The hot air of wind power...
Wind is NOT the answer....nuclear is the answer...
John Hutton, the UK business secretary, announced plans yesterday to increase Britain’s production of electricity from wind. According to Hutton, by 2020 the UK will produce 33 gigawatts (GW) from wind power, mainly from offshore turbines, apparently capable of powering 25million homes (1). But actually producing that much electricity from wind is unrealistic, a distraction from the only serious and viable method of producing low carbon, reliable electricity: nuclear.
The reaction of environmentalists to these developments shows how apparently strong principles can be set aside in favour of certain right-on technologies. Try to sink one 15,000 tonne oil platform in the North Sea (as Shell attempted with the Brent Spar platform in 1995) and Greenpeace will vilify you, but announce a plan to plant 7,000 concrete and steel pylons - each weighing 2,000 tonnes - on the seabed and you will be an eco-hero. Pour 60million tons of concrete across the Severn Estuary to build an energy-generating tidal barrage and Sir Jonathon Porritt and his Sustainable Development Commissioners will carry you in triumph through Jerusalem.
The Severn Barrage, essentially a dam across the Severn Estuary to generate power from its 10-metre tides, is equally loved and hated by greens. It will never be built. But, to universal green approval, John Hutton has offered up Britain’s entire continental shelf for industrialisation on a scale that makes the Brent Spar look like as biodegradable as an organic ciabatta.
According to Hutton, ‘Next year we will overtake Denmark as the country with the most offshore wind capacity. This could be a major contribution towards meeting the EU’s target of 20 per cent of energy from renewable sources by 2020.’ The key word in Hutton’s statement is ‘capacity’ because, although it is always claimed that Denmark gets 20 per cent of its electricity from wind power (2), in fact the Danish experience shows that investment in wind is a grandiose and expensive folly – guaranteed neither to supply electricity nor reduce greenhouse emissions.
Denmark’s wasted wind
Most of Denmark’s wind generation is off the west coast, where the electrical grid is better integrated with Norway than with the rest of the country. East Denmark is integrated with Sweden and Germany. Central generation is mostly from coal stations and there are over 700 local combined heat and power (CHP) stations running on gas or biofuel. CHP stations generate electricity and use what would otherwise be wasted heat to supply hot water to surrounding communities (3).
Because wind generation is immensely erratic and hard to forecast it is almost impossible to incorporate it into the grid without compromising reliability. Detailed study of inflow and outflow between Germany and Scandanavia demonstrates that as much as 84 per cent of west Denmark’s wind power is exported to Norway (at a loss to Danish consumers of about £100million) (4). Norway’s electrical supply is 100 per cent hydro, generated by water falling through turbines in river dams, and the Danish wind power is simply used to pump water back up into reservoirs – in effect, storing the electricity (and currently the only practical way to store power). Hydro and wind are extremely complementary, but the people of Denmark are paying the compliment and the people of Norway being flattered.
Currently, the Danish Wind Industry Association (DWIA) admits: ‘Danish wind power only contributes to adequacy [of supply] with a capacity value of zero.’ That is, wind’s generating capacity does not guarantee any of the basic and essential electrical supply. When wind production increases to a 50 per cent ‘share’ (in 2025), according to some DWIA projections, Denmark will have to export unusable excess power at a large economic loss but neighbouring countries will make a profit by selling back essential baseload electricity.