Every now and then I read a report that makes me angry. This one
made my blood boil:
National Grid has confirmed that a record-breaking amount of clean electricity was generated by wind power in the UK today [29th November] – achieving more than 6 gigawatts (over 6,000 megawatts) for the first time.
Renewable UK’s Director of External Affairs, Jennifer Webber said:
Wind energy is consistently setting new records and providing an ever-increasing amount of clean electricity for British homes and businesses. We’re generating from a home-grown source which gives us a secure supply of power at cost we can control, rather than leaving ourselves exposed to the global fluctuation in fossil fuel prices which have driven bills up. Wind gives us a way to make a smooth transition from old-fashioned fuels to a new low-carbon economy.
What they forgot to say, the day before 29th November, was flat calm across the UK and we were pretty well 100% dependent upon these old-fashioned fuels – nuclear, coal and gas, so derided by the renewables industry. Charts and facts below the fold.
Figure 1 The share of UK electricity generation in the UK for the month of November 2013. The “other” category sums inter-connector imports and exports, pumped storage and hydro. Wind power is expensive (Figure 3). And so it is not rocket science to work out that high electricity bills are in the main caused by giving priority access to the most expensive source. Data from the truly excellent Gridwatch.
Figure 2 The distribution of wind power generated in the UK for the month of November 2013. The erratic nature of the supply simply adds noise to the grid. The cost of smoothing out that noise is currently met by the operators of CCGTs and coal fired power stations. In return for providing and paying for this invaluable service these operators are rewarded with lower market share. Renewable UK’s Director of External Affairs, Jennifer Webber regards the above configuration of electricity supply as secure.
Figure 1 shows where Britain’s electricity came from for the month of November and the record high amount of wind (in blue) on the 29th. I want to dissect some of Jennifer Webber’s statement:
We’re generating from a home-grown source
My understanding is that the majority if not all of the turbines have been imported.
which gives us a secure supply of power
Wind comes and goes with the N Atlantic weather systems, >6GW one moment <0.5GW the next. It is fundamentally dishonest to describe this as secure. The security of electricity supplies is provided by natural gas, coal and imports that are cycled up and down to balance for erratic wind.
at cost we can control
According to DECC, wind is the most expensive form of electricity currently produced in the UK (Figure 3), it may well be controlled but at a fixed high cost for consumers.
rather than leaving ourselves exposed to the global fluctuation in fossil fuel prices which have driven bills up
This statement is also fundamentally untrue. It is true that high natural gas prices have put upwards pressure on electricity prices, but this past year, coal has been dirt cheap. And the UK derives roughly 20% of its electricity from nuclear, largely immune to short term moves in fossil fuel prices. So where does the truth lie?
Figure 3 UK electricity prices attributed to DECC (£/MWh). When politicians give priority to onshore and offshore wind, currently the most expensive form of power generation we have, they should not be surprised that electricity prices go up. Somewhat curiously, politicians are trying to blame everyone but themselves for this situation that has been created by Westminster.
What are the main factors that have pushed up UK electricity prices?
- An obligation to use wind electricity which is the most expensive source currently available to us (Figure 3)
- The cost of balancing services and loss of market share in gas and coal generators
- The closure of coal plant that currently provides the cheapest electricity
- The expansion of power generating infrastructure, essentially running two systems alongside each other, renewables and conventional generators. In addition, new power transmission lines are being built to transport expensive, unreliable wind to market
- And finally, elevated natural gas prices offset by the current low cost of coal.
The UK grid cannot currently run on intermittent wind that is dependent upon other, cheaper sources of electricity to provide balancing and grid stability. Wind is currently killing the power generation system it requires for its own survival and the high electricity costs this brave new energy world has created is crippling the British economy and spreading energy poverty. This is a problem made in Westminster. UK energy policy is built around the desire to reduce CO2 emissions and not to provide secure and affordable supplies of energy for its people. It is time to repeal or amend the 2008 Climate Change Act.