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Discussion > Wind Power - Working For Us Right Now

I'm sure most of you check out the NETA page anyway - but here's the link for those of you that don't know it.

At the time of writing, wind has been resposible for 7.7% of UK energy production over the last 24 hours.

I'm definitely cherry-picking a bit here, it's been quite windy over the last 24 hours, but not too windy, so good conditions.

The point of the post, is that this is quite clearly working. It's up to over a third of nuclear production, and over a quarter of coal.

When we're next becalmed in the dead of winter, and everyone points to wind only producing 0.2% of power at 9.07am on January 13th (or whatever dubiously specific example is used), I'll refer you back to this.

Yes, birds/bats/backup/Philip Bratby's unevidenced claims about increased CO2/grid transfer/variable winds etc. That stuff is all kicking around, but I can't be bothered dealing with it at the moment. But put your 'glass-half-full' hats on for once in a blue moon, and enjoy this example of wind working well.

It's going to keep working better and better as well.

Sep 7, 2011 at 2:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterZedsDeadBed

"It's going to keep working better and better as well."

I hope you're right, Zed -- I think you must be anyway. It certainly seems that technology improves over time, and the associated environmental problems decrease. From my understanding, areas to concentrate on regarding wind are storage -- so that the bumps can be evened out -- and footprint. Do you have any ideas on how the latter can be addressed?

Sep 7, 2011 at 3:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhilip

Working for us? Don't you mean working for them. The higher the proportion of wind in our energy supply relative to cheaper alternatives like gas and coal - the more wind-tax will be added to our bills to pay for the higher costs of wind. By the government's own admission at least 30% extra by the end of the decade ( and you can bet that's an underestimate).

Sep 7, 2011 at 4:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterChilli

I wouldn't dispute the figures and I would agree that technology generally becomes more efficient as it develops but you can make the technology as efficient as you like. If the wind doesn't blow, you don't get electricity and unless you can devise a method of storage you can't use wind as base load.
Which means, as has been repeated umpteen times, you must have spinning reserve and on stand-by it is inefficient.
As indeed is wind power, which is one reason why windmills (and water mills) were abandoned as a power source a long, long time ago. So you use an inefficient source while at the same time running an efficient source inefficiently.
Rather like Cameron cycling to parliament while his red boxes follow on in the ministerial limo. It's somebody trying to make a statement of some sort and it's difficult to work out what it is since — as I have banged on about often enough here and on my own blog — it is actually driving people into fuel poverty and forcing elderly people to choose between heating and eating.
And it's doing ****-all to save the planet or any part thereof.
Look at James P's link to The Register on Unthreaded. Only in the Alice in Wonderland world of modern politics would any government in a time of fiscal straitening wantonly opt for the most expensive form of energy there is to the further financial detriment of its people and its commercial and industrial future.
Sorry, but wind is emphatically not the answer.

Sep 7, 2011 at 4:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterMike Jackson

"Sorry, but wind is emphatically not the answer."
Sep 7, 2011 at 4:26 PM | Mike Jackson

No. It's part of the answer, and nobody is trying to argue that it is the whole answer in its own right.

I'm tempted to go into your points about baseload backup running etc, but I'll drop it for now.

This is the thread I'll be referring back to come winter, when some idiot starts talking about 'only providing X% when we needed it most', and I don't want to get it too dirty before I take it out to air for its special moment.

Sep 7, 2011 at 4:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterZedsDeadBed

So - its windy today - so that is supposed to prove that wind farms work.
Let's look at the situation another way.
Supposing that all your electricity was dependent on (say) coal-fired power stations - but they only got coal once a week. Or one week in four. Or at three in the morning but not at five in the afternoon.
This is PRECISELY the argument in favour of wind farms. They produce power - by definition - only when the wind blows, which bears NO relation whatsoever to electricity demand.
Furthermore, they are dependent on subsidies (from you and me) and Feed-In Tariffs (paid for by you and me on our energy bills) - take those away; make them stand up without financial support - and see just how many landowners/developers install them then.

Sep 7, 2011 at 4:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid

Sorry, guys, but I really thought it had come up with a genuine argument this time. Obviously I was wrong. Won't happen again.

Sep 7, 2011 at 8:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterMike Jackson


When we're next becalmed in the dead of winter, and everyone points to wind only producing 0.2% of power at 9.07am on January 13th (or whatever dubiously specific example is used), I'll refer you back to this.

You are slightly missing the point. Which is that when you increase the amount of wind in the energy portfolio, you increase the impact of its variability on the grid.

The proposed 33GW of wind capacity will deliver an annual average of about 10GW assuming a 30% load factor (generous, but most of this will be offshore and load factors are higher).

Winter anticyclones really do kill wind generation for days at a time across the UK and its coastal waters. And they're not uncommon. So the grid has to have enough spare capacity to cope with a prolonged 10GW drop-out. I can smell gas.

Daily variability is also going to be a big headache. Instead of going into detail here, can I refer you to MacKay for a proper analysis. I make no comment on the feasibility of the engineering task, but I will say that the cost is not currently factored into the TCO of a 33GW nameplate capacity wind array.

So, while you argue correctly that renewables are going to provide part of the energy solution, we have to be a bit sceptical about current policy.

Sep 7, 2011 at 10:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD


"Sorry, but wind is emphatically not the answer."
Sep 7, 2011 at 4:26 PM | Mike Jackson

No. It's part of the answer, and nobody is trying to argue that it is the whole answer in its own right.

The problem with this is both emissions-related and economic.

Unless wind intermittency and variability can be balanced by another renewable source, then gas-fired plant will be used. Nobody serious claims that this plant can be used 'only when needed'. It must be kept hot, as spinning reserve.

Committing UK energy policy to 33GW of wind requires a substantial increase in conventional capacity, as E.On's Paul Golby makes very clear:

One of Britain's leading energy providers warned yesterday that Britain will need substantial fossil fuel generation to back up the renewable energy it needs to meet European Union targets. The UK has to meet a target of 15% of energy from renewables by 2020.

E.ON said that it could take 50 gigawatts of renewable electricity generation to meet the EU target. But it would require up to 90% of this amount as backup from coal and gas plants to ensure supply when intermittent renewable supplies were not available.

That would push Britain's installed power base from the existing 76 gigawatts to 120 gigawatts.

Paul Golby, E.ON UK's chief executive, declined to be drawn on how much the expansion would cost, beyond saying it would be "significant". Industry sources estimate the bill for additional generation could be well in excess of £50bn.

E.ON's calculations are part of what the company calls its energy manifesto - designed to draw attention to what Golby described as Britain's "trilemma" - balancing the priorities of carbon, costs and energy security.

"We are calling for a new balanced and honest debate about the UK's energy needs, one that truly assesses the consequences in terms of carbon, cost and security of our energy choices.

E.ON is investing or has plans to invest in a series of new generation projects including wind, marine, gas and coal and has indicated interest in new nuclear stations. Golby said he wanted to to confront single-issue campaigners.

"It is easy to say 'no' to coal, easy to say 'no' to nuclear. I'm quite interested in what they are going to say 'yes' to."

Wind is going to have trouble justifying its cost and technical challenges on the basis of emissions reductions.

This brings us to the dismal science. Economists agree about few things but opportunity cost seems to unite them: you cannot spend the same money twice.

If we funnel what is clearly going to be significant sums into wind, that's money not spent on nuclear. The usage planning strategy is to move from FFs to electricity (transport, heating) and all credible analyses show electricity demand rising. This absolutely requires a proven, scalable baseload generation technology. Climate policy requires the same, but with a sharp and sustained reduction in emissions as well. You can see where this is going.

It's ironic. Wind doescompete with nuclear. Just not in the way its proponents imagine.

Sep 7, 2011 at 11:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

ZDB, it would be quite easy to work out over a year if you simply integrate (add up in technical terms) and divide by the period (average in technical terms). There is no need for optimum or minimum assessments, we know the minimum is zero (and probably on a lot of days?). Give me your prior distribution between 0% and 7.7% and I'll integrate it for you.

Sep 8, 2011 at 8:39 AM | Unregistered CommenterCamp David

Camp David

What matters here is the problem of integration with the existing grid. Wind speed does not vary in accordance with the demand curve of the grid. This is exacerbated the larger the amount of wind capacity there is.

Zed doesn't understand that when NG has to pay large sums in compensation to turbine owners in Scotland because it could not use their electricity, this demonstrates the failure of wind integration to the grid. Already. Even now.

I'm trying to get this across, but without much success so far.

Sep 8, 2011 at 1:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

Thank you for the information, I knew there were other things which rendered this means of energy generation almost unusable. My post was shamefully flippant I admit. * red faced smiley *

Sep 8, 2011 at 2:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterCamp David

In June 2008, National Grid published a document "Going Green" which looked ahead to a 2020/21 scenario assuming the "Government climate change objectives" were met by 2020/2021:-


Their vision was for a CAPACITY of 99GW made up of 34.5GW gas-fired, 19.8GW coal, 6.9GW nuclear, 29.1GW wind, 3.3GW other renewable and 5.5GW "other".

However, the projected DEMAND is 61GW, giving a margin of 38GW (99GW - 61GW).

Remember the current capacity is about 72GW for a demand of 60GW (during January 2011), a margin of about 12GW.

So, if a margin of 12GW is acceptable just now, what reasoning is behind the anticipated excess margin of 26GW in 2020 (i.e. 38GW - 12GW)?

The answer is found (heavily disguised) in another document issued by National Grid in 2006 called "Fluctuating Unpredictable Output and Standby Capacity"


"For example, for 8000MW of wind (e.g. in line with Government's 2010 target of 10% renewables), around 3000MW of conventional capacity (equivalent to some 37% of the wind capacity) can be retired without any increased probability that load reductions would be required due to generation shortages on cold days. However, as the amount of wind increases, the proportion of conventional capacity that can be displaced without eroding the level of security reduces. For example, for 25000MW of wind only 5000MW (i.e. 20% of the wind capacity) of conventional capacity can be retired. This implies that, for larger wind penetrations, the wind capacity that can be taken as firm is not proportional to the expected wind energy production. It follows that the electricity market will need to maintain in service a larger proportion of conventional generation capacity despite reduced load factors. Such plant is often referred to as "standby plant".

In other words, for 25GW connected wind NG would need access to 20GW of "standby plant", i.e. 80% (100% - 20%)

Therefore, for 32GW (29 wind + 3 renewable) connected NG need access to 80% of 32GW as "standby plant" which comes to 25.6GW say, 26GW.

So, in 2020/2021 on a day where the demand is 61GW and there is 32GW of wind and other renewables connected, NG will need to have access to 26GW of generating plant on "standby".

As BBD mentioned above, the generating industry has been screaming at anybody who would listen that there is an urgent need to procure spinning reserve to cope with the huge amount of wind which is envisaged by the government.

This has finally got through to the "greenest goverment ever" and in order to provide this "standby" plant, although a more accurate description is "spinning reserve", Huhne has invented a new catch phrase to confuse the peasants: "capacity mechanism". (This is just "spin", which is somehow amusing in a black sort of way).

See "Planning our electric future: a white paper for secure, affordable and low-carbon electricity"


page 5

"security of supply is threatened as existing plant closes: over the next decade we will lose around a quarter (around 20 GW) of our existing generation capacity as old or more polluting plant close. ..... In addition to this huge reduction in existing capacity, the future electricity system will also contain more intermittent generation (such as wind) and inflexible generation (such as nuclear). This raises additional challenges in terms of meeting demand at all times, for example when the wind does not blow"

page 9

"19. In order to ensure resource adequacy, the Government will legislate for a new contracting framework for capacity: a new Capacity Mechanism."

page 14 a time table which shows:

(a) White Paper and Legislation from mid 2011 to end 2014
(b) Institutional framework to set up an Organisation from late 2012 to late 2013
(c) Organisation receives legal powers late 2013
(d) Organisation up and running, delivers first contracts from 2014
(e) Capacity Mechanism (CM) in place end 2014
(f) Capacity procured during 2015
(g) Lead in time for Capacity - approx 3.5 years, ends early 2019
(h) Capacity in place from early 2019.

Now, there are a few clues there:

item (c) The "Organisation" sounds a little bit like ...erm .... the good old Central Electricity Generating Board, which was axed in 1990, after providing secure, reliable, cheap electricity for about 33 years,


item (g) what sort of generating capacity has a lead time of about three years? Why, that must be gas-fired power stations, surely.

So there you have it: "Capacity Mechanism" in broad terms means that the goverment is proposing to set up a quango in order to procure a fleet of OCGT power stations to supply "spinning reserve" to National Grid to accommodate a situation "for example, when the wind does not blow".

This 26GW of OCGT plant would need about 17 new power stations spread across the UK, each having, say, 4 x 400MW units. At the moment this sort of power station costs about £1 billion.

Other aspects of this euphemism include DSR or demand side response, or if you prefer, cutting you off via a smart meter when the wind does not blow at all, or blows too hard.

Finally we get:

page 117

Electricity Market Reform measures have an impact on consumer electricity bills both
through their effect on wholesale electricity prices, and through the low-carbon (and
Capacity Mechanism) support costs passed on to consumers by suppliers.

Having seen the light once, it may be that the government will have another blinding flash of reality, maybe towards the end of this year, and decide to abondon any further increase in wind capacity as of 1 January 2012.

Sep 8, 2011 at 4:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterBrownedoff


I was beginning to wonder where you were. Better late than never!

Sep 8, 2011 at 7:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

Thank you brownedoff/BBD. Just in case Zed has not grasped the point here. If they go ahead and build 32GW of wind capacity, they will ALSO have to build 26GW of gas stations. Thus practically doubling the cost of the power. Ask yourself Zed, why build a wind station when you then have to build a gas station AS WELL. Why not just build the gas one?

Just to clarify the term 'spinning reserve'. As Brownedoff implies, a generation station providing spinning reserve is not just a power station available to bring on line at some point (i.e. in standby, or capacity available in a day or so) it's literally 'spinning' - the boilers are fired, the turbines are running and it's ready to switch straight into the grid with a few minutes notice to take up any sudden demand increase, or failure of existing plant. You need spinning reserve at all times, usually at least one station is in SR at anyone time. But with wind, you'll need a great deal more.

How 'green' then is it to run twice the generation plant to give effectively the output of a single one. Not only is it not "environmentally friendly", it's absolutely raving bonkers.

Sep 8, 2011 at 8:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterCumbrian Lad

A large number of voters assume that wind power is free, mainly because this is the myth peddled by the BBC and all of the newspapers.

It is a non-stop river of lies and apparently the rot starts in schools.

In my opinion there is only one way to cure this ignorance and that it to ensure that every wind farm is compelled to build at the boundary of that wind farm an OCGT of a capacity twice the sum of the nameplate values of the windmills. All the construction, running and maintenance costs of this power station are to borne by the promoter of the wind farm. Half of the OCGT power station will be on load-following duty to maintain the stated nameplate output of the windmills, whilst the other half is on spinning reserve duty to cover for any hiccups with the operation of the other half. A tank farm containing 4 week's supply of gas-oil is to be available on site in the event that there is a gas supply problem. Well, the maniacs who support this lunacy say that windmills can provide base load, don't they. So be it.

Thus, when Hendry attends the opening ceremony of a wind farm he can explain to the BBC that the power station over there is ensuring that the promise by the wind farm promoter to supply "x" million homes is actually being fulfilled. The BBC will then make this the lead item on the six-o-clock news and the voters will soon come to accept that wind power is very expensive and very wasteful. No doubt The Moonbat will also carry the word to his disciples at the Grauniad.

This sensible engineering solution to the problem of intermittancy also has the massive benefit of making wind farms despatchable in that, say, if the wind farm has a total nameplate capacity of 300MW, then all they have to do at grid control is ring up and ask for 300MW at 17:00 hours and it will be available on time because the wind condition is irrelevant due to the presence of the OCGT plant.

It would also mean that Huhne's "capacity mechanism" is not required because the spinning reserve will be provided directly by the very people who have created the need.

It is really just a refinement of the concept of "the polluter pays for the clean-up".

Oh, and yes it would kill wind farms stone dead at a stroke.

Trebles all round (copyright Private Eye).

Sep 8, 2011 at 9:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterBrownedoff

Looking further into the future, there is even more scope for wind farmers to be whipped into shape by forcing them to embrace other wallet stuffing technologies, sorry, planet saving technologies.

It would be appropriate for the larger windmill farms, say 500MW nameplate capacity and above to utilise, indeed encourage, the deployment of coal-fired power plants incorporating CCS technology.

Within the boundary of the wind farm, say for example one with a total nameplate capacity of 500MW, the developer would construct 2 x 500MW coal-fired units with CCS capability for intermittancy control as described in an earlier message. Unfortunately such load following capabilities necessitate turbines with generous clearances between rotating and stationary parts, so the efficiency would be quite low - although much better than an early James Watt machine, obviously.

As the main duty of these machines is maintaining the continuous output of the wind farm at 500MW, the developer will have to construct another 2 x 500MW coal-fired units with CCS capability but whose only duty is to provide electricity to power the carbon capture equipment for all four units and the gas compressors to liquefy the captured CO2. One duty unit and one on spinning reserve duty so that not one drop of liquid CO2 shall be lost.

Following the successful lobbying by Greenpeace, the storage of liquid CO2 for millions of years in aquifers under the North Sea has been banned, but fortunately a brilliant alternative has been designed.

The developer will be required to ship the liquid CO2 by rail to the campus of Bristol University where a merry-go-round unloading facility has been constructed, by the university, along Tankard Close and University Way.

The liquid CO2 will then come under the control of the Department of Earth Sciences where they have developed a scheme for squirting liquid CO2 into the stratosphere at a height of about 45 km from a new pumping facility located nearby in Brandon Hill Nature Park. This follows on from their success with spraying dirty water into the atmosphere at a height of 23 km using a hosepipe suspended from a balloon. (h/t steveta_uk Aug 31, 2011 at 5:29 PM, -unthreaded - for drawing to my attention this exciting new technology).

The new higher altitude version also incorporates a paternoster lift so that legions of unemployed graduates with degrees in waste management with country dancing can ascend to the end of the pipe and spray the nozzles with Cillit Bang Grime and Lime (copyright Cillit Bang) to prevent clogging.

The Met Office has studied this method for getting rid of liquid CO2 for several years and have finally announced that they "have not got a clue", but with more computing power they could probably come up with a good guess - meanwhile they thought that it might improve the chance of more "BBQ Summers" (copyright Met Office).

Obviously this facility requires an awful lot of electricity, so we must salute the former First Minister of the Scottish Parliament, Lord Salmond, for his earlier generosity in donating the whole capacity of his Iceland Interconnector to the University of Bristol by extending the cable from the north coast of Scotland to the centre of Bristol. This interconnector will be known as the Zac Goldsmith Electricity Cable to celebrate his appointment to the OBN (copyright Private Eye) see (then Control F, Iceland).

Clearly this cable will have to be backed-up and again we must recognise Lord Salmond's generosity toward the auld enemy by donating not just the Iceland Cable but also the Norway Cable to the University of Bristol. This interconnector will be known as the Charles Hendry Electricity Cable in recognition of his services.

The BBC will commission several episodes of Horizon to highlight this scandal thereby ensuring that no-one is in any doubt that wind farming is a grotesque waste of time and other people's money.

Ah, I see nurse (small 'n') approaching across the day room; it must be time for me to be released from the restraints in order that I can take my medication.

Sep 9, 2011 at 9:04 AM | Unregistered CommenterBrownedoff


Well, there's quite a bit of pushback against your original assertions about the role and utility of wind generation in the UK. Perhaps now would be a good time to rejoin the discussion you initiated before there's too much to address easily.

I for one would welcome your detailed and considered response to the points I raise above.

Sep 9, 2011 at 10:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

> I refer you to MacKay for a proper analysis.

Ah yes, Dr Mackay's Without Hot Air: An authoritarian fantasist nightmare where Big Brother controls every aspect of your life, from when you're allowed to turn on your single state-licenced 5W mercury-filled light bulb, to when you're allowed to drive you Gee-Wiz - keeping the speed below 20mph of course ( and assuming your batteries have any charge since they're being used as windmill backup).

The wind backup chapter is good for a laugh - He casually proposes 12 new Dinorwig pumped storage facilities (each with 10x the capacity of Dinorwig).

Dinorwig cost $0.5Bn in 1974 = £2.5Bn in today's money. So £30Bn total - neglecting the infrastructure needed to transport the power to/from remote Scottish mountains. And remember - all this doesn't generate a single watt - it's just storage for wind.

His alternative is 'demand management' via 30 million electric car batteries sitting unused in garages acting as wind back-up - at a cost of 30M x £5K avg premium for an electric car = £150Bn.

All this by 2020 in the teeth of a severe economic slump...

Sep 9, 2011 at 4:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterChilli


I think you are being to hard on MacKay, who I find scrupulously honest about the many challenges facing a major expansion of renewables in the UK energy mix. Compared to some of the utter rubbish published on renawables, MacKay is refreshingly free of bias and misrepresentation.

Ttry Jacobson & Delucci (2010) or Diesendorf (2010) if you're want to put yourself into a near-psychotic range for a few hours ;-)

Sep 9, 2011 at 5:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

Yes - given his biased and bogus starting assumptions that CO2 is "pollution" and we have to eliminate it due to CAGW - he does then go on to give some useful ballpark figures on just how useless medieval power generation schemes are. Although there's little recognition of economic realities nor opportunity costs in his calculations.

Sep 9, 2011 at 7:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterChilli


Well, this is Zed's wind power thread, so not the place to debate atmospheric physics. If we just look at MacKay's analysis as a way of assessing the feasibility of integrating various types of renewables into the UK energy mix, it works well. And as he says:

Politics and economics are not part of this book’s brief, so here I will simply discuss what the technical side of a plan that adds up might look like.

There are many plans that add up. In this chapter I will describe five. Please don’t take any of the plans I present as “the author’s recommended solution.” My sole recommendation is this:

Make sure your policies include a plan that adds up!

In the light of the book as a whole, it's hard not to suspect that of the sample energy plans he presents, plan E may be the one he finds most plausible.

Sep 9, 2011 at 9:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

I'm trying to remember the titles of the official government reports/handbooks I used as reference when I was working in the renewables area in the mid nineties. As I recall they were detailed, and realistic about the various options. They were pretty technical though, and so I imagine had little use outside the technically capable. I always thought that the value of Mackays work was not so much that it was new, but that it was comprehensible to your average layman (though clearly a few steps above the average politician).

Sep 9, 2011 at 9:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterCumbrian Lad

Have just returned to my quiet corner of France after a week in England.
Travelled down from St Omer today (about a 6-hour journey) and passed at least 80 windmills (I tried to count them but that's the closest I can get).
Beautiful weather. Very warm. Not one of them turning!
My son-in-law, who by and large accepts the global warming argument without giving it a great deal of thought, agrees that any piece of equipment which costs as much as these things do to manufacture and install and then spends 2/3 of its working life standing idle because of a lack of fuel to run it has got to be a waste of money.
On what basis, therefore, does wind power make any sense in economic or energy terms most especially when conventional power stations need to be kept on immediate standby (spinning reserve) to take up the slack at a moment's notice. What is the logic in using an unreliable technology when a reliable technology must be used inefficiently at the same time?

Sep 25, 2011 at 8:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterMike Jackson

What's the point of Zed starting a thread and then slinking off when challenged on the technology?

Sep 26, 2011 at 1:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterRKS