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Wind means more C02

Over-reliance on wind power could scupper government plans to cut carbon emissions by 2050, consultant Parsons Brinckerhoff warned this week.

The firm warned that extra back-up power generation capacity would be needed to pick up shortfalls in wind generated electricity during calm weather. The most cost effective and fast response solution would be gas fired power stations, but these generate high levels of CO2.

Its report Powering the Future models options for the UK’s energy supply. It finds that if Britain builds 30GW of distributed wind capacity, 10GW of additional fast response capacity would be needed to ensure reliability of supply.

This need is unlikely to be met by building new pumped storage facilities, given the high capital costs and limited site availability.

“We need to deal with electricity quite carefully.”

Parsons Brinckerhoff deputy director of engineering Paul Willson

The report also warns that a major wind farm programme would also weaken the economic case for low carbon plant capable of responding to peaks in demand. Traditionally this capacity has been met by coal or gas.

High-efficiency plant with lower CO2 emissions but higher capital cost such as coal plants with carbon capture and storage only offers minimum life cost when used heavily. At lower usage levels, however, it is likely that lower-cost plant such as gas-fired power stations would be the preferred solution.

Long term benefits

The consultant said that a more “holistic” approach would be needed if Britain were to meet its target of cutting CO2 emissions by 80% of 1990 levels by 2050. “We need to deal with electricity quite carefully,” said Parsons Brinckerhoff deputy director of engineering and lead author of the report Paul Willson.

Willson said a broader approach to renewable energy would leave room for better benefits in the long term.

He cited the potential of “smart” electric vehicle infrastructure to help cope with energy surges caused by wind power. “You can have a great synergy,” he said. “So actually it works better if you defer this wind development.”

But right now, Willson said strong government leadership is essential for balanced action both within and between sectors.

Readers' comments (5)

  • Wind energy is not constant and the electricity generated by wind will fluctuate. As more wind turbines are erected across the UK a more constant average output will emerge. Electrical energy can be stored in water, as at Dinorwig, in batteries, in hydrogen, in flywheels, and ??. Small scale Dinorwigs could be built at 1000's of sites around the UK. Water pumped from the sea to the top of a cliff stores energy. Why not try this? Electric cars provide another opportunity. Battery energy density is increasing and electric cars will become the norm. How much energy could a million electric cars store? As a guess, a blinking lot. Nuclear will provide base load cover. However I do agree with Mr Paul Wilson, we need strong government leadership but please reduce the doom and gloom.

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  • We must not forget that for UK to meet our very ambitious reduciton targets, we need a significant demand reduction as well as de-carbonisation of the grid. The demand reduction is delivered through behaviour change and much more efficient appliances. The latter should be, where possible, responsive to the availability of electricity, so reducing the need for back-up generation, and thus reducing the CO2 burden of renewables. It seems that the PB report is saying all the right things, but I agree with Don Pratt, let's be a bit more 'can-do' about this and avoid the negative headlines.

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  • Where is the balance in this article? Firstly the headline is written as if the claim was a fact - there are no speech marks or words to the effect of: "claims PB". Secondly there is no opportunity to get the view of, say, the BWEA or any other wind energy authority.
    Moreover if you actually read the PB report you realise that the part to which this statement refers is wholly based on a paper(Oswald et al) funded by the Renewable Energy Foundation, which is an anti-wind lobby set up by Noel Edmonds.
    Perhaps even more worrying is that the PB report does NOT actually say that plans to meet the 2050 targets would be scuppered. Their own graphs indicate that the 80% reduction target would still be met in this 30GW of wind scenario. This just adds to the concern about the NCE headline. In fact this part of the PB report is nothing new: See the BWEA reply to a previous Renewable Energy Foundation report ( for some counter arguments and to provide some much needed balance.

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  • This is really a very disappointing article. Very much agree with the above. It doesn't tell the whole story and is misleading. The thrust of this article can easily be demolished and there should at least be a counter argument.

    Readers should be able to use NCE to learn about these types of issues - this just blew any credibility it had.

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  • The only people not telling the truth are the ones making the vast sums of money from these wind turbines, people will say anything if they think it will make them richer.
    Forget wind power look at all the alternatives, we get more rain in the UK than anywhere else, let's use it.
    Maybe we should also start using our brains, stop listening to those who are pretending wind power is a renewable energy. When we have ruined our landscape, damaged our health & killed much of our wildlife, it will be too late. These white elephants and the thousands of tons of concrete beneath them will remain as a testomony to mans stupidity.
    This govournment will look like the idiots they are, but they won't care anyway as by then someone else will be in power!

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