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The viability of wind

As the Chair of the Office for Renewable Energy Deployment, I’ve been following with interest the recent blog posts by the Guardian and the Global Warming Policy Foundation who take opposing views on the viability of wind turbines as part of the UK’s energy mix.

So what is our view at DECC?

We know that the carbon intensity of electricity generation, at any point on any given day, depends on a range of factors. Not only whether the wind is blowing but also on the power flows between Great Britain and its neighbours, the shape of the demand curve on that day, whether any big power plants are out for maintenance, and various other factors.

Given this, we do not think it is meaningful to take short snapshots of time and extrapolate them forwards into the future, and use that to draw overall conclusions – but that is what the GWPF report tries to do.

The report argues that each MW of wind generating capacity has to be backed up by approximately one MW of generating plant. But this is not strictly correct as any backup plant would be needed anyway to cover other fluctuations such as surges in demand –  for example, a major TV event such as England taking part in a World Cup penalty shootout could cause a demand spike of around two to three GW, which would need to be backed up.

So we need to think about the whole system and wind plays a key role in that. For example, Sizewell B nuclear power plant was out of commission for seven months in 2010 and during that time, wind was producing the electricity for hundreds of thousands of homes.

Wind is a cost-effective technology that is helping us meet our energy security objectives in a low carbon way. As wind is a free resource, the only costs reside in the manufacture, construction and maintenance of the infrastructure. For example for onshore wind, the energy used during build and installation is paid back within 4-6 months of operation. And electricity generated from wind power has one of the lowest carbon footprints, compared with other forms of generation.

We accept that some older power stations nearing the end of their life are being used as system back up – but this includes covering demand spikes and other station outages, as well as wind generation, and would be the case whether wind generation were connected or not. Several of these older power plants will close over the next few years as emissions legislation results in their owners deciding to close them, rather than invest more in the mitigation of emissions.

Furthermore, recent announcements make clear that a number of coal fired power stations will convert to biomass in the next few years. This means that, to the extent backup for variable renewables is required, much of it will come from low carbon generation such as biomass.

We know that the transition to a cleaner overall generation mix will take a period of years and it is important to ensure that during the course of this transition we do not set perverse incentives. That is why we are drawing on the data we have available from National Grid and other industry players, to inform our market design decisions as we finalise the operational details of our Electricity Market Reform (EMR) programme.

Our current and potential future interconnection with Denmark, Ireland and Norway, makes use of their renewable power and studies in Denmark have shown that Danish and UK wind speeds are generally unconnected, thereby providing good back up.

It is our vision that the power system post-2020 should look very different to what we see today. In the long run, EMR will aim to create the market conditions where the capacity to back up wind is provided by a mixture of newer, more efficient power plants, interconnection and demand response and storage.

If these ambitions are realised, wind could provide a viable, sustainable alternative, powering the country and helping the UK meet its decarbonisation targets.

Filed under: Renewable energy

Comments: 19 Comments on The viability of wind
Posted on: Oct 9 2012

19 Responses to “The viability of wind”

  1. jimmy says:

    The bubble has burst on wind it time for Bio Mass

  2. William Crawford says:

    Not a single reference in any of the above to the destruction of the beauty of our scenery and landscape, nor to the extent of the destruction of the environment which wind turbines cause. Ed Davey should get out of his well-heated (by oil which we pay for) office, and see the massive destruction caused by the erection of a single wind turbine. Wildlife is driven away permanently, habitat destroyed.

    • iain kennedy-moffat says:

      wildlife is not destroyed,proven fact that habitats are actually improved as those who own the land are able to implement improvement strategies for wildlife diversity. Many of the comments by william are through jealousy of others.Wind energy has to part of the mix as other sources are diminishing. many of those in or are looking forward to these developments actually live with them. it would be true to say the majority of the population has no opinion either way however there are many local contractors who live in these communities who are provided with work who also enjoy where they live these are the people who keep the local village services such as schools and shops going. tourism will not be affected either look at skegness.

  3. I am completely agree with this blog article by Bernie Bulkin. This is true that “……we need to think about the whole system and wind plays a key role in that….”. Our development should be eco-friendly and renewable energy sources are FATE of our future energy demands. The current problem of ‘climate change’ is due to GLOBAL WARMING which in turn is the result of our past discovery of ‘STEAM POWER’ and uncontrolled utilization of ‘FOSSIL FUELS’ at the advent of INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION. UNIPCC2007 report has predicted dark future of the earth. We need immediate actions; The 2006 Stern Review concluded that to lessen the impact of Climate Change would cost the world around 1% of GDP per year while no action would cost between 5% and 20% of GDP per year and will adversely affect global economy [ Jonathan Hood, of DECC, ]. Our investment in R & D should be more on the development of “RENEWABLE ENERGY” like solar, tidal, wind and water energies, apart from developing “low carbon emission technologies” coz OUR FATE EXIST in such energy sources.
    Thanks Bernie Bulkin for reasonable views.

    Prabhat Misra

  4. Michael Knowles says:

    After over fifty years working in the energy industries and co-author of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers’ Energy Policy Statement EP 11/02 – UK Electricity Generation – Cost effective management and the Institution’s response to DECC consultation on RO banding levels for 2013 to 2017 , I am very concerned at the modest reductions in Renewables Obligation subsidies proposed by the DECC for 2013 to 2017 from the DECC report 25th July.

    The UK is being overcharged by the renewables lobby due to the Government targets. The DECC is proposing only a 10% reduction in ROCs subsidy not the 25% that Treasury wanted. The bandings are set to cover too wide a range of capacity and many larger onshore wind farms should have 50% reduction or more and the offshore farms a 25% reduction and fast targeting to £100/MWh via the Cost Reduction programme – Olympic style! These larger wind farms must now be making extremely good returns.

    The House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee called for evidence on wind power costs in June this year but did no report and just published the responses. Together with another FIMechE energy engineer, Bob Beith, we gave evidence in WIND 27 –

    DECC has given another call for further evidence on wind power costs in 2013. How credible are the answers likely to be?

    Renewable developers/operators have had over 10 years experience in the RO, & 12 years before that with the NFFO, receiving subsidies that are two and three times (and more) than the wholesale cost of electricity. They now should be expected to do much better than this especially on the large wind farm capacities onshore such as ScottishPower Whitelee 322 MW @ 140 x 2.3MW Siemens turbines total, and three other large wind farms each over 100MW in Scotland. Offshore wind has even larger capacities/turbine sizes like Thanet Array 300MW 100 X3MW Vestas & London Array I&II 1000MW.

    We have looked in detail at onshore and offshore wind farms ref economies of scale e.g., 87% of onshore turbines have 3 x 1MW or greater mainly 2 to 3 MW. The other 13% are small sometimes single 225kW; 300kW; 500kW and 600kW, which could be dealt with by putting them into the lower capacity FITs programme. By reducing RO subsidies further, savings from onshore wind power alone of £1billion a year and up to £2billion a year should be possible by 2020 with the offshore cost reduction programme. These reductions are for 20 years from 2013 to 2017!!

    The proper way to assess the cost performance is SURELY to have open book accounting as is justified by such massive RO subsidies? In 2011/12 the RO with 59M ROCs issued was probably costing up to £3billion a year for the next twenty years but we won’t know the actual figure from OFGEM until March 2013. Why not require OFGEM to give up to date published accounts – not too hard with IT?

    Ian Marchant CEO of SSE attacked the opaqueness of government negotiations with EDF on nuclear in a Daily Telegraph article DT Business 24th Sept

    Ian Marchant is correct to bring these costs into the open! His calculation that the ‘the difference between paying £65/MWh for new nuclear versus £140/MWh new build nuclear will amount to over £2billion a year each and every year is correct. However £70 for every household on top of the current electricity bill IS JUST DIVIDED BY 26.3M households to make it look as large as possible unlike DECC and OFGEM’s methodology for Renewable electricity costs i.e., divide the £2billion between all consumers – industry, commerce, public sector and the 26.3M households. The figure then becomes about a third of that figure or £23!

    The DECC/OFGEM methodology for apportioning costs to consumers is misleading since the total costs eventually bear down on the consumer in increased costs for services and products or taxes for the public sector. see Renewables Obligation in IMechE EP11/02

    With the Energy Bill on Electricity Market Reform Bill being put to Parliament next month for its first reading, it is important that the truth on the economics of renewables and nuclear cots is brought into the open. The proposals in the EMR for an auction process with Feed in Tariffs and Contract for Differences should give a much fairer deal for consumers . It ought to be brought in as soon as possible and the over generous Renewables Obligation phased out before 2017.

    Michael Knowles CEng MIMechE
    Cheltenham, Glos

  5. David Gelder says:

    Surely our need for wind energy can be expressed more simply than .

    It depends entirely on how much predictable nuclear and tidal capacity we have, and our MINIMUM load requirement.

    Fossil fuel – even biomass – must be expected to become more expensive than usable wind and can be switched off.

    However the cost effectiveness of wind goes down very quickly when it cannot always be used.

    Wind capacity up to what can always be used to generate electricity is, I would argue, all that we should build –

    UNLESS we can develop an economical route to produce hydrogen or maybe fertiliser or any valuable storable product from an electrolytic process.

    The days of night storage heaters and suchlike are I think gone. They smooth the load but date back to cheap baseload power Ever better building insulation and the local use of gas when need is likely to remain the better option..

    • Peter Simmons says:

      ‘it depends entirely on how much predictable nuclear and tidal capacity’ why? The nuclear stations are all old and needing replacement or scrappin, their radioactive waste piles will remain, and currently we have no reliable method of disposal, just some ideas. Tidal isn’t even being developed to any extent, whereas there are already windfarms operating, especially offshore.
      ‘Fossil fuel, even biomass…’ biomass isn’t fossil fuel, it is fuel that’s grown as crops and used in power stations, it is carbon neutral.

      ‘However the cost effectiveness of wind goes down very quickly when it cannot always be used.’ Nonsense. There is such a thing as energy storage, but you seem not to have heard of it.

      ‘Wind capacity up to what can always be used to generate electricity is, I would argue, all that we should build’ And I would argue that we are a very long way away from the wind capacity we need and to consider limiting it aqt this stage is silly. Electric cars, which are becoming more popular, are just one method of storage [charge overnight when demand low/use during the day when demand high] and a worthy substitute for night storage heaters. But there are many other ways of storage and evening the load out. It’s what the grid does. You seem to think making hydrogen or fetilizer is all one can do with excess energy. Compressed air is probably the cheapest and most cost-effective method of storage.

      • David Gelder says:

        IF we get nuclear and tidal energy up to our minimum load, wind energy will be unusable at times UNLESS we can store it – and quite apart from the capital cost that involves 20% loss at best and it seems to me a fair rule of thumb that as well as having to tackle more difficult sites wind capacity above that level will not be used to full efficiency and requires case by case justification.BUT the Government likes to think we will have quite a lot of nuclear any tidal energy: I guess in fact neither of us believe it.
        The point I clearly failed to make about biomass is that it CAN be stored AND will be more expensive AND is less carbon neutral than wind with cultivation and transport relying so much on oil, and its availability does not make it preferable to wind which is fully utilised.
        The Grid does NOT smooth out temporal variations in demand, only spatial ones.I suspect gas is going to supply a lot of domestic heating for a long time and some dilution with hydrogen may prove a better use overall for spare wind than compressed air to give electricity.
        But we risk too much wind (at the customer’s expense) if we go too fast unless and until we see the government’s hopes for nuclear power abandoned.

    • Feral says:

      Given the current issues with energy supply and emissions and that for nuclear the main bone of contention is with the storage of high level radioactive waste, could we not just encase the bloody stuff in concrete and dump it into slow moving lava flows? How many millions of years before it sees the light of day again?

  6. Adam Gallon says:

    You are stark, raving mad!
    Repeal the idiocy of the Climate Change Act, exploit Shale Gas as a matter of great importance and urgency.
    Abolish the 200% subsidies for off-shore wind subsidy farms, ditto the 90-100% subsidy for the ones on land.
    You’re wanting to ship wood pellets from overseas, a low-energy fuel, when nature has given us a high energy source at home, it’s called coal.
    If you really want carbon-free power, let’s go nuclear, if you’re worried about proliferation, use Thorium.
    The world hasn’t warmed for 15 years now, it’s time for this CO2 idiocy to end.

    • Peter Simmons says:

      Anyone who starts a comment with ‘you are stark raving mad’ doesn’t deserve to be istened to or taken seriously. Yet another wonk from the denialist gang, which is diminishing almost daily as more and more proof of climate change is made apparent. They always bang on about subsidies to wind power, never mention the subsidies paid to coal and gas, and no one wants to think about the costs of nuclear, so theyt don’t. This comment comes stari8ght out of the GWPF, which, despite its name isn’t a foundation, but a oil-industry funded denialist website, run by Lawson, a paid consultant of and investor in oil. Disinformation is the name of the game with these people, and honesty isn’t their prime motivation.
      There are many other issues but the main point of this ludicrous post is the claim that ‘the world hasn’t warmed for 15 years now’ which is just plain wrong. The last decade was the hottest on record, and the last few years have followed the trend. This is one of the lies Lawson and his croniues proliferate; more fool you for falling for it. Try finding out some actual real science on the issue. Try for answers to every lie the deniers tell, rather than pretending you know what you’re talking about.

  7. Annoyed says:

    This is complete rubbish, wind power is not and never will be free. It lines the pockets of a few to the misery of most.

    • Peter Simmons says:

      The old ‘it lines the pockets of the few’ Do you mean the tens of thousands of scientists employed round the world on research? Do you mean the engineers designing and constructing turbines? Do you mean the companies who install, or run the windfarms? Or the government which oversees it all? The simplistic sneer is o0nly ever used by you people with wind, making a profit is elsewhere lauded as ‘being successful’, and I’m sure you aren’t an anti-capitalist. So what exactly is your comment meant to be claiming? A little more detail would be nice. Since I feel joy and optimism whenever I see a wind turbine, I’m not part of your ‘most’ who are apparently caused misery. How exactly is that? Do they wake up hating turbines and loving choking coal gases? Do you? What is it you have against clean energy and survival for homo sapiens?

  8. “As wind is a free resource, the only costs reside in the manufacture, construction and maintenance of the infrastructure.” And so are coal, gas and uranium etc, the only costs are those of getting them out of the ground to the power stations. Wind being “free” is a fallacy. The question is what does wind power cost per KWh over the lifetime of the installation. I don’t know, do you?

    • Peter Simmons says:

      This might help you understand.

    • Peter Simmons says:

      ‘And so are coal, gas and uranium etc, the only costs are those of getting them out of the ground to the power stations.’ Not so. True of coal, but then that’s been exploited for over 100 years, so how much do you think is left to burn? And burning it produces carbon dioxide, and removing that costs money too. Uranium costs include mining, extraction, processing, transportation across the world and disposal. So wind by comparison, only costing for the equipment to extract energy at source, just has to be both cheaper and cleaner by far. And as wind techology develops, costs are likely to come down as with all products when produced en masse. Much of the costs up to now have been in research and development.
      As for gas; as a waste product of oil extraction, it is important to use it rather than burn it at the well head as was once the case, but there are other ways, such as LPG conversion for cars and vans, A more sustainable method of using gas is bio-gas production, but that’s a renewable source, and carbon neutral.

  9. P Macdonald says:

    “Wind is a cost effective technology”.

    Why then does wind generation require so much Government support in the form of ROCS? Who pays for the grid reinforcements wind needs. Who pays the backup power companies when told they are only required to work at 50% capacity but must be available? Who pays for the £11.7 billion smart meter program to facilitate wind power integration to the grid?

    Who pays? The consumer pays.

    There may be valid reasons for promoting further use of wind power but please don’t use cost as one of them.

    • Peter Simmons says:

      Who pays when the coal, gas and oil runs out? Who pays when your home is flooded every year? It won’t the insurance companies, who, ever vigilant to threats to their profitability, are a reliable judge of whether the future holds more threats like those we have already experienced, they are refusaing to insure houses in flood prone areas. You think we aren’t all paying heavily for nuclear? You think nuclear stations, most on the coast at sea level, can continue and house the ‘new’ nuclear builds proposed? Ever heard of sea level rise? It’s been measured for decades and it IS happening.

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