The implications of uncertain renewable resource potentials for global wind and solar electricity projections

Silvia R Santos Da Silva, Gokul Iyer, Thomas B. Wild, Mohamad I Hejazi, Chris R. Vernon, Matthew Binsted and Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm



Studies exploring long-term energy system transitions rely on resource cost-supply curves derived from estimates of renewable energy (RE) potentials to generate wind and solar power projections. However, estimates of RE potentials are characterized by large uncertainties stemming from methodological assumptions that vary across studies, including factors such as the suitability of land and the performance and configuration of technology. Based on a synthesis of modeling approaches and parameter values used in prior studies, we explore the implications of these uncertain assumptions for onshore wind and solar photovoltaic electricity generation projections globally using the Global Change Analysis Model. We show that variability in parametric assumptions related to land use (e.g. land suitability) are responsible for the most substantial uncertainty in both wind and solar generation projections. Additionally, assumptions about the average turbine installation density and turbine technology are responsible for substantial uncertainty in wind generation projections. Under scenarios that account for climate impacts on wind and solar energy, we find that these parametric uncertainties are far more significant than those emerging from differences in climate models and scenarios in a global assessment, but uncertainty surrounding climate impacts (across models and scenarios) have significant effects regionally, especially for wind. Our analysis suggests the need for studies focusing on long-term energy system transitions to account for this uncertainty.

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