Imperial College London and ETH Zürich researchers have created an interactive web tool to calculate the wind or solar energy output of any region around the world.
Called Renewables.ninja, the tool aims to make the task of predicting renewable output easier for both academics and industry. The researchers 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, Imperial’s Dr Iain Staffell, and ETH Zürich’s Dr Stefan Pfenninger used Renewables.ninja to estimate the productivity of all wind farms planned or under construction in Europe for the next 20 years. They found that wind farms in Europe currently 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.
In another research paper, the pair modeled the hourly output of solar panels across Europe. They found that even though Britain is not the sunniest country, on its best summer days, the country can produce more solar power than nuclear energy.
Wind and solar energies have a strong dependence on weather conditions, and these can be difficult to integrate into national power systems that requires consistency. If there is excess power generated by all energy sources, then some supplies have to be turned off.
Currently, wind and solar power generators are the easiest to switch on and off, so they are often the first to go, meaning the power they generate can be wasted.
According to the researchers, making use of a larger capacity for solar energy generation relies on changes to the national energy system, such as adding new types of electricity storage or small and flexible generators to balance the variable output from solar panels.
Staffell and 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.
Image credits: Carlos Barria – Reuters