Renewable Energy and Climate Change

My research in this area involved studying the impacts of climate change on the solar energy resource in the UK. This work was part of the ARIES project led by Prof. Gareth Harrison. The UK has a target to meet 15% of its energy consumption from renewable sources by 2020. In order to achieve this, the generation capacity from renewable sources is increasing rapidly. Currently wind is the dominant renewable energy source in the UK, however the solar resource is huge and solar energy use in the UK is rapidly increasing – there is now well over 2 GW of solar PV installed in the UK. The use of solar thermal technologies is also increasing; the government is supporting solar energy deployment through legislation such as the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) and Feed in Tariffs (FiTs).

By converting 30 years of observed historical monthly average sunshine duration data to solar irradiation, our work developed an accurate baseline onto which we could project the outputs from climate change models. The current average UK annual solar resource is 101.2 Wm-2, ranging from 128.4 Wm-2 in the south of England to 71.8 Wm-2 in the northwest of Scotland. We projected the results from the UKCP09 probabilistic climate change projections onto our baseline. The projections offer 3 different future climate scenarios corresponding to Low, Medium and High greenhouse gas emissions, with the output for each scenario being a normal distribution of the change in the desired variable.

We found that climate change will increase the average resource in the south of the UK, while marginally decreasing it in the Northwest. The overall effect is a mean increase of the UK solar resource, however it will have greater seasonal variability and discrepancies between geographical regions will be reinforced. The figure shows the UKCP09 2050 predicted change in Wm-2 (middle) and the resulting percentage changes (right) from the baseline UK summer resource (left) with 50% probability.

Summer solar resource: baseline (left); (middle) 2050s change in Wm2; and (right) percentage change from baseline.

Summer solar resource: baseline (left); (middle) 2050s change in Wm-2; and (right) percentage change from baseline.