Top Myths About Wind Energy:
4. Wind farms are inefficient and only work 30% of the time.
Fact: A modern wind turbine produces electricity 70-85% of the time, but it generates different outputs depending on the wind speed. Over the course of a year, it will typically generate about 30% of the theoretical maximum output.
Most turbine arrays in North East England (and, indeed, in nearly all of England and Wales, and much of southern Scotland) are failing to produce anything like the “typical” figure claimed by the BWEA.
When we revealed DECC’s figures for the North East in 2006, wind industry ‘experts’ angrily responded, claiming that North East load factors were low because many of the then operating turbines were old/small/inefficient and that they would rapidly improve with newer turbines. But, they failed to explain how the North East was any different from, for example, Cornwall, which had the same preponderence of smaller, first generation turbines but which recorded much higher outputs. They also failed to explain how building new turbines in populated, low wind areas such as north Northumberland and much of lowland Eastern England and Scotland was going to improve the figures. This is especially the case when turbines would have to run in a ‘reduced noise output’ mode due to proximity to housing (as would have been the case at ‘Moorsyde’): this can reduce an already small power output by a further 30 to 40%.
The official figures reveal the truth.
Common sense suggests that the figures will actually get worse unless turbines are concentrated in areas with a good wind resource.
However, undiscriminating subsidies have meant that the lower costs of developing lowland, low wind sites more than offset any gains from a higher potential output at remote upland sites that are difficult to access, develop and connect to the grid. Your Energy Ltd, the moorsyde developer, revealed the truth:
Historically, wind farm developers have chased the windiest sites to optimise returns... Your Energy believes that the Renewables Obligation together with technological advances allow a new approach ... (Your Energy Ltd., ‘Moorsyde’ Brochure).
Research commissioned by the Renewable Energy Foundation (REF), using OFGEM’s recorded production figures for 2005 exposed more widespread problems. While capacities offshore are better, those onshore are generally only superior in locations very distant from centres of population.
Using this analysis of the Ofgem data, researchers have calibrated a model predicting how a large installed capacity of wind power built across the UK would actually perform. The project used Meteorological Office data to model output for every hour of every January from 1994-2006.
The startling results show that, even when distributed UK wide, the output is still highly volatile. Mr Graham Sinden argued in a controversial paper that there would be a much greater ‘smoothing effect’ from distributed wind installations.
The wind industry also argues that connecting the UK grid with high-capacity links to those of other European nations would create a ‘Supergrid’ with wind so widely spread that output would be sure to even out. In an article for the journal Energy Policy (‘Will British weather provide reliable electricity?’), consulting engineer Jim Oswald and his co-authors compare a UK big-wind model of output with those produced by other European wind bases, particularly the substantial German/Danish one:
Not only does the large continental wind base exhibit nasty rollercoaster surges in aggregate output, these surges tend to match those to be expected in the UK. When the wind isn't blowing across most of the UK, it isn’t blowing in Germany, Denmark etc. either. Worse still, this happens in the dead of winter when electricity demand is highest.
There is good agreement between the model and the [real-world European wind power output] data, which further supports the argument that wind output is controlled by the arrival and dispersal of large low-pressure systems moving over the coasts of Western Europe.
(See: ‘Wind power pricier, emits more CO2 than thought’, article on Oswald consultancy research for REF in The Register, 3 July 2008).
Recent experience further supports this view: at 17.30 on the 7th of December 2010, when the UK recorded its fourth highest load of 60,050 MW the UK wind fleet, with c. 5,200 MW headline capacity, was producing about 300 MW, a Load Factor of 5.8%. One of the largest wind farms in the United Kingdom, the 322 MW Whitelee Wind Farm was producing approximately 5 MW, a Load Factor of 1.6%.
Meanwhile, load factor in other European countries at exactly this time was also low. The German wind fleet was recording a load factor of approximately 3% (830MW/25,777 MW) and Denmark 4% (142 MW / 3,500 MW).
Such figures confirm theoretical arguments that regardless of the size of the wind fleet the United Kingdom will never be able to reduce its conventional generation fleet below peak load plus a margin of approximately 10%.
(See: Renewable Energy Foundation. ‘Low Wind Power Output 2010 ’).
Recent history has shown that wind power output at the time of the winter peak can be very low. The winter peak normally occurs when temperatures are low and this often results from anti-cyclonic conditions that also mean very little wind. High pressure normally extends over a large area and this could mean there would be very little wind generation in Western Europe.
(National Grid, ‘Winter Outlook Report 2009/10’. ‘Generation Side Risks’, 167, p.54).
More recent research has confirmed the findings above.
See also: Paul-Frederik Bach, ‘Geographical Distribution and Wind Power Smoothing 2009, Observations from Denmark, Germany and Ireland’. (PDF download).
The Renewable Energy Foundation publishes a very valuable resource in its ‘Renewable Energy Data’ files (‘RED’ Files) these provide site specific load factors and output data for the various renewables sectors. The data files are accompanied by sector overview files, one for each technology area. Check out the Wind file for site specific data that gives the real output figures for wind installations - from Ofgem figures on which RO payments are based - rather than the wind industry’s fanciful forecasts and creative claims.
See also the Digest of UK Energy Statistics (DUKES) figures that are available on the DECC website.
In December 2010, during the coldest December for 120 years, the UK hit a winter peak load of nearly 60,050MW. Wind power, as in the previous two winters, repeatedly failed to deliver.
The fuel types graph shows the scramble to bring hydro, pumped storage, the French interconnector and even seldom used oil-fired capacity online to meet demand. Wind is not even visible on the graph, providing a mere 61MW at peak from a total UK metered capacity of 2,430MW, only 2.5% of its theoretical capacity.
The forecast out-turn graph shows wind output falling as low as 20MW, less than 0.1% of headline capacity.
This underlines National Grid’s observations on wind power generation during peak demand for the three winters previous to 2010-11:
In terms of generation availability we saw a small contribution from wind generation at the time of the demand peak, underlining the need to discount the technical availability of intermittent generation types.1
1 National Grid, ‘Winter Outlook, 2010-11’, 17. See below.
During the winter of 2009-2010, the coldest for 30 years, we experienced repeated cold spells when electricity demand soared and wind power generation failed to deliver. 1
Taking as an example 18-20 February, we saw a settled, continental weather system bringing cold weather to the UK. Demand rose as temperatures fell, but the 1588MW of wind capacity that was metered by National Grid, all in the windiest part of the UK (Scotland), was effectively delivering 0.0% of load. 2
The Balancing Mechanism website shows that metered wind capacity was contributing only 13MW at the time of peak demand (6.00pm) and fell as low as 8MW during this period.
Apologists for the wind industry are fond of telling us that intermittent wind power generation can be easily integrated into the system because modern forecasting allows for the accurate prediction of wind power output.
This is not true. Firstly, only 2430MW of a total installed capacity of 4616.045MW (BWEA figures, 29/08/2010) are currently metered and therefore visible to the National Grid. Secondly, National Grid’s own half-hourly forecast and outurn records show just how inaccurate forecasting is in practice:
NG themselves only claim limited accuracy for their forecasting:
“The predictability of the wind varies with atmospheric conditions and so there may be periods where National Grid’s forecast and outturn values differ significantly.” (‘Wind forecast outturns - Information’, BM reports website).
Recently (June 2010), with yet another high pressure system sitting over the UK, output of metered capacity fell as low as 2MW. This is the headline capacity of 1 small turbine, 0.1% of metered wind capacity and a contribution to national generating capacity of 0.0%, as registered by National Grid.
This is not an isolated occurrence, just to mention a few more lows: 15 June - 3MW; 17 June - 5MW; 12 July - 12MW; 23 July - 14MW; 2 August - 4MW; 8 August - 7MW; 27 August - 13MW; 31 August - 1MW; 1 September - 6MW; 2 September - 12MW; 31 October - 9MW; etc.
Reuters reports that 2010 has been a bad year for UK wind speeds, perhaps the worse since 1821:
A recent report from wind consultancy Garrad Hassan said UK wind yields have dropped this year to perhaps a 1 in 15 year event due to stable high pressure. Energy levels from wind dropped 27.8% in the first quarter compared with the average and 18.3% in the second quarter - compared with a 5% drop in the last quarter of 2009 and a 15.7% increase in the third quarter of 2009. The North Atlantic Oscillation index has been measured since 1821 and this correlates with the Garrad Hassan wind index which itself been in existence for 15 years. The NAO index numbers for the 4 months from December 2009 to March 2010 were the most negative since 1821.
Unless something very odd is happening [hasn’t the IPCC modelled this?] it is fair to assume wind yields will continue to vary quarter by quarter. Debt and equity financiers use probability models - P50 and P90 tests - to make judgments on the wind yields over a period of time so while low wind yields are not good, they can be factored into financial models.
The much bigger question, however, is for energy planners. Relying on a variable source of energy creates problems in terms of day-to-day security of power supply, particularly if wind accounts a quarter of the country’s power generation by 2030 as planned in the UK. National Grid Company (NG.L) has already started to build up its short term operating reserve (STOR) programme to encourage the building of peaking power plants which can be turned on very quickly, for short periods of time. 4
Apologists for the wind industry are fond of referring to research by Mr Graham Sinden which, supposedly, demonstrates the ‘smoothing effect’ of wind power generation over very large areas.
Mr Sinden correctly claimed that it was very rarely the case that wind failed to generate any power at all anywhere in the UK.
But, as members of a Select Committee on Science and Technology pointed out, Mr Sinden had cherry-picked the worst possible case and had avoided examining the frequency of very low, rather than zero, wind speeds over the whole of the UK, a fairly frequent occurrence. 3
As can be seen from the power curve diagram below, turbines do not start to generate until the wind is 2-3m/s and do not generate any significant amount of power until wind speeds are over 5m/s. At low wind speeds turbines can be net consumers of power. This is especially the case in low winter temperatures when turbine de-icing and heating can consume 20% of a turbine’s rated capacity.
1 ‘Green setback for UK as power supplied by renewable sources falls’, The Guardian, 28 June 2010.
2 Balancing Mechanism website.
3 Select Committee on Science and Technology, Minutes of Evidence, 11 February, 2004. Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140-159).
4 ‘Offshore deals tests banks as wind drops’, Reuters, 27 August, 2010.
‘Analysis of UK Wind Power Generation November 2008 to December 2010’
A Report by Stuart Young, supported by the John Muir Trust.
in respect of analysis of electricity generation from all the U.K. windfarms which are metered by National Grid, November 2008 to December 2010.
The following five statements are common assertions made by both the wind industry and Government representatives and agencies. This Report examines those assertions.
“Wind turbines will generate on average 30% of their rated capacity over a year.”
“The wind is always blowing somewhere.”
“Periods of widespread low wind are infrequent.”
“The probability of very low wind output coinciding with peak electricity demand is slight.”
“Pumped storage hydro can fill the generation gap during prolonged low wind periods.”
This analysis uses publicly available data for a 26 month period between November 2008 and December 2010 and the facts in respect of the above assertions are:
Average output from wind was 27.18% of metered capacity in 2009, 21.14% in 2010, and 24.08% between November 2008 and December 2010 inclusive.
There were 124 separate occasions from November 2008 till December 2010 when total generation from the windfarms metered by National Grid was less than 20MW. (Average capacity over the period was in excess of 1600MW).
The average frequency and duration of a low wind event of 20MW or less between November 2008 and December 2010 was once every 6.38 days for a period of 4.93 hours.
At each of the four highest peak demands of 2010 wind output was low being respectively 4.72%, 5.51%, 2.59% and 2.51% of capacity at peak demand.
The entire pumped storage hydro capacity in the UK can provide up to 2788MW for only 5 hours then it drops to 1060MW, and finally runs out of water after 22 hours.
The full report is available from the John Muir Trust website.
Downloadable PDF file, see National Grid website.
Winter Review 2009/10
17. In terms of generation availability we saw a small contribution from wind generation at the time of the demand peak, underlining the need to discount the technical availability of intermittent generation types.
2009/10 Electricity Generation Capacity
140. A more detailed view of the amount of electricity generated by wind is shown in Figure A.30. This data is based on the wind farms that are currently visible to National Grid through operational metering. These wind farms have a total capacity of approximately 1586 MW. The output varied between 3 MW and 1586 MW with an average of 435 MW. This gives an average load factor of 27% over the period. From a security of energy supply perspective the key issue is the uncertainty and variability of output and the average load factor is of limited use. What can be observed from the data below is two periods of low wind output over several days in early November 2009 and early January 2010. Both of these periods were relatively cold for the time of year and coincided with relatively high electricity demands.
141. Figure A.31 highlights that at the times of peak electricity demand over the last three successive winters wind power output has been relatively low compared with average load factors.
142. Table A.9 gives a summary of wind power generation volumes as operationally metered by National Grid for the last four winters. The volume of wind power generation itself is not particularly a key metric for us from a system operation perspective itself, but here it is a useful indicator of the growth in the impact of wind power with its inherent uncertainty and volatility.
145. [...] Wind generation output was only 7% at the time of the winter peak. [...]
146. Note that for wind and hydro generation in table A.10 that the basis of assumed availability is different to that for other fuel types as it is actual load factor at the time of the demand peak and not technical declared availability as in both cases availability of input energy to the generation is a more limiting factor. In turbine availability terms we expect that wind turbine technical availability was in the high ninety percentage level range, but this has very little significance if the wind is not at a speed where they can generate at full output.
Generation Side Risks
254. Recent history has shown that during peak demand, the demand contribution from wind power could be low. If wind power output is discounted to zero over the winter demand peak, available generation reduces by 200 MW (10% of 1.9 GW capacity). Hence in the current environment the impact of no wind is of low materiality for this winter.
The above diagram clearly shows the problem of forecasting wind speed and hence power production from wind turbines. The margin of error in forecasting wind speeds plus a safety margin has to be covered by reserve when significant amounts of power are generated from wind.
The real world experience from countries with a large installed capacity has been that it substitutes for only a small percentage of fossil-fuelled power and that it leads to significant problems in grid management.
It is no coincidence that some of the most critical voices of wind power generation come from the companies that manage electricity supply and distribution.
“Because wind is an intermittent resource, it can not be counted upon in California to meet the peak loads on the hottest days of the year. [...] The wind typically does not blow on the hottest days of the year so the wind generation production is usually less than 10% of its nameplate capacity at the time of the summer peak load.” (California ISO integration of renewable resources report , August 2007).
“Typically during the summer months, the CAISO simultaneous peak demand occurs during hour-ending 1700. As shown in Figure 7, the actual wind generation for the period of the July 2006 heat wave averaged less than 200 MW during the hour of system peak demand.”
“Whilst wind power feed-in at 9.15am on Christmas Eve reached its maximum for the year at 6,024MW, it fell to below 2,000MW within only 10 hours, a difference of over 4,000MW. This corresponds to the capacity of 8 x 500MW coal fired power station blocks. On Boxing Day, wind power feed-in in the E.ON grid fell to below 40MW. Handling such significant differences in feed-in levels poses a major challenge to grid operators.”
‘Loss of wind causes Texas power grid emergency
‘ - A drop in wind generation late on Tuesday, coupled with colder weather, triggered an electric emergency that caused the Texas grid operator to cut service to some large customers, the grid agency said on Wednesday.
‘Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) said a decline in wind energy production in west Texas occurred at the same time evening electric demand was building as colder temperatures moved into the state.
‘The grid operator went directly to the second stage of an emergency plan at 6:41 PM CST (0041 GMT), ERCOT said in a statement.
‘System operators curtailed power to interruptible customers to shave 1,100 megawatts of demand within 10 minutes, ERCOT said. Interruptible customers are generally large industrial customers who are paid to reduce power use when emergencies occur.
(See: Yahoo! News, Wednesday Feb 27).
‘Sure, wind is among the cheapest, cleanest fuels generating the power Texans increasingly demand. But as officials brag about the state's status as the No. 1 wind producer in the country, they're also debating how much is too much. Building the transmission lines to bring wind power from rural West Texas to population zones will cost billions. And even with enough transmission lines, the on-again, off-again nature of wind can leave coal and natural gas-fired power plants scrambling to fill in the gaps.’
‘For electricity companies, predicting wind patterns is a new art.’
‘The wind blows hardest before the sun comes up, when people aren't using much power. It tends to die down during the afternoon – especially in the summer – just when people demand more juice.’
‘Even if regulators solve the transmission issue, it isn't easy integrating more wind power into the grid.’
‘In February, wind in West Texas died unexpectedly, leaving ERCOT scrambling to get backup natural gas plants online to meet power demand. The scare prompted ERCOT to upgrade its wind forecasting system. ’
‘ERCOT pays some power plants to operate on standby, ready to begin producing power within minutes if needed. Accommodating the fickle wind means paying more plants to stand by, adding to the total cost of wholesale power.’ [And emitting CO2! Ed.]
(see: Dallas News, Sunday, July 6, 2008).
‘As North Texans sweltered through another 100-degree-plus day, the windmills around Sweetwater turned lazily in the West Texas breeze, generating enough electricity to power about 250,000 homes.’
‘It’s not much — barely 1 percent of the peak electricity demand Monday for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, operator of the transmission grid for about 75 percent of the state. But it’s about what is expected from the state’s wind-power industry, by far the nation’s largest, during the dog days of summer, when temperatures climb but wind speeds dip on the West Texas plains.’
‘"In general, wind’s peak energy does not coincide with peak electricity demand. It’s not a good match," said Andy Swift, director of the Wind Science and Engineering Research Center at Texas Tech University in Lubbock.’
(see: Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 5 August, 2008).
A study of wind industry performance in Ontario in 2006 discovered that it had failed to meet industry forecasts:
Capacity factor so far is 22.3% (not including results from a wind farm apparently experiencing start-up problems);
Periods of very low or no production were particularly common during high-demand periods;
High but highly variable wind production during low demand periods was common;
The hourly production pattern in most months demonstrated a declining average output during the 4 a.m. to 8 a.m. period – a period when consumer power usage consistently increases.
‘A $3 Million wind farm turbine caught fire while dozens shut down at the time South Australia most needed them when a heatwave left 63,000 South Australian homes without power last month [January 2006]. Adding to the drama, firefighters could not extinguish the blaze because the tower was too high at 67m.’
‘Lack of wind and automatic shutdowns triggered by hot temperatures were to blame for the state’s 180 turbines producing just 10 per cent of their maximum power capacity during the January heatwave, according to experts. The experience proved SA could not rely on wind power to provide electricity when demand was greatest, the Electricity Supply Industry Planning Council (ESIPC) said.’
‘“You never know if the wind will be blowing when you need it to or if wind turbines will shut down, “ ESIPC spokesman Brad Cowain said.’
(Sunday Mail, Adelaide. 12 February 2006 - JPEG image of article).
“Energy policy is crucial for the world, and a wide public should be engaged in debate and decisions on these issues. But such debate must be grounded in realistic numbers and good physics. All the key principles are clearly and accessibly explained in this book. David MacKay has performed a great service by writing it.” (Prof Martin Rees, FRS, President of the Royal Society).
Excerpt from Chapter 4, Wind.:
‘We can make an estimate of the potential of on-shore (land-based) wind in the United Kingdom by multiplying the average power per unit land-area of a wind farm by the area per person in the UK:
‘power per person = wind power per unit area area per person.
‘Chapter B (p263) explains how to estimate the power per unit area of a wind farm in the UK. If the typical windspeed is 6 m/s (13 miles per hour, or 22 km/h), the power per unit area of wind farm is about 2 W/m2.
‘This figure of 6 m/s is probably an over-estimate for many locations in Britain. For example, figure 4.1 shows daily average windspeeds in Cam- bridge during 2006. The daily average speed reached 6 m/s on only about 30 days of the year – see figure 4.6 for a histogram. But some spots do have windspeeds above 6 m/s – for example, the summit of Cairngorm in Scotland (figure 4.2).
‘Plugging in the British population density: 250 people per square kilometre, or 4000 square metres per person, we find that wind power could generate
‘2 W/m2 4000 m2/person = 8000 W per person,
‘if wind turbines were packed across the whole country, and assuming 2 W/m2 is the correct power per unit area. Converting to our favourite power units, that’s 200 kWh/d per person.
‘Let’s be realistic. What fraction of the country can we really imagine covering with windmills? Maybe 10%? Then we conclude: if we covered the windiest 10% of the country with windmills (delivering 2 W/m2), we would be able to generate 20 kWh/d per person, which is half of the power used by driving an average fossil-fuel car 50 km per day.
‘Britain’s onshore wind energy resource may be “huge,” but it’s evidently not as huge as our huge consumption. We’ll come to offshore wind later.
‘I should emphasize how generous an assumption I’m making. Let’s compare this estimate of British wind potential with current installed wind power worldwide. The windmills that would be required to provide the UK with 20 kWh/d per person amount to 50 times the entire wind hardware of Denmark; 7 times all the wind farms of Germany; and double the entire fleet of all wind turbines in the world. [Our emphasis].
‘Please don’t misunderstand me. Am I saying that we shouldn’t bother building wind farms? Not at all. I’m simply trying to convey a helpful fact, namely that if we want wind power to truly make a difference, the wind farms must cover a very large area.
‘This conclusion – that the maximum contribution of onshore wind, albeit “huge,” is much less than our consumption – is important, so let’s check the key figure, the assumed power per unit area of wind farm (2 W/m2), against a real UK wind farm.
‘The Whitelee wind farm being built near Glasgow in Scotland has 140 turbines with a combined peak capacity of 322 MW in an area of 55 km2. That’s 6 W/m2, peak. The average power produced is smaller because the turbines don’t run at peak output all the time. The ratio of the average power to the peak power is called the “load factor” or “capacity factor,” and it varies from site to site, and with the choice of hardware plopped on the site; a typical factor for a good site with modern turbines is 30%. If we assume Whitelee has a load factor of 33% [it was 24% in 2009, Ed.] then the average power production per unit land area is 2 W/m2 – exactly the same as the power density we assumed above.
Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, 25 February, 2013
‘Harvard research suggests real-world generating capacity of wind farms at large scales has been overestimated
‘Cambridge, Mass. – February 25, 2013 – “People have often thought there’s no upper bound for wind power—that it’s one of the most scalable power sources,” says Harvard applied physicist David Keith. After all, gusts and breezes don’t seem likely to “run out” on a global scale in the way oil wells might run dry.
‘Yet the latest research in mesoscale atmospheric modeling, published today in the journal Environmental Research Letters, suggests that the generating capacity of large-scale wind farms has been overestimated.
‘Each wind turbine creates behind it a “wind shadow” in which the air has been slowed down by drag on the turbine's blades. The ideal wind farm strikes a balance, packing as many turbines onto the land as possible, while also spacing them enough to reduce the impact of these wind shadows. But as wind farms grow larger, they start to interact, and the regional-scale wind patterns matter more.
‘Keith’s research has shown that the generating capacity of very large wind power installations (larger than 100 square kilometers) may peak at between 0.5 and 1 watts per square meter. Previous estimates, which ignored the turbines’ slowing effect on the wind, had put that figure at between 2 and 7 watts per square meter.
‘In short, we may not have access to as much wind power as scientists thought.
‘An internationally renowned expert on climate science and technology policy, Keith holds appointments as Gordon McKay Professor of Applied Physics at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and as Professor of Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School. Coauthor Amanda S. Adams was formerly a postdoctoral fellow with Keith and is now assistant professor of geography and Earth sciences at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
A paper on the achilles heel of the wind industry. Word doc download.
‘Surplus wind power could cost Ontario ratepayers millions and compromise power system, says electricity system operator. It says renewable energy market rules must change
Toronto Star, 27 February, 2013.
‘Coping with surplus wind power will cost Ontario electricity ratepayers up to $200 million a year if market rules don’t change, says the power system operator.
‘Moreover, it says, if it can’t control the flow of wind and solar power onto the Ontario grid, then “reliable and economic operation of the power system is, at best, highly compromised and likely not feasible.”
‘The Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) makes the statements in a filing with the Ontario Energy Board.
‘It is responding to complaints from big wind power companies that the IESO’s proposals to impose new market rules on wind and solar power will cost them millions in lost revenue.
‘The dispute comes as more and more renewable power is about to flow onto the province’s power grid.
‘About 2,700 megawatts of wind and solar power are currently feeding electricity into Ontario’s system, three-quarters of it wind. That amount is set to more than triple by January, 2016.
‘Solar power generally flows into the system when it’s most needed, when demand for power is high.
‘But wind often blows at the wrong time — overnight when demand, or “load” on the system is low — and dies when demand is high.
‘“It is not unusual for the wind to fall off in the morning at the same time as the morning load picks up,” says the IESO.
‘At present, the IESO can’t control the flow of wind and solar onto the system in the same way it can control the output of other generators. It all flows onto the grid, and is paid a fixed price.
‘When there’s more power than the system can handle, the IESO sells it to neighbouring provinces and states — sometimes at a loss, and sometimes actually paying them to take it.
‘Those losses are absorbed by ratepayers, and added to the electricity bill as the “global adjustment,” which now often exceeds the price of energy by a wide margin.
‘So far this month [February, 2013], for example, the market price for power has averaged 2.96 cents a kilowatt hour. The global adjustment has been 5.73 cents a kwh. Consumers pay delivery and debt.
“You really don’t count on wind energy as capacity. It is different from other technologies because it can’t be dispatched,” said Christine Real de Azua, assistant director of communications for the American Wind Energy Association.
(August 29, 2006 by Esther Whieldon in Platts Power Markets Week. See full article).
‘California legislators need to remember wind generation is not the answer to California’s growing energy capacity needs, said Yakout Mansour, president and CEO of the state’s Independent System Operator.1
‘On August 9, while giving a summary of the ISO’s performance during last month’s heat wave and energy crunch, Mansour told California’s Senate Committee on Governmental Organizations that while conservation, demand response, interruptible programs, and voluntary load reductions played a “significant role in making it through the tough days,” wind resources were on average only supplying about 5% of their installed nameplate power capacity during peak hours.
‘It was a good time to educate the legislatures, Mansour told Platts in an interview on August 17. “It is very important for them to know what [wind power] does and what it doesn't do,” Mansour said. “This was a good time to be honest with them.”
‘The California Public Utilities Commission is requiring investor-owned utilities in California to have 20% of their energy portfolios include renewable resources such as wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass, by 2010. This energy does not have to be part of the utilities’ capacity. Instead, a utility has to demonstrate through ownership of renewable energy credits that it has supported an amount of renewable generation equal to 20% of their annual kWh sales.
‘“You really don’t count on wind energy as capacity. It is different from other technologies because it can’t be dispatched,” said Christine Real de Azua, assistant director of communications for the American Wind Energy Association.
‘The ISO believes wind is a great resource for replacing power purchased from gas and coal power plants, "but it is not a panacea," an ISO spokesman said. "We advocate a balanced portfolio." Generators will still need to supplement the intermittent nature of wind by shaping hydroelectric output or with new coal- and gas-fired generators.
‘There is about 2500 MW of installed nameplate wind generation currently operational in California, according to ISO documents. Wind turbines typically can produce at 25% to 30% of capacity according to the American Wind Energy Association. This would mean that on average during a blustery day in California wind farms could produce about 625 MW to 750 MW.
‘Daily snapshots of available wind energy when the ISO reached its peak from July 22 through July 25 was on average about 6% of capacity or about 150 MW, according to Cal-ISO data.
‘California’s rapidly expanding energy needs became quite clear when demand in July went about 6% above the worst-case summer scenario accessed by the ISO earlier this year. ISO control area loads hit a record high of 50,270 MW at about 2:45pm July 24. At that time, wind in California was contributing about 255 MW, or about 10% of wind nameplate capacity.
‘Ironically, the very heat storm that caused loads to spike also caused decreased wind flows.
‘In the meantime, load-serving entities know not to count on the full nameplate capacity of a plant, said a market participant who trades primarily in California markets, “Wind doesn't help from a keep-the-lights-on-perspective,” the source said.’
1 “The California ISO is a not-for-profit public-benefit corporation charged with operating the majority of California’s high-voltage wholesale power grid. Balancing the demand for electricity with an equal supply of megawatts, the ISO is the impartial link between power plants and the utilities that serve more than 30 million consumers.”
In 2003, faced with 4,500MW of intermittent power from renewables, the West Danish grid operator Eltra was feeling the strain:
Per Andersen, Chief Information Officer, Eltra:
“The large, unregulated output of electricity from renewables such as wind turbines and decentralised combined heat and power [CHP] plants puts Eltra's central control room operators in a position which can be likened to driving a speeding truck without a steering wheel, accelerator, gears or brakes. For many reasons, this stressful ride can’t go on.”
Hans Schitt, Chairman, Eltra:
“You can understand that while the total was modest it was of no consequence to the system operator whether the plants operated or how they operated. But it's not like that now. We can now experience 4,500MW being fed into the system whether we can use it or not. Quite simply, it can't go on like this. Decentralised production must take its share of responsibility for the functioning of the system.”
Eltra Magazine, No. 1, 2003 (translated from the Danish).
We are presently in the position described by Hans Schitt - the amount of wind generated power is not yet large enough to affect grid operation. If we continue on the present course of unplanned, developer-led expansion of wind power, we will soon hit the sort of problems that the Danes and Germans have now had for several years: an unstable grid with feast or famine supplies of intermittent power being produced far from the end user.
It is interesting that the grid operators in both Denmark and Germany are highly critical of wind power and the problems it creates. Even when, as in the case of E.ON , they are also major wind power station owners and operators themselves.
Denmark is a very small player in a large market.
Its integration into the much larger Scandinavian and German electricity markets by means of very large interconnects, means that it has been able to use c. 7-10% of a near 20% of prioritised wind-generated electricity without disastrous problems. But this has been at very considerable cost to the consumer in exporting expensively subsidised wind power below cost.
Denmark has now introduced negative tariffs for wind producers when the spot market dictates. This means that producers will be forced to shut down during periods of highest productivity. (See below).
Despite carpeting their countryside with over 5,000 wind turbines, the Danes have seen little reduction in CO2 emissions from electricity generation. Reductions in sulphur and nitrogen dioxide have been achieved by improving combustion and scrubbing processes.
Paul-Frederik Bach, ‘Wind Power Variations are exported’, March, 2010 (PDF file)
Center for Politiske Studier (CEPOS), ‘Wind Energy, The Case of Denmark’, September 2009, (PDF download).
Kent Hawkins, ‘Peeling Away the Onion of Denmark Wind (Part I)’, 26 October, 2010.
The huge installed wind capacity in Germany is only managed by what is euphemistically called ‘curtailment’ (and by dumping power below cost to neighbouring countries). Wind power generators are now up in arms because curtailment is affecting their profits:
Too many turbines - German wind power station operators sue grid operators for shut-downs
‘A number of wind park operators in the northern German federal state of Schleswig-Holstein have filed an action for damages with the district court in the town of Itzehoe against the power grid operator E.ON Netz. They are accusing the company of using superficial or specious technical difficulties as an excuse for preventing the use of wind-generated electricity, which is unpopular with energy utilities. Last year the wind turbines were already taken off the grid for several hours on about 40 windy days. “And with respect to this year we are already talking about a downtime of 15 percent,” Hermann Albers, Vice President of the German Wind Energy Association (BWE), said. This state of affairs had serious implications for the economic viability of wind parks, he noted.’
(See full article, 23/06/2006).
‘Too much of a good thing: Growth in wind power makes life difficult for grid managers’ (Oregon)
The Oregonian, 17 July, 2010.
‘On the afternoon of May 19, in a single chaotic hour, more than a thousand wind turbines in the Columbia River Gorge went from spinning lazily in the breeze to full throttle as a storm rolled east out of Hood River.
‘Suddenly, almost two nuclear plants worth of extra power was sizzling down the lines -- the largest hourly spike in wind power the Northwest has ever experienced.
‘At the Bonneville Power Administration's control room in Vancouver, it was too much of a good thing. More electricity than its customers needed. More than the available power lines could export from the region. And more than the grid could readily absorb by ramping down generation at the region’s network of federal dams.
‘So the edict went out: Feather your turbine blades; slash output.
‘It was an unwelcome instruction for wind farm owners, whose economics depend on generating electricity whenever possible. Yet it’s one likely to go out with increasing frequency.
‘During the last three years, the building boom spawned by green energy mandates in Oregon, Washington and California doubled the generation capacity of wind farms in the region. By 2013, it’s expected to double again.
‘That seems like great news. Plenty of carbon-free energy with no fuel costs. Jobs. Property taxes.
‘In the real world, however, the pace and geographic concentration of wind development, coupled with wild swings in its output, are overwhelming the region’s electrical grid and outstripping its ability to use the power or send it elsewhere.
The Danes now penalise wind producers through the use of penalty payments when the spot market for electricity dictates that there is no demand for their product:
‘Now the wind turbines stop, just when it blows most’ (Denmark)
Ingeniøren, 14 September 2009
‘On the 1 October  wind turbine owners risk having to pay to get rid of their power in windy weather. They have therefore developed a system which automatically stops the turbines, they say it is a crying shame to chuck away green power.
Only recently (2010) has National Grid started to wake up to the problems of coping with a very large wind capacity. It was recently admitted that they are now working out how to manage UK wind output using ‘curtailment’. This means that NG/the consumer pay producers top wholesale rates plus subsidy not to generate (see ‘Firms paid to shut down wind farms when the wind is blowing’, The Telegraph, 19 Jun 2010.
Nobody seems to be asking what will happen when every country in Europe has a large capacity of heavily subsidised intermittent generators. We suspect European governments will all have to compensate operators for curtailment before eventually the costs and political pressure from consumers leads to reduction in subsidies (already happening in Spain and Denmark) and abandonment (a problem in the USA in the 1990’s) or paid decommissioning of turbine arrays.
What is absolutely certain is that the electricity consumer/tax payer, and our landscapes, will have paid very dearly for the great wind power bubble of the noughties.
First generation industrial turbines were usually 30m to 50m high. Typical examples were the 42.5m Windmaster turbines at Blyth Harbour. Most first generation turbines are being replaced (‘repowered’, in the jargon) with turbines that are 125m to 150m high.
At Blyth Harbour the first of seven 130m Repower turbines has been built and is towering over the town.
People have expressed their shock at the size of the turbines currently being built, but, as ever, things have already moved on. Enercon’s E-126 turbine has been deployed at sites in Germany, France and Belgium. It is 198m (649.6 ft) high!
For comparison, the Chatton TV mast is 152.9m high. The 40 storey Swiss Re building in London, ‘the Gherkin’, is 180m.
German turbine manufacturers Enercon and REpower are both planning the next generation of turbines which it is thought will be up to 250m in height (820 ft).
Vestas have launched their new 187m V164 turbine, aimed, in the first instance, at offshore use.
Ditlev Engel, CEO of Vestas, states that, “Its turbine is longer than the Swiss Re building, located in London (180m), and the rotating area of its blade (21,124㎡) is three times as large as Wembley Stadium”. (etnews).
The 83.5m blades built by Danish manufacturer SSP for Samsung’s S7.0 171 7MW offshore turbine, were the largest yet produced. The turbine would have used a 110m tower, giving an overall height of 193.5m.
The prototype was constructed at the Fife Energy Park at Methil. It had been scheduled for commercial release in 2015, but in July 2015, according to Recharge News, Samsung Heavy Industries announced that it was pulling back from activities in the offshore wind sector. Unnamed industry sources were quoted by the magazine as saying that Samsung “has put its ambitions in the sector on ice, with no timeframe set for the review process.”. Samsung had invested 70 million in the project.
The scaling up of turbine sizes necessitates greater separation distances between turbines in order to optimise wind take and minimise turbulence and wake effects.
General Electric has unveiled plans for onshore turbines with hub heights of at least 130 metres to allow developers to exploit areas with difficult wind conditions. Their 2.75-103 model would have tip height of over 180m.
Spanish wind turbine manufacturer Gamesa has launched the new G128-4.5 MW turbine which will have a tip height of 188m.
These models will join Vestas’ V112 3MW turbine, which is 175m high (130m tower). It has been specifically designed for low wind, onshore sites, 17 are due for construction on a site in Germany in 2012.
The image shows clouds forming in the wakes of the front row of 110m wind turbines at Horns Rev 1 wind farm off the coast of Denmark. The downstream wind turbines lose 20% or 30% of their power, and sometimes even more, relative to the front row. The distance between turbines is 560m in both directions. (Wind Watch website).
The Danish Risø Laboratory has been modelling the problems associated with very high turbines at Horns Rev: ‘12 MW wind turbines: the scientific basis for their operation at 70 to 270 m height offshore’ (see PDF download).
“The trouble with wind farms is that they have a huge spatial footprint for a piddling little bit of electricity.”
(Sir Martin Holdgate, ex-chairman of the Renewable Energy Advisory Group, which in 1992 advised the Government to set out on an alternative energy path).
In April 2009 Alex Salmond opened the Whitelee wind power station, Europe’s largest on-shore wind farm, located south of Glasgow. It currently consists of 140 turbines (an extension of another 36 has already been announced), each 110m high.
It has a headline capacity of 322MW. Though in reality it produced 24% of that in 2009/10 and only 21% in 2010/11 (metered figures used for subsidy payments, which are worth more than 28.5 million per year). Its output is less than a quarter of that of a compact CCGT gas plant (and we will still have to build the gas plant in order to backup the erratic and intermittent production from Whitelee and and all the other wind power stations). 1
The scale of this scheme is gigantic: it covers an area of 55 square kilometres (22 square miles) equal to the central area of the city of Glasgow. The project director tells us that, “it takes 50 minutes to drive across”. 2
Most of the site is wet peat bog with peat up to 12 metres deep. The huge destruction of peat, which stores CO2, means that there is some doubt as to whether this scheme will pay back its carbon burden during the short lifetime of the scheme.
The recently approved Teesport biomass power station, a 295MW compact industrial plant with a single 70-90 metre chimney, will occupy a brownfield, industrial site that is only 0.25% of the area of the Whitelee site.
Teesport will operate for some 8,000 hours per annum producing 2,400,000MWh of predictable, base load power. The project scoping report notes:
‘As the project will run 24 hours per day, 365 days per annum, it will generate as much renewable electricity as a 1,000MWe offshore wind farm (equivalent to that generated by the London Array wind farm which is one of the largest renewable energy projects in the world)’ 3
The facility should be operational by 2012, and should alone fulfil 5.5% of the nation’s renewable energy requirements under the expected Renewable Obligation target for that year.
Until very recently, the development of biomass plant in the UK has suffered due to the Government’s myopic concentration on wind power generation.
1 National Grid is planning for 17.1GW of CCGT (gas) capacity in the next seven years and 18.9GW in the following seven years, this is on top of 30.5GW of new nuclear and 10.4GW of new coal capacity (see ‘Seven Year Statement, 2010’).
2 ‘Whitelee wind farm: Putting the wind up’, Building, Issue 14, 2008.
3 MGT Power. ‘Biomass Power Station, Teesport: Final Scoping Report’, April 2008.
See also: AJPSG: Windfarm Mapping Application(covers the whole of Scotland).
1,936 square miles is just over 2% of the UK’s total land area of 93,800 sq miles.
According to Renewable UK (formerly the British Wind Energy Association, the wind industry trade body), we had a total of 4,496.22MW of operational onshore capacity as of 6 February, 2012.
“Der Windmühlen Wahn: Vom Traum umweltfreundlicher Energie zur subventionierten Landschaftszerstörung”
At the end of 2006 Germany had 18,685 operating wind turbines, according to the German Wind Energy Association (BWE); they now have over 20,000. By comparison, the UK had 1,951 working turbines as of February, 2008 (British Wind Energy Association). Germany's massive wind capacity generated the equivalent of c. 5% of electricity consumption.
Germany is now running out of onshore sites for turbines and is concentrating on offshore construction.
However, huge numbers of German turbines have had little effect on carbon emissions due to the high level of backup required:
“Wind energy is only able to replace traditional power stations to a limited extent.
“Their dependence on the prevailing wind conditions means that wind power has a limited load factor even when technically available. It is not possible to guarantee its use for the continual cover of electricity consumption. Consequently, traditional power stations with capacities equal to 90% of the installed wind power capacity must be permanently online in order to guarantee power supply at all times. [Our emphasis].”
(E.On Netz, Wind Report 2005, p. 4)
Germany’s huge installed wind capacity has not delivered on the forecasts made for it, delivering only 17-18% of installed capacity. It has also caused increasing and serious instability in the electricity supply system:
‘FRANKFURT (Thomson Financial) - German utilities are warning the government of bottlenecks in power transmission grids due to the difficulties of integrating higher shares of wind energy, Handelsblatt reported.
‘The number of incidents has risen significantly over the past two years, the report said. Vattenfall Europe AG's transmission unit recorded 155 days where the situation was critical on grids last year , and 28 out of 29 days so far this year.
(Thomson Financial News, 31 Jan 2008).
Production companies also complain at the use of ‘curtailment’ (shutting down of wind power stations) in the effort to dampen instability.
In 2006 wind turbines were taken off the grid for several hours on about 40 windy days, “And with respect to this year we are already talking about a downtime of 15 percent,” said Hermann Albers, vice president of the BWE. There are also huge cost implications in strengthening the transmission system to try and cope with intermittent wind power surges.
Germany is committed to not replacing nuclear stations and it was announced in 2007 that they will have to build 26 new coal- and lignite-fired power stations in order to provide stable, base-load power generation. Lignite, or ‘brown coal’, is even more environmentally damaging than coal.
‘German state agency calls for new power stations.’
‘Demand increases and supply volatility arising from a growing share of erratic production from renewable sources still make new coal and gas-fired power stations necessary, Dena Managing Director Stephan Kohler said during a trade fair.’
‘Kohler illustrated problems with wind energy, saying 23,000 MW were nominally installed, but high pressure fronts in January curbed wind speeds. On one day, only 113 MW capacity was active.’
‘“This is nothing against renewables, we will just run into problems if we have 45,000 MW of weak load in the system (2020), we’d have to store power (which is technically not yet possible) or look abroad in the European market environment,” he said.’
‘But imports from neighbouring Europe could not solve the problems as it faced wider supply shortfall scenarios itself.’
‘Also, more trade would necessitate more spending on cross-border transmission lines, which faced uncertainty, Kohler said.’
(Reuters, 10 February, 2009. In Yahoo Finance.)
‘German utilities warn of power bottlenecks due to wind integration.’ Thomson Financial News, CNBC,
‘Wind parks: a hot power lines dispute’, Heise Online, 23 June 2006.
‘E.ON Netz Wind Report 2005’ is available as a PDF download .
‘German wind power investing, tilting at windmills.’ The Energy Letter, The Market Oracle. Jun 30, 2007.
‘Wuthering Heights, The Dangers of Wind Power.’ Spiegel Online, August 20, 2007. (Article on safety and reliability problems).
‘Germany Plans Boom in Coal-Fired Power Plants -- Despite High Emissions.’Spiegel Online, 22 March 2007.
‘German state agency calls for new power stations.’Yahoo, Finance (Reuters), 10 February 2009..
‘Germany's Green-Energy Gap. Germany stumbles in its move to replace coal and nuclear power with offshore wind energy.’IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers] Spectrum magazine feature, July 2009.
‘German Nuclear Power Extension threatens offshore wind funding’Bloomberg, 7 September, 2010.
Hugh Sharman, a consultant in the energy industry, presents a devastating analysis of the problems created by Denmark’s huge investment in onshore wind power generating capacity. He forecasts that these problems will be even worse in the UK if we go ahead with the present massive unplanned expansion of onshore wind power stations.
Britain’s wind-power market is at risk of overheating according to the latest issue (158, 4) of the Institution of Civil Engineers Civil Engineering journal. Energy consultant Hugh Sharman examines how experience in Denmark and Germany shows that the UK will find it impractical to manage much over 10 GW of unpredictable wind power without major new storage schemes or inter-connectors.
He shows in his paper how a 12 GW wind-farm ‘carpet’ might perform based on how Denmark’s 2.4 GW carpet performed during recent storms. This indicates that wind-power peaks could suddenly be providing more that half of England’s and Wales’ summertime demand, making the grid very difficult if not impossible to balance given the relatively slow response times of gas and nuclear plant.
The Tyndall Centre has been conducting in-depth research into renewables and their implications for carbon burdens, conventional power plant substitution and security of supply. This technical report shows that many wind industry claims for substitution and gross carbon savings are hugely exaggerated.* A part of their conclusions was:
We observed that wind generation has a relatively small capacity credit. At lower levels of wind penetrations the capacity credit of wind generation is found to be about the same as the average load factor of wind. However, as the level of wind penetration rises, the capacity credit begins to tail off. That is why in order to maintain the same level of system security a significant capacity of conventional plant will still be required.
However, these conventional plants will be required to run either occasionally and/or at part load when shortages of supply are likely to occur due to a low total wind power output. Considering that conventional plants at full load are the most efficient and generate the lowest amount of CO2 emission (per electricity produced) such occasionally and/or part-loaded plants will be less utilised and/or produce more CO2 per electricity produced.
Wind capacity credit could be significantly reduced if incidences such as anticyclone “cold snaps” occur. These incidences give high demand but little wind anywhere in the country. Such coincidence of high demand and no wind conditions in the whole country could reduce wind capacity credit by up to three thirds.
Generation and demand in an electricity system must be balanced at all times. Traditionally, the balance between demand and supply is managed by flexible generation. On average, the system operator in the UK commits about 600MW of dynamic frequency control, while about 2,400MW of various types of reserve is required to manage the uncertainty over time horizons of the order of 3-4 hours. These values could be significantly changed for the future UK decarbonised electricity systems, considering that renewable generation is both variable and unpredictable.
Statistical analysis of the fluctuations of wind output over the various time horizons in this report show that magnitude of this variation can be significant. The magnitude of wind output variations will also strongly depend upon the time horizon and wind penetration level. Clearly, the magnitude of wind fluctuations increases as the time horizon under consideration becomes longer. Penetration of wind generation will therefore impose additional requirements on the remaining large conventional plant to deliver both the flexibility and reserve necessary to maintain the continuous balance between load and generation, which will inevitably have cost implications.
(Conclusions, 5, Ensuring new and renewable energy can meet electricity demand: security of decarbonised electricity systems, Tyndall Centre Technical Report 30, July 2005).
*The British Wind Energy Association still continues to claim, without any qualification, that: "Every unit (kWh) of electricity produced by the wind displaces a unit of electricity which would otherwise have been produced by a power station burning fossil fuel." BWEA, Calculations and Statistics.
The Government unveiled draft strike prices for renewables under the impending Electricity Market Reform (EMR) package on 27 June, 2013. They offer an initial 155 per MWh for offshore wind and 100/MWh for onshore wind in 2014-15.
The main elements of EMR are Contracts for Difference (CfD) and the Capacity Market (CM).
The CfD regime will effectively restore the 10% cut in subsidy that had been agreed under the Renewables Obligation system of subsidies. Wind operators can also expect an additional windfall under the Government’s Carbon Price Support scheme, introduced in April this year.
Both will impact on consumer bills.
Full details of the EMR can be downloaded from the Government Website.
Έ Gurelur - By kind permission.
(In the following calculations, the figure of 60 per MWh is used as an approximate wholesale electricity price with a mean ROC price of 50).
Average ROC Prices
(See: “The Outlook is Good” [for some!], ‘e-ROC Online Auction Services’).
Let us imagine a 16 turbine wind farm somewhere in England. Each turbine is of 2 MW. We can calculate the total likely output (generation figures are rounded the nearest 100 MWh:
32 MW (total capacity) x 8760 (hours in a year) x 0.241 (capacity factor)* = 67,600 MWh.
Thus we can calculate the likely income from the RO system:
Electricity income: 67,600 MWh x 60 per MWh = 4,056,000
Renewable Obligation Income: 67,600 MWh x 50 per ROC = 3,380,000
Total Income: 7,436,000
We can see that electricity sales constitute approximately 54% of a renewable station’s
income. The remaining 46% comes from indirect subsidy.
In the first years of the Renewables Obligation the proportion was much higher, due to relatively low electricity prices.
(The above is adapted from the detailed and up to date paper by John Constable and Bob Barfoot: ‘UK Renewables Subsidies: A Simple Description and Commentary’, Renewable Energy Foundation (REF), 5 September 2008 [PDF File]).
The Renewables Obligation has recently been joined by a system of Feed-In Tariffs (FITs) which are aimed at small and micro generators.
In the case of wind power generation, this encompasses turbines up to a combined installed generating capacity (CIGC) of 5MW. The tariff bandings are based on capacity plus a flat-rate tariff of 3p/MWh for electricity that is ‘exported’ rather than used by the generator:
“Once a system has been registered, the tariff levels are guaranteed for the period of the tariff and index-linked as described above... For household customers producing energy mainly for their own use, the tariff income is also free from income tax.”
Under the FITs system, a 5MW wind project that exported all its power would receive over 1 million per year from generation and export tariffs, assuming that it enjoys what the wind industry tells us is an average 30% load factor. A 5MW scheme receives the lowest generation tariff (currently 4.9p/kWh). Counter-intuitively, the scheme rewards schemes in inverse proportion to their capacity. Very inefficient micro-generators can receive as much as 35.8p/kWh.
Under the Renewables Obligation, the same 5MW scheme would enjoy the market price for its output plus the award of RO certificates on the basis of its output. At current prices, and assuming a 30% load factor, this could result in a return of as much as 1.2 million per year, with over 550,000 per year in subsidy.
Returns under the RO subsidy system are liable to fluctuations in market prices for power and ROC’s.
The system is now being adjusted to prevent arrays of turbines of less than 5MW headline capacity registering to receive ROCs rather than FiTs.
As the National Audit Office report on the electricity industry stated in 2003:
Suppliers have passed on to customers new environmental costs arising from the Renewables Obligation and Energy Efficiency Commitment.
The Government’s response to the consultation on FITs in February, 2010 noted that:
The FITs [Feed-in Tariffs] scheme, which will provide thousands of individuals, businesses, communities and other organisations with more predictable and higher levels of income than previous schemes have delivered, brings many benefits but also has costs. These are costs that we expect will eventually be passed through to all electricity users through higher bills.
The Renewables Obligation has been criticised by nearly every expert body and organisation outside Government and the Wind Industry. It widely regarded as a hugely expensive and inefficient way of addressing the issue of reducing emissions of climate change gases.
‘Developers of renewable energy schemes such as wind farms are profiteering from the Government’s drive to curb carbon emissions by making customers pay more for their electricity than is necessary, the energy regulator Ofgem warned yesterday [22 January 2007].’
‘Publishing figures which reveal that the cost of the so-called “renewables obligation” is at least eight times greater than other schemes designed to combat climate change, Ofgem called for a wholesale shake-up of the current arrangements.’
‘Ofgem calculates that since the obligation was introduced in 2002 customers have been overcharged by 740m ...’
‘The regulator calculates that it costs between 184 and 481 to cut a tonne of carbon under the renewables obligation. This compares with a cost of between 12 and 70 under the European Union’s emissions trading scheme and 18 to 40 under the Climate Change Levy.’
‘Alistair Buchanan, chief executive of Ofgem, said: “We think that a review of the scheme could provide more carbon reductions and promote renewable generation at a lower cost to consumers who are already facing higher energy bills.”’
Michael Harrison, Business Editor, 23 January 2007 Independent.co.uk
Up to April 2009, all renewable generation earned 1 ROC for each MWh of electricity generated. Malcolm Wicks, MP, one of 14 NuLab Energy Ministers admitted that, “the renewables obligation, despite its strengths, which have brought forward much renewable energy, could appear to be a blunt instrument and certainly seems to be favouring one technology — the wind farm.” (Oral Answers, Energy Supplies. 5 May 2006).
Developers, understandbly, went for the cheapest and easiest earners – principally landfill gas and onshore wind – leaving other technologies unexploited.
The Government has now revised the RO. But, they have ignored advice from Ofgem, the Carbon Trust and others who advised against their favoured form of banding.
The wind industry repeatedly claims that wind turbines are an established, proven and competitive technology, then howls with outrage whenever bodies such as the National Audit Office criticise the excessive subsidy paid to onshore wind.
They have succeeded in hanging on to their excessive rewards, while even higher rates will be paid (by the consumer) to other technologies that have been sidelined by the Klondike wind rush:
The Scottish Executive proposes, “... wave devices which haven't received Government funding will attract five Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs), for every Megawatt of power produced, with tidal devices attracting three ROCs. Established technologies like onshore wind and hydro would continue to receive one ROC for every Megawatt.”
Even Professor King, who served as government chief scientific adviser from 2000 to 2007, has criticised the UK’s drive for wind power and its results in causing fuel poverty:
The EU needed to renegotiate a more achievable and less expensive target, and he added: “This is an issue which needs to be revisited and I say this as somebody who feels that we really have to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions very substantially but in my view it is an expensive, and not a very clever route to go for 35 to 40% on wind turbines.” (‘Poverty fears over wind power’, BBC News , 4 September 2008).
See: DTI. Energy White Paper - Supporting documents - 'Renewable energy: reform of the renewables Obligation' (PDF download).
Despite the new banding regime only just having been introduced, the Chancellor then announced a further review of the Renewables Obligation in the Budget with the intention of providing short‐term extra support for offshore wind development. This had followed lobbying by the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA) and a number of industry players.
Offshore projects for which investment was committed by 31 March 2010 and construction started by the end of 2011 would receive 2.0 ROCs per MWh generated, and those committed by 31 March 2011 (and starting construction by December 2012) would receive 1.75 ROC/MWh, with later projects then reverting to the 1.5 ROC/MWh originally intended under the banding regime.
DECC now intends to consult on new banding proposals in Summer 2011 and confirm the new bands by Autumn 2011. The new bands will take effect on 1 April 2013 as originally planned, subject to State Aids and Parliamentary approval. (DECC website).
EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, 13 July 2012.
‘We’ve suspected it for a long time: Many UK manufacturers are paying more in energy taxation and for climate change policy than our competitors. In fact green policies are costing Britain’s steelmakers and other energy intensive manufacturing sectors at least double what some of their main European rivals pay. The picture quickly becomes worse when looking at competitors in Asia, Russia and the US.
‘The source of this new evidence is a report commission by the government.* It looks at the impact of government policy on energy prices on energy-intensive industries – steel, cement and some chemical industry processes. It compared the UK experience to that in China, India, Japan, Russia, Turkey and the US. In the EU, a comparison was made with Germany, France, Italy and Denmark.
‘The report supports the case we’ve been putting to government for a long time – that the country’s high energy taxes along with the costs of climate change policy is eroding the competitiveness of UK manufacturing in some key sectors. Worryingly, it indicates that it is likely to get a lot worse by 2020 with costs likely to be double for high energy industries compared to 2011.
* ICF International (for the Department of Business Innovation & Skills, BIS), ‘An International Comparison of Energy and Climate Change Policies Impacting Energy Intensive Industries in Selected Countries’ (11 July 2012).
Downloadable from the BIS website.
Reuters UK, 8 March, 2010.
‘Generating Britain’s electricity from offshore wind farms is likely to be at least twice as expensive as nuclear power, according to a new report by engineering consultants Parsons Brinckerhoff.
‘Britain plans to build up over 30 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind power capacity by 2020 and wants to build new nuclear power plants to replace old reactors.
‘The government’s nuclear plans are opposed by some environmental groups as being too costly.
‘But analysis by Parsons Brinckerhoff, a company backing plans for an offshore wind grid, estimates nuclear generation costs to be 6-8 pence per kilowatt hour (p/KWh), including decommissioning and waste disposal, compared to 15-21 p/KWh for offshore wind.
‘The report published Monday identified tidal power generation as the most expensive source of electricity for Britain, with costs likely to be in a 16-38 p/KWh range, while onshore wind costs of 8-11 p/KWh are competitive with gas at 6-11 p/KWh.
‘The analysis takes account of predicted fuel, carbon, operation and maintenance costs, together with optimum plant life and construction scheduling.
‘The model does not include transmission because of great uncertainty over how costs for wind farms and other decentralized power supply sources would be allocated.
‘If all the costs of transmitting electricity from wind farms out at sea are allocated only to offshore wind generation it could increase the price per unit of output by another 20 percent, the report says.’
The Report is downloadable from the Parsons Brinkerhoff website.
A report on levelised costs commissioned by DECC from Mott MacDonald comes to similar conclusions, though it explicity excludes major cost factors for wind power production: subsidy payments, which double the cost of onshore and treble it for offshore, backup/curtailment costs and grid restructuring and connection costs. It is estimated that the latter alone adds at least 20% to offshore costs.
DECC, ‘UK Electricity Generation Costs Update: A report by Mott MacDonald’ (PDF download).
Recharge News 12 July, 2010
‘The offshore wind industry faces a disquieting reality: that the cost of building projects has risen dramatically over the past five years - and is likely to continue rising for the foreseeable future, rather than fall as has been predicted.
‘“Let’s face it, if you didn’t have government support through the EIB [European Investment Bank] pouring in, very few of these projects would be going ahead”, says Subocean managing director John Sinclair. In the past, when confronted with offshore wind’s eyebrow-raising price tag, supporters have consistently fallen back on the line that costs will shrink as the industry gains experience and economies of scale.
‘That may yet prove true. But with 1GW now installed in UK waters, and the industry supposedly shifting into a rapid-growth phase in anticipation of Round 3, the notion that offshore wind will naturally become cheaper seems more slippery now than ever.
‘“Sadly, it would seem we have not derived benefits from learning, scale and technological improvement over the last five years,” says Rob Hastings, director of the marine estate at the UK’s Crown Estate. “We have, indeed, gone backwards.”
‘Consider the 60MW North Hoyle project, owned by Germany's RWE, which in 2003 became the first major offshore wind farm commissioned in UK waters. North Hoyle was built at a cost of 1.2m ($1.8m) per mega-watt, according to Hastings.
‘Allowing for price inflation and the current weakness of the pound, it would cost at least 2.6m/MW if built today.
‘Yet even that figure is significantly less than the 3.25m/MW average quoted for most projects currently moving into the water. Moreover, a new report, written by consultant Douglas-Westwood and published by the trade body RenewableUK, concludes that things will get worse before they get better.
‘“It is likely that costs will increase - or at least remain high - during the initial stages of Round 3 projects due to a combination of factors, such as increased project size, distance from shore and water depth,” the report says.
‘With Round 3 projects not set to enter construction until 2014 at the earliest, many industry sources worry that investors will simply lose patience. A financial chill - exacerbated by the recession - has already clouded the prospects for many projects.
‘Making matters worse, the UK has not decided whether to extend the increased Renewables Obligation Certificates (ROCs) [subsidy] banding for offshore wind, set to regress from two to 1.5 ROCs in 2014.
Bloomberg Businessweek, 9 July, 2010.
July 9 (Bloomberg) -- Spain will save consumers at least 1.2 billion euros ($1.5 billion) through 2013 by cutting the subsidies they pay to wind farms and solar thermal plants, a person familiar with the government’s analysis said.
‘The reduction coming from a cut in the price paid for clean energy may be as much as 1.3 billion euros, said the person, who asked not to be named because the analysis is confidential.
‘Spain’s conventional power producers have been lobbying the government to rein in a subsidy system that rewards renewable power producers with extra payments totaling 5 billion euros in 2009 even as consumer prices failed to cover the full cost of electricity.
‘Under the current system, Endesa, Gas Natural and Iberdrola SA, the biggest power companies, borrow money from banks and bond investors to cover the shortfall in consumers’ power payments. They’re paid back over 15 years, effectively helping the government finance its deficit.
‘The government under the law must eliminate the deficit with power producers by 2013. The system has created debt of about 16 billion euros for which the government is ultimately liable.
See also: ‘Spain to shed 2/3 of wind power jobs by end 2010’ Wall Street Journal, (On IWA), 18 March, 2010.
‘Costs force Spain to cut 2020 offshore projection’, Windpower Monthly Magazine, 16 May 2011.
Copenhagen Post, 21 September 2009.
‘The Liberal Party wants to cut state funding for land-based wind turbines in favour of financing biogas, hydrogen and solar cell development. Several parties oppose the idea.
‘Since 2005, the wind turbine industry has received an average of 1.3 billion kroner in subsidies each year.
The government’s ally, the Danish People’s Party, welcomed the proposal, pointing out that the subsidies had cost residents and electric companies billions of kroner.
Party group chairman Kristian Thulesen Dahl said consumers had paid huge additional charges on their electric bills for almost three decades, based on an ideological desire to promote the development of wind turbines.
‘When the current energy agreement expires in 2012, we expect a new agreement will be reached where support for onshore wind turbines is phased out.’
July 6, 2006 by Ed Douglas in newscientist.com
‘Mike Hall from the Cumbria Wildlife Trust in north-west England has developed a formula to give a wind-energy CO2 "budget" that balances the CO2 savings that a project is expected to provide against the CO2 costs from the manufacture and shipping of the turbines and construction work at the site.
‘The CO2 costs are considerable even before accounting for emissions from peatland, primarily because of the energy required to produce the concrete in which turbines are embedded. The new generation of 140-metre turbines, need foundations the size of half a football pitch. Building on peat bogs contributes another large source of CO2 that can add years to a turbine's CO2 payback time. "The major CO2 debt incurred by a wind turbine on a peat-rich site is not in its manufacture and installation but in the ongoing degradation of peat," Hall says.
‘Hall has devised three scenarios for CO2 emissions from degrading peat. The first is a baseline figure calculated simply from the amount of peat excavated in construction. The second "minimal scenario" includes emissions from degraded peat up to 50 metres around areas of disturbance such as foundations and service roads. This figure is being used by wind farm developer AMEC in Scotland. A third "high scenario" extends that range to 100 metres. Hall believes this is closest to the actual level of disruption, citing Lindsay's research, which indicates that damage to peat can extend for as much as 250 metres on either side of tracks or drainage ditches, as water drains from the affected area.
‘To calculate carbon savings, Hall uses the developers' own predictions, which generally give figures for overall electricity generation of about 30 per cent of the maximum rated capacity of a turbine. The average achieved output for existing wind farms is actually lower than this - 25.6 per cent according to industry figures. Using the conservative "minimal scenario", Hall calculates that a 2-megawatt turbine built on peat moorland 1 metre deep will take 8.2 years to pay back its CO2 cost. The figure for the "high scenario" is a whopping 16 years. Even the minimal figure is a substantial portion of a turbine's normal lifespan of 25 years, and considerably higher than the industry's own figures, which range between three and 18 months.
Read the full article.
See also the National Trust's campaign on peat moorlands.
By Jenny Fyall, The Scotsman, 12 June 2010.
‘Damaging wind farms that unleash carbon dioxide from the soil are being permitted in Scotland because no government body is equipped to advise on the impact of building on peatland, The Scotsman has learned. Peat bog has been described as “Scotland’s rainforest” because it stores huge quantities of the greenhouse gas , which is released into the atmosphere if the peat is disturbed.
However, council planning teams in Scotland have been unable to get advice on the damage individual wind farms will do, because of a lack of anyone with the necessary expertise.
Documents seen by The Scotsman reveal that neither the Scottish Government, the country's environment watchdog the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, nor Scottish Natural Heritage, can provide informed advice on the issue.
Environmental groups have said they think it “extraordinary” that such an important issue has been neglected and there have been calls for a moratorium on wind farms on peatland until the issue is resolved.
Planning officials at Shetland Islands Council tried to get advice on the likely impact on peat of the 150-turbine Viking Wind Farm, which, if built, would be the largest onshore wind farm in Europe.
However, they came up against a brick wall.
A reply from David Liddell, a planning official at the Scottish Government, said: “Sorry, but not aware of a particular source of expertise on the carbon accounting query.”
In what the Shetland Council staff member, Hannah Nelson, then described to colleagues in an e-mail as a “surprising response”, Mr Liddell added: “Given that government (and also government planning) policy is in favour of wind and other renewables, I wouldn’t encourage you to query the carbon benefits of wind farms.” [Our emphasis]
Helen McDade, head of policy at the John Muir Trust, said: “I think it’s extraordinary that there is nobody available with the necessary expertise. It seems to be a case of see no evil, hear no evil.”
“How on earth are local councils supposed to know what to do? It’s absolutely urgent that something is done about this.”
She believes wind farms that damage peat bogs have already been granted permission in Scotland.
“A high proportion of wind farms [in Scotland] are on peatland (by stage in planning process: scoping 40%, application 38 %, approved 23%, installed 55%), although the area of peatland is only ca. 12% that of Scotland.” (J A Bright, et al. ‘Spatial overlap of wind farms on peatland with sensitive areas for birds’, RSPB/SNH, 2008)
Wales Online, 6 April 2010. (Article on a Report prepared for the Welsh Assembly).
‘Both Environment Agency Wales and the Countryside Council for Wales pointed out that turbines have been built without any thought to the effect on carbon storage – and are now allowing carbon that has long been locked away to be released from the land.
‘Forestry Commission Wales confirmed that no assessment had been made of the impact of the Welsh Assembly Government’s policy of using national forest estates for wind turbines on the carbon stored in the uplands.
‘And no-one knew who was responsible. The Forestry Commission indicated that it was the planning authorities, but Environment Minister Jane Davidson suggested that it was the responsibility of the developer.
‘The report expressed concern that no-one accepted overall responsibility and called on the WAG to carry out the assessment, and for soil carbon management to become a central consideration in the current review of TAN8 – the policy that defines areas suitable for wind turbines.
‘It also called for a ban on forestry and wind turbines on deep peat “in order to ensure maximum environmental benefit in future”.
‘CPRW director Peter Ogden called for an immediate moratorium on any further wind schemes proposed in upland areas with deep peat.
‘Hundreds of millions of pounds raised from electricity bills to help develop renewable energy are being diverted to the Treasury, creating a new “stealth tax”.
(December 10, 2005 by Oliver Tickell in The Independent Online Edition)
‘So far, the Treasury has taken 210m from the so-called NFFO Fund, while only 60m has been spent on renewable energy.
‘By 2010, the fund is expected to have raised as much as 1bn, which is likely to be taken by the Treasury for general spending. The process is based on the fund being a “hereditary revenue of the Crown” along with income arising from the Crown’s traditional rights to treasure trove, swans and sturgeons.
‘Since it was set up in 2002, the NFFO (Non-Fossil Fuel Obligation) fund has raised 321m from consumers’ electricity bills - more than 13 for every household in England and Wales. Of that, the Treasury has so far taken 210m. Just 60m has been spent on capital grants for offshore windpower installations, leaving a balance of 51m.
‘The Department of Trade and Industry has confirmed that once the money is in what is known as the Consolidated Fund, it belongs to the Treasury. “It is the policy of the Government that we do not hypothecate revenue, so once the funds are transferred that is it,” said the DTI's renewables policy adviser, Alex King.
‘The Treasury took a first tranche of 60m in 2004, as it was allowed to do under a one-off provision in the Sustainable Energy Act 2003. However the power regulator Ofgem, which administers the fund, has now revealed that on 20 September it paid a further 150m to the Treasury.
‘“Further funding was paid to Her Majesty's Treasury under the Civil List Act 1952,” said an Ofgem spokesman. “As receipts of levy surplus are regarded as hereditary revenues of the Crown, it is intended that annual transfers to the Treasury will continue, in accordance with the 1952 Act.”
‘The Civil List Act 1952 states that “hereditary revenues of the Crown” are to be paid into the Treasury’s Consolidated Fund. The nature of these revenues is not specified, however Halsbury’s Laws of England, written by Lord Hailsham in 1932, states that the hereditary revenues of the Crown include revenues from Crown lands, and other revenues from treasure trove, fines, forfeitures and “prerogative rights relating to royal mines, royal fish and swans”. It is not clear on what basis the NFFO fund could be so regarded.
‘The Energy minister, Malcolm Wicks, failed to mention the transfer of funds in a written answer on 12 September, in response to a parliamentary question by Bill Wiggin MP, the Conservative environment spokesman. Instead he said the estimated “size of the fund” would be 500m by 2008. This figure, which does not account for the 20 September transfer or other subsequent transfers, was thus wrong.
‘“I am astonished,” said Mr Wiggin, when presented with the facts. “Did the minister know he would transfer the money out a week later? He must have done. I suspect his officials could have tried harder to ensure that I knew what was going on. I find it hard to believe he has control over his department if this is what is going on. Either that or he did know and did not want me to know, which is not acceptable in a parliamentary written answer.”
See full article.
The wind industry and its apologists repeatedly suggest that wind turbines are the only “mature” and “proven” renewable energy technology available. This is not true. Denmark, often cited as the shining example of wind power, actually produces much more energy - and much more reliable energy - from biomass:
Hundreds of these carbon-neutral plants have been built in Scandinavia and Germany. “In Denmark, biomass currently accounts for approximately 70% of renewable-energy consumption, mostly in the form of straw, wood and renewable wastes, while biogas accounts for less. Consumption of biomass for energy production in Denmark more than quadrupled between 1980 and 2005..” (Danish Energy Agency).
Biomass is an example of a proven renewable technology that can be scaled to local needs and resources without damaging whole landscapes. Unlike wind turbines, biomass provides ‘firm’ (i.e. predictable and reliable) energy that can substitute for fossil-fuelled power generation (see below). Biomass energy generation also makes a real contribution in jobs and work for local businesses rather than just producing large windfall profits for a very few landowners and more work for Danish and German turbine manufacturers.
The recently approved Teesport biomass power station, a compact industrial plant with a single 70-90 metre chimney, will occupy a brownfield, industrial site that is only 10% of the area of the 7-turbine ‘Moorsyde’ site. It will operate for some 8,000 hours per annum producing 2,400,000MWh of predictable, base load power. The project scoping report notes:
‘As the project will run 24 hours per day, 365 days per annum, it will generate as much renewable electricity as a 1,000MWe offshore wind farm (equivalent to that generated by the London Array wind farm which is one of the largest renewable energy projects in the world)’
The facility could be operational by 2012, and would alone fulfil 5.5% of the nation’s renewable energy requirements under the expected Renewable Obligation target for that year. It would save, “ approximately 1.2 million tonnes of CO2 emissions.” compared to equivalent generation from conventional power stations.
Unfortunately, the development of biomass plant in the UK has suffered due to the Government’s myopic concentration on wind power generation which has raised questions about whether it is government or the wind industry that is dictating policy.
‘A cross-party group of MPs has delivered a damning indictment of the government’s attempts to develop bioenergy in the UK, accusing it of lacking ambition and calling for greater support for biomass heating and electricity generation.
‘The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee’s report ‘Climate change: the role of bioenergy’ found that current government policy is “piecemeal” and raised questions about commitment to the domestic climate change agenda.
‘The report stated: “Government must renew and redouble its efforts to exploit the potential of bioenergy. We are concerned about the multiplicity of government bioenergy support schemes currently planned or already in place, and the attendant level of confusion that this causes.
‘“Government departments must work much more closely together on bioenergy to develop a more streamlined and coherent strategy, and to demonstrate a more convincing commitment to tackling climate change.”
‘Renewable Energy Association head of fuels and heat Graham Meeks said it is a scandal that government continues to overlook the potential of bioenergy. “Although we have abundant bioenergy resources available from our forests, farms and waste management industry, the government has still to introduce coherent policies to encourage the supply of heat, transport fuels and renewable power from these sources.”
(Renewable Energy News, Issue 104, 22 September 2006)
As with wind power, Government policy tends to support the largest projects, in the name of ‘economies of scale’. Sadly, there is little interest in the small scale, local schemes using local agricultural feedstocks that are so common in Scandinavia.
Stevens Croft, Lockerbie. The new 44MWe plant at Stevens Croft near Lockerbie, Scotland uses sustainable wood fuel from local forestry sources and will save up to 140,000t of greenhouse gas emissions annually while creating 40 direct jobs and creating or safeguarding over 300 jobs in forestry and farming, as well as encouraging additional investment in sawmills. The plant was commissioned in autumn 2007 and E.ON won Best Renewable Project 2007 at the Scottish Green Energy Awards for the project.
Wilton 10, Teesside. This is a 30MWe wood-fuelled power station. It is designed to generate 30MW of ‘green’ electricity – and 10MW of thermal energy. It was opened in November 2007 and provided 15 permanent new jobs and around 400 during construction. The project also secures and creates jobs within the farming, forestry, construction, wood recycling and transport sectors.
In Northumberland and the Borders, we still let large amounts of forestry waste rot on the ground, releasing CO2 in the process. We also produce a huge tonnage of straw and other agricultural bi-product/waste that could be used for firing small to medium sized combined heat and power (CHP) power stations.
Elsewhere, the largest straw burning power station in the world has been running for 5 years near Ely, in Cambridgeshire. This 38MW plant generates over 270GWh each year. It has successfully burned oil seed rape and miscanthus in addition to its usual fuel of cereal straw. The 200,000 tonnes p.a. fuel demand of the plant is supplied by Ely’s sister company, Anglian Straw. The plant is highly efficient, is noted for its high reliability and achieves one of the highest load factors of any renewable energy plant.
Danish Energy Authority website.
MGT Power, ‘Biomass Power Station, Teesport: Final Scoping Report’, April 2008.
MGT Power, Tyne Renewable Energy Plant (REP)
RES, North Blyth Biomass Project.
Stevens Croft, Lockerbie, power-technology.com
‘Wilton 10’, power-technology.com
Danish examples of Biomass Plant.
Ely Power Station, EPR website.
‘Developing sustainable biomass feedstocks’
New Energy Focus, 24 August, 2009.
The European Commission recently announced the findings of a report it had commissioned into the development of sustainability criteria for biomass feedstocks. Reassuringly the results were overwhelmingly supportive, with 90% in favour of the introduction of some kind of scheme (see ‘Commission finds favour for EU biomass sustainability scheme’, New Energy Focus story).
The Commission plans to use this feedback as the basis for a formal proposal, which may apparently be tabled as early as December. Clearly the introduction of such a scheme can only be beneficial for the sector.
For some time now developers have been aware of the advantages that biomass projects hold over those of other renewable technologies. This is especially apparent in the case of onshore wind, perceived by many to be the most viable source of clean energy today.
Not only are the comparisons favourable in terms of the competition for and consenting of potential sites, biomass also offers far higher generation potential, up to four times according to some sources. [Our emphasis].
Noises coming from Government are also optimistic. The recent Renewable Energy Strategy envisages huge growth, with biomass expected to provide 30% of electricity and heat towards the UK's target of 15% renewable energy by 2020. The Government has also increased the ROCs for biomass to 1.5 to help facilitate the process.
‘Biomass is UK’s ‘most important’ renewable energy resource’
New Energy Focus, 11 October 2010
‘Climate change minister Greg Barker has highlighted the importance of ensuring sustainable feedstock supply for biomass in order to gain public confidence in the sector
Climate change minister Greg Barker has described biomass as the UK's “single most important” renewable energy resource on account of its versatility in producing heat, electricity and transport biofuels.
Speaking at the Renewable Energy Association’s (REA) annual bioenergy conference and exhibition in Warwickshire last week (October 6), Mr Barker said that the biomass sector was expected to contribute around half of the UK’s renewable energy targets by 2020.
He said: “We see a crucial role for bioenergy at all scales because of its versatility in producing heat, electricity and transport biofuels. Biomass is the UK’s single most important renewable energy source. It also provides a controllable supply, irrespective of weather conditions.”
“So, unlike intermittent energy technologies such as wind power, it can provide both peak load and base load power.”
The Times, 27 May, 2009
‘Europe should scrap its support for wind energy as soon as possible to focus on far more efficient emerging forms of clean power generation including solar thermal energy, one of the world’s most distinguished scientists said yesterday.
‘Professor Jack Steinberger, a Nobel prize-winning director of the CERN particle physics laboratory in Geneva, said that wind represented an illusory technology — a cul-de-sac that would prove uneconomic and a waste of resources in the battle against climate change.
‘“Wind is not the future,” he told the symposium of Nobel laureates at the Royal Society. Instead, he said, technologies such as solar thermal power — for which parabolic mirrors reflect the Sun’s rays to generate heat and electricity — represent a more promising way of supplanting fossil fuels. “I am certain that the energy of the future is going to be thermal solar,” he told The Times. “There is nothing comparable. The sooner we focus on it the better.”
The Guardian, 27 November 2006.
‘The desert, just across the Mediterranean sea, is a vast source of energy that holds the promise of a carbon-free, nuclear-free electrical future for the whole of Europe, if not the world.
‘We are not talking about the vast oil and gas deposits underneath Algeria and Libya, or uranium for nuclear plants, but something far simpler - the sun. And in vast quantities: every year it pours down the equivalent of 1.5m barrels of oil of energy for every square kilometre.
‘Most people in Britain think of solar power as a few panels on the roof of a house producing hot water or a bit of electricity. But according to two reports prepared for the German government, Europe, the Middle East and North Africa should be building vast solar farms in North Africa’s deserts using a simple technology that more resembles using a magnifying glass to burn a hole in a piece of paper than any space age technology.
‘Two German scientists, Dr Gerhard Knies and Dr Franz Trieb, calculate that covering just 0.5% of the world’s hot deserts with a technology called concentrated solar power (CSP) would provide the world’s entire electricity needs, with the technology also providing desalinated water to desert regions as a valuable byproduct, as well as air conditioning for nearby cities.
‘CSP technology is not new. There has been a plant in the Mojave desert in California for the past 15 years. Others are being built in Nevada, southern Spain and Australia. There are different forms of CSP but all share in common the use of mirrors to concentrate the sun’s rays on a pipe or vessel containing some sort of gas or liquid that heats up to around 400C (752F) and is used to power conventional steam turbines.
‘The mirrors are very large and create shaded areas underneath which can be used for horticulture irrigated by desalinated water generated by the plants. The cold water that can also be produced for air conditioning means there are three benefits. “It is this triple use of the energy which really boost the overall energy efficiency of these kinds of plants up to 80% to 90%,” says Dr Knies.
‘This form of solar power is also attractive because the hot liquid can be stored in large vessels which can keep the turbines running for hours after the sun has gone down, avoiding the problems association with other forms of solar power [and wind energy!].
After years of inaction, it looks as though large scale solar thermal power generation is poised to take off.
A number of large proposals are planned in Calfornia, including a 250MW facility in San Bernardino County and a 370MW facility in the Mojave Desert. This latter proposal has been approved and is expected to be operational by 2012. 1
A huge 1GW solar project in Blythe, California recently received final approval from the Department of the Interior. This giant project is backed by German solar firm Solar Millennium and is expected to cover 7,000 acres and provide energy for up to 750,000 homes.
Meanwhile, according to reports in the Guardian, South Africa will unveil plans for a 18.4bn project that would ultimately generate up to 5GW of electricity, meeting up to 10 per cent of South Africa’s current energy needs. The initial 1GW facility could get under way as early as 2012 with the entire project completed by 2020. 2
There was good news on another ambitious African renewable energy project when Kenya’s government-backed Geothermal Development Company (GDC) announced that it has secured 40 per cent of the required funding for a pioneering 2GW geothermal power plant in the Rift Valley. GDC said it had plans to deliver 500MW of geothermal energy by the end of 2012 and 1GW by 2015.
The complaint has long been that a lack of investment and an underdeveloped marine supply chain are holding back the marine energy industry in the UK. Somewhat belatedly, we have seen some R&D centres receiving small amounts of funding and are now seeing some larger scale demonstration projects moving towards construction in the next ten years.
Critics have said that, “the previous [Labour] government set such tight criteria for accessing the Marine Renewable Deployment Fund that hardly any projects have been able to take advantage of the support.” *
Early in 2010, it was announced that Scotland is supporting the establishment of a ‘marine energy hub’:
‘Scotland unveils plan for giant 1.2GW marine energy hub
BusinessGreen, 16 Mar 2010
Scotland’s dream of establishing itself as the “Saudi Arabia of marine energy” took a major step towards fruition today with the award of leasing rights to 10 projects, which combined are expected to deliver 1.2GW capacity by 2020, significantly more than the 700MW that had been anticipated.
The Crown Estate, which manages the UK’s sea beds, awarded the exclusive lease rights to areas of the sea bed in the Pentland Firth and off the coast of Orkney to five wave and five tidal energy projects, each of which plan to demonstrate commmercial scale technologies.
The successful bidders include proposals from Pelamis Wave Power, E.ON and Scottish Power to install three separate 50MW wave farms, plans for a 200MW wave farm off the coast of Orkney from Aquamarine Power and SSE Renewables, and plans for a 100MW tidal energy farm from Marine Current Turbines. Combined, the 10 projects will provide enough renewable energy for up to three-quarters of a million homes.
The chosen applicants were selected from more than 40 bids from 20 different marine energy firms and utilities that were lodged as part of the Crown Estate's long-running Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters leasing round.
The projects promise to revolutionise the UK's emerging marine energy sector, which has been widely praised as leading the global development of new wave and tidal energy systems, but to date has only delivered around 2MW of capacity.
* ‘Barker promises wave of support for marine energy projects’, BusinessGreen, 2 March, 2011.
European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC), Orkney.
Aquamarine Power started work on its second Oyster wave energy project at the European Marine Energy Centre’s (EMEC) Billia Croo test site, near Stromness in October, 2010.
Atlantis Resources Corporation:
Looking to build a large data centre project in Northern Scotland to utilise at least 30MW of linked capacity generated from subsea turbines in the Pentland Firth.
Edinburgh Wave Power Group:
Originally linked withthe development of the ‘Salter Duck’, a part of the Institute for Energy Systems (IES), one of 5 multi-disciplinary research institutes within the School of Engineering. IES leads the EPSRC-funded Supergen Marine Energy Consortium.
Marine Current Turbines Limited (MTL):
A 1.2MW demonstration project has successfully operating in Strangford Loch since 2008, it is accredited as a generating station and has a load factor of over 50%. A 10.5MW tidal energy project with NPower off Anglesey may be commissioned as early as 2011.
Pelamis Wave Power:
Ambitious plans to deploy a 60m wave power project off the Shetland Islands are expected to be announced in the coming weeks (Nov./Dec. 2010) with Vattenfall expected to buy up to 26 Pelamis wave generators for installation from 2014.
Tidal Generation Limited (TGL).
There are huge geothermal resources in Iceland, the Rift Valley and in other volcanic areas around the world.
Kenya, for example, is Africa’s largest producer of geothermal power, with 12% of its 1.4GW generation capacity coming from geothermal. Kenya has confirmed that it will embark on a 10 year, $2.6bn geothermal exploration plan that will result in the sinking of 566 wells in the Great Rift Valley with the intention of establish itself as one of the largest generators of geothermal energy over the next two decades. 1
Less well known is the fact that the UK has considerable geothermal resources that are being largely ignored at present. Indeed the government has been criticised for cutting support for geothermal projects.
Tim Smit, the head of the Eden project in Cornwall recently criticised DECC for halving funding for deep geothermal technologies. 2
The North East also has considerable geothermal potential:
‘Newcastle geothermal energy project promises to heat up the toon
BusinessGreen, 23 Feb 2011.
Engineers will today begin drilling a 2,000m deep hole in an attempt to harness geothermal heat from below the city of Newcastle.
If all goes to plan, the team from Newcastle and Durham Universities hope to pump out water heated to 80C (176F) that could eventually heat the city's planned 24-acre Science Central site as well as neighbouring city centre buildings.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) supported the £900,000 project with a £400,000 grant from the second round of its Deep Geothermal Challenge Fund, with the remainder raised by the Newcastle Science City Partnership.
Construction is expected to last about six months, with the first water pumped out in June.
Professor Paul Younger, director of the University’s Newcastle Institute for Research on Sustainability, said the scheme could offer huge financial and environmental benefits to the city.
“If we're right and we pump up water at such elevated temperatures, it would mean a fully renewable energy supply for a large part of the city centre, massively reducing our reliance on fossil fuels,” he said. “And unlike other renewables such as wind and solar, geothermal energy is available at all times, independent of the weather.” [Our emphasis]
The North East is something of a hotspot for geothermal energy with water heated to 40C pumped from a 1,000m twin-borehole at Eastgate, in Weardale, County Durham by the same team last year.
The government has been criticised for cutting financial support for geothermal projects, although a number of exploratory projects are still underway in Cornwall, Southampton and Staffordshire. [Our emphasis]’
The costs of building onshore wind turbines are commonly reckoned to be at least 1m per MW of installed capacity. This for an intermittent and erratic supply of power that will not substitute for more than a very small percentage of thermally-generated power.
Compare and contrast with the costs of this low-cost, low-tech project which will supply reliable heating for the foreseeable future.
ELECTRICITY GENERATIONU.K. National Grid Status