Are ‘renewables’ leading us up the garden path?

Scottish borders

The Renewable Energy Foundation came out with a recent report that sited serious concerns with the performance of UK windfarms. The first independent study to rate farms according to how much electricity they produce shows that wind farms south of the Scottish border are not generating as much as the Government assumed when it set the target of producing a tenth of Britain’s energy from renewables by 2010 and 15 per cent by 2015. According to an advisor to the Renewable Energy Foundation, the UK governments projections are based upon the wind farms delivering electricity at 30 percent efficiency. Some turbines only generated electricity at an efficiency of 7 or 8 percent and were labeled little more than garden ornaments.

The study shows that even wind farms in Cornwall on west-facing coasts, which might be expected to be the most efficient, operated at only 24·1 per cent of capacity on average. Turbines in mid-Wales ran on average at only 23·8 per cent. Those in the Yorkshire Dales ran at 24·9 per cent and Cumbria 25·9 of capacity. The only regions with turbines operating at or above 30 per cent of capacity were in southern Scotland, which averaged 31·5 per cent, Caithness, Orkney and Shetland at 32·9 per cent and offshore (North Hoyle and Scroby Sands on opposite sides of the country), which came in at 32·6 per cent.

The report concludes that the most effective place to site the turbines is at sea near major cities where they can harness the greater power of off-shore winds without losing much of the electricity generated in transmission through the National Grid from remote areas such as the north of Scotland.

More from the REF press release here. I suggest you read more about REF. They have a particular concern to protect the countryside from ‘a developer-led industrial feeding-frenzy that is neither green nor sustainable.’

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7 Responses to Are ‘renewables’ leading us up the garden path?

  1. Pete Smith says:

    REF are right to challenge the government’s efficiency assumptions. The same problem exists with the growing enthusiasm for small domestic wind turbines. The Energy Saving Trust estimates that domestic turbines could supply up to 4% of UK electricity, cutting CO2 emissions by 6%. What they overlook is the sensitivity of power output to windspeed. If you halve the windspeed, you only get one eighth of the power.
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/newsnight/2006/11/are_domestic_wind_turbines_an_ecocon.html

  2. matt says:

    If the purchase cost comes down significantly then I suppose there is little harm in people getting into wind micro-generation. They would be better off however putting their hard earnt pounds into a solar thermal system and cavity wall insulation.

    As to REF pointing wind farms off-shore; they’re dead right. Somehow I don’t think the birds would agree, or the seals (underwater vibrations and noise).

  3. Pete Smith says:

    The cost would have to come down a hell of a lot to justify buying one for a typical dwelling. No harm done, except that more emissions will have been caused in their manufacture than they will save. Your crack about turbines being as much use as “garden ornaments” is even more appropriate for domestic micro-turbines, which are usually actually in someone’s garden! Much as I hate to admit it, ‘off the shelf’ micro-turbines are not the future unless climate change bumps average windspeed up by a hell of a lot. In which case we’re probably going to be more worried about keeping the roof on.

    Now on the other hand, I could always knock up a DIY Savonius rotor from an old oil drum and some bits ‘n’ pieces from the garage ……

  4. matt says:

    I feel the first Coffee House ‘workshop’ coming on. 🙂

  5. matt says:

    Interesting link. Like their enthusiasm for spreading new ideas. Wonder if anyone closer to home has built one of their alternative wind power devices. Sounds like it would look similar to one of those weather devices with the 4 cups (one at the end of arm)!

  6. Pete Smith says:

    Not so much a new idea, as an old one that has been pushed aside by a newer one. Aninometers are, as you suggest, almost always Savonius rotors. Other examples are those ventilators on top of trucks, and rotating advertising displays outside newsagents!
    These things are low efficiency, so aren’t really suitable for connection to the grid. With the growing enthusiasm for off-grid applications they may make a comeback. A company called Posh Power (!) was working on a model for the domestic market, but when I revisited their web site it was defunct.

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