Forecasting a changeable outlook

Published: 12 Jun 2020

By: Jo Campbell

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You don’t have to be a trained weather forecaster to note that the weather in the UK is changing. The scientific consensus is that we will see an increase in the frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events as a result of climate change. The UK government has legislated for net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050: achieving this would limit the UK’s contribution, but it will not reverse climate change.

Climate change, and the extreme weather events it brings, will have wide ranging impacts on how we live our lives. One of the aims of energy policy is to make sure that the security of the electricity system is one thing that you don’t have to worry about.

In our assessment of a future low cost low carbon electricity system, the Commission recommended that the government put the UK on the pathway to a highly renewable electricity system. We recommended that the first milestone on this path should be the operation of a system that, by 2030, generates at least half of UK electricity from renewable sources.

The government has started to put the UK on this pathway. It has made a series of announcements, including its intention to reopen funding routes for deployment of onshore wind and solar generation, and setting a target of installing 40GW of offshore wind by 2030. That’s an increase of around 30 GW on top of the UK current 9 GW of offshore wind capacity.

Renewable sources of electricity, such as wind turbines and solar panels, will therefore provide an increasing share of the electricity we use. By their nature these sources of electricity are reliant on the weather.

We need to continue to build our understanding of the impact that weather, and in particular extremes in weather, may have on the operation of such a system. A better understanding of the potential impact will allow those involved in the design and operation of the electricity system to plan in advance and find solutions to potential challenges on the horizon. To do this, data is needed.

Policy makers, operators, academics and others currently work with a range of sophisticated energy models. These models are used to test potential futures for the electricity system. Weather data, in particular data on wind speed, temperature, solar irradiance and humidity, is generally captured within these models. But most often these models rely on observed weather from the past and therefore do not account for the impact of climate change.  Additionally, there is a lack of consistency in what constitutes extreme weather.

Last year we asked the Met Office to carry out a review of the current scientific understanding of extreme weather and climate related risks to electricity system design. This review showed that there is significant scope to build resilience through intelligent deployment of a mix of renewables working alongside sources of flexibility such as storage, interconnectors with other countries, and demand side response.

The Met Office also highlighted gaps in understanding and recommended developing data sets of adverse, but plausible, extreme weather scenarios. Importantly, the recommended approach would ensure that the data sets capture projections for the impact of climate change on extreme weather events.

We are now working with the Met Office and the Committee on Climate Change to produce these data sets. Today we have published the results of the first phase of this work – a feasibility study. The report outlines the methodology the Met Office will use to build these data sets. They will capture plausible past events and reflect national climate projections.

Once produced, the data will be made freely available for use in testing resilience of potential future electricity systems – and indeed, in line with our recent report on the importance of planning resilient infrastructure, we hope the modelling will enable a more consistent approach to resilience stress testing for electricity system design.

The ultimate aim is to contribute positively to the stability and resilience of our electricity supply by providing robust evidence for use by policy makers, to help ensure a reliable power supply whatever the weather.


Jo Campbell is an Assistant Director at the Commission.

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