Renew On Line (UK) 56

Extracts from NATTA's journal
, issue 156 July-Aug 2005

   Welcome   Archives   Bulletin         


1.   Breaking News

2. Wind moves ahead...despite everything

3. Wave and tidal power

4. Solar Power ups and downs

5. Carbon storage ‘within a decade’

6. UK Funding for Sustainable energy

7. UK Policy Developments

8. Around the World - China, Germany, USA

9. World Developments- after Kyoto

10. Nuclear News- UK, China, France

2. Wind moves ahead...despite everything

On April 7th, in answer to a Parliamentary Question from Tim Yeo, Energy Minister Mike O'Brien produced the following data on wind power planning success:


                            England                       Wales                          Scotland      

2000         17.086    8.89          99.623   30.203          110.01      19.62  

2001         33.51    33.51         13.542      4.675           621.12    154.96 

2002         971.992   28.827        175.3      229.03       1099.9405  187.5325

2003         376.024   795.2075       24.9125     0            1018.1746   543.0946

2004         550.552    5.61              31.26         0              4804.345     366.5  

However, he noted that the DTI was only responsible for considering applications for consent under section 36 of the Electricity Act for wind farm projects of more than 50 Megawatts (MW) onshore and more than 1MW offshore in England and Wales- and for applications under the Transport and Work Act (TWA) for offshore wind farm projects in England only: the NAW has responsibility for TWA projects in Welsh waters. And in Scotland, the Scottish Executive is responsible for the consenting function for wind farm projects over 50MW.  He went on ‘Smaller wind farm projects, less than 50MW, are dealt with by the relevant local planning authority’, and although he claimed that ‘the figures within the table are based on the information obtained by the DTI for all wind farm projects both large (under section 36) and smaller (outside section 36)’, they may not actually be complete or up to date.  We’ve been told that the actual number of approvals since 2000 is over 3000MW and that there are around 3,600MW of consented wind power, mostly onshore in Scotland, or offshore.

But it’s not all easy going.  The 27 turbine 67MW rated wind farm proposed for Whinash in Cumbria, in between two nation park areas, cut across by the M6, has been the focus for a Public Inquiry- something of a test case for the future of large-scale on-land wind in the UK. Some preservationists say it will ruin local views in an area bordering the Lake district. Opinions are clearly divided- for example CPRE, the Council for the National Parks, the Cumbria Tourist Board and the Ramblers, plus Melvyn Bragg and Chris Bonington, were anti; while FoE & Greenpeace were pro. Similar battles have been going on in Scotland- see Box.

Lewis Wind Objections

 ...but support for existing project

Research by MORI Scotland published in March shows that, of residents on Lewis and North Harris, people who think they will be able to see both the pylons and turbines of the proposed 702 MW 234 turbine windfarm are the most opposed to the principle of their construction- 75% of people in this group opposed the windfarms (and 19% support). 48% of those who don’t think they will be able to see evidence of the windfarm are in favour, and 32% opposed. A narrow majority of residents felt the windfarm would have a negative impact on their local area (53%), and 21% think they would be broadly beneficial. That is in contrast to the views of people surveyed living close to existing windfarms, which MORI say indicated that most felt their local windfarm had no impact (73%), and more felt it had been positive (20%) than negative (7%).

However, opposition to wind still seems to be in a minority nationally. When asked about windfarms in a national opinion poll carried out for the Institution of Civil Engineers, 77% of those asked supported construction, with 89% of 16-to-29 and 85% of 30-to-40 year olds, compared with 73% of 45-to-59 and 68% of over-60 year olds backing wind. Support was weakest in Scotland (65%) and the SW (67%) compared with other areas (86% in Wales, and 84% in East Anglia, NW and West Midlands).

ICE (which is pro-nuclear) were worried about these figures- and the lack of support its poll found for nuclear (only 1 in 4 were in favour), and it called for an education programme to improve public awareness of energy options- it found that people overestimated the contribution renewables could make.

Among those in favour of windfarms, 72% approved because they believed wind to be environmentally friendly, 55% because it reduces global warming and is a renewable energy source, 48% for low cost, 7% thought turbines were attractive and 4% for other reasons. Of the 17% of respondents who did not support windfarms, 56% denounced them for appearance, 36% because they felt that they were an unreliable source of energy, 27% because of noise, 18% because of high cost and 11% because of wildlife impacts.

 EERU’s next Conference at the OU on Nov. 5th will be looking at these issues.

‘Menaced Landscapes’

The Guardian (Feg.26th) backed up its front page piece on alleged problems with wind (see below) with an article by Robert Macfarlane attacking large wind schemes and pointing to the need for new grid links across Scotland (see the Forum section in Renew 156). He argued that, to protect wild areas, we needed to‘change our energy-consumption habits’, and energy efficiency is obviously seen by many as a better option.  No one denies that efficiency is a cheaper option, at least initially, while quick and easy savings can be made. Longer term it gets more expensive- and meanwhile demand growth seems likely to continue outpace savings. But even with a massive commitment to efficiency and demand reduction, we would still need to generate energy- and wind is currently the cheapest and largest green option.  Jim Footner from Greenpeace said: ‘You can't energy-efficiency your way out of climate change.. You need to have clean forms of energy generation, and wind power is the technology that’s competitive, current and it’s the one that’s available now.’

Wind expands offshore

The UK will become the world’s biggest producer of electricity from offshore wind farms next year when more than 100 large turbines are connected to the grid, according to the British Wind Energy Association. Denmark and Germany have slowed their programmes- it costs more going offshore in deep water than in the shallow areas around England and Wales, which are the windiest in Europe. The UK will soon have a £1bn/year offshore wind  market, and supplying it should create 35,000 jobs in the next 15 years.

The UK has two offshore wind farms fully commissioned, North Hoyle off Rhyl in N. Wales and Scroby Sands off Gt. Yarmouth, each with 30 2MW turbines. Another nine offshore wind farms could be completed before the end of next year, including the projects at Kentish Flats off Whitstable, Kent (30 turbines), Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria (30), Lynn and Inner Dowsing of Skegness (60), Solway Firth (60), Burbo Flats, Liverpool Bay (30), Gunfleet Sands in the Thames, off Clacton (30), and Scarweather Sands, Swansea Bay (30). The next round, with construction expected to start around 2008, is far larger. The most advanced, in the Thames estuary, is expected be 1GW rated.

The industry hopes to produce 20% of the UK’s electricity needs by 2020. BWEAs Dr Gordon Edge told the Guardian (20/4/5): “The [public] attitude to offshore wind is very favourable. It does not mean there are not problems: we have to share the sea with shipping interests and fishermen, and some people have concerns about migrating birds. Most of these difficulties are resolved without having to go to public inquiries.”

* In his first public statement, at the All Energy Conference in Aberdeen in May, the new Enegy Minister Malcolm Wicks confirmed that the wind farm programme would go ahead as planned, and also announced £2.68m in funding for testing a 1MW  version of SMD Hydrovision’s Tidel marine current device at the European Marine Energy Centre on  Orkney.

‘More wind’ for UK

Speaking ahead of the G8 Ministers’ meeting in London in March, Germany’s Green party environment minister Jurgen Trittin told the Guardian (March 15th) that Britain should emulate Germany’s example and build thousands more wind turbines if it wanted to prevent climate change. “This would be a good way for Britain to build up its so far very marginal use of wind energy”.  Asked whether wind farms wrecked the environment, he replied: “Landscapes have always been affected by changing demands, like the erection of electricity pylons or the building of motorways ... It is important to have the support of the population before you proceed... Local councils in Germany can decide how to plan and steer the expansion of wind energy, and decide which areas are suitable. This avoids too much at once.’ Over the past 15 years Germany has installed around 15,000 turbines- the UK 1000. 

He also rejected the idea that there were problems with intermittency: ‘In Germany we’ve got to the stage where what we are talking about is that renewable energy delivers too much energy- not too little’.  He said that far from discrediting wind, the DENA report (see below) ‘comes to the conclusion that if wind energy is expanded it can be integrated into the Germany electricity network more quickly than anticipated by legislation, and with costs that are justifiable. The study repudiates  all the fears raised by opponents of wind energy such as the threat of blackouts, and the need for other energy reserves.’  But he felt it assumed ‘an unrealistically quick expansion of wind energy’ with renewables reaching 20% by 2015, whereas the governments target was 20% by 2020.

.and more wind for Wales

Ignoring wind energy is not an option, First Minister Rhodri Morgan  told the Welsh Labour Party conference in Swansea in March. He said it was just not possible to turn back the clock and rely on coal to provide the nation’s energy needs, as some wind opponents evidently wanted. ‘Wales has changed and will continue to change, and it will have to keep transforming itself to stay ahead of our global competitors’. Environment Minister Carwyn Jones felt similarly “We have to change, and promoting sustainable developments is one way of doing that.  Some say we shouldn’t have wind farms but more mining. What they mean is more opencast.”

Micro-wind boom?

The manufacturers of the £1500 1kW Windsave micro wind turbine say they have received 10,000 enquiries, while the developers of the Swift say that almost 8,000 homeowners have made enquiries- and according to their web site, their  recent  £9.2m manufacturing and supply agreement with Scottish & Southern Energy plc ‘will allow the company to meet the massive market demand for the Swift’  and they hoped to ‘work in partnership with SSE to install 2,000 Swift turbines during 2005/6’.  In fact, they told the Telegraph (21/3/05) “We’ve just sold 2,000 Swifts and are now looking to at least double our manufacturing capacity”.  They added that although the first batch cost about £8k each, costs were expected to fall to £1,500 once volume manufacturing was underway.

Wind  attacked - the lessons from Germany

Reports emerging from Germany (see below), including one from DENA, the German Energy Agency,  were initially claimed as proving that that wind power was expensive and ‘inefficient’. Thus the Guardians’ front page (Feb 26th) argued that ‘The German report estimates that it will cost £1.1bn to link Germany’s existing wind farms to the national grid if it is to meet its target of producing 20% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2015. About 800 miles of cables will have to be laid or upgraded, and power plants will have to be replaced or adapted to cope with the large fluctuations in wind-derived energy. This programme will cost each German household £16 a year.’ 

Angela Kelly from the Country Guardian was clearly overjoyed. “At last. This report confirms what we have been saying. Wind power is three times more expensive than conventional electricity. It is a scandalous waste of taxpayers’ money.” 

Actually the DENA report may not be as damning as portrayed- see right & p.5.  As the BWEA said “The UK has a far greater wind resource than Germany. The winds blow harder and therefore the economics of wind power in the UK will be better.”  And it added “The extra cost of wind energy’s expansion in the UK has been costed recently by the National Audit Office to amount to increases of some 0.5% per year on our electricity bills and totalling 5% by 2010. For this small additional cost, the wind industry will deliver savings of between 10 and 17 million tonnes of CO2  a significant part of our countr’s CO2 reduction plans, thousands of new jobs and of course improve our nation’s energy security.” 

Later, when it had seen more details, the BWEA said that, in fact, ‘contrary to press stories that claim this report calls into question Germany’s policy to dramatically expand wind generation, it actually sets out that the country’s power network can be adapted quite easily for such an expansion, and at reasonable cost,’ and it said it was baffled as to why the reports findings ‘could be so misconstrued’.

The Energy Agency report

The final version of the study of wind power by the German energy agency  (DENA), an earlier leaked version of which led to a lot of negative comments in the German and UK media, seems in fact not to be as negative as portrayed. Indeed, as the EWEA said, early ‘indiscretions’ apart, it was quite positive.  DENA managing director Stephan Kohler said  “The emphasis of the study is the integration in the year 2015 of the wind power input which can be expected from  an on and offshore capacity of around a total of 37,000 MW”,  and indicated that the goal of obtaining at least 20% of power from renewables, as  planned by the Federal Government, was attainable between 2015-20, although measures would have to be taken to balance supply and enhance the grid system, including upgrading existing links and adding new ones. 

In a press release,  DENA says that total cost of the wind programme, including the the feed-in remuneration (i.e. the REFIT-EEG subsidy), the balancing costs (i.e. backup costs, using existing fossil plants and pump-storage plants) and the costs of  network  development, less the avoided costs of conventional power generation, would be 1.6 - 2.3 bn Euro by 2015, depending on the  scenario. And, despite the loss of around one third of the nuclear plants by then, net CO2-emissions could be lowered, depending on scenario, by 20-40 million tonnes. DENA note that Germany’s power station renewal programme requires the replacement of 40 GW of fossil power station by 2020, and the progressive phase out of nuclear plants. But it seems, at least from the translation of the press release, that the wind programme could go a long way to achieving that. A follow up study to 2025 is now planned.  More in Renew 157.

E.ON report on wind

Many German energy utilities have been hostile to wind since it loads them up with extra costs. Sometimes they rather over do it. In its Feb. Editorial, Windpower Monthly noted that ‘Among the scare tactics they adopt in Germany are misleading figures for wind’s future penetration, based on treating each utility region as an isolated system instead of as part of the country’s huge integrated network. That fluctuations from lots of wind power are nowhere near as great as system operators had at one time feared (Windpower Monthly, July 01) seems to have passed Germany by. Its utilities are claiming they will need to schedule enormous reserves equal to half the country’s future wind capacity. That’s up to ten times more than any other country is planning.’

Many of the German Utilities are also unhappy to see nuclear power go.  For example,  Petra Ullman, from E.ON, which runs a number of nuclear plants in Germany, told the BBC World Service’s One Planet programme in Feb., “In a year, in Germany we save 170 million tonnes of CO2 by using nuclear power plants. If we shut down the nuclear power plants, the only alternative is coal.”

So one way or another perhaps its not surprising that E.ON Netz produced a very critical report on its experience with wind. ‘Wind Report 2004’ reports an infeed factor (the amount of electricity fed into the grid over the year in proportion to rated capacity) of 16% for 2003.  It concludes that  to‘guarantee reliable electricity supplies when wind power plants produce little or no electricity- for example during periods of calm or storm-related shutdowns- traditional power station capacities must be available as a reserve. The characteristics of wind make it necessary for these “shadow power stations” to be available to an extent sufficient to cover over 80% of the installed wind energy capacity. This means that due to their limited availability, wind power plants cannot replace the usual power station capacities to a significant degree, but can basically only save on fuel.’  

It did however admit that this was the worst case: ‘Operational experience over the past few years’   had shown that balancing reserve capacities only needed to be of the order of ‘up to 60 % of the installed wind power capacity ...  in years when wind levels are normal’  and that in 2003, when wind levels were at above-average levels,‘only reserve capacity amounting to around 50% of the installed wind power capacity actually had to be used’.

E.ON say that part of the problem was the shift away from the decentralised approach to power production and use that had been the norm in Germany. With large wind projects emerging in the North, expensive grid upgrades were needed to shift the power long distance- plus more backup. In the UK grid engineers often seem to worry about the opposite problem: how to integrate small local projects into the grid: see  The E.ON report is  at:

* Germanys Environment Minister, Jurgen Trittin commented on the criticisms emerging about wind powers viability thus: “Ten years ago people told us that there would never be enough capacity to have a relevant share produced by wind- now the same people tell me we have too much wind, and have to export electricity because we have such a huge share of wind energy. So I can’t take these arguments seriously.”  But Andrew Ferguson from the Optimum Population Trust was quick to follow up on his argument in Renew 154: using a wind feed in factor of 24% for the UK, would he said increase gas consumption by 20% due to the need for balancing back up. 

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