S. C. Pryor, J. J. Coburn, R. J. Barthelmie, and T. J. Shepherd
Department of Energy, Office of Science, Earth & Environmental Systems Modeling Progam Acknowledged Support: Yes, Multisector Dynamics, and Regional and Global Modeling Analysis Programs
New simulations at 12-km grid spacing with the Weather and Research Forecasting (WRF) Model nested in the MPI Earth System Model (ESM) are used to quantify possible changes in wind power generation potential as a result of global warming. Annual capacity factors (CF; measures of electrical power production) computed by applying a power curve to hourly wind speeds at wind turbine hub height from this simulation are also used to illustrate the pitfalls in seeking to infer changes in wind power generation directly from low-spatial-resolution and time-averaged ESM output. WRF-derived CF are evaluated using observed daily CF from operating wind farms. The spatial correlation coefficient between modeled and observed mean CF is 0.65, and the root-mean-square error is 5.4 percentage points. Output from the MPI-WRF Model chain also captures some of the seasonal variability and the probability distribution of daily CF at operating wind farms. Projections of mean annual CF (CFA) indicate no change to 2050 in the southern Great Plains and Northeast. Interannual variability of CFA increases in the Midwest, and CFA declines by up to 2 percentage points in the northern Great Plains. The probability of wind droughts (extended periods with anomalously low production) and wind bonus periods (high production) remains unchanged over most of the eastern United States. The probability of wind bonus periods exhibits some evidence of higher values over the Midwest in the 2040s, whereas the converse is true over the northern Great Plains. Significance Statement Wind energy is playing an increasingly important role in low-carbon-emission electricity generation. It is a “weather dependent” renewable energy source, and thus changes in the global atmosphere may cause changes in regional wind power production (PP) potential. We use PP data from operating wind farms to demonstrate that regional simulations exhibit skill in capturing actual power production. Projections to the middle of this century indicate that over most of North America east of the Rocky Mountains annual expected PP is largely unchanged, as is the probability of extended periods of anomalously high or low production. Any small declines in annual PP are of much smaller magnitude than changes due to technological innovation over the last two decades.