Plans to get more than a third of Britain’s energy from wind are unfeasible, as the national grid would not be able to cope, say researchers.
Howard Rogers, senior research fellow at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, said in a study that Britain’s power network is not built for wind power accounting for more than a third of capacity on the system.
He said that any more than 28 gigawatts of wind would mean it is likely that turbine owners would regularly have to be paid to keep capacity off the system. Earlier this year, six wind farms were paid £900,000 to stop generating for one night, because the system became overloaded.
The study challenges the ambitious estimates in a study commissioned by the Government which estimates that 58 gigawatts of wind is likely to be built in a “medium activity” scenario by 2030, out of a total system of 80 gigawatts of capacity.
Forecasts from the Crown Estate, the Government body that licenses wind farms, and Renewable UK, the trade body, give even higher estimates for the amount of wind power on the UK system.
However, Mr Rogers said this does not fully consider the ability of the grid to cope with the intermittency of wind, which often does not blow at all or can be too strong, causing overload.
“It would appear that the more ambitious targets for wind generation in the UK have been formulated without a full appreciation of the costs and complexities caused by the intermittency of very substantial levels of wind generation,” the report says. “The analysis concludes that the maximum feasible level of wind generating capacity is 28 gigawatts.
At higher levels than this, the country faces the prospect of short notice intervention to reduce turbine output with the added complication that forecasts of wind speed beyond six hours into the future are inherently uncertain.”
The Oxford Institute for Energy Studies is allied to three Oxford University colleges but also receives funding from “members” and sponsors, such as gas producers BP and BG Group and companies with huge investments in wind power, including Centrica and Dong Energy. Its gas research is also sponsored by National Grid.
Professor Jonathan Stern writes in the preface to the study: “It is no part of the remit of the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies gas research programme to promote natural gas, either in the UK or more generally. We are gas researchers not advocates or lobbyists. However, our research increasingly suggests that the likely future role of gas in energy balances has and continues to be underestimated.”