Billions of energy-investment dollars are exposed to the vagaries of climate. Those billions include dollars committed to or planned for renewable energy generation in this country.
Now a new branch of science is bringing meteorology and energy together. It’s moving to maximise the energy that will drive the wind or ocean turbines, light up the solar farms or improve weather-exposed oil and gas generation.
We can see the future
Climate change provides opportunity and poses risk for the energy industry. Bringing together the disciplines of energy and meteorology is a means of expanding opportunity and managing risk.
Overall, the chaotic nature of the climate system is such that we will always be limited in our ability to predict individual weather events beyond a theoretical threshold; currently thought to be about two weeks.
But there are parts of the geophysical system, such as the oceans, that evolve more slowly than the atmosphere. This slower motion allows us to extend the time horizon of predictions to well beyond this theoretical limit.
By including other factors external to the natural system – such as greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere – we can extend the prediction time horizon even further and produce climate change scenarios.
The trick is in the averaging, over time and region.
Wind isn’t the only energy source that relies on weather
The growing body of knowledge and experience in weather and climate risk management in the energy industry has spurred a rapidly growing research interest at the nexus between weather, climate and energy.
This increased interest has been fuelled especially by a renewed and fervent interest in renewable energy sources. But weather and climate information is also critical to managing the energy supply from other energy sectors (such as offshore oil operations) as well as energy demand generally.
We have all seen the influence of the January-March cyclones and flooding on the balance sheets of the major miners and Queensland, NSW and Western Australia.
How will a changing climate influence renewable electricity generation and shape investment, and where does science help deliver answers?
Bigger issues call for better information
There is little doubt that weather and climate considerations are becoming the most important elements in certain policy decision-making relevant to the energy sector.
Take energy generation. Regardless of the source, it is sensitive to wind, rain, hail, ice, cloudiness, temperature, storms, drought, run-off and evaporation. Quality weather and climate information has great potential to improve its operations.
Corporate energy markets and operations are increasingly factoring the wider impact of climate change in their management. Energy management is increasingly viewed as a form of risk management.
Energy decision makers are now also employing other meteorological information, such as seasonal, decadal, and climate change forecasts. These are useful for energy plant planning, to determine insurance premiums, and so on.
Decision makers will need more enhanced weather and climate information as they face an array of issues, from severe events to emerging climate change regulations. In addition, weather and climate information is central to the development and use of renewable energy resources such as wind, solar and hydropower.
But research at the conjunction between meteorology and energy is currently discussed only in piecemeal fashion in minor sessions during conferences organised by industry-specific organisations. There is a drive now to capitalise on the substantial overlap that renewable energy generators have in their use of weather and climate information.
Steps for a better future
This new discipline aims to bring together scientists, engineers, economists, policy makers, and other specialists and practitioners involved in research or implementation at the nexus between weather, climate and energy.
They need a forum where they can discuss recent research findings and emerging practices, ranging from operational activities to long-term investment planning (including policy making), including mitigation of and adaptation to climate change.
To be successful, they need to:
support coordinated weather and climate research and energy sector management
design a framework for managing weather and climate risk for the energy industry, especially in the face of projected climate change
identify forecasting opportunities while improving our understanding of climate science uncertainty, and a realistic appreciation of modeling skill
provide educational material for new interdisciplinary specialists at the intersection between energy and weather/climate.
Interest in and demand for renewable energy generation and energy efficiency have never been stronger. The convergence of the energy and meteorology disciplines and continuing refinements in modelling skill has the potential to generate additional security in a changing climate for investors and the community.