Study Shows Europe Would Fare Well Under Different Renewable Energy Scenarios

Scientists in the United Kingdom, Switzerland, and Ireland have demonstrated how solar and wind renewable energy technologies across Europe are affected by long-term weather patterns.

Image credit: Collins et al. / Joule

Using three decades of meteorological data, the researchers studied and additionally modeled the effect of renewable energy on the electricity sector through 2030. The study indicates that in spite of the unpredictable nature of solar and wind energy, these renewables will easily enable the European power system to produce a minimum of 35% of its electricity, without causing any major impact on the stability of the systems or prices. The paper has been published in the journal, Joule.

In the last 10 years, solar and wind energy have increasingly become popular across Europe as green alternatives to conventional carbon-based energy, increasing fourfold in use from 2007 to 2016. Yet, these technologies have certain drawbacks - both are sensitive to changing weather patterns, raising concerns regarding the ability of Europe to withstand long spells with overcast skies or low winds. In order to model this variability in solar and wind energy and its impact on markets, researchers have applied years of historic weather data. However, several studies only examine the data from one specified year or concentrate only on a small region or a single country.

Both the spatial and temporal limitations of earlier studies were challenged by the researchers after they examined the operation of the electricity system throughout Europe - including technical operational limitations and power transmission between countries - using solar and wind data covering a three-decade period between 1985 and 2014. By exposing trends from this age-old data trove throughout a large, interconnected region, the researchers successfully modeled the way Europe would fare under five varying renewable energy scenarios with different sustainability goals 12 years into the future.

The depth and breadth of the researchers’ data pool appeared to make all the difference when it came to comprehending trends in CO2 emissions, system operation, and system costs—all of which are vital to the effective advancement of energy policy.

When planning future power systems with higher levels of wind and solar generation, one year of weather data analysis is not sufficient. We find that single-year studies could yield results that deviate by as much as 9% from the long-term average at a European level and even more at a country level. When there are legally binding targets on carbon emissions and the share of renewable energy, or promises to avoid sharp price hikes, this makes all the difference.

Seán Collins, Researcher at MaREI, the Centre for Marine and Renewable Energy Ireland at the Environmental Research Institute in University College Cork

By applying numerous years to better comprehend the way other variables respond as solar and wind energy enter the market, Collins and his group discovered that CO2 emissions and overall energy generation costs vary dramatically in upcoming scenarios. It is likely that these will become up to five times more ambiguous, as weather-reliant resources gain more traction in the market. Yet, the researchers also observed that this variability could be handled relatively well by Europe due to its close integration - the team’s models estimate that Europe could utilize renewables for over two-thirds of its electricity by the year 2030, with over one-third coming from solar and wind energy.

According to Collins and his team, their data and models can possibly be used to represent a range of potential future scenarios so that policymakers will be able to better comprehend the impact and reliability of renewable energy, including the effects of a shift to complete renewable electricity systems. By rendering their data and models openly available, the team also believes that future work will show greater awareness of these lasting weather patterns so as to correctly represent a more renewable-energy-dependent world.

For future policy developments to be robust and to capture the meteorological dependency of decarbonised energy systems, they should be based on open modeling analyses that utilise common long-term datasets.

Seán Collins, Researcher at MaREI, the Centre for Marine and Renewable Energy Ireland at the Environmental Research Institute in University College Cork

The Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) MaREI Centre, the European Research Council, and the EPSRC supported the work.


Report: By April next year, England will be burning more waste than it recycles

New Green Party report warns surge in waste incineration levels mean valuable materials are going up in flames

By April 2019 England is on course to be burning more waste than it recycles, according to a new report released today by the Green Party.

Across London, the West Midlands, and the North East more rubbish is already burnt than recycled, and other regions are set to ensure the overall UK rate of incineration reaches a similar level by the end of this financial year, the report claims.

Between April 2018 and April 2019, just over 12 million tonnes of waste are predicted to be incinerated, compared to just under 12 million tonnes of rubbish which is set to get recycled, according to predictions extrapolated from current trends and cited in the report.

Green Party peer, Baroness Jenny Jones, said the high rates of incineration are holding back improvements in recycling rates, which have plateaued at 45 per cent in recent years.

"There is every chance that some of the plastics, cardboard and paper that people took care to separate for recycling, will end up being burnt alongside everything that was thrown in the waste bin," she said.

"There is a logic to generating energy from the waste that we cannot recycle, or reuse, but it is meant to be the last resort option. What we have created instead is a market driven system of incinerators which constantly need to be fed."

Incineration levels across the UK have soared from 5.5 million tonnes of waste in 2012/13 to more than 10 million tonnes in 2016/7, according to the report. The trend has driven a major drop in the amount of rubbish heading to landfill, from almost nine million tonnes in 2012/13 to four million tonnes in 2015/6. But critics claim it has contributed to a stalling in recycling rates in parts of the country as local authorities divert rubbish to incineration plants.

"Many councils have signed up to long term contracts with incinerators and my research shows that these have some of the worst recycling rates in the country," Jones said. "In fact, many of these councils have gone backwards and recycle proportionately less than they did six years ago. Let me be clear that it is not the case that people in central London, or Birmingham, or Portsmouth are bad people who are unwilling to recycle, it is because their council is bad at recycling and has let them and their environment down."

But the Renewable Energy Association (REA), which represents Energy-from-Waste (EfW) firms, argued the paper makes no distinction between rubbish that is simply burnt, and energy-from waste plants where the energy from incineration is captured to generate electricity.

"There is a stark difference between incineration and EfW plants and it is inappropriate and misleading to group them together," REA head of policy and external affairs James Court told BusinessGreen. "Energy from Waste has a crucial role to play at the end of the waste hierarchy, ensuring that the amount of waste going to landfill is minimised and that we are able to recover energy in the form of power and heat, as well as using advanced conversion processes to produce transport fuels and green chemicals for the capital."

Instead, he blamed the stagnation in the country's recycling rate on austerity measures and poor regulatory enforcement. "Reductions in local council funding and the relaxation of regulations are responsible for the stagnating recycling rates across England, so it is quite wrong to point the finger at a modern technology that is quite obviously a crucial piece of a broader puzzle," he said.

In light of Baroness Jones' findings, the Green Party is calling for councils to be forced to hit tougher recycling targets. The report also calls for a moratorium on new incinerator plants being built, arguing any new capacity will simply increase the likelihood that waste which could be recycled is sent for incineration.

Aberdeenshire economy buzzing with activity

A range of local business developments which demonstrate the strengths of the area’s economy have been welcomed by Aberdeenshire Council, as a new economic action plan for the area is introduced to reflect a more positive economic outlook.

Named as Fishing News 2017 ‘Port of the Year’ Peterhead Port handled a record £195million worth of fish during 2017. The port is currently undergoing a £51 million investment and opened the UK’s biggest fish market in June, landing a huge sale of 5,990 boxes on opening day.

Nearby Fraserburgh Harbour, also an important fishing port, has been diversifying, recently being announced as the preferred port for the Moray Offshore Renewable scheme as a base for operation and maintenance of renewable projects being developed in the Moray Firth.

The Council worked with the harbour to support its bid and roads and transportation teams are continuing to provide logistical support as necessary to both Fraserburgh and Peterhead ports.

Global energy firm Equinor and its partner Masdar recently unveiled their Batwind project in Peterhead, for the first time making it possible to store energy produced from an offshore wind farm.

Electricity produced at the world’s first floating offshore wind farm, Hywind Scotland, located 25km off the coast of Peterhead, will be transported via cables to an onshore substation where 1 MW batteries are placed and connected to the grid. The battery capacity is the equivalent of more than 128,000 iPhones.

As the wind isn’t always blowing, energy storage technologies like batteries are expected to become increasingly important to secure grid stability as renewable energy becomes ever more significant.

And in agriculture, the council’s Garioch Area Committee recently approved planning permission for an expansion of Thainstone Mart, supporting an application designed to assist the local industry’s long term future.

Local councillors also gave approval to an application by Scotbeef for a state-of-the-art abbatoir at Thainstone, which will replace outdated facilities and create around 130 jobs.

The recent announcements come as Aberdeenshire Council’s Infrastructure Services Committee (ISC) gave its approval to a refreshed Regional Economic Strategy (RES) Action Plan.

The RES provides a shared vision and ambition for the future of north east Scotland to align commitment, lead investment and coordinate action in pursuit of its economic growth and diversification objectives.

Co-signatories are Aberdeenshire Council, Aberdeen City Council and private sector partners Opportunity North East (ONE).

The Strategy is influenced and driven by a wide collaboration in north east Scotland, including the national enterprise and skills agencies and regional economic partners.

The partners have been reviewing the Regional Economic Strategy given significant and improving economic investment and outcomes across the region.

This has resulted in the development of a new, revised and updated Regional Economic Strategy Action Plan for 2018-23.

ISC chair Peter Argyle welcomed the significant developments around the area and the signals they send out to others who may be interested in investing.

He welcomed the refreshed RES Action Plan and said: “There are strong signs of significant and improving economic investment and outcomes across the region and we all have to continue to work to secure a bright future for the north east economy.

"The new, revised and updated Regional Economic Strategy Action Plan for 2018-23 sets out how we can achieve that, but it is important to note recent developments in the area which show an increasingly positive business environment."

Leader of Aberdeenshire Council, Jim Gifford, added: “The council is working with its partners in many areas to improve our local economy and it's great to see signs that businesses are feeling more confident and we are keen to support that wherever we can.

"Our focused work in the northern towns of Peterhead, Fraserburgh, Banff and Macduff is showing real signs of progress, with lots more to come, and our local communities are showing this really is a good place to do business."

UK renewable energy generation sets new record


The U.K. Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has released first quarter 2018 energy statistics, reporting that the renewables’ share of electricity generation increased to a record high of 30.1 percent during the three-month period, up from 27 percent during the first quarter of 2017.

Renewable electricity generation also set a record during the first quarter of this year, reaching 27.9 terawatt hours (TWh), up 10.2 percent when compared to the same period of last year. Generation from bioenergy, including cofiring, decreased by 18.3 percent, falling to 7.29 TWh. The BEIS said decreased generation from plant biomass, landfill gas and biodegradable waste was partly offset by an increase in generation from waste. The decrease is also partially attributed to an outage at Drax. The BEIS noted that cofiring with fossil fuels has ceased.

Renewable electricity capacity grew to a record 41.9 GW during the first quarter, up 11.2 percent from the first quarter of 2017.  Bioenergy accounted for 15 percent of that capacity. Landfill gas capacity reached 1,066 MW, with sewage sludge digestion capacity at 245 MW, energy from waste at 1,118 MW, non-anaerobic digestion animal biomass at 129 MW, anaerobic digestion at 422 MW and plant biomass at 3,161 MW.

Bioenergy accounted for approximately 29 percent of renewables generation during the quarter. Onshore wind, offshore wind, solar photovoltaic and hydro accounted for 35 percent, 28 percent, 5.3 percent, and 5 percent, respectively.