To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, wind and solar farms are being built around the world. This change in the make-up of national and international energy systems means the types of weather conditions that now create the largest ‘system stress’ – when demand is at its peak and supply is low – are different from what system operators were previously accustomed to.
For example, while winter cold snaps are associated with peak energy demand, they can be poor conditions for producing wind energy, thereby causing greater system stress than traditional fossil fuel-dominated systems. If system operators do not implement effective strategies to balance supply and demand during these conditions, for example by sharing energy between nations through interconnector cables or by tapping fossil fuel generators, there could be energy supply issues and even blackouts.
Now, a team of researchers led by Hannah Bloomfield at the University of Reading, UK, have modelled data on 39 years of energy demand and wind and solar power generation across 28 European countries. They determined which weather conditions cause greatest system stress and how this may change with increases in the use of renewable sources. Their results are available in the open access Journal of Renewable Energy.
The authors analyzed conditions across Europe, showing that peak demand occurred when there was high atmospheric pressure over Russia and Scandinavia. However, at a country level, other events were more important, such as summer heatwaves in southern Europe. Peak demand across central European countries often occurred during the same weather conditions, suggesting that sharing energy with neighbouring countries through interconnector cables is not a suitable solution for managing system stress. Instead, increased focus on robust power system planning will help system operators prepare for future peak demand events.
This blog post is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY). Illustration by David Jury.