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The great still

Commenters have been noting the preposterously low output of the wind fleet at the moment - currently generating about 0.4GW or a tenth of one percent of demand.

The environmentalist argument is that by use of smart grids we can import wind power generated in other parts of Europe (I think this is because the spirit of European cooperation will inspire them to offer it to us rather than using it themselves.

However, a look at the current windspeed map for Europe suggests there may be a flaw in this plan:

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Reader Comments (133)

it's like have to believe in windmill fairies

Mar 2, 2013 at 9:57 PM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

The solution is obvious.
Import wind, either using the Keystone XL Pipeline if Obama won't let them use it, or bring it in on Super-Tankers.

Mar 2, 2013 at 10:03 PM | Unregistered Commentertoad

Mar 2, 2013 at 10:03 PM | toad

There could be billions to be made in the trade of compressed air.

Mar 2, 2013 at 10:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterDaveS

A similar conclusion was arrived at by "The Renewable Energy Foundation" in 2011.

"and it is now well known that low wind conditions can prevail at times of peak load over very large areas. For example, at 17.30 on the 7th of December 2010, when the 4th highest United Kingdom load of 60,050 MW was recorded, the UK wind fleet of approximately 5,200 MW was producing about 300 MW (i.e. it had a Load Factor of 5.8%). One of the largest wind farms in the United Kingdom, the 322 MW Whitelee Wind Farm was producing approximately 5 MW (i.e. Load Factor 1.6%).

Load factor in other European countries at exactly this time was also low. The Irish wind fleet was recording a load factor of approximately 18% (261 MW/1,425 MW), Germany 3% (830MW/25,777 MW), and Denmark 4% (142 MW / 3,500 MW).4

Such figures confirm theoretical arguments that regardless of the size of the wind fleet the United Kingdom will never be able to reduce its conventional generation fleet below peak load plus a margin of approximately 10%.5

They also suggest that while widespread interconnection via the widely discussed European Supergrid, may assist in managing variability, its contribution will not on its own be sufficient to solve the problems, since wind output is approximately synchronised across very large geographical areas."

Mar 2, 2013 at 10:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterRednose

First Germany has the darkest winter in recent memory and now the wind won't blow. What next? Will a killing frost this spring reduce the amount of bio-fuel available? Is someone up there trying to send us a message?

Mar 2, 2013 at 10:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterSean

That was the thing that struck me about that argument...when it's cold it's cold right across Northern Europe...and as we know when it's cold it's not usually windy AND when it's cold it's dark!


Mar 2, 2013 at 10:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterMailman

We need to glue solar panels on the turbine blades. Glue made from all the horses that we won't be eating knowingly.

Mar 2, 2013 at 10:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterBruce

It was the same in December 2010. Large high Pressure area over all of Europe, result? little or no wind.
Sadly the wind isn't always blowing somewhere. Fritz Vahrenholt made this point in his GWPF lecture.

Mar 2, 2013 at 10:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhilip Foster

As of 5 minutes ago:

Coal 19.97GW

Nuclear 6.92GW


Wind 0.04GW

Total Demand 37.40GW

At this moment wind is producing near one thousandth of the energy required in the UK.

Based on this output wind would have the ability to completely power the UK for a whole day once in every 3 years.

Mar 2, 2013 at 10:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterRob

It's oft been stated that an anticyclone can cover the whole of northern Europe. There is a paper by Garrad Hassan (consultants to the wind industry) which shows the strong correlation in wind speeds in northwestern Europe. It's quite amazing what a strong correlation there is; if we have a year with low wind speeds in the UK, there are also low wind speeds in northern France, Holland, Germany and Denmark.

Mar 2, 2013 at 10:47 PM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

"We need to glue solar panels on the turbine blades." --Bruce

Hush, please, Bruce. The UK may spend billions on solarbines before they realize you were jesting.

Mar 2, 2013 at 10:51 PM | Unregistered Commenterjorgekafkazar

Problem solved... let's play footie...

Telegraph: Kickstarting the electricity-generating football

Mar 2, 2013 at 11:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterJiminy Cricket

The good ship Venus had a solution:

The second mate's name was Carter
By God he was a farter
When the wind wouldn't blow
And the ship wouldn't go
They got Carter the farter to start her

More beans anybody?

Mar 2, 2013 at 11:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoger Longstaff

Its worse 'peak demand ' is pretty much the same time through-out the area , so it not event the case that is you can share the power , even if there is wind in one area , becasue everyone needs it at the same time .

Mar 2, 2013 at 11:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterKnR

"We need to glue solar panels on the turbine blades."

Because solar wind is free?


Mar 3, 2013 at 12:10 AM | Unregistered Commenterssat

I use this. I always find it extremely depressing though knowing there are People out there making money from this whether the wind blows or not.

Mar 3, 2013 at 12:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterPaul

Its worse 'peak demand ' is pretty much the same time through-out the area , so it not event the case that is you can share the power , even if there is wind in one area , becasue everyone needs it at the same time .

Translation - "It's worse. 'Peak demand' occurs at pretty much the same time throughout the whole area so it's not even the case that you can share the power even if there is some wind in one part of the area - because everyone will need it at the same time.

Sorry knr, were trying to say something like that? If so, you were making a valuable point that was well worth the effort of "translating".
I'm not trying to be superior. It's just that maybe you should reread your posts a bit better before sending them off; in that way you'll be saving our collective "leetull grey cells" from needless overwork.

Mar 3, 2013 at 12:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn in France

They say you couldn't make it up. But they did.
"Children's favourite Windy Miller is drunk on Camberwick Green (no spoof)"

Greenpeace haven't even got as far as Chigley yet. Unfckngblvbl.

Mar 3, 2013 at 12:56 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

There's your 'low probability, high impact events' - blackouts caused by prolonged freakish windless periods.
You can't say they didn't warn us... and they will become considerably more frequent when they shut down the coal burners.

Mar 3, 2013 at 1:00 AM | Unregistered CommenterCarnwennan

The EU energy commissar has the solution, or at least what passes for an EU solution. :)

UK Should Export Energy To Europe, Says EU

Date: 02/03/13
Nathan Rao, Daily Express

A top German politician sparked fury last night by saying Britain should export some of our limited energy resources to Europe.


EU Commissioner for Energy Gunther Oettinger’s comments sparked outrage

EU Commissioner for Energy Gunther Oettinger was accused of being “out of touch” after suggesting the UK has resources “few countries elsewhere can even dream of”.

He said Scotland is on the verge of becoming “an energy powerhouse of Europe” with half of its power already green.

His comments were described as “nonsense” by Roger Helmer, Ukip’s energy spokesman, who said Britain is facing an energy crisis as power stations close to meet EU green directives.

Within three years, domestic energy generation is expected to drop from 15 per cent to below five per cent.

Mr Helmer said: “In a few years we are in danger of blackouts as domestic production falls. We are running out of energy and this is down to nonsense diktats from Europe.

“To say that Britain should stay a member of the EU so we can sell them energy is just daft.”

Ian Fells, emiritus professor of Energy Conversion at Newcastle University, said: “Where do they think we have all this energy we can spare to send to Europe. It seems he [Oettinger] is a bit out of touch with reality.”

Mar 3, 2013 at 1:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterMick J

The flaw in socialist economics is you eventually run out of other people's money to spend.

The flaw in Greenie Energy policy is you run out of wind to use.

Mar 3, 2013 at 1:30 AM | Unregistered CommenterFred from Canuckistan

Here am I sitting in my tin can far above the Moon

Planet Earth is blue and there's nothing I can do

Mar 3, 2013 at 1:37 AM | Registered CommenterGreen Sand

Time for a human-size hamster wheel connected to a small generator. When the wind does not blow, simply ask Tim Yeo, Lord Deben, and 'clean' energy enthusiasts to do the right thing for the country. After day in the treadmill, fracking wouldn't seem so bad.

Mar 3, 2013 at 1:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterZT

The solution is obvious. When it is cold and dark (winter nights) and not blowing in Northern Europe, it is fine and sunny (summer daytime) in Australia. We could solar panel the entire country (almost) as it is not being used for much else in summer (all Aussies are at the beach). Then all we need is an effective way to parcel up the solar electricity generated and we could email it to you folk.

Alternatively, you could all just come down here for the northern winter - though beach space is at a premium.

For the life of me, I cannot understand the concerns expressed by some people in your northern climes about a little potential warming. You have a long way to go before you reach our average summer temps and then a heck of a lot further to go before it becomes uncomfortably hot.

Mar 3, 2013 at 3:00 AM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Pond

Day after day we stuck, No breath no motion. As idle as a painted mill upon a painted ocean.

With apologies to the gent what room I slept in at Jesus College.

Mar 3, 2013 at 3:08 AM | Unregistered CommenterDr K.A. Rodgers

Bruce says : "We need to glue solar panels on the turbine blades.....".

And to be on the safe side also glue shale gas powered jet motors on the end of the blades to turn them. That way the gas becomes very green, fracking becomes the econuts best friend , and the wind can go fart into itself if it will not be around to turn the blades.

Mar 3, 2013 at 3:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterBjörn

How can I add to the many brilliant posts above this one? I simply can't, so I'll just say thanks to all those ahead of me. Thanks for a great read. :)

Meanwhile, I hope to heck the turn-around on all this SPEEDS UP - All things Green look surprisingly dodgy at the moment and getting worse by the day. I think it will collapse well before the lights go out.

Mar 3, 2013 at 6:01 AM | Unregistered CommenterA.D. Everard

The solution to the windmills not turning when there's no wind is obvious.

Pump electricity into them and they'll act as motors, not generators. The blades will rotate. Everybody will be happy. Greenies can dance around like Fotherington-Thomas and sa 'hello lovly windmils'. Sceptics can hope they'll fall over under the stresses of actually moving.

And since the windmills are supposedly there to protect us from global warming, then running them in reverse would surely protect us from any risk global cooling.

(Must go... need to reinvestigate my old thermodynamics textbooks, as I feel there may be a fatal flaw in the cunning plan above :-(. Which even 'Entropic Man' might spot).

Mar 3, 2013 at 7:03 AM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

Can we get convicts to hand crank them? Chris Huhne springs to mind

Mar 3, 2013 at 7:13 AM | Unregistered CommenterAndy scrase

Wind output at present is 0.04GW. Chart 6.3 of the DECC document UK Energy trends shows total installed wind capacity as about (eyeballed from graph) 8.5GW . This puts the wind load factor at 0.47%. Golden rule - Renewable does not mean Reliable.

Mar 3, 2013 at 7:26 AM | Unregistered CommenterRonaldo

At this moment (08:12 CET) the wind energy contribution to the UK national grid is down to 40 MW, 0.1% of demand. It has been like that since midnight. In the Netherlands there is no wind either.

Looking at the weather maps the high pressure area within one isobar encompasses all of the UK, the Netherlands, Ireland, Northern France, almost all of Germany, Switzerland, Northern Italy, and Austria.

Interconnectors to areas with wind would have to be more than 1000 miles long. That is close to one quarter wavelength of 50Hz electromagnetic radiation, hence such a 50Hz interconnector would be a good antenna to radiate the energy into space. DC lines could be used, but at such lengths they would be very expensive. Also they would have to carry 100 times more power than the currently normal 1 GW.

Smart nets can only be used to cut off people from the grid.

Mar 3, 2013 at 7:32 AM | Registered CommenterAlbert Stienstra

The lowest wind output over the last 24 hours has been 32MW. Of course the actual output will be negative because all those idle turbines will be drawing electricity from the grid for all the functions that need to continue when they are idle. Over the last 24 hours the contribution of wind has been 0.6% and that number will continue to fall.

Coal is currently producing over 55% of our electricity. Coal is saving countless lives at the moment.

Mar 3, 2013 at 7:52 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Latimer Alder@7:03 AM,

The solution to the windmills not turning when there's no wind is obvious.

Pump electricity into them and they'll act as motors, not generators. The blades will rotate.

Latimer, a good point, but even more important, they will generate wind which will operate the turbines in Denmark and Holland so we can buy the electricity from them.

Mar 3, 2013 at 8:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterChuckles

It is far worse than you think.

Not only will there be many days without wind (or days with wind speeds too high), but also when we do have a few days with the "right" wind we will have to sell power cheaply (or even give it away for free) to our European partners. That's what happens with blobby power!

Just like in Denmark!

Mar 3, 2013 at 8:23 AM | Unregistered CommenterConfusedPhoton

Phillip: "Coal is saving countless lives at the moment."

Well said. It's a truth that eludes the "No Dash for Gas" movement that thinks it's doing good by obstructing the construction of gas fired power stations because renewables can provide "better solutions": LINK. And, if the YouGov poll it cites is accurate, most people may agree.

Mar 3, 2013 at 8:25 AM | Registered CommenterRobin Guenier

Re: Philip,

The lowest was between 21:55 and 22:04 when it reached 29MW.
Throughout the night it has not been above 60MW except for a half hour period at 3:00 am when it peaked at 68MW

Mar 3, 2013 at 8:35 AM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

Maybe cats are the answer.

Mar 3, 2013 at 8:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterStonyground

Import wind?! no problem I produce plenty and you can burn it as well

Mar 3, 2013 at 8:51 AM | Unregistered CommenterTrumpton

Maybe we should get Skeptical Science on the case:

Climate Myth: "The wind always blows somewhere"

What the science says: ...


Mar 3, 2013 at 8:55 AM | Registered CommenterAndy Scrase

If they put all the wind turbines in a straight line and then just use a huge electric fan to start the first one then the wind produced from the first one would power the second one and so on. It's just so simple.

Mar 3, 2013 at 9:00 AM | Unregistered CommenterPaul in New Zealand

Leave a few of those wheels out in the countryside and our forest friends could do all the work.

Mar 3, 2013 at 9:11 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlan Reed

What a piece of work is a fan, how mobile in season, how
impotent in faculties, in form and moving how digress and
impractical, in action how unable, in apprehension how like
a clod! the beauty of the whirled, the paragon of liberals.

Mar 3, 2013 at 9:46 AM | Unregistered Commenterfenbeagle

Bird chompers, are only a solution to investment bankers bonuses and Chinese steel manufactures - all other bets and expectations are off.

Oh! And Ed Davey says they are a good thing.

Say no more.

Mar 3, 2013 at 9:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

This lack of wind is yet another extreme weather event that demonstrates the need for us to take immediate action and build more wind turbines.

Mar 3, 2013 at 10:11 AM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

When the air is calm over Britain that may well be true of most of Europe too, as His Grace pointed out. Nevertheless there is an obvious solution from a "green" point of view - look outside Europe!

The Chinese are putting up a lot of wind turbines in Inner Mongolia. The quotation below comes from Wikipedia.

Inner Mongolia

In addition to its large reserves of natural resources, Inner Mongolia also has the largest usable wind power capacity in China[16] thanks to strong winds which develop in the province's grasslands. Some private companies have set up wind parks in parts of Inner Mongolia such as Bailingmiao, Hutengliang and Zhouzi.

How long will it be before the cost of energy in this country has to rise again because the Greens want to subsidise the construction of wind farms in other continents?

Mar 3, 2013 at 10:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

Oh, yes, now add to this that all our electric cars would ran out of juice and you stay in the middle of nowehere freezing in that damm tin car with no heating trying to get home or to job....
The electric heat-pump of your heating home is not working anymore disconnected by your smart meter and the office is frozen dark.

Mar 3, 2013 at 10:30 AM | Unregistered CommenterLars P.

Well, they keep saying that the wind always blow somewhere, and they are right. It's been pretty windy in Sydney for the last week. All we have to do is link up Sydney with London with a power cable. It is that simple, really.

Mar 3, 2013 at 10:32 AM | Unregistered CommentersHx

Sorry if I'm being dim here, but could someone please explain the numbers on that chart? Italy is covered in 20-24 but around the Baltic it's 2 colour shades lighter and yet is covered in 18-21.

Mar 3, 2013 at 10:50 AM | Unregistered CommenterSean O'Connor

Over the past 24 hours, wind has provided a massive 3566MWh of electricity. The only problem is that we used 905056MWh which means that it provided less than 0.4% of our needs.

Mar 3, 2013 at 11:05 AM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

@ Roger Longstaff

Your suggestion that everyone should eat more beans is attractive but you overlook the fact that an important constituent of farts is methane, which is a greenhouse gas, and therefore your suggestion would not get official approval.

Instead of encouraging farting it is essential that we combat it if we are ever to control climate change. This also applies to CCGW - Catastrophic Cattle induced Global Warming - because cows, like humans, are responsible for the melting ice caps and everything else that gets blamed on global warming.

Fortunately there is a solution. Cattle fodder containing garlic reduces cow farts.

Feed cows garlic, reduce greenhouse gas emissions

What the British government needs to do now is to get all the country's television chefs to include garlic in any recipe containing beans so that we humans can also play our part in reducing methane emissions.

Mar 3, 2013 at 11:07 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

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