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Report claims wind cannot meet energy needs

A new study funded by the Renewable Energy Foundation has attacked the viability of large scale wind power.

It concludes there are significant hidden costs and reliability issues for the technology.
Research team leader James Oswald is an engineering consultant and former head of research and development at Rolls Royce Turbines. He said: “Wind power does not obviate the need for fossil fuel plants, which will continue to be indispensable.

“The problem is that wind power volatility requires fossil fuel plant to be switched on and off, which damages them and means that even more plants will have to be built.

“Carbon savings will be less than expected, because cheaper, less efficient plant will be used to support these wind power fluctuations. Neither these extra costs nor the increased carbon production are being taken into account in the government figures for windpower.

“The British Wind Energy Association sometimes claims that wind produces power for 80 to 95 per cent of the time, but the number of hours wind produces some power is irrelevant, what matters is how much power for these hours and how much it fluctuates hour to hour.

“Times of zero wind output are rare, but can be significant. In fact new data shows that wind output was zero at the moment of peak demand in 2006. This was when a high pressure system sat squarely over Britain for ten consecutive days which lead to high demand and very little wind.”

The study looked at wind data supplied by the Met Office combined with data from the wind fleets of Ireland and Germany, together with information about times of peak electricity demand for the past six years.

The researchers calculated that in January, the coldest month of the year when energy demand is highest, the wind farms can produce very little energy, frequently as little as four per cent of their rated output.

The authors also argue that conventional fossil fuel plants would need to be switched on and off as many as 23 times a month to make up the shortfall in supplies. They conclude that this would impair efficiency, and reduce emissions savings.

The report comes just a week after a report by the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) raised similar fears.

The CPS report was dismissed by the British Wind Energy Association as peddling “myths and misconceptions”.

Maria McCaffery, BWEA Chief Executive, said at the time: 'Wind energy could be delivering 33GW, nearly 30% of the UK's electricity by 2020. There are already 19GW at one stage or another in the system, either in operation, being built or waiting for planning.”

A BWEA report on wind power reliability states: “There is no form of energy supply that is 100 per cent available, 100 per cent of the time.

“The National Grid currently runs about 15 per cent spare back-up capacity for all forms of electricity supply.

“There is always wind somewhere in the UK, and a lack of wind in one area is cancelled out by wind in others.

“The Government's own independent energy think-tank UK Energy Research Council, estimates that increased wind use would require back-up supply of up to 10 per cent of the additional wind capacity.

“While National Grid believe that 35GW of wind would require an additional 3.5-6.5GW of short-term back-up supply, with an estimated cost to consumers of approximately £6 to £12 a year on the average £390 annual bill.”

Despite this the REF argues wind should only be expected to contribute about 10 GW to the UK’s energy mix - mostly from offshore wind farms which can access stronger and more reliable wind.

John Constable, Director of Policy and Research for REF, said: 'Poorly thought-out political enthusiasm for windpower has propelled us towards levels of deployment which are irrational and very expensive; this study is a helpful corrective, and will enable us to plan how to get the best from wind technology at reasonable cost.”