Reduction Of Wind Speed Across Europe Is Threatening Green Energy Agenda

by Bhaswati Guha Majumder - Oct 11, 2021 05:00 PM +05:30 IST
Reduction Of Wind Speed Across Europe Is Threatening Green Energy AgendaA wind farm in Italy (pixabay)
  • The United Kingdom saw its longest period of low wind output in almost a decade in March of this year.

    According to data, the strength of the wind blowing throughout northern Europe has decreased by as much as 15 per cent on average this year.

Europe has the largest floating wind energy capacity in the world—almost about 70 per cent of the total—and according to European Commission, by 2030 the total installed capacity is expected to reach 350GW, supplying up to 24 per cent of electricity demand. But there is an environmental issue.

Wind energy is predicted to contribute the most to the European Union's renewable energy targets. Wind farms, long hailed as the energy industry's saviour, have sprung up all across the continent in recent years, promising a low-cost, renewable, and dependable source of energy.

Increased reliance on green energy has also been proposed as a solution to the United Kingdom's national gas crisis, which is being exacerbated by rising worldwide costs and increasing energy expenditures.

Earlier this year, the Esen-based energy company RWE's chief financial officer highlighted the importance of weather to the business's renewables division, as the firm announced significantly lower wind volumes in Northern and Central Europe for the first half of 2021. Around the same time, another major energy firm Orsted, a Danish company, said it would stick to its full-year forecast for 2021, despite decreased wind speeds affecting output in the first half of the year.

According to data produced by Vortex, which is an independent weather modelling firm, the strength of the wind blowing throughout northern Europe has decreased by as much as 15 per cent on average this year in some regions.

Even though scientists are still unaware of the reason behind this drop, one probable explanation is a phenomenon known as 'global stilling'— whereby recorded wind speeds have fallen by up to 15 per cent throughout the world's continental areas since 1980 owing to climate change.

As reported by Financial Times, while explaining the lower wind speed, Paul Williams, Professor of Atmospheric Science at the University of Reading said: "Near-surface wind speed trends across the globe found that winds have generally weakened over land, over the past few decades. This suggests that the phenomenon is part of a genuine long-term trend, rather than cyclic variability."

According to Williams, one explanation could be that human-caused climate change is warming the poles quicker than the tropics in the lower atmosphere. He further cautioned that it would have the effect of lowering the thermal wind at low altitudes by weakening the mid-latitude north-south temperature difference.

Williams' forecasts were echoed by the United Nations' panel on climate change, which predicted that wind speeds across much of Europe will reduce by up to 10 per cent by 2100.

Stronger gusts correspond to more electricity generated, up to a point, so any big drop in wind speed would affect Europe's growing farms of wind energy. For example, due to a lack of wind in the North Sea, energy providers have already been trying to find reserve gas to heat homes and businesses this winter and because of this rush, energy costs have skyrocketed, prompting British businesses to warn that output will have to be slowed in preparation for the winter months.

Less wind has a direct impact on the amount of power generated by Europe's numerous wind turbines. The UK saw its longest period of low wind output in almost a decade in March of this year.

According to UK's Selby-based firm Drax, power output as a percentage of total installed capacity averaged merely 11 per cent between 26 February and 8 March this year. This accounted for less than a fourth of the average for the two months preceding and following this time.

Wind generated only 2.5 per cent of electricity production in the UK on 6 September, compared to an average of 18 per cent over the previous year. To help relieve the pressure, two coal-fired power stations in West Burton were turned on. The London-based EDF energy plans to close both facilities completely in September 2022.

This evidence casts additional doubt on Britain's ambitious carbon-neutral promise of 2035.

Due to the reopening of the global economy, colder temperatures and lower wind and solar output, gas is in high demand. As a result of the rise in gas costs, forward electricity prices in the UK are projected to be higher this winter than last year.

Currently, gas provides for around 40 per cent of total electricity generation in the United Kingdom. Last week's record gas prices made it an expensive choice, as a surge in demand from economies recovering from the coronavirus pandemic coupled with lower-than-usual European gas supplies. In an attempt to get people to replace their central heating boilers and cookers with renewable alternatives, the government announced new incentives for gas at the end of September.

However, despite the decline in wind power, an analysis by the independent Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air revealed that power generation from zero-carbon sources saved the EU €33 billion in gas costs between July and September.

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