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Wind or not?

This little snippet appeared in Scottish Energy News yesterday:

MSP Alex Johnstone (Conservative, North East Scotland) has this week tabled question for answer in the Scottish parliament on causes of last month’s power black-out which cut off electricity to 200,000 homes in the Highlands and Islands.

So perhaps we will get to the truth.

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Reader Comments (28)

So perhaps we will get to the truth.
Breath. Hold. Not.

May 20, 2014 at 9:01 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

"So perhaps we will get to the truth"

Not if it's embarrassing to the Government.

May 20, 2014 at 9:01 AM | Unregistered CommenterAdam Gallon

So perhaps we will get to the truth.

Not if precedent is anything to go by.

May 20, 2014 at 9:18 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

"MSP Alex Johnstone (Conservative, North East Scotland) has this week tabled question for answer in the Scottish parliament"

Also get him to ask about the state of repairs and failures for Scottish Turbines.

May 20, 2014 at 9:46 AM | Unregistered Commenterjamspid

Some may recall.......

Dear Mr Johnstone,

You may recall we met a few years ago when I arranged a political debate on energy at the University of Aberdeen. I have since set up my own blog dealing with energy and climate issues and yesterday I ran a simple post based on a letter published in the P&J providing an alternative explanation for the Scottish blackout. This was cross posted to Bishop Hill, the UKs biggest climate and renewable energy sceptic blog. It has had large national exposure.

While there are reasons to doubt the reliability of all the claims made by Mr Mackay in his letter, much of it rings true. The blackout occurred on a windy and gusty night and the grid engineering works designed to enable the grid to cope with such conditions are not yet complete. It does not seem credible that a faulty switch at Knocknagael substation would alone blackout the whole of northern Scotland. And it does seem more credible that the switch did its job, isolating a part of the system, setting off a chain reaction that resulted in an extensive rolling blackout, as claimed by Mr Mackay.

John Swinney: I am absolutely certain that it was not a contributing factor. Mr Johnstone is free to ask whatever questions he wishes, but I would think that what I said to the Parliament in my original answer—that Scottish and Southern Energy Power Distribution discovered a faulty electronic relay at its Knocknagael substation, which is near Inverness—would have been enough reassurance for him.

My emphasis added, where "it" refers to wind power.

I am advised that one way of getting at the truth in this matter is to see the "engineering incident report" from SSE, although I gather this may not yet be complete. I encourage you to pursue this matter since it is critical that the SNP energy policy is scrutinised and those who advocate it, are held to account.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Euan Mearns

Did wind power cause Scottish blackout?

May 20, 2014 at 10:02 AM | Registered CommenterEuan Mearns

The efficiency of wind power

A number of competing factors are expected to impinge upon wind load factors over time, such as improving turbine efficiency, the move to less windy onshore sites, the move to windier offshore sites, increasing down time of ageing turbines and climate change. Since 1997 average loads have increased (Figure 1) but have changed little in the last 9 years suggesting that positive and negative factors are in balance.

And for those interested in Germany:

Germany: energiewende kaput?

The penetration of wind energy in 2012 was 3.4% and solar 2.1% of total energy consumed

May 20, 2014 at 10:14 AM | Registered CommenterEuan Mearns

There is also a good article by JACK W. PONTON (FREng, FIChemE) in the same Scottish Energy News on the "Difficulty of Making Money From Wind Generated Energy" - well worth a read

May 20, 2014 at 10:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterRobert Thomson

Well according to the professional body, BSRIA, (The Building Services Research and Information Association), power cuts are becoming a real risk indeed, just 2% safety margin in the grid.

May 20, 2014 at 11:03 AM | Unregistered Commenterc777

two days on and i am still chuckling,

Diesel Generators on windturbines at sea -

May 20, 2014 at 12:13 PM | Unregistered Commenterrichard


That is priceless. Wave power back up for wind.

Give me the monaaayyy!!!

May 20, 2014 at 12:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterMicky H Corbett

Ill Wind

I once had a whim and I had to obey it
To build a Wind Farm for some raptor to chop;
I connected it up and it started to slay it
In spite of the neighbours who begged me to stop.

To run my Farm, I had to connect to the grid relay;
I found my Farm was a bit of a devil to play.

So artfully wound
To give you a sound,
A rumbling sound for miles around.

Oh, the hours I had to spend
Before I mastered it in the end.

But that was yesterday and just today I looked in the usual place-
There was the phase but the volts themselves were missing.

Oh, where can it have gone?
Haven't you-hasn't anyone seen my Farm?
Oh, where can it have gone?
What a blow! Now I know
It's unable to charge my Allegro.

Who swiped those Volts?
I'll bet you a quid
Somebody did,
Knowing I'd found a ROC tariff and wanted to play it,
Afraid of my talent at keeping it warm.
For early today to my utter dismay
it had vanished away like the dew in the morn..

My neighbour's asleep in his bed.
I'll soon make him wish he were dead.
I'll put up some nuclear instead!

Apols: Flanders & Swann

May 20, 2014 at 1:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterIt doesn't add up...


I wrote to them and said had they thought of concentrating on wave power and Diesel and getting rid of the turbines.

May 20, 2014 at 1:06 PM | Unregistered Commenterrichard

I feel I must be missing something here, but why do the diesel generators have to be off-shore..?

May 20, 2014 at 1:11 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

Apparently, when "the waves may be too high to transfer personnel", they are considering helicopters. Turbine blades, high winds - what could possibly go wrong?

May 20, 2014 at 1:14 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp


Wind power requires a reliable source of energy before it will work! Words fail.

May 20, 2014 at 1:22 PM | Unregistered Commentergraphicconception


all turbines need auxiliary power,

On land they take this power back off the grid when the turbines are not turning, At sea the power lines connecting the windturbines to the land based grid do not allow a back flow of electricity.

May 20, 2014 at 1:24 PM | Unregistered Commenterrichard

I couldn't help but chuckle when I saw the election advert by the Greens amongst yesterday's blogs..
It comprised a picture of Nigel Farage and a wind turbine, with the caption: 'Both are driven by wind, but which is better for Britain..?'
Thet don't do irony, do they..?

May 20, 2014 at 2:20 PM | Unregistered Commentersherlock1

Back around 2000 it was well known that more than about 16-19% wind on a grid would be problematic. After the recent scandal of misleading the public, I went to see what the current figure is. Eventually I found a paper, that quoted another paper, that quoted another paper, that eventually led back to a paper written about 1990.

In other words, there has been next to no (published) research on the effect of wind on an electricity network and no one really has any idea how serious the effect will be and at what level we will start to see these effects.

The analogy I would use is of a car driving down the road. As you drive the car faster and faster, the likelihood of a catastrophic accident increases because the effect of any curve (change in the wind) is all the more greater, and the time to respond is therefore all the smaller. Moreover, wind is displacing conventional backup as is being made uneconomic - so not only is the destabilising effect of wind increasing, but the ability to stabilise the grid from conventional power is decreasing.

One can make the car safer at higher speeds by getting better equipment - brakes, tyres, etc., but fundamentally, speed = more wind, will eventually cause the system to go off the road.

In researching the background to this power outage, I became aware that the North of Scotland is now regularly having power outages. It is also clear that on the day of the power cut, the electricity supply was effectively being "controlled by the wind" - the mains phase closely tracks the wind output.

What is perhaps most important is that the outage occurred at a time total demand was decreasing, with the result that Hydro was being turned down. This is important because hydro is very quick to react and so a good proportion of hydro stabilises the grid. Turn off the hydro - and the grid becomes unstable!

It is also very interesting that the main evidence of a power cut (a sudden and dramatic change in phase) occurred at 8:40, whereas the relay is supposed to have gone wrong at 8:30. This is also backed up by a number of anecdotal accounts of lights going out around 8:40.

This strongly suggests that if there was a fault at 8:30pm that the actual event causing the power outage did not occur until at least 8:35 but instead showed at 8:40pm as a massive and sharp change in grid frequency. That event occurred around 5-10minutes after the supposed "relay fault" and so there is 5-10 minutes which has not so far been explained between the "fault" and the power outage.

This time discrepancy needs to be explained because I cannot see how a fault at 8:30 could lead to a sudden massive change in mains frequency at 8:40 unless there were an additional factor of which the large and dominant affect of wind, and the collapse in hydro output (presumably due to a bad forecast and general otherwise oversupply) that night on the whole system is very likely to be the cause.

In other words, I am beginning to think, that if there was a relay fault - this was just coincidental was probably found as a result of having to cope with the massive power surge from wind - and is all in all just a very handy excuse.

Graph just posting at :Scottish Independent People

May 20, 2014 at 4:14 PM | Registered CommenterMikeHaseler

MikeHaseler; if you have not seen it, there's a book "When will the lights go out?" by Derek Birkett which covers the problems caused for the grid by renewables. He is an retired power engineer who worked as a controller for the Scottish grid (iirc). It is not the easiest read and gets repetitive in the copies of various submissions to enquiries. However it does examine the issues such as frequency control (lack of), the impact of "embedded" wind generators and so forth. There is a good write-up of a major incident in Germany triggered by the sort of event which may have happened in Scotland.

May 20, 2014 at 6:36 PM | Registered Commentermikeh

Looking at The National Grid website I note this: (sorry if this is suck eggs stuff)

If demand is greater than generation, the frequency falls while if generation is greater than demand, the frequency rises.

National Grid has a licence obligation to control frequency within the limits specified in the 'Electricity Supply Regulations', i.e. ±1% of nominal system frequency (50.00Hz) save in abnormal or exceptional circumstances. National Grid must therefore ensure that sufficient generation and / or demand is held in automatic readiness to manage all credible circumstances that might result in frequency variations.

So placing windfarm variables into the controllable generation we once knew, it appears that a sudden surge from windfarms in Scotland had called the monitoring system to knock off a grid substation control relay. Or a fault - same effect.

Was it that this event caused damage at the substation and that prevented any other supply from the Grid filling in? Anything in readiness could not get past the substation? I thought they had to transform up to the Grid and which may have been damaged also. 35kv to 250Kv or similar. 35kv from windturbines?

How about harnessing whales and dolphins - flappy power? feeding. Spanish got there first. And Japanese might stop to eat them.

May 20, 2014 at 6:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterEx-expat Colin

Mikeh - thanks for that.

I get the feeling that politicians and power company bosses know full well the lights have already started turning off due to this daft policy but they are just hoping that no one notices long enough so that Alex can get his daft referendum vote, and the power companies can milk the public for all its worth as long as they can.

What is even more incredible is that the Scottish press & media don't care at all!

But just you wait until there's power cut in Glasgow or Edinbrugh and then they'll be demanding to know why nothing was done earlier.

May 20, 2014 at 7:08 PM | Registered CommenterMikeHaseler

Richard (12:13 PM): the latest tremor felt by the BGS was caused by my jaw dropping to the jaw as I read the article you linked us to. Diesel generators on windmills? Helicopters used for refuelling when the seas are too rough for fuelling boats (in the North Sea, that will be for a large proportion of the time)? Jamesp so succinctly points out the dichotomy, there. Is this Trident Energy a spoof site? Surely, it has to be!

Out of curiosity, has anyone considered the problems that refuelling these sites will present? It would be interesting to get the info from those seamen who are actually involved – surely, the fuelling ships will have to have dynamic positioning, there being little, if anything, to moor to? Does anyone have any idea of the cost of a DP ship operation?

Some time ago, I read that wind-power cost about twice that of conventional power. Given the information by Trident Energy, I suspect that that figure is given more in hopeful optimism rather than rational realism – unless, of course, it was given as deliberate deception.

May 20, 2014 at 9:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterRadical Rodent

(Dang! I don't learn, do I? Login and/or review before posting! My jaw dropped to the FLOOR!)

May 20, 2014 at 9:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterRadical Rodent

I am still laughing re the absurdity of the idea of employing choppers to refuel anything stationary in a turbulent sea.
As my Irish friend says 'The wind people are all feckin' touched in head'.

May 20, 2014 at 9:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlexander K

To remind posters: Robert's link to Jack Ponton is well worth the read. He explains the whole subsidy issue very clearly as well.

May 20, 2014 at 10:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterMicky H Corbett

Radical Rodent,

I emailed the Trident energy site and asked them why not just concentrate on wave power.

Their reply-

"That would be great if an industrial partner were willing to step up and finance the project/share the risks.. Also the cost (and timeline) to establish grid connection, dedicated to wave is still several years away..

Thanks for the input..



This is an interesting read.

May 20, 2014 at 10:15 PM | Unregistered Commenterrichard


"At sea the power lines connecting the windturbines to the land based grid do not allow a back flow of electricity"

Thank you, but any idea why that should be? Having diesel generators alongside the windmills when they could tap into existing supplies seems a bit daft...

May 20, 2014 at 10:56 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

You will get the answer the civil servants want the minister to give.

May 21, 2014 at 11:42 AM | Unregistered Commenterclovis marcus

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