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Designing low-carbon power systems for Great Britain in 2050 that are robust to the spatiotemporal and inter-annual variability of weather


The design of cost-effective power systems with high shares of variable renewable energy (VRE) technologies requires a modelling approach that simultaneously represents the whole energy system combined with the spatiotemporal and inter-annual variability of VRE. Here, we soft-link a long-term energy system model, which explores new energy system configurations from years to decades, with a high spatial and temporal resolution power system model that captures VRE variability from hours to years. Applying this methodology to Great Britain for 2050, we find that VRE-focused power system design is highly sensitive to the inter-annual variability of weather and that planning based on a single year can lead to operational inadequacy and failure to meet long-term decarbonization objectives. However, some insights do emerge that are relatively stable to weather-year. Reinforcement of the transmission system consistently leads to a decrease in system costs while electricity storage and flexible generation, needed to integrate VRE into the system, are generally deployed close to demand centres.

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Fig. 1: Distribution of LCOE and CO2 emissions for both scenarios and cases using the ten different weathers-years.
Fig. 2: National installed capacities of the three VRE integration options for the 50VRE and 80 VRE scenarios allflex case.
Fig. 3: Location of zones
Fig. 4: Location and capacities of VREs for the 80VRE scenario in the allflex and flex + store cases.
Fig. 5: Location and capacities of VRE integration options for the 80VRE and 50VRE scenarios allflex case.
Fig. 6: Unmet demand hours as a result of planning the power system based on a single weather-year.

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This research was supported under the Whole Systems Energy Modelling Consortium (WholeSEM) – Ref: EP/K039326/1. We would like to thank D. Brayshaw for his comments at the wholeSEM conference that have improved our analysis, N. Strachan for his comments on an earlier draft and A. Moore for fruitful discussions.

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Authors and Affiliations



M.Z. designed the study with J.P. M.Z. and J.P. developed the highRES model. B.F. co-built the UKTM model. M.Z. and J.P conducted the highRES model runs. B.F. and P.-H.L. conducted the UKTM model runs. M.Z. conducted the spatial analysis on the capacity potential per technology, E.S. generated the wind time series; J.P. generated the PV time series. B.F. wrote the text on UKTM; E.S. wrote the text on generating wind time series. M.Z. wrote the document with J.P. and they generated figures and tables.

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Correspondence to Marianne Zeyringer.

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Supplementary Notes 1–12, Supplementary Figures 1–32, Supplementary Tables 1–9 and Supplementary References

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Zeyringer, M., Price, J., Fais, B. et al. Designing low-carbon power systems for Great Britain in 2050 that are robust to the spatiotemporal and inter-annual variability of weather. Nat Energy 3, 395–403 (2018).

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