A 20 day “wind lull” in December 2022

The ideological push to increase UK wind energy as a means to reach “net zero” is bound to fail. The reason for this is simple. The more wind capacity we add to the grid so the more gas backup capacity we need when it fails. Each winter we have wind lulls associated with cold high pressure weather.  This winter was no exception with a three week long windless period. We only managed to keep the lights on by running all our gas stations at full output and firing up the few remaining coal power stations.  Only gas is flexible enough to be able to balance wind output.  The war in Ukraine has increased gas prices by over 200% so our preference for  wind  energy is getting very expensive, and as things stand we also cannot permanently close our few remaining coal stations. Solar energy is also negligible in winter for the UK..

long wind lull this December

The balancing act that gas plays in allowing wind farms to have preferential connection to the grid can be seen below.

Wind has preference on the grid, but at the price of building in a long term dependency on ever more expensive gas. (Gas output in red, wind in green) 

So what is the solution? Batteries?

A simple calculation of the energy needed to be stored shows just how impossible that is. To power UK off batteries for 2 weeks would need more than 10000 GWh of energy. That is the equivalent energy of 8.7 Mtons of TNT !

The only way to decarbonise the Grid is to use mainly Nuclear Energy. To pretend otherwise is either because you have a vested interest in wind, or because you believe in green fairy stories.

About Clive Best

PhD High Energy Physics Worked at CERN, Rutherford Lab, JET, JRC, OSVision
This entry was posted in nuclear, renewables, wind farms. Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to A 20 day “wind lull” in December 2022

  1. forbin says:

    Hello Clive,

    There is no answer to wind drought , Boris did know because I wrote to him several times about it with charts . He declined to reply


    • Clive Best says:

      I suspect Ed Miliband is mostly to blame for politicising climate change. It was totally illogical to pass the climate change act without a clue how to achieve it.

    • David Ramsay says:

      I wrote to Johnson, Sunak and Truss suggesting a price cap on U.K. produced gas of £1/therm instead of a windfall tax which would reduce future gas supply. Again no reply just very expensive energy.

  2. rogercaiazza says:

    The question how to deal with these wind droughts is the ultimate problem with any electric system that relies on wind and solar. I have looked at similar data for New York State and found the same thing happens here. What is particularly worrisome is that you have been monitoring power generation for the National Grid since 2000 and found a 20-day wind lull this year. What is the worst case that could be expected over a longer period?

    Traditional electric planning uses ten-year periods but that is for a case with combined generator problems causing a loss of generating capacity. I think reliance on wind and solar on top of generator problems means that a longer return period for extreme wind droughts is appropriate for planning.

    Throw in a black swan event like an ice storm that cripples transmission and generation or in New York’s case a Category 4 hurricane over the 9 GW of offshore wind they are planning to build and I think we are headed for a catastrophe.

    • Clive Best says:

      There were actually 2 wind lulls in the UK last winter. One of them is shown below. A new “initiative” is to pay consumers to switch off appliances during peak demand (5:30 – 6:30 pm) when low wind is forecast.

      Yes Off shore wind is a disaster just waiting for that perfect storm. They are potentially an environmental disaster waiting to happen because of their low power density covering large areas.

      We are now installing “floating” wind turbines in deep water. What could go wrong ?

  3. Cytokinin says:

    Living in Scotland, the politics of nationalism has been on the agenda for more then 50 years. In the seventies, the Scottish National Party (SNP) decided to go down a gradualist path towards independence thinking that devolution would be a halfway to complete independence. Unfortunately for them, many people are quite content with devolution and getting the ball over the line to achieve their main objective is proving exceptionally difficult for them.

    What, I hear you ask has this to do with power generation? I’ll tell you:
    About a dozen years ago, I set out to develop a system for capturing CO2 from the atmosphere. Developments were going along fine and prototyping was confirming my trajectory, till…. one day I woke up and considered what could happen if CO2 levels were reduced to pre-industrial levels 280ppm. Would this induce an ice age? I took this seriously enough that 5 years ago, I paused my research till I could find the answer and so far have still not found the answer.

    Over this time, I have done considerable reading and thinking. My reading has not only encompassed atmospheric science, but has also delved into history, economics and power. One thing that has interested me is the halfway house solution to CO2. Why are we aiming for net zero, which will maintain the status quo, rather than going for net negative. Surely if you really thought there was a climate emergency, net negative would be where you put your efforts, whereas the halfway solution almost certainly ensures that the objective is never met. The threat of global disaster will be averted and the wind, solar and wood barons will be looked upon as saviors.

    When you start following the money and see who is going to make a killing, you begin to wonder if there is perhaps not more to this green agenda than merely saving the planet. To what extent is the climate emergency a green herring being used to open up a new market (with possibly few benefits), for people whose principal objective is to make even more money. To what extent are sincere environmentalists being used as “useful idiots” by those seeking to make money. This was a tactic used by JD Rockefeller to ensure that Henry Ford plumped for petrol engines, rather than alcohol engines. By subsidizing the temperance movement he achieved ten years of prohibition and the rest is history.

    Net zero means the ball never goes over the line, however net negative means that atmospheric CO2 concentration will drop. As this happens it will be clear whether temperature changes downward, or not. If it does, we can be fairly confident about the role of CO2 in the atmosphere and we can use this knowledge to control global temperature, once we decide on the goldilocks temperature. If nothing happens to the temperature, or if it rises, we can be fairly sure that the principal driver of global warming is not CO2.

    97% of money in the world is time travelers money, borrowed from the future to invest in the present. This money needs to be repaid as the future come closer and the time travelers need to make interest on the money they have created. This requires growth and the principal driver of growth is innovation. In a world where a huge section of the population is technologically satiated, clever marketing techniques are needed to ensure that consumption is perpetually stimulated.

    So I’m back on track now and going for net negative.

    • Clive Best says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments!

      Removing CO2 from the atmosphere is very hard. The best way to try is maybe fertilise the oceans with cyanobacteria to pump down CO2 and produce O2.

      We are lucky to be living in a period with small orbital Milankovitch forcing so the next ice age is at least 20,000 years away. To avoid it we will actually need to keep CO2 levels higher than normal.

      The earth is a living planet which maintains optimal conditions for its continuation. This is Gaia theory. I hope science prevails rather than dogma so we learn to live in balance with nature. All elements on earth were formed by a previous supernova in our near region. So all those wonders of life and nature owe their origins to nuclear energy.

      • Mandy says:

        Going down the path of reducing CO2, if it even proves possible, is risky as the effect lags behind the cause by very long periods of time and it may be that we do not detect an overshoot until it is far too late and the ice age is upon us. In industry we use PID (Proportional, Integral, Differential) control to avoid overshoot and undershoot. Looking at the differential gives us the rate of change of the quantity we are interested in w.r.t. time. For the climate, this gradient would be so small as to be virtually imperceptible over the appropriate time periods. There is too much focus on the proportional element of this algorithm and not enough on the differential.

        Global glaciation would be a disaster for humans and we need to accept a slowly warming climate as beneficial and necessary in order to avoid the former. Rising sea levels can be coped with as long as we understand the risks of building in coastal areas and inhabiting them. OK, we will see our useful land area decline over time, but since we should be reducing our population anyway, linking the two would have twice the impact.

  4. Bob Holbrey says:

    Current (sorry) prices for Li batteries, and remarkably standard car lead acid batteries, are about £80/kWh. So your estimate of 10000GWh, with which I agree, would cost £800Bn purely for the batteries. Add in infrastructure and maintenance costs and you’re easily over a Trillion. Lifetime of 20 years to be generous then that’s a battery depreciated cost of >£1200 per household per annum to be added to the bill to pay for storage only. I say households because although businesses will also pay higher costs these will be passed on down the chain to the end consumers, i.e. households.
    The other consideration is how much extra wind capacity is needed to ensure a reasonably quick charge up post lull? How willing are you to gamble you won’t get two events in close proximity. Also if you build wind to provide 90% power capacity at a 50% of maximum windspeed what do you pay the windfarms when the windspeed is above this and their contributions are not all needed? Are they on a guaranteed rate irrespective of need? As to the point about demand management, some would call that rationing whereby the rich are fine and the less we’ll off live in the cold and dark. Progress? I don’t think so.

    • Clive Best says:

      Right now wind farm owners have a risk free guaranteed income. They too are enjoying a windfall from the high cost of gas due to the war in Ukraine. Your estimate of an extra £1200 per year to pay for energy storage sounds about right. However to that we should add the cost of say tripling the number of on-shore and off-shore wind turbines – say another £100 billion to be paid out of our energy bills. Of course the whole fleet of wind turbines need replacing every 20 years anyway so we can double that figure – say £0.25 trillion.

      What possibly could go wrong?

  5. David Ramsay says:

    Well said Clive. I have read several papers on the resource ex required to implement a battery backup and it just does not stack up with current technology. The cost of wind power has to include the backup to get the real picture.

    Let’s hope the SMRs have shapeable output to accommodate the installed wind capacity.

    I also suspect fusion will not deliver anytime soon after working on JET in 1990…

    • Clive Best says:

      Yes the best thing Grant Shapps could do would be to “order” an SMR with Rolls Royce. The design is ready. They just need funding to implement it. The reactors are based on the proven technology already developed for Nuclear Submarines.

    • Clive Best says:

      I also worked on JET from 1982 until 1988 !

      Yes Fusion needs a breakthrough. Keep an eye on First Light.

  6. Oxymoron says:

    Hi Clive,
    This is really interesting. My energy supplier provides me with 100% renewable energy at no extra cost. When the sun isn’t shining (such as at night) and the wind isn’t blowing (per your article) where do they get renewable energy from? They are not a small energy company, so I think they would need quite a lot of renewable energy.

    • Clive Best says:

      Your energy provider (Octopus?) does not provide you with 100% renewable energy. They use the same mix of power generation as any other company to meet power real time demand. I think Octopus do a trick which is to invest in wind and solar power generation “capacity”. That way they can say they have bought n-Gigawatts of renewables. So this is a theoretical “energy” which of course is unavailable for use most of the time. UK Power distribution is handled by the National Grid and so when there is little wind in winter they depend mostly on Gas, Nuclear, Coal and imports. Octopus distributes this power to their customers like every body else. Otherwise all Octopus customers would have regular blackouts.

  7. It doesn't add up... says:

    Not just the UK. Here’s the island of El Hierro in the Canaries, originally supposed to be one of the poster boys for a renewables solution that was meant to be wind (Eolica) and (pumped) hydro (hidraulica) based, until they found that the hydro element was heavily constrained by a small lower reservoir, and needed to be used to provide grid stabilisation if diesel use was to be minimised, with water pumped uphill allowed to recirculate in the twin penstock to keep the water level up below. The system was extensively investigated by Roger Andrews at Energy Matters (euanmearns.com). I periodically check in to see what’s happening.

    Last December they depended heavily on the Motores Diesel to keep the lights on, because the wind died. Here’s the chart of hourly generation

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