An online application dubbed Renewables.ninja estimates the amount of renewable energy that could be generated at any location around the world at any given moment.
The interactive tool developed by researchers from Imperial College London and ETH Zurich is based on detailed geographical data about wind speeds and insolation collected over the past 30 years by Nasa. The tool combines this information with the technical specifications of wind turbines and solar panels and calculates the exact amount of energy that can be generated at any point on the Earth during the year.
The software, currently being tested by German utility RWE, has already revealed that offshore wind farms in Europe produce about 24 per cent of their maximum capacity. This means that due to the nature of the weather, they produce only 24 per cent of what they would produce if wind intensity was constant throughout the year.
The tool also revealed that new off-shore wind farms using taller turbines and located further out to sea could increase Europe’s wind energy yield by up to 31 per cent.
The researchers hope other teams will use their tool to help improve the understanding of the renewable power landscape all over the world.
“Modelling wind and solar power is very difficult because they depend on complex weather systems,” said Iain Staffell, from the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial College London. “Getting data, building a model and checking that it works well takes a lot of time and effort. If every researcher has to create their own model when they start to investigate a question about renewable energy, a lot of time is wasted. So we built our models so they can be easily used by other researchers online.”
Using Renewables.ninja, Staffel together with Stefan Pfenninger from ETH Zürich investigated how much power is produced by solar plants all over Europe on an hourly basis. They found, for example, that during the sunniest days, solar plants in the UK produce more power than the country’s nuclear power plants.
“Renewables.ninja has already allowed us to answer important questions about the current and future renewable energy infrastructure across Europe and in the UK and we hope others will use it to further examine the opportunities and challenges for renewables in the future,” said Pfenninger.
The two scientists have been beta-testing Renewables.ninja for six months. The tool is now being used by 54 institution across 22 countries, including the European Commission and the International Energy Agency.