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Hot summer in Europe: Renewable resources compensated for power failures
2018-08-30

The record high temperatures that were recorded in Europe this summer led to malfunctions in the nuclear and thermal power plants, and at the same time, a decline in the production volumes. According to WindEurope, all of this has been offset by the stable electricity supply produced from renewable sources.

The hot summer in Europe forced many nuclear and coal-fired power plants to reduce their production, or even to temporarily halt operations. In fact, extreme heat on the continent has affected the power plants more than once – similar heat-wave effects were observed in 2003, 2006 and 2015. However, two questions should be raised: Why do high air temperatures halt the work of power plants? And how do we counteract malfunctions in the production of energy from renewable sources?

Influence of the heatwaves on power plants

In order for the thermal power stations to operate smoothly, they need a reliable water supply. Therefore, the hot weather has a particularly significant impact on all the plants that use water in their production processes, particularly when the temperature increases throughout the continent.

In the meantime, at nuclear and coal-fired power plants, steam is used to turn the turbines which convert the heat energy into electricity. During this process, the temperature of the steam decreases, preventing the turbines from rotating effectively. However, this can be prevented by condensing the steam into the water, because the liquid absorbs heat better than the gas. The steam condensation process in the liquid uses cooling water taken from rivers, lakes or seas. After the cooling process, when the water is cooled down to the appropriate temperature, it is returned back into the environment again. Thus, the water used to cool the reactors in nuclear power plants is subsequently released back into the rivers. 

This is the reason why, when the air temperature is higher, it causes serious trouble. If the rivers from which the cooling water is supplied to power plants is heated to more than 28°C, the power plants are no longer allowed to return such hot water back to the rivers, as it can damage the natural ecosystem.

In order to prevent ecological disasters caused by discharging hot water, decisions were made to restrict or even to temporarily shut off the power generation operations in certain power plants. For example, the production volume was temporarily reduced in the nuclear power plants located in Finland, Germany and Switzerland. Due to the rising temperatures, the coal-fired power plant in Germany was also switched off. 

Importance of renewables 

However, the lack of electricity in Europe helped to increase the production of electricity from renewable sources. For example, in the east of Germany, the rate of electricity generation at solar power plants reached record highs, even when the extremely high temperatures also reduced the efficiency of some modules. The German hydroelectric power plants also remained unaffected by the heatwaves. 

In the future, energy storage batteries and storage spaces may play a vital role in the energy systems. They can help cope with the demand even during long-lasting hot weather, because the battery storage areas are air-conditioned and allow stable temperatures to be maintained. At the same time, considering the affordability, the leading position in Europe will belong to wind energy. Technological and market innovations will also lead to a further reductions in the electricity prices generated by wind farms.

All this points to the conclusion that renewable energy sources, unlike fossil fuels, can contribute to the stable production of clean electricity for consumers.