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Wind Energy Too Unreliable For UK, Study Finds

A conservative British think tank has concluded that wind energy can’t be relied on to meet the United Kingdom’s power needs and must be supplemented with fossil-fuel power plants.

A study issued Oct. 27 by the London-based Adam Smith Institute (ASI) says there are wide fluctuations in the output of wind farms because of the equally wide fluctuations in the presence of wind. Therefore, it concludes, the wind farms will need to be backed up by powerful conventional generators.

In the study, the ASI constructed mathematical models of the likely output from a planned 10-gigawatt fleet of wind farms. It found that for fully 20 weeks in an average year, the farms would produce less than 2 gigawatts of power, and for nine weeks of that year it would generate less than one-tenth of that figure.

Related: Global Onshore Wind Market Expected To Reach $898 Billion In 2020

More strikingly, their combined output would exceed 90 percent of potential output for only 17 hours, the ASI study concluded.

Supporters of wind farms acknowledge that wind speeds aren’t constant everywhere, but they argue that the technology is reliable because there is always wind somewhere in Britain or just off its shores.

The ASI report counters that “the model reveals this ‘guaranteed’ output is only sufficient to generate something under 2 percent of nominal output. ...The probability that the wind fleet will produce full output is vanishingly small.”

This is particularly true in the winter, according to Capell Aris, the author of the ASI report. “Each winter has periods where wind generation is negligible for several days,” he told The Telegraph.

Most advocates on both sides of the issue agree with a conclusion by the British government that variable wind speeds can cause wide fluctuations in power output of between 25 percent and 30 percent. But the ASI study takes issue with that as well, calling it “extremely misleading” because the energy output from wind farms is “extremely volatile.”

Today Britain is served by more than 4,500 onshore wind turbines with a combined maximum output of 7.5 gigawatts. As part of the government’s response to climate change, more wind farms are planned and are expected to have output capacity of more than 20 gigawatts by 2020.

The wind power trade association RenewableUK was quick to react to the ASI report. It noted that during the week ending Oct. 25, Britain’s wind fleet took advantage of high winds to generate more electricity than nuclear plants that had experienced a series of faults that had forced some reactors to close temporarily.

Related: Is The UK The Most Energy Secure Country In The EU?

RenewableUK said the difference to the National Grid was 14.2 percent of power from wind, 13.2 percent from nuclear.

“To come out with this [report] a week after record highs of electricity from wind smacks of desperation,” said Jennifer Webber, director of external affairs for RenewableUK.

Webber added that in 2013 wind power provided enough electricity for more than 5 million British homes and decreased the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels, saving 11 million metric tons of carbon emissions each year.

By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com

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