The Telegraph, January 9, 2012
By Louise Gray, Environment Correspondent
A study in the Netherlands found that turning back-up gas power stations on and off to cover spells when there is little wind actually produces more carbon than a steady supply of energy from an efficient modern gas station.
The research is cited in a new report by the Civitas think tank which warns that Britain is in danger of producing more carbon dioxide (CO2) than necessary if the grid relies too much on wind.
Wind turbines only produce energy around 30 per cent of the time. When the wind is not blowing - or even blowing too fast as in the recent storms - other sources of electricity have to be used, mostly gas and coal.
However it takes a surge of electricity to power up the fossil fuel stations every time they are needed, meaning more carbon emissions are released.
“You keep having to switch these gas fired power stations on and off, whereas if you just have highly efficient modern gas turbines and let it run all the time, it will use less gas,” said Ruth Lea, an economic adviser to Arbuthnot Banking Group and the author of the Civitas report.
“If you use less gas in a highly efficient gas turbine you use less carbon dioxide than having wind backed up by gas.”
The Dutch report, published at the end of last year by retired physicist Dr C le Pair, also points to the carbon emissions produced in building wind farms, that last a relatively short period of time compared to conventional power stations.
It concludes: “The wind projects do not fulfill 'sustainable' objectives. They cost more fuel than they save and they cause no CO2 saving, in the contrary they increase our environmental 'foot print'.”
The UK Government want to build up to 32,000 wind turbines over the next 20 years, of which at least 6,000 could be onshore.
The report also found that wind is “horrendously expensive”, especially offshore wind, because of the cost of taking the turbines out to sea and installing the structures.
The fact that the power source always has to be backed up by fossil fuel stations also increases the cost.
Civitas cite official Government figures that warn green policies will add up to £400 to electricity bills over the next two decades.
The report concludes: “The most cost-effective technologies are nuclear and gas-fired. Onshore, and especially offshore, wind technologies are inordinately expensive.”
But Dr Gordon Edge, Director of policy at the lobby group RenewableUK, said much of the information was gathered from “anti-wind farm cranks”.
He explained that modern gas plants are not required to provide back-up for wind. Instead, wind is "integrated" into the existing system to act as a fuel saver, enabling the UK harness a free electricity source from the weather when it’s available. Some additional investment is required, but Dr Edge said “credible analysis” makes clear it will cost less for consumers than relying on fossil fuels, that are rising in price all the time.
“It is surprising that a think tank such as Civitas has published a report based on the work of anti-wind cranks, repeating the same discredited assertions. The UK’s energy policy over the next ten years will play a critical part in our economic success – offshore wind in particular has the potential to revitalise our manufacturing sector, with the promise of over 70,000 jobs," he said. "This report, based on outdated and inaccurate information, does nothing to advance the debate.”