new reports debunk wind energy myths

Two new studies show the grid can cope with wind variability and micro-wind turbines can deliver significant carbon savings

Several of the most long-standing arguments against the expansion of wind power in the UK were comprehensively debunked today, with the release of two new reports arguing that wind intermittency will not undermine grid reliability and that small-scale turbines have the potential to power more than 800,000 homes.

The first study, which was commissioned by a coalition of green groups including WWF UK, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and the RSPB and carried out by energy consultant David Milborrow, concluded that the National Grid will be able to cope with a huge increase in wind capacity across the UK without any compromise in reliability, nor a large increase in "conventional" backup power plants.

It argues that the National Grid is already designed to manage variable inputs from wind farms and will be able to cope even as the amount of wind capacity increases to around 40 per cent of the UK's energy mix. It also states that far from reducing grid reliability an increase in wind capacity will improve grid resilience, noting that "thermal plant breakdowns generally pose more of a threat to the stability of electricity networks than the relatively benign variations in the output of wind plant."

In addition, the report calculates that the costs associated with wind variability are far lower than widely anticipated, predicting that even with wind providing 20 per cent of the UK's electricity bills would rise by just two per cent. It also argues that these costs could be lowered further as a result of improved wind forecasting, the rollout of smart grid demand management technologies, and the development of new interconnectors to mainland Europe.

The report, which follows a consultation document from the National Grid that also concluded the technology exists to effectively manage variable wind energy outputs, was welcomed by Maria McCaffery, chief executive of the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA).

"For some years now BWEA has been saying that managing variability is neither a major technological challenge, nor is it set to significantly impact consumer bills," she said. "This report is the final nail in the coffin of the myth of intermittency. We now need to move on and do more to have increased amounts of wind energy on the system, in as short a time as possible."

She added that the report's findings raised the prospect of wind energy delivering a long-term reduction in energy costs.

"As a source of energy wind is free and manageable," she said. "Integration costs will be more then offset by insuring ourselves from the inevitable rises in fossil fuel prices, and we could be looking at net savings as we deploy more wind."

The second report from the Energy Saving Trust is based on its trial of 57 small-scale and micro wind turbines installed at different locations around the UK. It concludes that while turbines located in urban locations perform poorly there are significantly more suitable locations available for domestic turbines than has been previously thought.

The study identifies 450,000 suitable domestic locations and calculates that well-positioned small-scale turbines with outputs of between 500W to 6kW could provide over three per cent of the UK's energy requirements, resulting in around two million tonnes in carbon emission savings.

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