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An ill wind blows for UK turbines

The UK is not as windy as the British government thought. The country’s first generation of wind farms are delivering less power than predicted, according to an analysis of official data on their output. The finding dents government hopes that wind turbines could generate up to a fifth of the UK’s energy by 2020.

While Scottish and offshore wind farms generate more than 30 per cent of their theoretical capacity, no English region does better than 26 per cent, 4 per cent below government predictions. However, the national average of 28.4 per cent, while disappointing, is still the highest in Europe, says the report, which was released on 8 December.

The study is published by the Renewable Energy Foundation, which represents many local groups opposed to the construction of wind turbines. It blames the extreme variability of wind, coupled with the fact that power generated is a function of the cube of wind speed, which magnifies the difference in output between windy and calm days.

Most worrying for government strategists, though, may be the discovery that a network of wind farms across the country would do little to even out total wind-power production. Much of the time, the weather is either calm or windy across the whole of the UK. So on some days less than 10 per cent of capacity would be produced, and on others above 90 per cent – making it tougher than expected to compensate for the vagaries of the wind.

From issue 2582 of New Scientist magazine, 19 December 2006, page 7