Researchers have created an interactive web tool to estimate the amount of energy that could be generated by wind or solar farms at any location. The tool, called Renewables.ninja, aims to make the task of predicting renewable output easier for both academics and industry. The creators, from Imperial College London and ETH Zürich, have already used it to estimate current Europe-wide solar and wind output, and companies such as the German electrical supplier RWE are using it to test their own models of output. To test the model, Dr Iain Staffell, from the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial, and Dr Stefan Pfenninger, who is now at ETH Zürich, have used Renewables.ninja to estimate the productivity of all wind farms planned or under construction in Europe for the next 20 years. Their results are published today in the journal Energy.
"We built our models so they can be easily used by other researchers online, allowing them to answer their questions faster, and hopefully to start asking new ones." – Dr Iain Staffell
They found that wind farms in Europe current have an average ‘capacity factor’ of around 24 per cent, which means they produce around a quarter of the energy that they could if the wind blew solidly all day every day. This number is a factor of how much wind is available to each turbine. The study found that because new farms are being built using taller turbines placed further out to sea, where wind speeds are higher, the average capacity factor for Europe should rise by nearly a third to around 31 percent. This would allow three times as much energy to be produced by wind power in Europe compared to today, not only because there are more farms, but because those farms can take advantage of better wind conditions.
Three times the energy could come from existing wind farms plus those in published near-term and long-term plans. There would still be ample space for further wind farms in Europe, especially offshore.
In another research paper also published today in Energy, the pair modelled the hourly output of solar panels across Europe. They found that even though Britain is not the sunniest country, on the best summer days solar power now produces more energy than nuclear power.
Dr Staffell said he spent two years crunching the data for his own research and thought that creating this tool would make it quicker for others to answer important questions: “Modelling wind and solar power is very difficult because they depend on complex weather systems. Getting data, building a model and checking that it works well takes a lot of time and effort. “If every researcher has to create their own model when they start to investigate a question about renewable energy, a lot of time is wasted. So we built our models so they can be easily used by other researchers online, allowing them to answer their questions faster, and hopefully to start asking new ones.”
He and Dr Pfenninger have been beta testing Renewables.ninja for six months and now have users from 54 institutions across 22 countries, including the European Commission and the International Energy Agency. Dr Pfenninger said: “Renewables.ninja has already allowed us to answer important questions about the current and future renewable energy infrastructure across Europe and in the UK, and we hope others will use it to further examine the opportunities and challenges for renewables in the future.”
Using bias-corrected reanalysis to simulate current and future wind,power output
This 16 page paper is Open Access (i.e. free) with 58 references and 24 pages of supplementary text and data. I regard it as highly significant and suggest that you look at Figs. 1, 4, 5 and 17.
Long-term patterns of European PV output using 30 years of validated hourly reanalysis and satellite data
This 15-page paper is Open Access with 47 references and 33 pages of supplementary text and data. I regard it also as highly significant and found Figs. 3 and 4 to be particularly interesting.
The interactive tool is at: http://www.renewables.ninja This includes free access to large amounts of data on wind and solar power in Europe. Moreover, it may be downloaded. This most impressive analytical work shows that wind and solar power are already significant in Europe, and that the planned expansion of wind power will make it even more so.