Abstract

As wind and solar power provide a growing share of Europe’s electricity1, understanding and accommodating their variability on multiple timescales remains a critical problem. On weekly timescales, variability is related to long-lasting weather conditions, called weather regimes2,3,4,5, which can cause lulls with a loss of wind power across neighbouring countries6. Here we show that weather regimes provide a meteorological explanation for multi-day fluctuations in Europe’s wind power and can help guide new deployment pathways that minimize this variability. Mean generation during different regimes currently ranges from 22 GW to 44 GW and is expected to triple by 2030 with current planning strategies. However, balancing future wind capacity across regions with contrasting inter-regime behaviour—specifically deploying in the Balkans instead of the North Sea—would almost eliminate these output variations, maintain mean generation, and increase fleet-wide minimum output. Solar photovoltaics could balance low-wind regimes locally, but only by expanding current capacity tenfold. New deployment strategies based on an understanding of continent-scale wind patterns and pan-European collaboration could enable a high share of wind energy whilst minimizing the negative impacts of output variability.

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Acknowledgements

C.M.G. acknowledges funding from the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) via grant PZ00P2_148177/1, R.B. from AXPO Trading AG, S.P. from the European Research Council via grant StG 2012-313553, and I.S. from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council via grant EP/N005996/1. Data analysis and visualization were performed using the NCAR Command Language31.

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Affiliations

  1. Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science, ETH 8092 Zurich, Switzerland

    • Christian M. Grams
    • , Remo Beerli
    •  & Heini Wernli
  2. Climate Policy Group, Institute for Environmental Decisions, ETH 8092 Zurich, Switzerland

    • Stefan Pfenninger
  3. Centre for Environmental Policy, Imperial College London, London SW7 1NA, UK

    • Iain Staffell

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Contributions

C.M.G. led the study, provided the weather regime classification and plotted the data. C.M.G. and S.P. carried out the bulk of the writing. R.B., S.P. and I.S. processed the data. H.W. initiated the collaboration of C.M.G. and R.B. and early links with the ETH Climate Policy Group. All authors contributed equally to editing and discussing the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Christian M. Grams or Heini Wernli.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate3338

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