Good News! European Electric Grid Will Still Work When Earth Crumbles

A wind farm in the North Sea.

(CN) – Researchers injected a silver lining around the looming black cloud of climate change Wednesday: Even if temperatures climb and sea levels rise as most models forecast, many European countries will be able to keep the lights on thanks to their extensive networks of renewable energy sources.

The findings are the result of research by scientists at Aarhus University in Denmark, who published their work in the journal Joule on Wednesday.

“Extreme weather might require changes to the renewable generators and other parts of the system,” said Smail Kozarcanin, lead author and doctoral fellow at Aarhus. “For example, future wind turbines may require new types of storm protection and solar panels could need protection against super hailstorms. But our study shows that large-scale infrastructure choices, such as back-up power plant capacity, are relatively unaffected by the level of climate change.”

The scientists undertook the study to determine whether a changing climate will alter weather patterns on continental Europe to the point where renewable energy that is produced will be insufficient to meet the demand of the electrical grid.

Deploying data from weather models and climate time series, the team developed models that predict wind turbine and solar panel output for all European countries under the most common global warming scenarios through the year 2100.

Importantly, they developed the model independent of technological developments needed to cover the current gap between the output produced by renewables and the demand.

“Most other energy system studies assume a number of technologies and seek to combine them in a cost-optimal way to cover the demand”, Kozarcanin said. “To the best of our knowledge, this technology-independent focus in combination with high-resolution data on climate change projections is unique to our study.”

Though most models predict a future climate beset by extreme weather that will increase in intensity and frequency, the study concluded that the electrical grid in Europe will perform similarly in future climates as today.

Part of the reason, the researchers hypothesize, is because the contemporary electrical grid is constructed to withstand extreme weather events – even though it doesn’t have to endure such events as often as it will in the future.

Another aspect of future energy systems predicted by the study is a dip in an energy demand, mostly because it takes more energy to heat a house than it does to cool one. This demand decrease is more than enough to offset the slight decrease in output of solar and wind energy due to a change in future weather patterns.

But the current electrical grid will need tweaking to perform efficiently under the conditions predicted by several climate models.

Transmission lines within separate countries are all well developed, according to the study, but transmission between the 24 countries of central Europe need an efficiency boost to better transmit renewable energy in the face of a changing climate.

“The main challenge for future grids will most likely be political and societal will to make the investments and proper planning for a grid topology that provides most of the potential benefit from smoothing renewable energy production between countries,” Kozarcanin said.

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