Carbon dioxide emissions savings from wind turbines were 20 per cent less than claimed, leading to the overpayment of renewable energy certificates worth about $70 million last year, according to an international analysis of Australia’s national electricity market.
The study found wind farm inefficiencies were likely to grow as more turbines were added to the grid under the renewable energy target.
Joseph Wheatley analysed the output of 256 generators connected to the national electricity market last year. His research, funded by private individuals through the Association for Research of Renewable Energy in Australia, found that while wind provided 4.5 per cent of national electricity generation, it reduced emissions by only 3.5 per cent.
“This represents a significant loss of effectiveness,” Dr Wheatley said. His research found the possibility that wind power was 100 per cent effective in reducing carbon dioxide emissions, as is the current basis for issuing renewable energy certificates, was not supported by evidence.
“The evidence in this study suggests that effectiveness in the national electricity market would fall to less than 70 per cent if the proportion of energy provided by wind is doubled from 2014 levels,” the report says.
Dr Wheatley said more data was needed on actual fuel consumption at coal-fired power stations but there were several reasons for the inefficiencies of wind in abating emissions.
“Lower emissions gas and black-coal plant were displaced more than brown-coal plant,” he said. “Displaced thermal generators operating under part load were less efficient on average and wind power also tended to be subject to larger system losses.”
Dr Wheatley is a graduate of Trinity College Dublin with a PhD in condensed matter physics from Princeton University. He has worked as a researcher at Cambridge University. A report of his findings has been submitted to the Senate inquiry into wind turbines and health issues.
The Clean Energy Council said it would not respond to the detailed findings in Dr Wheatley’s paper. But Clean Energy Council policy director Russell Marsh said “the vast majority of Australians support renewable energy and would be better served by objective scientific analysis rather than a group of grumblers brainstorming imaginary problems”.
ARREA is a not-for-profit organisation founded in 2013 by a group of senior businessmen including former liquidator, Tony Hodgson. ARREA spokesman Rodd Pahl said the group believed “the behaviour of wind farm companies and the level of subsidies they are given is the result of bad policy settings and sloppy administration”.
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