An area the size of Wales would need to be covered in wind turbines to meet just a sixth of the nation’s daily energy needs, according to a new study that has cast doubt over the Government’s push for wind energy.
Professor David MacKay, a physicist at Cambridge University, said ministers would have to look at other forms of alternative energy, like tidal power, if they were to meet their ambitious renewable energy commitments.
Ministers have pledged to provide 20 per cent of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2020 and have relied on wind energy to provide almost all of the capacity.
By analysing the average power output possible from wind turbines and comparing it to the amount of land needed to house each turbine, Professor MacKay believes wind farms will need at least five times more land than has been previously estimated.
His research has raised further doubts over the viability of the Government’s push for wind power.
Critics insist that wind energy is too unreliable to replace the creaking network of fossil fuel power stations and would require an extensive network of back up power stations to provide energy on calm days.
Wind farms have also faced intense opposition from rural campaigners who say the huge turbines, which can be up to 400 feet tall, are spoiling the countryside and pose a risk to wildlife.
Professor MacKay, who has published a new book that examines a range of different renewable energy sources, insists he is a strong supporter of wind energy.
His calculations show, however, that current plans to build wind farms with a capacity of 33 gigawatts offshore would produce only enough energy to provide each person in the UK with 4.4 kilowatt hours of energy per day.
He said: “The average energy used per person in the UK is 125 kilowatt hours per day. To achieve even 20 kilowatt hours per day per person it will require enough wind turbines to cover an area the size of Wales.
“It is an incredibly large area and with the difficulties in getting planning, it is hard to imagine how it could be achieved. The government needs to look at some of the other options such as tide energy. We need a plan that adds up.”
Professor MacKay’s calculations will alarm opponents of wind farms who fear the countryside is already blighted with unsightly turbines that are failing to provide a reliable alternative to fossil fuels.
Wind farm developers already rely upon extensive subsidies to help them earn a profit and energy experts fear paying such subsidies for technology that is already in use is stifling development of alternative sources of energy.
There are currently more than 189 wind farms, with 2,136 turbines, in operation around the UK. According to the British Wind Energy Association, the body that represents the wind industry, another 173 wind farms, are either being constructed or awaiting construction.
Plans for a further 266 wind farms are being considered by planning authorities.
In his book Sustainable Energy – without the hot air, Professor MacKay examined the total energy usage per person in the UK, including electricity, gas and transport in a bid to assess whether the country could survive on renewable sources alone.
He calculated that a maximum of 16 per cent of the daily demand could be provided by onshore wind farms with another 38 per cent provided by offshore, but the area of land and coastline needed to produce such large amounts of energy would be “huge”.
A typical wind farm of 20 turbines can extend over 250 acres of land.
A spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said: “It’s a fallacy to suggest we’re putting all our eggs in one basket. Onshore wind has an important role to play but we have also recently become the leading country in the world for generating wind energy offshore. Our energy policy is about driving more of both, alongside small scale renewables, biomass, wave and tidal. All of this is in addition to the new nuclear build programme that is taking shape in the UK and our efforts to bring on clean coal technology. A diverse electricity mix is what we have now, and that’s what we want for the future.”
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