Table of contents

3.6.1. Wind, solar and bioenergy energy potential

Wind power

Wind power generation is directly dependent on the availability of wind. If the wind speed is below the cut-in speed (around 3 m/s) or above the cut-out speed (around 20 m/s), wind turbines are switched off. Between those values, higher wind speeds allow for higher power production. Wind patterns are affected by large-scale circulation changes due to global warming. As with storm frequency and intensity, past records of wind pattern have shown varied trends throughout European regions.

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Many recent studies have assessed changes in future wind energy potential in Europe under climate change (Tobin et al., 2014, 2016; Reyers et al., 2016; Carvalho et al., 2017; Davy et al., 2018; Moemken et al., 2018; Scott Hosking et al., 2018). These studies have used different emissions scenarios, combinations of global and regional climate models, dynamical and statistical downscaling techniques, bias correction methods and wind turbine characteristics. The studies agree that climate change will have a small effect on overall wind energy potential in Europe, with changes at European level in the range ±5 % during the 21st century. Several studies suggest an increase in winter and a decrease in summer and autumn. Local and regional changes in annual wind energy potential can be up to ±15 %, with changes up to ±30 % possible for individual seasons. Most studies project an increase in the Baltic Sea region and a decrease in southern Europe. Both increases and decreases have been projected for other regions.

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While there is considerable uncertainty around specific changes in regional wind power potential, the overall magnitude of changes is limited. Therefore, climate change should neither undermine nor favour wind energy development in Europe. However, accounting for climate change effects in particular regions may help optimize the wind power development and energy mix plans (Tobin et al., 2014). For example, the Baltic Sea region might become more attractive for wind power development, in particular off-shore wind power. In contrast, a renewable electricity strategy for southern European countries or regions may wish to combine wind power with solar power, and possible other RES, to ensure a stable electricity supply throughout the year. Climate services can inform siting decisions by providing more detailed information on current and future wind resources (see Box 4.2).

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Solar power

Solar irradiance is the most important determinant of solar energy potential. It is affected by changes in cloud coverage and atmospheric water vapour content. Solar PV is also affected by temperature and wind speed, whereas these climate factors are not important for concentrated solar power (CSP). Available studies on the impact of climate change on solar power potential in Europe have found both small increases and decreases in solar irradiance and solar power potential (Jerez et al., 2015; Wild et al., 2015).

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A recent study has investigated the cause of this disagreement. It found that global and regional climate models do not agree on the direction of future changes in cloud coverage and insolation in Europe (Bartók et al., 2017). Hence, robust projections for changes in solar power potential are not currently available for Europe. However, all studies agree that future changes in solar irradiation would lead to minimal impacts on solar power potential in Europe as a whole. Similar to wind power, it can be concluded that the impacts of climate change on solar irradiance should neither undermine nor favour wind energy development in Europe.

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Bioenergy

Climate change is leading to changes in the growing season, suitable growing areas and yield of agricultural crops, including energy crops. However, there are still large uncertainties about the compound effect of climate change, in particular related to the direct effects of increasing atmospheric CO2 conditions on various crops under field conditions. Generally, climate change allows warm-season crops to expand northwards in Europe whereas southern Europe is projected to experience decreasing crop yields as a result of increasing heat and water stress (EEA, 2017b, section 5.3).

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A similar geographic pattern has been found in the two available European-level studies on climate change impacts on bioenergy crops. The first study found that the potential distribution of temperate oilseeds, cereals, starch crops and solid biofuels is predicted to increase in northern Europe, due to increasing temperatures, and decrease in southern Europe due to increased drought. Bioenergy crop production in Spain is identified as particularly vulnerable to climate change. Mediterranean oil and solid biofuel crops, currently restricted to southern Europe, are predicted to extend further north due to higher summer temperatures (Tuck et al., 2006). The more recent study came to similar regional results, but stressed the potential role of technological development to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change (Cosentino et al., 2012).

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Plans for expanding bioenergy production in water-scarce regions, in particular in southern Europe, need to consider the water-energy-land nexus in order to minimize conflicts with other users see also Section 2.1.5). Some European power producers use biomass imported from outside Europe (see the case study in Section 4.6.3). This approach can be regarded as a measure for increasing stability of supply, but it raises important sustainability questions related to bioenergy production and life-cycle emissions considering long-range transport.

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