Energy Production in Northern Europe
Impact of a Changing Climate on Weather-dependent Energy Production
What do the results tell us?
Based on current state-of-the art climate modelling, the main climate impacts for the electricity demand and supply in Northern Europe are a decrease in heating energy demand due to higher temperatures, and increase in hydropower output due to higher rainfall. The influence of climate change on wind power and PV generation is uncertain with current knowledge. These results suggest the overall impacts of climate change on normal operation of power and heat sectors are likely to be slightly positive in the North-European region.
A medium or high level of climate change is estimated to reduce heating demand in North-Europe by approximately 10% in 2050. At the same time, hydropower output is increased from 4% to 8% due to increased rainfall. The influence of climate change on wind power and PV generation is uncertain with current knowledge. These changes are calculated to reduce electricity system costs from 1% to 2.5% in 2050.Adaptation of the energy system will be largely automatic: energy sector investments already try to take long term uncertainty (including uncertainty in the climate) into account; however improved scientific knowledge of the scale and timing of climate change through ToPDAd will reduce this uncertainty and hence reduce investment risk.
What can we do with the results?
The results indicate that climate change has a minor, positive impact on the electricity demand-supply balance in North-Europe. The modelled impacts from climate change will lower slightly the production capacity investment required in this particular region, which can be used in long-term energy investment planning and foresight for future energy technology demand.
The modelled decrease in heating and electricity demand in Northern-Europe due to increasing temperature is good news in the context of rising energy demand and the pressure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The required adaptation to this change is likely to happen automatically by the power producers, as investments to new and replacing power plants are reduced to match future demand.The increase in hydropower output due to increased rainfall is similarly a positive consequence from the power production perspective. Hydropower based on water reservoirs provides important production capacity that can be dispatched quickly, e.g. to balance the fluctuating power output from wind and solar power. The climate change was modelled to have negligible impacts on the optimal power production mix.
How are the results obtained?
The climate impacts (temperature, rainfall, solar insolation, wind speeds) are obtained from state-of-the art climate models up to 2100. This data is converted to energy demand and production prospects, and used in the energy system models VTT-TIMES and Balmorel. VTT-TIMES is a model of global energy production and use, and used for modelling the overall electricity demand in Europe in different climate scenarios. Balmorel is more detailed electricity system model focusing on North-Europe, and is used in modelling the investment and operation of the energy production technologies to meet the forecasted demand.
The climate impacts are based on HadGEM2 and CERFACS, two large-scale climate models that model the climate under given emission scenarios, called the Representative Concentration Pathways (RCP's), until 2100. The models are able to capture the steady, gradual changes in future climate, but are not at their best at predicting changes in weather variability or the frequency of extreme effects.
VTT-TIMES and Balmorel model the energy production and investment based on the projected economic growth, energy consumption patterns and progress in energy technologies. Both models simulate how the projected energy demand can be satisfied with least costs in a given scenario, and how efficient energy markets would react to assumed changes. The two models differ primarily on their coverage of geographical regions and energy sector (with VTT-TIMES having broader coverage), and also the temporal resolution (with Balmorel being more detailed). The energy system model results were calculated using a number of future scenarios concerning socio-economic development, called the Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (SSP's).
What are the broader applications?
The results are specific to the geographical area considered (i.e. Northern Europe) and do consider only gradual climate change (i.e. no extreme effects). For more southern regions, rising temperature will increase electricity consumption due to higher cooling demand. In addition, extreme weather effects or increased weather variability are likely to have adverse effects on the power system, but these were not covered in this study.
Similar analysis for other regions can be readily made, and these could highlight how the impact of gradual climate change on energy use might vary from country to country. A similar approach could also be extended for other sectors, where weather and climatic conditions play a pivotal role in the production or consumption side, e.g. agriculture and forestry.
In future, as the knowledge on how climate change affects weather variability and the frequency of extreme weather effects increases, it will be possible to make more comprehensive estimates on how a changing climate might affect the energy system. These could provide insights into whether the weather variability could change the production patterns of intermittent renewables, i.e. wind and solar, and what would be the optimal ways to counter such adverse impacts.