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Wind and gas: Back-up or back-out – “That is the question”  

Author:  | Economics, Emissions, Europe

The focus of this study is to explore the effect that the deployment of a large share of wind energy has on the Northwest European power generation mix in the current market circumstances. The starting point of the study is that wind power is added to the power generation system with the aim to reduce CO2 emissions. Several other studies, papers and reports have been published on this subject which underline the complexity of the issue. Facts, projections and speculations from these studies have been assembled and analysed to give an as objective as possible overview on the foreseen effects of an increasing share of wind energy. As such, the study aims to give general insight in what would happen to the power mix if more wind energy were to be introduced, what the contribution to CO2 emissions reduction would be, and the potential role of natural gas and other fuels in handling long periods (> 4 hours) of low wind supply. The goal has not been to deliver an all-encompassing literature study, nor to calculate every scenario we could envisage, but rather to unravel some of the complexities related to back- up capacity required in an electricity system with a large share of variable power. …


Wind power has a low capacity credit (in NW Europe). This means that wind power does not significantly replace other generating capacity; alternative power sources need to be in place, together with new installed wind capacity for at least 80% of installed wind capacity, to ensure that there is sufficient back-up to meet market demand at times of reduced wind power supply. Most of this will have to come from conventional power plants. If hydro capacity from Norway is available, this back-up capacity could be reduced to approximately 70%.

Wind capacity will thus essentially be “surplus” to the necessary dispatchable system capacity, and thus costs of wind capacity will essentially come on top of the costs of the base conventionalcapacity. The extra costs of wind capacity can be reduced or compensated by the abated fuel and carbon costs from conventional generation.

The effectiveness of wind power to reduce CO2 emissions is directly related to the level of CO2 prices. In today’s energy market with low CO2 prices, new installed wind power tends primarily to replace gas-fired power, resulting in limited CO2 reduction, and thus becomes an expensive and less effective way of reducing CO2 emissions. …

Clingendael International Energy Programme
December 2011

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