Concern over huge fluctuations in the supply of electricity from Britain’s 3,000 wind turbines has prompted National Grid to begin detailed forecasts of wind strength.
The turbines have delivered well below their usual output this winter and in the 24 hours to 5pm yesterday contributed only 0.5 per cent of the country’s power. Parts of the day were so still that wind power’s contribution fell below 0.2 per cent.
On the windiest days, the turbines deliver about 8 per cent. A record of 10 per cent over a 24-hour period was set on September 6 last year.
But since the beginning of December, turbines have been operating at only 20 per cent of their maximum capacity compared with an annual average of about 30 per cent.
National Grid, which operates Britain’s high voltage electricity network, is concerned by the amount of energy being wasted by keeping extra coal and gas plants partly running in case the wind drops unexpectedly.
It wants a step change in the accuracy of wind forecasts to cope with the far more challenging fluctuations that will result from the Government’s plan to source up to a third of electricity from wind by 2020.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change wants to subsidise at least 3,000 more onshore turbines and 6,000 giant offshore ones, with a sweep bigger than the London Eye, to help to meet Britain’s legally binding carbon reduction targets.
Utilyx, an energy consultancy, said Britain’s increasing reliance on wind could force it to pay dearly for imported gas during prolonged winter cold spells when there was high pressure over the UK and therefore very little wind.
Andrew Horstead, risk analyst at Utilyx, said the low output from wind turbines came at a time of very high demand for electricity and was “a stark reminder of how reliant we are on imported gas”.
He added: “The UK’s existing wind generation has provided less than 1 per cent of our total requirements, when we need it most, which is clearly not enough to sustain a green Britain during a white winter. The Government must recognise the need to draw from a diverse energy mix, including clean coal and nuclear builds.”
Renewable UK, the wind industry trade body, admitted that average annual output from onshore turbines was unlikely to rise above 30 per cent of their maximum capacity.
But it said that output from turbines offshore, where it tends to be windier, could be increased from 34 per cent now to 42 per by 2020 if operators achieved their targets to reduce mechanical failures.
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