A reality check for wind power.

UK proponents of wind power quote capacity figures of 6.3GW for the onshore fleet of 4,074 turbines and even more GW for offshore wind. The reality is somewhat different and is unfortunately becoming incompatible with other infrastructure aspirations of the government such as HS2. I am a fan of the gridwatch web site which was the first to clarify the actual power delivery from wind, fossil fuel and nuclear. However  I wanted to make a simpler graphic which compares the  contributions over the last 24 hours from different  fuel sources to  the UK’s total electricity supply (the National Grid). DECC policy calls for a doubling of wind capacity by 2020 which although it may enrich a small number of energy companies,wealthy landowners, and keep the green lobby happy –  will do very little to increase energy security. Judge for yourself.

Now lets see how wind power  meets up to the challenge of an electric transport future and what could be better than High Speed Train 2 (HS2) –  the incredibly expensive trophy project supported by all major political parties for completion in 2032.  Since by then   DECC’s  policy is to 80% “decarbonise” the economy surely their “pedestal” renewable (wind) should at least  be able to power HS2  – but  is it even capable of doing that ?

The graphs are made using RGraph and HTML5-Ajax. The data is from BM Reports.

About Clive Best

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

9 Responses to A reality check for wind power.

  1. NZ Willy says:

    The power usage graph is quite interesting to watch day-by-day. You could turn it into a side-bar widget that gives people a reason to keep coming back.

    • Clive Best says:

      I am working on a summary graph that shows the contribution of different sources to peak energy demand. What really matters for keeping the lights on to avoiding blackouts is meeting the peak energy demand. This occurs around 5pm each day and varies from ~30 Gwatts at weekends in summer up to 65 Gwatts for cold weekday evenings in winter. Hopefully I will have that ready soon.

    • styleyd says:

      Hi just stumbled across this, go to http://www.ukpowergeneration.info/ to see this historically and real time. There is a wordpress widget on the way too

      • Clive Best says:

        Vey nice interface! I have been logging peak demand and which fuels met that demand for over 6 months. There is no doubt that wind has had a good run with all the stormy weather the UK has been having but does it match demand ?

      • Clive Best says:

        Very nice interface !

        I have been logging daily the peak energy demand of the UK and which fuels met that demand for about the last 99 months. Eventually I will post a summary of the results. My idea is that energy supply must be met real time. Proponents for renewable energy and especially wind always avoid this fact. It is no good providing 7GW at 3am and only 100MW at 5pm. At 3am the energy is not needed but wind farms still get paid 100-150 pounds/MWh. Years ago we had off peak electric storage heaters. The cost of power was 50% less at night because the CEGB just wanted to get rid of it !

  2. Mike Mellor says:

    I visit gridwatch fairly often. My guess from looking at the charts is that wind averages 1GW. Peak demand is around 40GW. So we need 40 times more wind turbines. At the moment there are about 5000 turbines in total. That means that 200,000 turbines should do the trick. I think it was David Mackay who said that for wind to meet Britain’s demand you would need to carpet an area twice the size of Wales with turbines, and then to provide “backup” you would have to dam the Lake District and flood it to a depth of 200 metres. Perhaps in a country the size of Australia you could be reasonably sure that somewhere the wind would be blowing, but frontal systems tend to be pretty big with a lag of 3-5 days between them in the European summer and it’s quite common to have low wind days across the whole of Europe.

    • Clive Best says:

      I think that’s about right. I have been monitoring the 30 day average power production from all 5000 UK wind turbines. The graphs can be seen here

      The average is consistently about 4% or 1 GW for summer demand of 42GW. The record was 12% for 1 day @ 5 GW. For comparison UKs aging AGR nuclear plants provide a constant 18-20% of demand.

      I now blame David Mackay for his part in this lunacy. His book was honest physics – but the green zealots in DECC actually took him at face value and then gave him the top job at DECC. This essentially silenced him. Wind without energy storage is nonsense. Energy storage without high mountains is nonsense. Renewable energy is low density ~ 2W/m2 – like horse power in the 1700s.

      If you want carbon free energy without returning to neolithic times then unfortunately only nuclear delivers.

  3. Chas says:

    Hi, I’m a little confused by your ‘Can wind power run HS2’ meter: it indicates that 500MW are needed, but if 3/4 of a kW is a horspower, 500MW works out as a lot of very enormous trains.
    But maybe my maths is wrong.
    Can you explain?

    • Clive Best says:

      The figure of 500 MW is based on this report: HS2 Traction Energy Modelling, Imperial College, 2009. The peak plans are to run 13 trains an hour both ways between London and Leeds. In addition there are the power neeed for the new stations, signaling, and communications. So I think 500MW is about right.

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