Weather-dependent renewable energy resources are playing a key role in decarbonizing electricity. There is a growing body of analysis on the impacts of wind and solar variability on power system operation. Existing studies tend to use a single or typical year of generation data, which overlooks the substantial year-to-year fluctuation in weather, or to only consider variation in the meteorological inputs, which overlooks the complex response of an interconnected power system. Here, we address these gaps by combining detailed continent-wide modeling of Europe's future power system with 30 years of historical weather data. The most representative single years are 1989 and 2012, but using multiple years reveals a 5-fold increase in Europe's inter-annual variability of CO2 emissions and total generation costs from 2015 to 2030. We also find that several metrics generalize to linear functions of variable renewable penetration: CO2 emissions, curtailment of renewables, wholesale prices, and total system costs. Wind and solar power have been driving the decarbonization of Europe's electricity over the last decade. Increasing our reliance on weather-dependent resources makes it imperative that planning of electricity systems becomes cognizant of their long-term variability. Studies often neglect the long-term variability of these resources by using only data from a single or a few years or fail to account for the impacts of short-term international electricity flows and limitations on generator flexibility, which are critical to the integration of these variable generation sources. This study uses a continental electricity system model and 30 years of hourly wind and solar data to determine the impact of long-term weather patterns on European electricity system operation and how this varies with decarbonization ambition. The results show that the variability of CO2 emissions and total generation costs for this interconnected electricity system could increase 5-fold by 2030 compared with 2015. This research sheds light on the impact of long-term weather variability on the operation of the European power system and how this scales with uptake of wind and solar power out to 2030. We find that ambitious decarbonization leads to much greater influence of long-term weather patterns, with a 5-fold increase in operational variability by 2030. Several relevant metrics can be reasonably approximated by linear functions of variable renewable penetration, providing a shortcut for estimating the impacts of intermittency.
- grid integration of renewables
- solar power
- weather variability
- wind power