Wind power myths are blown away

Posted by jamie - 9 July 2009 at 2:34pm - Comments

If you've ever tried to convince people down the pub about wind power and how it can help steer us away from climate catastrophe, you'll be familiar with the arguments used to dismiss it. The technology is too expensive; electricity bills will rocket; and (one that's often tripped me up) what happens when the wind stops blowing and the lights go out?

If that's the case, then for your next pub discussion arm yourself with a new study by energy analyst David Milborrow which successfully trounces all those claims and more. A joint commission by Greenpeace, WWF, RSPB and Friends of the Earth, it's being launched in advance of the government's renewable energy strategy that is expected next week.

So what does it say? First of all, that old chestnut about the wind dropping and the lights going out is just not true. Of course, the wind does fluctuate, but averaged out across the country that fluctuation is much less. (The UK is, of course, the windiest country in Europe.) This means that while the output from one wind farm might dip as the wind subsides, the wind will still be blowing somewhere else, and the larger the nationwide network of wind farms, the smaller the variations in electricity generation.

In fact, research by Oxford University's Environmental Change Unit shows that low speed wind events affecting 90 per cent of the country only happen for, on average, one hour every year (pdf).

Another thing to consider is that fossil fuel and nuclear power stations can fall offline without any warning. Wind forecasts, however, are remarkably reliable - up to 97 per cent accurate forecasting an hour ahead and 94 per cent accurate four hours ahead (and forecasting techniques are improving all the time). So there's time to spot a shortfall in wind output and act accordingly to balance supply and demand.

But clearly, there are going to be times when the electricity generated by wind power doesn't keep up with demand so some form of backup is required to manage the variability in output.

One criticism levelled at wind power is that this backup system will be a huge additional cost and that the carbon savings from wind power will be wiped out. But the back up is already largely in place for our existing energy grid, as coal, gas and nuclear power stations that occasionally trip out and go offline. Besides, any additional backup costs associated with wind are small when compared to other costs to the existing energy system such as fossil fuels and nuclear waste disposal.

Now, at the moment this backup would be provided by the coal, oil and gas fired power stations that are used to back up electricity generating capacity of all types, but it would only be needed for short periods so it would only mean a loss of 1 per cent of the carbon savings gained from wind power. That still represents a massive reduction in emissions from what we have today.

Next week, the government will be publishing its renewable energy strategy and, as we languish near the bottom of the EU renewable league, it will have to be ambitious. There's the binding EU agreement demanding that 15 per cent of our energy comes from renewable sources by 2020 (so that means up to 40 per cent of electricity), not to mention the Climate Change Act insisting we cut emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.

Technology is improving all the time which helps to reduce the costs associated with wind power further and, together with energy efficiency measures and smart electricity meters, it's no longer credible to dismiss wind as a load of hot hippy air.

Check if your home is in a good area to get a domestic wind turbine by visiting http://www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/

The Energy Saving Trust

A non-profit organisation that provides free impartial advice to help you save money and fight climate change by reducing carbon dioxide emissions from your home.

Oh, come on, it made me really laugh well, people telling you what are we going to do when the wind stops blowing :) :) :) :)

Sometimes makes me wish oil would deplete a bit faster so big corporations will stop messing up with advantageous technologies...

Why not just use proven technology, take up far less land and simply build a nuclear power station (or several) rather than an indeterminate number of wind turbines in inaccessible areas? The technology is there, time online is >90%, in total contrast to the 30odd% for a wind turbine. It is only Luddites like you that resist progress in how we generate our power.

Hello again "nuke the world". Thanks for your question.

Here's a quick run-down of why nuclear new build can't keep the lights on and actually threatens our ability to reduce our carbon emissions:

• Even if Britain built ten new reactors, nuclear power can only deliver a 4 per cent cut in carbon emissions some time after 2025. Eventhe Government admits this (Sustainable Development Commission figures). It's too little too late at too high a price.

• Most of the gas we use is for heating and hot water and for industrial purposes. Nuclear power cannot replace that energy. And it's a similar case for oil as it's virtually all used for transport - nuclear power can't take its place.

• Indeed, 86 per cent of our oil and gas consumption is for purposes other than producing electricity. So nuclear power, which can only generate electricity, is almost irrelevant.

• The real solutions to the energy gap and climate change are available now. Energy efficiency, cleaner use of fossil fuels, renewables and state of the art decentralised power stations like they have in Scandinavia. Together they have the potential to deliver reliable low carbon energy quicker and cheaper. They are also safe and globally applicable, unlike nuclear. But these technologies will be strangled if cash and political energy get thrust at nuclear power.

For more detail you can download the full briefing as a pdf. Incidentally I'm sure you'll be pleased to know that this is one of the most downloaded files on our site - it's a subject many peopel are extremely concerned about.

Check if your home is in a good area to get a domestic wind turbine by visiting http://www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/ The Energy Saving Trust A non-profit organisation that provides free impartial advice to help you save money and fight climate change by reducing carbon dioxide emissions from your home.

Oh, come on, it made me really laugh well, people telling you what are we going to do when the wind stops blowing :) :) :) :) Sometimes makes me wish oil would deplete a bit faster so big corporations will stop messing up with advantageous technologies...

Why not just use proven technology, take up far less land and simply build a nuclear power station (or several) rather than an indeterminate number of wind turbines in inaccessible areas? The technology is there, time online is >90%, in total contrast to the 30odd% for a wind turbine. It is only Luddites like you that resist progress in how we generate our power.

Hello again "nuke the world". Thanks for your question.

Here's a quick run-down of why nuclear new build can't keep the lights on and actually threatens our ability to reduce our carbon emissions:

• Even if Britain built ten new reactors, nuclear power can only deliver a 4 per cent cut in carbon emissions some time after 2025. Eventhe Government admits this (Sustainable Development Commission figures). It's too little too late at too high a price.

• Most of the gas we use is for heating and hot water and for industrial purposes. Nuclear power cannot replace that energy. And it's a similar case for oil as it's virtually all used for transport - nuclear power can't take its place.

• Indeed, 86 per cent of our oil and gas consumption is for purposes other than producing electricity. So nuclear power, which can only generate electricity, is almost irrelevant.

• The real solutions to the energy gap and climate change are available now. Energy efficiency, cleaner use of fossil fuels, renewables and state of the art decentralised power stations like they have in Scandinavia. Together they have the potential to deliver reliable low carbon energy quicker and cheaper. They are also safe and globally applicable, unlike nuclear. But these technologies will be strangled if cash and political energy get thrust at nuclear power.

For more detail you can download the full briefing as a pdf. Incidentally I'm sure you'll be pleased to know that this is one of the most downloaded files on our site - it's a subject many peopel are extremely concerned about.

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