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  • WEEKEND VIDEOS, September 22-23:

  • Lewis Black Talks Climate Change
  • Cookin’ With Solar
  • Wind Balances Heartland Budgets

    Tuesday, September 04, 2012


    Beyond The Bluster; Why Wind Power Is An Effective Technology

    Reg Platt, Oscar Fitch-Roy, Paul Gardner, August 2012 (Institute for Public Policy Research via GLGH)

    Foreword -- Getting ‘Beyond The Bluster’ On Wind Power

    The British Isles sit at Europe’s windy Atlantic fringe. As a result of its exposed location, the UK has the greatest potential for wind power of any European country, both onshore and offshore (DECC 2012a). This resource, when combined with the UK’s engineering heritage and the right market and policy framework, could be a source of significant economic opportunities for the UK. However, whether or not Britain should pursue an ambitious wind power strategy is hotly contested.

    In February 2012 a group of more than 100 MPs sent a letter to David Cameron arguing for a cut in government support for onshore wind power. Many of these MPs are based in rural constituencies where onshore wind developments may be sited. Wind farm developments are sometimes strongly opposed by people in local areas and it is right that their views are properly considered in debates about how we generate electricity. At the same time wider public opinion, which consistently and strongly supports wind power, should also be considered (see for example DECC 2012a). Similarly, with households’ budgets under pressure and energy bills at high levels, it is right that the costs of government support for wind power and other low-carbon technologies are scrutinised.

    However, it is important to recognise that recent increases in energy bills are far less the result of subsidies for renewable power than they are due to rises in the wholesale cost of gas. From 2004 to 2010, government support for renewables added £30 to the average energy bill while rises in the wholesale cost of gas added £290 (CCC 2011a).

    Despite these legitimate concerns about local impact and cost, much opposition to wind power appears to be based on the belief that it is an inef fective technology. For example, in the letter sent to David Cameron, the technology was described as ‘inefficient’ and less reliable than other energy sources. This claim is untrue and it is important to get ‘beyond the bluster’ in assessing the effectiveness of wind power.

    IPPR has worked with GL Garrad Hassan, a leading renewable energy consultancy, to produce this report, and the findings have been reviewed by a leading academic. The report addresses two commonly held misconceptions around two important, often misunderstood, questions:

    - Is wind power an effective way of reducing carbon emissions?

    - Is wind power a secure and reliable source of energy for the UK?

    This report shows unequivocally that wind power can significantly reduce carbon emissions, is reliable, poses no threat to energy security, and is technically capable of providing a significant proportion of the UK’s electricity supply with minimal impact on the existing operation of the grid. Claims to the contrary are not supported by the evidence.

    Wind power and energy policy

    The government is committed to securing Britain’s energy supply, keeping consumers’ energy bills as low as possible, and reducing carbon emissions in line with its legal commitments. As part of this process, the government has pledged to produce 15 percent of the country’s energy and 30 percent of the country’s electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Wind power has a vital role to play in meeting these objectives.

    Onshore wind is one of the most cost-ef fective of the low-carbon technologies and, with continuing government support, the average wind farm globally may produce power at costs that compete with fossil fuels as soon as 2016 (BNEF 2011). This means that it is an important technology for keeping down the costs of reducing emissions and meeting the 2020 renewable target. A low ambition for onshore wind would mean a greater amount of generation from other, more expensive, technologies and, therefore, higher electricity bills.

    Offshore wind is more expensive than onshore wind but the cost is expected to come down rapidly (DECC 2012c). It is capable of providing huge amounts of low-carbon electricity for the UK (potentially 45 percent of the UK’ s total electricity needs in 2030 (CCC 2011b)) and can make a major contribution to the 2020 renewables target. It could also generate significant benefits for the economy, with the Carbon Trust estimating it could contribute £3–10 billion annually between 2010 and 2050 (Carbon Trust 2011).

    The energy minister, Charles Hendry, has described offshore wind as ‘an industry of strategic national importance’ for the UK.

    In light of these important and positive potential outcomes for the UK, wind power should be the subject of a balanced debate based on accurate evidence. False claims that influence policy outcomes and result in a low ambition for the technology could sacrifice important opportunities for the British economy. Inconsistent support from government will increase the riskiness with which businesses regard investment opportunities and increase their cost of capital. This will ultimately mean higher energy bills for consumers and businesses.

    The government’s recent approach to wind power is worrying. Although a decision has now been reached to reduce financial support for onshore wind by the anticipated amount of 10 per cent, rather than 25 per cent as HM T reasury had preferred, the postponement of the announcement and the decision to almost immediately conduct a further review of this support level has created widespread concerns in the industry.

    It is entirely proper that subsidies for wind power are not overly generous and that local concerns are taken into account through the planning process with opportunities for local residents to share in the dividends of local development. But an ad hoc approach to policymaking based on political whims is not the right approach. The government should only alter support levels for wind power, and any other low-carbon technology, on the basis of evidence that has been published and consulted on in a timely fashion with industry.

    The transition to a secure, affordable and low-carbon energy system will be extremely challenging and an important subject of debate for years to come. This report does not attempt to provide all of the answers. Nor does it aim to bring an end to the debates on wind power. Instead, we hope to show that of the many challenging issues that must be resolved, the area of wind power technology is one of the least troubling.

    Technical Report On The Effectiveness Of Wind Power Technology

    Executive Summary

    This report aims to improve the quality of public debate on wind power by addressing two common misconceptions about wind power technology:

    - Is wind power an effective means of reducing carbon dioxide emissions?

    - Is wind power a secure and reliable source of energy for the UK?

    We show that the answer to both of these questions is unequivocally ‘yes’. 2 Is switching to use more wind power an effective way of reducing carbon emissions? Wind turbines convert wind into electrical energy without emitting polluting gases. However, the effectiveness of wind power in reducing emissions has been questioned. Using a simple model we show that every megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity produced by wind power in Great Britain results in a minimum CO2 saving of around 350kg. On this basis carbon dioxide emission savings from wind energy were at least 5.5 million tonnes in Great Britain in 2011. While this is a reliable minimum, there are good reasons to think that the actual figure is considerably greater (DECC 2012) and empirical examples from electricity systems in the US support this conclusion. Is wind power a secure and reliable energy source?

    Although wind is a variable energy resource, it can be easily integrated into electricity systems. Wind power output is predictable and varies at similar rates to existing electricity demand. Our ability to ‘keep the lights’ on during ‘cold, calm spells’ is secure at the levels of wind power projected for the UK by 2020. The experience of overseas systems such as the Iberian peninsula and island of Ireland show that the level of wind contribution expected by the government in the UK in 2020 is achievable. W e show that there are several adaptations to the grid that could enable a much greater contribution from wind…

    Is wind power an effective way of reducing carbon emissions? … The marginal emissions approach to calculating emission savings: a simple ‘steady-state’ model…An empirical approach to assessing the carbon savings from wind power…Summary…

    Is wind power a secure and reliable energy source? …Managing the variability of wind power output…International precedents for the UK’s 2020 wind power ambitions…Options for adapting the grid to maintain security of supply with very high levels of wind generation…Summary


    This report has addressed two common misconceptions on wind power technology: firstly, that it is not an effective way of reducing carbon emissions; and, secondly, that wind power is too variable to be a reliable source of electricity. We have clearly demonstrated that deriving energy from wind power is a potent way of reducing carbon emissions and does not threaten energy security. In the UK during 2011 wind energy reduced emissions of carbon dioxide by at least 5.5 million tonnes. Even during a prolonged period of calm, cold weather it poses no threat to the security of electricity supply.

    We have also shown that wind power is able to provide a significant proportion of the UK’s electricity needs with little impact on the existing operation of the grid . Evidence from numerous rigorous studies shows that integrating wind generation in the UK system at the levels expected in 2020 is technically feasible without major modification to the electricity system. The experience of high levels of wind power in the Iberian peninsula and the island of Ireland offer examples of where these levels of wind power have been successfully integrated.

    Finally, we have outlined how the role for variable, low-carbon generation technologies like wind power could extend significantly beyond the levels that are currently expected in the UK. As the GB grid makes a transition to a low-carbon, secur e and affordable system it will need to adapt in important ways. While the optimal mix and ultimate costs of the options remain uncertain, a range of different technologies will have a part to play in this transformed energy system.

    The transition to a low-carbon, secure and affordable GB electricity system will be the subject of debate for some years to come. W ith this report we hope to have shown that of the many challenging issues that must resolved, the area of wind power technology is probably one of the least troubling.


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