Wind farms in Britain generated practically no electricity during the recent cold spell, raising fresh concerns about whether they could be relied upon to meet the country’s energy needs.
Despite high demand for electricity as people shivered at home over Christmas, most of the 3,000 wind turbines around Britain stood still due to a lack of wind.
Even yesterday , when conditions were slightly breezier, wind farms generated just 1.8 per cent of the nation’s electricity – less than a third of usual levels.
The failure of wind farms to function at full tilt during December forced energy suppliers to rely on coal-fired power stations to keep the lights on – meaning more greenhouse gases were produced.
Experts feared that as the Government moved towards a target of generating 30 per cent of electricity from wind – while closing gas and coal-fired power stations – cold, still winters could cause a problem in the future.
Prof Michael Laughton, emeritus professor of engineering at Queen Mary University London, said wind turbines became still just when they were needed most, meaning that the country was reliant on imported oil or coal.
The wind turbines may even use up electricity during a calm period, as they were rotated in order to keep the mechanical parts working. There are more than 3,000 turbines in Britain and the Department of Energy and Climate Change planned to have up to 6,000 onshore and 4,000 at sea by 2020.
Charles Anglin, of Renewable UK, which represented the wind energy industry, said that over a normal year wind turbines were working about a third of the time. He said future energy plans took into account periods when wind turbines were still, just as current models had backup available for when nuclear or coal plants were down.
“There are periods, of course, when it is not windy but year on year we are seeing growth,” he said.
Britain had 2 per cent of electricity from renewables in 2002, but that figure was now almost 10 per cent, with wind providing about half.
The Met Office said yesterday that there would be a bit more wind and unsettled weather, particularly in the North, this weekend, with colder weather returning tomorrow. The week ahead would be cold again, with overnight frosts.
It was confirmed yesterday that December had been the coldest since national records were first kept in 1910, with the average temperature little more than -1.5C.