A rapidly changing energy sector has created new challenges for meteorologists, not least because many renewable energy sources are highly weather sensitive. This formed the backdrop for the Society's National meeting on 17 October 2012, held jointly with the Environmental Physics Group, the UK Wind Engineering Society and the European Meteorological Society.

Prof. Sir Brian Hoskins (Imperial College, London) began proceedings by introducing the rationale behind the expansion of renewable energy. In the UK an 80% reduction in carbon emissions is being targeted by 2050; in the short term, this requires a rapid decarbonisation of the power sector (a 30% carbon reduction by 2020). However, successful large-scale deployment of renewable technologies must include an understanding of the impacts from weather and climate. The meeting's scientific organiserDr David Brayshaw (University of Reading) introduced some of the main challenges facing energy meteorology. High amongst these was the wide range of spatio-temporal scales involved and the complexity of the power system and its components.

Speakers then addressed some of the key issues from a range of academic and industry perspectives. Site-resource assessment for wind turbines is a major challenge for the energy industry: get it wrong, and investors and energy companies may lose large amounts of money. Dr Clive Wilson (UK Met Office) showed how meteorological modelling tools and data are used to improve on traditional ‘maps’ derived from historical 10m wind observations. Such tools are able to combine the location-specific detail of high resolution (4km) weather-forecast model data with longer-term trends from ECMWF reanalysis, and can be validated with a number of onshore/offshore meteorological masts at a range of heights. The magnitude of error in estimating site-specific wind speeds is dependent on the complexity of the terrain: this error could be reduced in the most difficult regions by localised very high-resolution modelling (100m) or by using direct mast measurements for calibration.

Once operational, wind farms and other weather-dependent sources of energy require high quality forecasts. Dr Pierre Pinson (Technical University of Denmark) argued that due to the large variability and uncertainty in wind-power generation, probabilistic forecasts are superior to traditional deterministic forecasts. As long as users are aware of their ‘cost’ or ‘loss’ function (i.e. financial loss as a function of forecast error), probabilistic forecasts can be used to make the optimal decision. However, progress still needs to be made in convincing end-users to take advantage of probabilistic forecasts; in order to drive this field of research forward increased collaboration between statisticians and meteorologists is needed, as are partnerships between industry and academia to facilitate the sharing of data.

Europe's climate and landscape provides an environment suitable for electricity generation from wind, solar and hydro-power. Dan Guertin (Senior Meteorologist, EDF Trading) opened the second session by giving a perspective on meteorology and energy trading in Europe, providing two examples of how weather affects the energy system. In early December 2011 meteorological conditions combined to cause a high supply of, and low demand for, power in the region. In stark contrast, the extremely cold and calm conditions of February 2012 in Europe led to record power demand on the continent combined with very low wind-energy production and minimal liquid precipitation for hydro-power production. Since solar energy production is low in winter, and gas imports were vulnerable, prices in France spiked (at around ten times the mean December 2011 value) leading to fears of blackouts. In response to a question, it was remarked that electricity prices in Europe are less weather sensitive in summer than they are in winter because periods of high demand from air conditioning during heatwaves are balanced by solar power generation.

While near-future energy fluctuations such as those discussed so far are of utmost importance for energy traders, it is important to understand how power systems may look in the future. James Cox (Principal Consultant, Pöyry Management Consultancy) outlined a UK power scenario for the year 2030 in which intermittent renewable generation becomes the dominant driver of price variability. Four possible solutions to the risk associated with such a situation were discussed: interconnection between countries, flexible generation, storage, and flexible demand. However, each of these has its own difficulties: some would require new and affordable technologies or changes in consumer habits while others would not benefit all parties, making them hard to implement. In the case of interconnection, the high spatial correlation of weather patterns means that problems arising from periods of little wind would never be completely eliminated. Therefore, there is at present no ‘silver bullet’ to the challenges posed by changing electricity markets, although new discoveries or technological developments may change this situation.

Prof. Neil Strachan (University College London) pursued further the UK long-term perspective, discussing the economics and policy surrounding energy, carbon and climate change until 2050. The Department for Energy and Climate Change was formed in 2008 to fulfil legally-binding greenhouse gas emissions contracts for 2050, and also deal with other energy-related issues. The UK Energy Research Council uses energy system optimization models to produce scenarios for components such as the renewables mix and transport fuels, showing how emissions targets could be reached. While the cost of such mitigation schemes may be 2–3% of gross domestic product (GDP), the amount currently spent on renewables research and development is just a fraction of this.

The day's talks were followed by a panel discussion chaired by Dr Liz Bentley (Head of theWeather Club). Much of the discussion focused on policy and whether it should be driven by decarbonisation or by job creation and economic independence, as is the case on the continent. Themes also included how communities might be encouraged to use wind turbines, and the relative importance of factors such as tidal energy, biomass and local generation. Finally, a discussion of the challenges faced by meteorologists in informing both the energy industry and policy, and how these are being met, made for a fitting conclusion. The event was attended by 114 people and attracted a wide range of poster contributions, some of which are available on the RMetS website, together with many of the recorded talks.