When the weather can stabilize the price of electricity
IDA MARIE SOLBREKKE
Fellow, Institute of Geophysics, University of Bergen,
and Bergen Offshore Wind Center
With smart planning, we can use what we know about weather and wind to avoid building out more wind power than we really need.
Lower water levels in the reservoirs than normal and low winds in Denmark and northern Germany have resulted in record-high electricity prices in Norway and Europe. Is this a situation we have to live with in the future, or are there good solutions to avoid these kinds of price increases?
A main difference between electricity production from fossil energy sources, such as natural gas, and that from renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, is the degree of regularity. By using natural gas to produce electricity, electricity is generated as needed.
The renewable power resources, on the other hand, cannot be controlled by humans in the same way: we do not get electricity from wind when it is not blowing, while solar energy fluctuates sharply if clouds are present. This unpredictably adds a new dimension of uncertainty to a green energy market.
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), wind will be the dominant power resource in Europe by 2040. Based on this, how can we take advantage of variations in wind rather than view it as a problem?
Before I answer this, we must first understand what wind is.
Wind occurs as a result of temperature differences on our planet. Wind tries to get rid of the temperature differences by moving hot air to cold places. This is how we get high-pressure and low-pressure fronts, as we know them from the weather forecast.
These weather systems affect places in different ways. This results in different places experiencing different weather and wind situations: it can be quiet on the North Sea, while at the same time, there can be a strong wind on the Helgeland coast.
Wind varies on a time scale, from one moment to annual variations and from one place to another. How can this be used to reduce the variability in the power supply? Through my research, I show how we should make use of locations that typically have different weather and wind situations when new wind power farms and energy infrastructure are built.
The idea is to expand wind farms in several locations and connect them to a common electricity grid, so that the wind farms only provide one source of total electricity production and not just one separately. If there is a lot of wind in one place and little in another, the total electricity production will be less variable. This will help prevent sudden increases in electricity prices.
Ideally, wind farms should produce completely in opposite phases with each other, but unfortunately, reality is not always so ideal. It is, however, possible to use this approach to a certain extent, by exploiting the complementary relationship between green energy resources, such as wind, solar, and hydropower.
With an increasingly larger proportion of green energy production, there is much that points in the direction of more demanding power situations, such as we are experiencing this autumn.
If we let the possibility of a large, interconnected power grid without good transmission cables pass us by, all countries will have to take windless scenarios and days with little sun into account—and thus expand power production to more than what they actually need.
Instead, we can plan smartly to avoid this by making use of what we know about weather and wind in new ways when building power plants and power grids—across national borders and regions.
There will always be places with wind and others with sun, so power production and thus the price of electricity will be less variable.
The challenge is not insurmountable; it just requires cooperation and planning.
This op-ed first appeared in the Oct. 14, 2021, edition of Bergens Tidende (bt.no) and was reprinted with the author’s permission.
Translated by Lori Ann Reinhall.
This article originally appeared in the Nov. 5, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.