Climate change could bring stronger winds, more wind power

uk wind farm
CC BY 2.0 Ian D

A new study by the British Antarctic Survey, the University of Oxford and the University of Bristol looked at what effect a warmer world would have on winds, specifically across the UK and Northern Europe where wind power is already becoming a major source of energy. In a world that is on average 1.5 degrees Celsius warmer, winds would be stronger and as a result, wind power would make up a significantly larger chunk of the electricity produced in that part of the world.

Using data from 282 onshore wind turbines over a span of 11 years paired with climate model data for that 1.5 degree increase in global temperature, the researchers found that in the UK alone there could be a 10 percent increase in wind energy generation. That's equivalent to meeting the energy demands of an additional 700,000 homes based on the current wind power capacity. The UK is quickly increases wind power installations, so that number would likely be even higher in the future.

Germany, Poland and Lithuania would also see major gains in wind energy production, but the UK stood out from the rest.

"In future, nine months of the year could see UK wind turbines generating electricity at levels currently only seen in winter. Future summers could see the largest increase in wind generation. Therefore, wind could provide a greater proportion of the UK's energy mix than has been previously assumed," said Dr. Scott Hosking at the British Antarctic Survey.

The European Commission has a set a renewable energy target of 27 percent by 2030 and wind energy already accounts for 18 percent of electricity capacity in Europe.

This study does not factor in offshore wind, in which the UK leads the world. There are plans for the world's largest offshore wind installation in the North Sea and Scotland already gets a large chunk of its energy from offshore wind sources. With stronger winds in the future plus offshore wind turbines, the UK will be poised to generate much more energy from wind than this study predicts.

The Paris Climate Agreement calls for countries to do what they can to keep global temperatures below a 2 degrees Celsius increase since pre-industrial times. The more ambitious goal is to keep it to a 1.5 degree increase. In 2015, 195 countries signed the agreement, but last year, the U.S. pulled out though many states, cities and businesses and universities have pledged to keep their word to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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