By Clive Wakely. With a recent report showing that last year wind turbines operated below 20 percent of capacity for more than half the time, and below 10 percent for more than a third, Britain’s wind generation programme needs an urgent reassessment.
According a report prepared by leading energy industry consultants using data originating from the National Grid, it has been demonstrated that output from Britain’s wind turbines generally have regularly failed to meet expectations.
This being the case then it is becoming increasingly obvious that the United Kingdom will not even come close to achieving its stated aim of 30 percent of its electricity from renewable sources (primarily wind) by 2020.
In what has been one of Britain’s few growth industries, approaching 300 wind farms have been build and are presently in operation.
Of these 13 are offshore, the remainder dotted around the country from the north of Scotland, down to Cornwall in the far west.
A further 43 wind farms are under construction, with as many as 500 either approved or planned; how many of the latter will actually be built, particularly in the face of growing opposition from would be near residents, remains to be seen.
Yet despite a multi-billion pound investment in wind technology it is evident that it has failed to impress, with annual output significantly below that predicted and required.
Both the industry and government work to an official performance “yardstick” that has it, allowing for downtime resulting from no/little wind and routine maintenance, that a given wind turbine should be operating at 30 percent of its theoretical maximum over the course of a year.
Unfortunately output statistics have established that actual output has consistently failed to achieve this level of performance; not only has this implications in terms of meeting generation targets but also in terms of investment return.
For the years 2006-2009, the Department of Energy estimated that the actual output figure was 28 percent for onshore wind farms and 31 percent for those sited offshore.
And for 2010 preliminary figures suggest that it could have been as low as 24 percent overall.
These figures would also appear to confirm what many have long suspected, that offshore wind farms, despite being more expensive to build and maintain, perform significantly better than those located on land.
Critics of wind turbines have often raised concerns over wind dependability and the resulting effect on energy generation in terms of reliability. These concerns appear to be justified as monitoring has also established that “low wind events” are more frequent than previously acknowledged.
Proponents of wind generation counter this, suggesting that a larger geographic spread of wind installations could help to “smooth out low wind events” meaning, presumably, that even more wind farms need to be built to compensate for underperformance elsewhere.
Some proponents also maintain that the disparity in claimed wind energy output does not alter the fact that Britain needs a “low-carbon” way to generate electricity; a view that is correct, but for the wrong reason.
Yes, in the light of Peak Oil, Britain urgently needs to develop alternatives to the use of increasingly expensive gas and oil to generate its electricity – but in so doing should not be blinkered by the “global warming” myth, particularly that aspect of it which holds the burning of fossil fuels responsible.
Furthermore, the failure of wind power to live up to expectations means, at the very least, that we need to reassess the implications of our proposed reliance on wind for any significant proportion of our national energy requirement.
This should not be taken to mean that there is no future for wind generation; offshore wind farms almost certainly have a future.
However it does mean that we have to look elsewhere for a reliable and economic means to source the generation of electricity; one, hopefully, that does not involve occupying third world states for control of their oil and gas fields.
It also means that associated technical issues, such as those related to reducing energy consumption and developing energy storage must be researched and developed.
Failure to develop affordable and reliable alternative energy generation technologies may inevitably result in a return to coal, admittedly a dirty and dangerous option but not one as dirty and dangerous as invading other peoples’ countries.