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Wind power: new doubts emerge

Building wind farms around the UK coastline will not do enough to smooth electricity output and prevent alarming spikes in energy prices, a leading Danish energy researcher said this week.

Paul Bach is the author of one of the studies that formed the basis of a recent report by consultant Parsons Brinckerhoff on future energy use.

This highlighted the limitations of wind power and the need for more conventional back up capacity (NCE 7 December 2009).

Bach’s study examined prices for wind generated power on the Danish-German border and concluded that wind farms in both countries were poorly integrated. He said relying on them led to steep rises in local energy prices during calm weather.

But his findings were disputed, and rival experts said the findings were irrelevant to the UK, which has more coastline and therefore has more likelihood of variable wind conditions.

“I consider the lack of information on UK wind energy output to be a problem.”

Paul Bach

Bach said the feedback had prompted him to extend the range of his study to include the impact on energy prices of wind power across seven regions covered by the German and Danish national grids.

This made it easier to compare German and Danish experience with that of the UK, he said.

“I consider the lack of publicly available information on wind energy output in the UK to be a problem in the discussion on wind power integration in the UK,” he said.

Bach examined energy prices over a two-week period in 2007 when there was almost no wind on the German-Danish border. He said that energy prices in all areas rose sharply during calm weather conditions.

Bach said this meant backup power generation was essential if wind power was to have a significant role in power generation.

This created problems for countries which are trying to reduce their fossil fuel dependence.

Readers' comments (4)

  • James Lovelock says:-

    "You're never going to get enough energy from wind to run a society such as ours," he says. "Windmills! Oh no. No way of doing it. You can cover the whole country with the blasted things, millions of them. Waste of time."

    Maybe he has a point. By the time we factor in the amount of concrete etc for construction plus the back-up power, we could end up with a negative net benefit in terms of its carbon footprint.
    Are there any studies on this "sustainable" solution?

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  • Maybe Lovelock's quote was a response to a foolish journalistic suggestion that wind could cover all our needs? I've never heard an Engineer or politician suggest that we put all our eggs in the wind basket, but even if one has, is it relevant?

    As for holistic assessment of sustainability, fair question. Also bear in mind though that nuclear is also considered to be clouded by selective sustainablity assessment. Maybe the other power sources also?

    The fact is, we need a spread, including our personal favourites and our personal non-favourites, and all this anti-wind sniping of straw soldiers is as tiresome as it is misguided.

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  • We import vast amounts of gas to produce electricity. Electricity produced from wind will reduce our gas usage. We need a Smart Grid to move electricity. We need Smart metering and appliances. We need nuclear and we need coal. Power will never be cheap nore should it be. All heat produced by human activities contribute to global warming. Most of all we need Smart usage of all forms of energy. The cost of power will drive this.

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  • Agreed will all of that Don. And the cost of power will only be an effective driver if all forms of generation are (a) comprehensively accounted (b) equally subsidised or equally unsubsidised. Neither (a) nor (b) have happened for a very very very long time.

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