The impact of climate change on offshore wind operations

The global offshore wind market is growing rapidly and is poised to play a central role in future energy systems. It is projected that offshore wind will become the main source of electricity production in the next decade (IEA, 2019).

Governments across the globe are keen to capitalise on this potential. Earlier this month, the UK Government announced its bold vision for every UK home to be powered by offshore wind by 2030.

Given the importance of this energy source to our future energy mix, it is crucial that we understand the sustainability of the resource. To do this, it’s susceptibility to climate change must be considered.

Offshore wind farms need wind to produce energy. However, wind and waves also disrupt the regular access required to maintain and repair turbines. Regular and consistent maintenance is essential to keep wind farms operational.  So, what might the impacts of climate change be for offshore wind?  If wind speeds increase, this will make maintenance and repair more difficult, but it might also result in greater wind yield. How will these impacts balance out? How can we plan for them when there is so much uncertainty in climate predictions?

How we are involved

Since 2017, we have been engaged in two contracts awarded by the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S), working closely with a range of collaborators including Deltares, WavesGroup, the Port of Tyne and Red Rock Power.

C3S is one of the six services of the EU’s Copernicus Earth Observation Programme and is implemented by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecast (ECMWF). Its mission is to support the European Union’s adaptation and mitigation policies by providing consistent and authoritative information about past, present and future climate. It offers free and open access to climate data and tools based on the best available science through the Climate Data Store (CDS). Find out more here.

Using climate change projections from CS3, and our simulation software ForeCoast® Marine, we simulated the operation of offshore wind farms using climate projections for two future climate epochs. We were then able to investigate how climate might affect the performance of wind farms based on key metrics such as turbine availability and revenue generation.

The simulations were based on an offshore wind farm configuration representative of the next generation of wind farms, comprised of 100 ten megawatt (MW) turbines. Wind farms were modelled at a number of locations in Europe.

JBA Offshore Wind Farm

 

What we found

Our work showed that the impacts of climate change are likely to be a combination of both gains and losses. At present, our analysis is based on one climate projection model. This model indicates that wind speeds and wave heights in the North Sea are actually expected to decline, rather than increase (contrary to common perception). While the projected changes in wind speeds are relatively small (i.e. of the order of a few percent), this could have a significant impact on revenue generation for offshore wind across Europe.

On average, across all simulated locations, the analysis showed an increase in turbine accessibility (0.2%). However, any gains associated with this improved access are overshadowed by a loss in yield (i.e. 3% decrease in available energy, 3% decrease in generated energy).

Implications for the industry

So, what do these changes in yield mean for Europe’s offshore wind industry?  To quantify the impact, the percentage changes were converted to absolute values, using a number of conversion factors. Based on the assumption that Europe’s offshore wind installed capacity will be 190 GW by 2085, a 3% reduction in generation was calculated to equate to*:

  • A decrease of 16 TWh/year
  • €1,000 million/year in missed revenue
  • A reduction of eight million tonnes CO2/year in replaced fossil fuel
  • Four million less homes powered.

*The above figures are relative to if the weather stayed as it is today.

These potential reductions in revenue and generation will clearly have significant knock on effects for policy makers and developers, raising questions around factors such as the technical and economic viability of projects; and the level of development and investment required to realise installed capacity targets.

Conclusion

This study indicates that, in Europe, climate change may decrease the amount of energy produced by an offshore wind farm. For offshore wind farm operators, this may affect the viability of a wind farm or require innovations in terms of turbine design or maintenance strategies.

With regards to the energy policy in Europe, reductions in Available and Generated wind power may influence the scale of development required to achieve targets as additional turbines or potentially even whole wind farms may be needed. In this regard, strategic decision making can be strongly supported using the results and data within the CDS. By coupling the CDS data with modelling software, like ForeCoast® Marine, we explore potential mitigation strategies and areas where innovation should be focused.

It is important to note that the climate change impact information presented in this blog was based on data from a single available climate projection ensemble member. As climate modelling is uncertain, the results should therefore be treated with appropriate caution. Different climate models are likely to result in different results.

However, the study does provide evidence that climate change has the potential to significantly influence the performance of offshore wind farms and to create additional energy challenges if mitigation strategies are not put in place. Therefore, this study has highlighted the need to further explore the impact of climate change on the offshore wind sector and for this research to influence the direction that the sector takes in terms of innovation.

Find out more

As always, we would love to hear from you. If you have any comments our would like to learn more, please email Mark Lawless.



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