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Mainstream media sensationalism undermines low carbon future

Having started my career in wind energy 30 years ago, I have become weary of the many attempts to undermine the case for the development of this clean, renewable source of energy which I see as an essential part of our low carbon future.

My first reaction to mainstream media reports (Wired, Washington Post) of a recently published study in Nature Geoscience, which suggested that climate change would in itself undermine the case for wind energy by reducing mean wind speeds in the northern hemisphere, was to be dismissive.

But within DNV GL, I have access to climate modellers who have dedicated their working lives to understand the impact of climate change on the future of our world. I thought it was worth digging a little deeper to understand what the scientists from the University of Colorado were really saying.

From email conversations with Vidya Veldore and Daran Rife, I now understand that, whilst the results of climate models are subject to significant uncertainty, we can’t ignore the likelihood that climate change will result in changes in the wind resource over the next 50-100 years.

In a soon to be published review of DNV GL’s own research into this area (released in January 2018), Vidya and her colleagues will conclude that “In summary, preliminary results indicate that climate change may influence wind production in certain regions.” But, unlike the mainstream media reports, the review goes on to say; “However, expected technological advancements and consequent cost reductions will likely outpace the projected changes in the wind power potential.” This second observation is based on the improvements in technology that have resulted in the levelised cost of wind energy for new projects falling to record low levels (The Guardian) and the expectation that this trend is very likely to continue in the coming decades (Berkeley Lab). We should also bear in mind that today’s wind power plants have a design lifetime of 20 – 25 years: they will be replaced by modern technology long before the effects of climate change have an impact on their profitability.

The move towards the low carbon future that I and my colleagues at DNV GL want to see is a race against time. The news that climate change may have an impact on the very technologies that we need to deploy to mitigate its effects may mean that we need to run a little faster, but it does not mean that we should change direction!

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