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Renewable Energy in an Unpredictable and Changing Climate
a report by
André Frossard Pereira de Lucena, Alexandre Salem Szklo and Roberto Schaeffer
Energy Planning Programme, Graduate School of Engineering, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro
Renewable energy will play a fundamental role in a future Addressing the Problem – Global Climate Change
low-carbon-emission economy aimed at coping with the challenge of Impact Assessments for Renewable Energy Sources
global climate change. However, because of its dependence on Global climate change impact assessments are performed using a
climate conditions, renewable energy is most susceptible to climate variety of analytical methods that can range from qualitative descriptive
change. While the first part of this ‘paradox’ has been thoroughly studies to quantitative projections.
Usually, they use downscaled
just recently the international scientific community has results of General Circulation Model (GCM) runs based on a set of
started to investigate the impact that global climate change may have greenhouse gas (GHG) emission scenarios (e.g. scenarios from the
on renewable energy itself. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC]).
GCMs are 3D
representations of the Earth’s atmosphere and its interaction with the
For instance, hydropower generation depends on the hydrological oceans, the surface and the biosphere,
while downscaling techniques
cycle, and wind speeds determine the wind power density and the translate the large-scale climate results of GCMs to the regional climate
amount of electricity that can be generated. This natural climate scale.
These models are considered to be the only credible tools
variability dramatically influences the planning and operation of these available for simulating the physical processes that govern the
power technologies. These power generation systems are built based global climate.
on historical records of climatic patterns, which greatly determine the
amount and variability of energy production. On the operational side, Climate change impact assessments lie at the end of a chain of
power demand fluctuations – both hourly and seasonal – may not cumulative uncertainties that includes uncertainties about the future
match natural variations in river flows and wind speeds. evolution of GHG emissions and concentration in the atmosphere, the
impact of increased GHG concentration on the global climate modelled
Global climate change can add a significant amount of uncertainty by GCMs and the downscaling of large-scale climate changes to the
to natural climate variability and, hence, to the planning and regional level (see Figure 1). In addition, impact studies rely on another
operation of renewable energy technologies. Focusing on both set of biophysical and socioeconomic methods that have their own
hydro and wind power generation, the objective of this article is to level of uncertainty depending on how well the model used represents
present state-of-the-art scientific literature on some of the impacts the affected system and how good the database is. Therefore, climate
climate has on energy and to point out some methodological inputs to impact assessments should be viewed as a set of possible
challenges for future developments. future climatic conditions rather than predictions.
studies are scenario analyses and not forecasts.
André Frossard Pereira de Lucena is a PhD candidate
Impact studies have been conducted since the 1990s,
in the Energy Planning Programme of the Graduate
but not much
School of Engineering at the Federal University of Rio
attention has been directed to the impact of climate change on energy
de Janeiro, and a researcher at the Energy and
production. This latter literature is fairly new and its formal knowledge
Environmental Economics Centre (CENERGIA).
base is still limited.
A great part of these studies focuses on the impact
of temperature on energy demand.
Alexandre Salem Szklo is a Professor in the
On the supply side, a small number of studies have been devoted to
Energy Planning Programme of the Graduate assessing impact on hydro and wind power generation, as well as
School of Engineering of the Federal University of
Muñoz and Sailor
investigated the impact of climate
Rio de Janeiro.
change scenarios on hydropower generation in three river basins in
northern California using statistical models for hydrology and energy
simulation. Also in California, Vicuña et al.
hydrological series in a multistep linear optimisation model for
Roberto Schaeffer is an Associate Professor in the maximising energy generation revenues of a high elevation
Energy Planning Programme of the Graduate School
hydropower generating system. Hamlet et al.
evaluated the potential
of Engineering at the Federal University of Rio de
Janeiro. He is also a member of the Meth Panel of the
changes in the seasonality and annual amount of power production
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate using projected stream flow in a simulation model for the Columbia
Change’s (UNFCCC’s) Clean Development Mechanism
River hydropower system. Harrison and Whittington
and has been a lead author and co-ordinating lead
author for Intergovenmental Panel on Climate Change
technical and financial viability of a planned hydroelectric scheme on
the Zambezi River under a climate change hydrological scenario. On a
continental scale, Lehner et al.
analysed the possible impact of
© TOUCH BRIEFINGS 2009