The impact of climate change on wind and solar resources in southern Africa
The mitigation of potential climate change while sustaining energy resources requires global attention and cooperation. Among the numerous strategies to reduce Green House Gas (GHG) emissions is to decommission carbon intensive electricity production while increase the deployment of renewable energy technologies – such as wind and solar power generation. Yet the generation capacity, availability, and intermittency of these renewable energy sources are strongly climate dependent – and may also shift due to unavoidable human-induced change. In this study, we present a method, based on previous studies, that estimates the risk of climate-change on wind and solar resource potential. The assessment combines the risk-based climate projections from the Integrated Global Systems Model (IGSM), which considers emissions and global climate sensitivity uncertainty, with more regionally detailed climate information from 8 GCMs available from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project phase 3 (CMIP-3). Southern Africa, specifically those in the Southern African Development Countries (SADC), is used as a case study. We find a median change close to zero by 2050 in the long-term mean of both wind speed and Global Horizontal Irradiance (GHI), both used as indicators of changes in electricity production potential. Although the extreme possibilities range from about −15% to +15% change, these are associated with low probability. The most prominent effect of a modest climate mitigation policy is seen in the doubled likelihood of the mode of the distribution of wind power change. This increased likelihood is made at the expense of decreased likelihood in the large changes of the distribution, but these trade-offs with the more extreme likelihoods are not symmetric with respect to the modal change.