Monday, September 03, 2012

Wind power myths blown away by new report

London Array offshore windfarm under construction
The London Array offshore windfarm under construction

Wind energy avoided at least 5.5 million tonnes of CO2 emissions in the UK last year and is making a meaningful contribution to cutting the country’s greenhouse gas output, according to a new report that counters claims by objectors that wind turbines are costly and inefficient.

The report, Beyond the Bluster, , from the think tank IPPRor Institute of Public Policy Research , concludes "unequivocally that wind power can significantly reduce carbon emissions, is reliable, poses no threat to energy security, and is technically capable of providing a significant proportion of the UK’s electricity supply with minimal impact on the existing operation of the grid".

Unfounded claims about wind power were recently made in a letter to the Prime Minister by a group of more than 100 MPs, who described the technology as inefficient and less reliable than other types of energy production.

It adds that while "it is right that the costs of government support for wind power and other low-carbon technologies are scrutinised, it is important to recognise that recent increases in energy bills are far less the result of subsidies for renewable power than they are due to rises in the wholesale cost of gas".

It notes that from 2004 to 2010, government support for renewables added £30 to the average energy bill, while rises in the wholesale cost of gas added £290.

Amongst the conclusions are that "it is inaccurate to describe the output from wind power as ‘unpredictable’," because “in the short term, wind power output is remarkably stable and increases and decreases only very slowly".

It also says that the risks associated with ‘long, cold, calm spells’ have been overstated. It will be possible to ‘keep the lights on’ given the level of wind power projected in this country by 2020.

The addition of a certain amount of wind power does not mean expensive upgrade to the edge electricity distribution system, either, contrary to some reports. National Grid has reported that up to 30GW of wind power can be accommodated even if no changes are made to the way that the electricity system functions.

And in the longer term, there are numerous technological options to facilitate much greater amounts of wind power, such as improved interconnection with other countries and intelligent management of supply and demand through a ‘smart grid’.

The IPPR model demonstrates that every megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity produced by wind power in Great Britain results in a minimum CO2 saving of around 350kg. On this basis, carbon dioxide emission savings from wind energy were at least 5.5 million tonnes in Great Britain in 2011, or around 2.5% of the emissions the UK is legally obliged to save annually from 2008 to 2012, as required by the Climate Change Act 2008.

The report's authors describe the government's recent approach to wind power as “worrying", because it is causing lack of certainty amongst investors and developers.

On intermittency, it says that, despite a prolonged period where wind production averaged less than 15% of wind capacity over a period of 14 days, from around 9–23 February 2010, in this case in Ireland, where there is far greater wind generation as a proportion of total generation than the current UK system, this did not impair the ability of the electricity system to provide secure and reliable energy supplies.

However, although the UK grid currently has sufficient fossil-fuel generation in reserve to meet this requirement during a cold, calm spell, should 20% of all grid electricity be supplied from wind, as expected in 2020, additional conventional reserves will need to be in place then, unless interconnection capacity with other countries and/or electrical storage technology improves.

To produce the report, IPPR worked with GL Garrad Hassan, a renewable energy consultancy, and the findings were reviewed by "a leading academic”.

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