Monday, 21 June 2010

The Wealth in Wind

Occasionally I have to read an article twice to ensure that my reading skills are fairly accurate. This was such a re-read.

Energy firms will receive thousands of pounds a day per wind farm to turn off their turbines because the National Grid can't use the power they are producing. The National Grid fears that on breezy summer nights, wind farms could actually cause a surge in the electricity supply which is not met by demand from businesses and households.

Electricity cannot be stored so one solution, known as the 'balancing mechanism', is to switch off or reduce the power supplied. This system is already used to reduce supply from coal and gas-fired power stations when there is low demand.

But shutting down wind farms is likely to cost the National Grid - and ultimately us, the consumers - far more. When wind turbines are turned off, owners are being deprived of not only money for the electricity they would have generated, but also lucrative 'green' subsidies for that electricity.

The first successful test shut down of wind farms took place three weeks ago. Scottish Power received £13,000 for closing down two farms for a little over an hour on 30 May at about 5am.

Coal and gas power stations often pay the National Grid £15 to £20 per megawatt hour they do not supply. Scottish Power was paid £180 per megawatt hour during the test to switch off its turbines. It raises the prospect of hugely profitable electricity suppliers receiving large sums of money from the National Grid just for switching off wind turbines. Just a few months ago the Telegraph reported customers are paying more than £1 billion a year to subsidise wind farms.

A National Grid spokesman said: "The trial is something supporters of wind energy should welcome, as it gives evidence to their case that wind generation does not bring insurmountable problems to balancing supply and demand."

Is it any wonder Forth Ports PLC want to put two of these giants slap bang in the middle of the River Tay at Dundee? Within the next two years an offshore turbine, more than 500ft tall with a diameter of 475ft is due to make an appearance in British waters. The designers of these turbines say there are no reason why offshore turbines should not get even larger.

Some years ago now there was a public outcry at farmers being paid to keep land fallow (the EU arable set-aside policy). This policy was scrapped with the introduction of the Common Agricultural Policy.

Suppliers can't really lose where wind farms are concerned. Time we rebelled against paying higher electricity prices for a system which supplies a minimal amount of our power.


Uncle Marvo said...

Perhaps we should all leave our lights on?

I've heard some daft things but this one takes the biscuit.

tomandclaire said...

For every kilowatt of electricity produced by a windfarm, there must be the equivalent in backup from convential sources, i.e. nuclear. It must make sense to put the backup in place before we start relying on wind power?

Anonymous said...

Electricity cannot be stored

Er, yes it can, in all kinds of ways..pumping water to a height and then releasing it through a turbine for example.

Something about super saturating water with salt rings a bell as well, but I can't remember the process.

subrosa said...

Now there's an idea Marvo. Our suppliers offer us dirt cheap electric when it's a warm windy day and we can all use the washing machine, dishwasher and whatever else we like for a reasonable price.

subrosa said...

We can't have sensible solutions tomandclaire. That's not the way these people operate is it.

subrosa said...

Rightwinggit, when I was writing that I did wonder, but it was very early this morning and I was too half asleep to do any decent research about it.

Many thanks, I've now learned a little more.

Jayce Kay said...

Good grief these people really are lazy beyond belief or are completely devoid of using any imagination to solve future energy problems that aren't going to remain in the future for much longer.

Assuming that wind farms are going to form a measurable contribution of this nations energy needs instead of paying people to produce nothing, why not expand on Rightwinggit, idea of converting the energy into something else that can be used later, storing energy in terms of potential in water at a elevated position is a pretty good idea, since its using proven technology and could(should?) be implemented as a means of storing 'surplus' when demand is out of sync with supply.

How about another idea, convert water into hydrogen (& oxygen) via the process of electrolysis?

Given all the BS about Carbon/CO2 you'd think that the powers that be would let an idea like this run and instead of a energy system based upon imports from Europe, Russia and the Middle East, we could look to achieve something along the lines of energy independence?

Dangerous thinking?

(off soapbox)

Alex Porter said...

Scottish Power are developing off-shore wind farms. On land windmills can stop if there´s no wind but there´s always wind in the sea.

Windmills are becomming a very useful source of energy - around 1, 000 can give the same output as a nuclear plant and 300 as a coal plant.

The technology is improving fast and back up from off-shore will do the trick.

Let´s not forget that Scotland is not in urgent need of more capacity!

subrosa said...

Another super comment Jayce. Thanks.

I have little knowledge about the storage of power although, from knowing local people employed in the hydro industry, it is done to a degree.

Dangerous thinking? I would say sensible thinking. Perhaps the multinationals and politicians would think otherwise.

subrosa said...

Also let's not forget that Scotland pays excessive amounts to connect to the NG Alex, only to export our excess south.

Anonymous said...

Surely the "green" solution would be to reduce the amount of coal being shoveled into the conventional station when demand is low?? How did they do it before they had any wind turbines?

Anonymous said...

By regulating the air flow, I would imagine.

subrosa said...

I've no idea Jorge. Ah I see Rightwinggit has replied. Thanks.

Joe Public said...

RW at 10:11.

Actually, SR is correct.

Pumping water up a mountain does not store electricity; it stores potential energy.

When the water is allowed to run back down again by gravity, it does so thro' a turbine, which is used to (re)generate electricity.

subrosa said...

Joe I learn something every day. Thanks.

Surreptitious Evil said...

Despite JP's comment - which is incorrect in physics terms (you are actually converting electrical energy into gravitation potential energy rather than merely storing potential energy) - 'storing electricity' is done, practically if not semantically correctly, in a number of ways. As RW stated.

You can electrolise water to hydrogen and oxygen (and burn them either as flame or in a fuel cell), you can use batteries or capacitors (like McLaren's F1 KERS) or flywheels (like Williams' KERS or JET. Or you use pumped storage hydro as is done at Cruachan and Foyers.

What we don't currently have is enough of any storage to make any sense of wind (pumped storage currently copes with daily peak demand - not the longer term necessary to allow wind to be more than anti-decorational.)

It is hard enough to get the basic arguments across to the population - lets not get bogged down in the semantics of thermodynamics and spend idiot-correction (I had written 'educating') time arguing amongst ourselves.

If we're going to indulge in pointless endeavour - we can try comparative whisky tastings!

Surreptitious Evil said...

Oh, and I missed an opportunity for pointless anti-EU carping. The CAP has been with us (or, at least, the EEC members) since 1962, in one form or another. And is still here. And isn't going anywhere. And costs us €millions in over-paid French farmers.

Set-aside was actually replaced with the introduction of the "Single Payment Scheme" - remember the one we were fined £75m and Margaret Beckett was promoted for screwing up?

subrosa said...

Yes I do remember SE. I couldn't remember if that was 2005 or 06 so that's why I didn't date it. The DEFRA site didn't have the info either, just a note to say that all info on it was from the previous government.

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