Days with high energy demand but low renewable energy production can put stresses on the energy system, due to the risk of energy shortfall.

Researchers from KNMI simulated 2000 years of weather and calculated total European wind and solar energy production, and total energy demand for each day (Figure 1). From this dataset, potentially critical situations were selected and investigated in terms of their meteorology. It was found that wintertime large-scale high pressure systems, leading to low wind speeds and low temperatures (Figure 2, for the Dutch: typical ’Elfsteden-weather’), are most likely to lead to critical situations. If such weather systems become stagnant, for example due to an atmospheric block, the risk of energy shortfall rises. Events were found during which, for over two weeks, the high pressure conditions prevailed, posing large challenges for energy storage and energy productions from other sources.

“The simulation of so many years of weather and energy data allowed us to investigate the causes of critical events, where weather can potentially cause problems in the supply of energy.” says lead author Dr Karin van der Wiel. “This study joins two lines of research, that of weather variability and extremes, and that of the energy transition process. The collaborative nature of the team, with both climate scientists and energy system scientists, was essential to achieve this in a meaningful way.”

New societal risks due to the weather

The integration of variable renewable energy in power systems leads to new societal risks associated with the weather. With its research and the development of an Early Warning Centre, KNMI hopes to contribute to a successful energy transition and limit negative impacts of the weather.

The annual cycle of energy (wind and solar) production, demand and the shortfall.
Figure 1: Simulated annual cycle of the full probability distribution of energy variables, shown in a 2D histogram. Colours show the frequency of occurrence, white line shows the mean, blue dots show rare events. Figure from Van der Wiel et al. (2019)
A figure showing the high pressure systems that lead to lower wind speeds and lower temperatures.
Figure 2: Meteorological conditions leading to high energy shortfall: a large high pressure system, leading to lower than normal wind speeds (purple colours) and lower than normal temperatures (blue colours). Figure adapted from Van der Wiel et al. (2019)

K van der Wiel, LP Stoop, BRH van Zuijlen, R Blackport, MA van den Broek, FM Selten (2019): Meteorological conditions leading to extreme low variable renewable energy production and extreme high energy shortfall. Renewable & Sustainable Energy Reviews, 111, pp. 261-275.