The changing face of UK electricity supply

Figure 1 Stacked area chart showing the contributions to the UK grid from various generating sources for March 2013. Similar charts for January, February and April can be found in an earlier post. With 9000 lines of data, it is not easy to display a time scale on the x-axis. The peaks represent days with the 1st of March to the left of the chart. The “Other” category includes French, Dutch, Irish and EW imports / exports via inter-connectors, pumped storage, conventional hydro, oil, open cycle gas turbines and “other”. Data from BM reports as reported by Gridwatch.

Balancing Mechanism (BM) reports as recorded by Gridwatch provide insight to exactly how the UK grid is coping with and responding to the ever growing amount of intermittent wind energy. The key observations are detailed below, the evidence is below the fold.

  • There is no evidence that integrating wind has impaired the efficiency of combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT) or coal fired generation.
  • The rate of load change to accommodate wind is no greater than the diurnal load cycle to accommodate demand.
  • Wind is variable and is just as likely to be blowing at night when demand is low as during the day when demand is high (Figure 1).
  • CCGT (gas) bears the brunt of load balancing in the UK for both diurnal demand and wind variability.
  • A consequence of this is that CCGT is losing market share to wind whilst providing an ever larger and more valuable load balancing service.
  • Reduction in coal generating capacity meant that coal fired power was running at capacity for periods last winter.
  • Nuclear was also running at capacity for periods during the winter months.
  • UK gas storage was run down to near zero April 2013 (source Rune Likvern at Fractional Flow), the result of a colder than normal winter and competition for LNG from Japan (Source National Grid).
  • Continued growth of wind is going to squeeze CCGT (gas) out of the system – which is a consequence of the 2008 Climate Change Act. At some point CCGT generation may become unprofitable, but since it also provides essential grid balancing service, the industry may have to transfer to state ownership.
  • Wind electricity displacing imported gas has a positive impact upon UK trade balance.
  • Within a  tight European gas market, wind power is making a contribution to keeping the UK grid operational. Without wind, the UK gas and electricity security situation would have been worse last winter
  • Had the UK government commissioned 20GW of nuclear power 10 years ago, this situation could have been avoided.

The efficiency of CCGT and coal fired power generation

Figures 2 and 3 show the thermal efficiency of CCGT and coal fired plant. There is no significant impairment of efficiency stemming from the increase of intermittent wind in recent years. Data from DECC, spread sheet called Electricity since 1920 historical data.

Figure 2 CCGT thermal efficiency

Figure 3 coal thermal efficiency

Rate of load change to accommodate wind

Figure 4 shows the load variance of nuclear, coal, CCGT and wind for the UK in March 2013. The chart shows that both CCGT and coal undergo rapid load shifts on a diurnal basis to accommodate demand. The rate of load change to accommodate wind is lower than the demand load shift.

Figure 4 Load distribution between the 4 main generating sources. A value of 1 means all plant is operating at capacity. A value of zero means that all plant is idle. The daily fluctuations in CCGT and coal are to accommodate the diurnal cycle in demand. It is quite clear that when the wind is blowing the rate of diurnal cycling is barely affected. It is equally clear that when the wind is blowing, the load factors on CCGTs, and to a lesser extent coal, are reduced meaning that the quantities of imported fossil fuels is also reduced.

The variable nature of wind

One of the main limitations of wind is that without storage we have no control over when the power is delivered. An examination of Figure 1 shows that on occasions the wind blows during the day and makes a significant contribution to peak load. It also blows at night, making a significant contribution to off-peak load. But on an equal number of occasions it makes no contribution at all to UK electricity supply meaning that back-up is required from those sources excluded from the market when the wind is blowing, i.e. CCGT and coal. Conventional fossil fuels are being required to provide essential grid balancing services whilst losing market share.

CCGTs losing market share

Figure 5 illustrates quite clearly that gas use for electricity generation has declined since 2010. Figures 1 and 4 show that wind substitution for gas is the main cause. The recession that has resulted in a decline in electricity consumption is an additional cause. Improved energy efficiency at home likely plays a tertiary role.

Figure 5 This chart shows what we use natural gas for. The lions share goes to domestic heat and cooking and for electricity generation. It is striking to see how domestic demand rises substantially in the winter quarters – oct-dec and jan-mar. The overall fall in demand since 2010 results from a combination of factors – higher prices leading to energy poverty, recession and energy efficiency. The fall in gas consumed for power generation reflects substitution of gas by wind electric.

Coal and nuclear running at capacity

Under the EU Large Combustion Plant Directive, 9 large UK power stations have closed or are set to close representing 11.6 GW of generating capacity (peak UK demand~60GW). Here is the list according to industry representative Energy UK (Figure 4). According to Wikipedia 6 of the 9 plants have already closed.

The average load factors for January 2013 are noted in figure 6. The average loads for coal and nuclear are both very high. The load for wind at 27.1% is actually very good. But the CCGT fleet was idling for 68% of the time. Figure 6 shows the distribution of load factors for January and shows for much of that month nuclear and coal were running between 80 and 100% and were actually running at capacity for some of the time.

Figure 6 This chart is tricky to explain. Using the data from Gridwatch and DECC it is possible to work out the load factor for generating plant every 5 minutes. That’s what I’ve done and then sorted the data according to load. The x-axis = 1 month of sorted data. The curves show the load distribution for the month. In January 2013, nuclear was basically running flat out; coal was running flat out for much of the time, the tail to the right reflects night time cycling down; wind performed well; the CCGT fleet was idling while the wind was blowing and LNG cargoes headed for Japan.

UK gas storage running on empty

Figure 7 shows that during April 2013, UK gas storage was effectively empty. National Grid in their Winter Outlook 2013/14 on p37 provide this explanation:

2012/13 – (1 in 4 cold winter) Further reductions in LNG, highest ever use of storage, and highest use of IUK since 2005/6.

National Grid also show some nice graphics showing the collapse in LNG imports with LNG cargoes chasing high prices in Japan. Imports via the Interconnector UK and storage compensating for the decline in LNG.

Figure 7 Chart from Rune Likvern at Norwegian energy blog Fractional Flow. The black line shows UK gas storage on the right hand scale, close to zero in April 2013. The columns show gas injection into storage and withdrawals from storage.

Gas being squeezed out

It is somewhat ironical that gas, which produces less CO2 per GWh than coal, is being squeezed out of the UK generating mix. With UK indigenous gas production in decline (Figures 8 and 9) there is an inevitability that we should transition away from this transient windfall from the North Sea. The Climate Change Act is also specifically designed to squeeze out fossil fuel power generation. And so government must also shoulder part of the blame for the inevitable demise of our legacy power system.

Figure 8 The history of UK primary energy production and consumption. The yawning gap that is opening up between production and consumption has resulted in the huge trade deficit shown in Figure 10.

Figure 9 This chart shows the decline of indigenous UK gas production (blue) replaced by imports (red and orange). Exports in recent years are effectively imported gas passing through the UK distribution system to destinations in Europe and Ireland. Gas is injected to storage during the summer and withdrawn during the winter.

With high gas prices, low plant utilisation and ever larger load balancing demands being made, it is little surprise that gas and electricity utilities are putting up prices. There is a very painful period of adjustment ahead for power companies and consumers.

Here are a couple of quotes from a European corporate presentation:

The massive erosion of wholesale prices caused by the growth of renewables constitutes a serious problem which may even threaten the company’s survival.

Large-scale investment programme has been devalued almost entirely by the upheaval in the energy market

Essential industries cannot go out of business, hence my presumption that nationalisation of parts of this sector may lie ahead.

Impact on trade balance

The focus of the UK energy debate should be on energy security, trade balance and affordable energy. Figure 10, provided by DECC, shows how energy surplus has swung into unsustainable energy deficit of over £22billion per annum. From January to April this year, the metered wind reported by Gridwatch produced 6.35 TWh of electricity. DECC provide more comprehensive figures that show actual wind production, that includes the vast number of small producers, was 8.07 TWh. This has displaced imported gas with significant benefit to the trade balance. An unofficial estimate on the value of deferred gas imports is of the order £295 million for jan-april 2013. With increasing wind on the grid, it is quite clear this saving could reach £1billion per annum in the near future. This calculation is subject to uncertainty and so if any readers would care to make a stab at this calculation in the comments section, that would be useful information to have. Most of the deferred liquefied natural gas imports have probably been combusted in Japan.

Figure 10 This chart, provided by DECC, shows the swing from £9 billion energy surplus to £21 billion energy deficit in only 12 years. To put this in context, the UK current account deficit for 2012 was £59.8 billion. About one third of this is down to spiralling energy imports. The government surely has a duty to manage this situation.


  1. The UK must do everything possible to increase indigenous primary energy production. The options include enhanced oil recovery in the North Sea, nuclear and renewables.
  2. At about 6% of current generation and growing fast, wind is making a meaningful though still small contribution. This offsets use of imported natural gas (or coal) that the country can ill afford to pay for.
  3. Wind is taking market share from gas and coal production. Gas and to a lesser extent coal are also being required to provide increasingly important balancing services to the grid. It is clearly not sustainable to ask one part of the generating sector to continuously do more for less.
  4. I object to wind farms springing up all over the countryside as much as the next person. To be honest I object to some a lot more than others. But a choice needs to be made between having electricity or a return to a subsistence society. If we want to have electricity then we have to put up with the infrastructure that generates it. Personally I quite like having hospitals and schools.

I am to be on holiday next week and so there will be no big post but I will be putting up some nice charts and maps. On my return I will be turning my attention to Energy Matters outside of the UK.

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55 Responses to The changing face of UK electricity supply

  1. Thanks for you insight, it’s very illuminating.

  2. Wind is a small percentage of diurnal load cycle, CC generation and total generation (6%). The thermal efficiency of the CC plants is not affected until wind reaches significant penetration. Moreover, there is far more CC than wind so the effect would be small. In addition, the efficiency is low to begin with (CC plants can reach 60%). It could be upgrades are improving thermal efficiencies faster than wind is reducing it. Coal plants cannot follow wind load well and fuel costs are cheaper, so it is not surprising it is not following much wind load and is not being replaced by wind.

  3. Hugh Sharman says:

    Euan, you write “There is no evidence that integrating wind has impaired the efficiency of combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT) or coal fired generation.”

    This is not true, as anyone who understands the tortuous start-up and shut-down procedures of conventional CCGTs knows. 400 MW CCGTs take at least 40 minutes of fuel-firing before the GT is synchronised on the busbar. It will be a further 40 – 50 minutes before the steam turbine has reached nameplate output. The reverse happens, if more quickly as the CCGT is turned off. During starting and stopping the heat rate of the CCGT is very high.

    These windy days, CCGTs are going on and off like Christmas lights, so I anticipate that fleet efficiency will continue to fall from 47% (GCV), which is awful, as wind power continues to build up!

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Hugh, I have no axe to grind here. When I got and plotted the efficiency data I expected to see clear signs of efficiency impairment since I’d been told this should be the case. But I can’t see it in the DECC data. If you look at my Figure 4 you’ll see that CCGT load distribution is dominated by the diurnal cycle and needs to cycle up less when the wind is blowing. I think the important message in what you say is that large CCGTs are not well suited to being ramped up and down twice a day taking 2 hours to get ready for a 12 hour generating run, and are therefore always running at sub-optimum efficiency.

  4. DouglasM says:

    Any economist knows that trade balance is subordinate to cost. If it cost you more to produce power from indigenous sources than an imported source, the difference will result in a devaluation of currency and inflation. To pursue the current stupid policy of wind generated power costing two to three, or maybe even four times the fossil fuel alternatives is economic madness and will result in more energy intensive Industries such as the recent problems in the Petrochemical sector moving abroad!

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Any economist knows that trade balance is subordinate to cost.

      Douglas, I won’t argue against that. But are you suggesting UK just goes on running up unrepayable debts buying “cheap” imported energy? I believe most energy poor European states manage to run a trade surplus despite having to import energy, Germany being the best example. I am not an economist, but it seem to me that if we are to follow the import energy model, then we need to start making stuff with that energy to sell abroad. Holland of course still has plenty gas owing to state control on production rates. And France has 65 odd nukes.

    • I cannot understand your claims, ‘wind policy’ and ‘3-4 times more expensive’ – surely you know that policy is a legal mandate for clean sustainable renewables, not exclusively wind. Further, How is wind costed against fossil? Does it have subsidies larger than fossil? No, according to the IEA, fossil receives six times more, with no clean-up costs, no security issues, no foreign interventions (wars) stealing resources and is indigenous. Most if not all turbine projects are agreed privately i.e., landowners choice – that’s freedom, by J S Mills definition – not government diktat.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      @ Douglas and Grahame, a rule we used to try and follow at The Oil Drum was that claims should be backed up with supporting data / information. A simple link to a source. And so I’d really quite like a link for comparison of electricity prices from various sources – I saw a table from Mott Macdonald a long time ago. And I’d bee intrigued to see the evidence for FF industries being heavily subsidised. A post on tax revenues from the N Sea over the years is on my to do list.

      • DouglasM says:

        Think this report addresses the issue of projected subsidy costs for renewable energy in the most comprehensive way available, and seems very thorough – there is so much misinformation on this subject!

  5. clivebest says:

    Euan, You showed in the post UK electricity demand GDP and Energy Policy figure 1: that the recession was to blame for a drop off in electricity generation since 2007. That must be reflected in the gas demand shown in figure 5 above, therefore I don’t think it is correct to say that wind has offset so much imported gas as would appear in that graph.
    The diurnal variation in demand is predictable and energy companies can plan balancing. This is currently not the case with wind. They must keep 100% of wind capacity in gas/coal reserve for becalmed periods that happen regularly across the UK. Hence the need to find an energy storage solution for wind.Currently wind averages about 5% of UK demand and the grid balances that mainly through gas as you note. If wind were to increase say 4-fold to 20% of demand then gas efficiency will surely suffer due to constant tuning. Furthermore much wind output will be wasted without some storage means. What is the answer for energy storage for renewables? The only answer I can come up with is to use flywheels. These can be buried in the ground at large wind farms. They need to be aligned along the axis of rotation of the Earth to avoid Foucault pendulum type damping. They can reach 50% efficiency and retain power for several hours if using magnetic bearings. They could be charged up at night and run down during peak times. I worked at the JET nuclear fusion experiment. The machine was pulsed every 30 minutes or so with about 50 Mwatts of power delivered by two huge flywheels at the site. These flywheels were charged up slowly by Didcot coal power station down the road. Didcot A has just been closed down due to the large plant directive !

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Clive, Agree that some of the fall in gas demand is down to on-going recession. But the calculation of conserved gas imports is based on the amount of electricity produced by wind – calculate how mach gas to produce 8 TWh of electricity – this should be up your street. As for storage, anyone who cracks that will make a fortune. Alas, the path we are on for present is to greatly increase the size of generating plant across the country to have 100% backup in the name of environmental protection. The only sensible option in my mind is nuclear – but we seem to be staggering timidly along that path.

  6. G. Watkins says:

    Thanks Euan and the commentators.
    A vain hope, I wish our politicians read your posts.
    Several hours from flywheels is likely to make little difference during several days of no wind during a winter anti-cyclonic high.

  7. mikeh12345 says:

    I am still bothered by the graph showing slightly increasing thermal efficiency at combined cycle plants with wind additions. This is more complicated than the author pretends. The authors graph is limited because it doesn’t show hourly variations or the effectiveness of matching supply with demand. I suspected that the CC plants included CT plants but that doesn’t appear to be the case after I read ELECTRICITY GENERATION IN UK IN THE YEAR 2050 by Asko Vuorinen October2007. However, that study does say continued wind expansion will lead to the building of mostly inefficient gas peaking plants to follow the wind in the future. There is new technology that avoids the typical design trade-offs between efficiency and flexibility within combined cycle power plants, but at too high of a cost.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Mike, I am simply plotting official data and trying to draw objective conclusions from it. See my reply to Hugh Sharman. It seems that a great tranche of the CCGT fleet is standing idle for much of the time. Is it possible that only the most efficient plant is being used? I have no axe to grind, if you want to challenge the numbers then you have to present a more reliable alternative.

      • mikeh12345 says:

        Sorry, I thought I was offering more likely alternatives, but I can see now I wasn’t very clear with the last one and this is the one I suspect is most likely. I suspect the CC plants are not effective matching supply with demand unmet by intermittent wind (thus reducing the “effective” fuel efficiency). That is why the study that I referenced is saying wind will cause the addition of inefficient gas peaking CTs in the future.

  8. Nigel Wakefield says:

    As Euan points out, whoever cracks the storage conundrum is going to make a fortune.

    There are a number of possibilities:

    1: Build out further pumped storage using existing lakes, reasonably proximate to each other with a good head differential between them. Increasing the size of the lakes may be necessary by building impoundments at lower point of the perimeter. Avoid the costly need to bore out the inside of mountains by laying pipes down the slope and then landscape over them. There are a number of possible sites in Scotland and Wales.

    2: Excavate seawater reservoirs at the top of high cliffs and use seawater for pumped storage. There are numerous potential sites around our coastlines

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Nigel, it seems a no-brainer that we need lots of pumped storage regardless of whether we go the renewables or nuclear route or both. But it seems current set up is not conducive to attracting that investment. Pumped storage is much less harmful than conventional hydro since you don’t need to dam a river. Lots of sites along the Great Glen where water from Loch Ness could be pumped into high corries (with suitable mesh to filter out stray monsters).

      Can anyone out there help advise on how to make the comment box bigger? WordPress theme 2010.

  9. Nigel Wakefield says:


    3: Leach salt caverns and use them for power storage. The depth of the salt layer is great enough to provide a huge head differential for pumped storage, suggesting high output for a relatively small amount of water volume. I can see this would be technically challenging (eg getting the turbine in place and accessible for maintenance), but leaching salt is a well-understood and relatively cheap technology

  10. Nigel Wakefield says:

    4: Methanol: Convert excess power from wind to methanol, it’s technologically simple, though somewhat inefficient. Methanol is, in my opinion, the best way to store hydrogen. Methanol has the advantage of easy transportability, can be used as transportation fuel (significantly higher value than heating and power generation fuels) with relatively simple modifications to petrol engines, and can be used as fuel for fuel cells for micro-CHP… it’s incredibly versatile. The disadvantages are relative conversion inefficiency, unstable run hours for conversion plant (if running solely on “excess” power) leading to poor return on capital invested. I think methanol could be the fuel of a renewable energy future..

    I’m sure there are problems with all the above… have at it!

    • clivebest says:

      Methane would be even better. Wind produced natural gas . Fraunhofer have been trying this, but efficiency is only about 40%. Still that is better than paying wind farms to not load the grid.

      See e.g.

      • Nigel Wakefield says:

        Methanol has more utility than methane, it’s more easily stored and can be used as a liquid fuel for transportation which has higher value. I suspect the lower conversion efficiency would be overcome (economically) . by the higher product value. I haven’t run the numbers though.

        Either way, we both agree it’s better than paying wind not to load the grid…

        • Show me the figures – then I’ll admit I’m wrong about supporting win expansion.

          • Nigel Wakefield says:

            Don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge fan of renewables and wind isn’t a problem yet…..

          • Err…not sure if fan is the word to use? Exactly what is ‘paying for wind not to load the grid?’
            No fuel costs means it’s an irrelevance, any wind generation displaces fossil burning – extra back up is not required, it’s built in already.

          • DouglasM says:

            Fossil fuel doesn’t cost anything either, it’s the extracting and transportation that costs resources, as is the case with wind energy i.e., huge land area requirements, infrastructure cabling and pylons, concrete and steel that requires large fossil fuel energy input in manufacturing, lack of reliability and intermittency requires Fossil fuel backup! All in all, we’d be much better off with Coal at a third of the cost.

          • Told you so – your no fan. If your going to debate costs fine, but cut out the silly adjectives. Are you seriously experienced in this area or a commentator? Because if you only want to quote misinformation – then we will have nothing constructive to say.

  11. Nigel Wakefield says:

    Lastly, the problem with storage is that it’s intrinsically value destructive, the more you build, the less it’s worth. This has been the problem with gas storage: too many projects planned leading to poor economics for all of them; consequently very few get built…

    Storage does not lend itself well to private ownership … how I wish we had a publicly-owned energy system…

    • Euan Mearns says:

      no new subsidy needed for gas storage

      Independent analysis, commissioned by Ministers, shows the UK gas market continuing to function well in attracting gas from a range of sources to meet current and future demand, with gas storage providing only a small proportion of UK total supply (7% in 2012).

      • Nigel Wakefield says:

        And, of course, we all readily believe any independent analysis, commissioned by Ministers (to prove they are doing their job properly…)

        I’ve worked extensively in gas storage over the past decade… the economics of gas storage at present barely support existing facilities let alone warrant the cost of new build… it’s bad in the UK and even worse on the continent

  12. jacobress says:

    I have a technical question. In fig 1 above we see some small daily fluctuations in coal generated power. It is known that you can’t turn coal off and on on a daily basis as it takes about 12 hours to fire up an idled coal plant. So, how are the fluctuations acheived ?
    I suspect the coal plant keeps burning, but ramps down somewhat the electricity generation. Maybe they are able to reduce also the rate of coal burning to some extent.
    I suspect that the daily reduction of electricity output isn’t acompanied by an equal reduction in coal consumed. That is – the output reduction causes reduced efficiency.
    Is that so? Can someone comment on this ?

  13. mwhite says:

    The price to be paid,

    Makes that £92.50 per MW hour from Hinkley Point C in 2023 look cheap?

    Original –

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Thanks! One expectation is that the price of fossil fuel is going to just keep going up. I know you may be thinking shale, and I’ll get around to tight gas and oil some time before the decade is out. But do you think we can just go on importing energy and watch the trade deficit spiral out of control? That is also a route to devaluation of £ and inflation, but let’s face it currencies are in a race to the floor in any case.

      • Euan – Thanks for an interesting article.

        Let us not forget that the electricity generators are profit driven, and if they can find a cheaper fuel, they will burn it.

        Natural gas prices have fallen in the USA because of the temporary glut of shale gas. As a knock-on result, there is a lot of cheap coal on the world market.

        The UK generators spent the winter of 2012-13 burning as much coal as they can within the restrictions of the LCPD, and this IMHO is why less gas has been consumed for UK power generation.

        The first plant to run at reduced load, is the most expensive fuel cost and easiest to turn down – and right now, that is the CCGT.

        Once the full effect of the LCPD and the end of the US shale gas bonanza take effect, there will be a completely different set of variables.

        • Euan Mearns says:

          Ken, I agree that the supply price dynamic will shift. The other part of the equation at present is huge demand for LNG from Japan, virtually all “our” cargoes heading east, creating polarisation of gas prices – cheap in N America, expensive everywhere else. I’ve been told by DECC that the plan is to phase out coal altogether in the next few years – sounds crazy I know, but that’s the plan and this will herald in a new era of super-expensive gas powered electricity.

  14. Euan,

    Basically we are stuffed! The current market is dysfunctional, and does nothing to secure the long term stability of a reliable electricity grid.

    I remember the 1973/74 blackouts – I lived close to Cockenzie, which is now closed as a result of the LCPD.

    We now live in an all electric society, none of our modern infrastructure will work without power – it’s no longer just the inconvenience of a few candles, when the lights go out.

    Cash registers, filling station fuel pumps, door entry systems, server farms to name but a few will all go down when the lights go out.

    • DouglasM says:

      Yes, a quote from Chris Booker’s column today:
      “Their central aim, though never openly explained, has been twofold. One leg has been to build, by 2020, some 30,000 wind turbines, so ludicrously expensive that we must pay double or treble the market rate for the power they so inefficiently produce.
      The other leg is that, to make this seem competitive, we should also eventually be made to pay twice the going rate for all other forms of electricity: hence the “carbon tax” on coal and gas, and the colossal price we are to pay for power from Hinkley Point and other new nuclear power stations (four times the cost of nuclear, estimated by a Royal Academy of Engineering study only nine years ago).
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      That is why our energy companies pathetically try to explain that a third of the increased costs driving their latest price rises are made inevitable by the various levies we must pay directly for those “green” policies, such as the hidden subsidies being showered on the owners of our ever-growing number of wind farms and acres of solar panels.
      Another third represents what we must pay for the thousands of miles of cabling needed to connect those “renewables” to the grid (which Ofgem estimated might, by 2020, cost us another £40 billion) — along with other measures needed to counteract the unbalancing of the grid by the intermittency of “renewables”, such as hiring those thousands of diesel generators to provide back-up, which makes a further mockery of the “de-carbonisation” policy mandated by the Climate Change Act that Mr Cameron was so keen on.”
      And CB has been warning of the inevitable consequences of the Climate Change Act since its inception!

      • mikeh12345 says:

        In the US, everyone from the wind industry to our government are telling us wind power costs are only 3 cents per kWh even though costs are actually 6 times as high at about 18 cents:

      • Euan Mearns says:

        Hi Douglas – would be great if you could post links to the articles – raw cut and paste of url is fine. And how did you manage to write such a long comment – for many the submit button disappears after about 10 lines.

        • DouglasM says:

          Sorry, think this is a subscription only service, but this article touches all the bases I think:

          Date: 28/10/13 Editorial, Financial Times
          Malthusian anxiety and shambolic policies are putting the prosperity of a generation at risk.
          Since UK opposition leader Ed Miliband promised to freeze energy bills for 20 months, the Conservatives have vacillated between calling him a conman and peddling snake oil of their own. If Britain is to keep the lights on without incurring crippling costs, the country’s energy policy debate needs more substantial fuel.

          Two revolutions are unfolding in the electricity market. The first involves building expensive renewables and nuclear plants, paid for through higher bills. Environmental levies have so far been modest, accounting for less than 10 per cent of the cost of electricity. By 2030 this will rise to 41 per cent. Britain has pledged to supply 15 per cent of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2020, and to halve emissions from 1990 levels by 2025. Some experts say that, given more time, the same targets could be achieved at lower cost.

          Bold undertakings to reduce emissions were popular when they were announced at the height of the boom. Yet that moment of Malthusian anxiety was also one of economic cheer, and little attention was paid to the sacrifices that expensive energy entails. This burden now falls on shoulders that are slenderer than once thought.

          If Britain never adequately reckoned with the cost of its carbon commitments, it may also have been too optimistic about the benefits. The country accounts for less than 2 per cent of world emissions. The heroic reductions that are planned will have a negligible effect on global temperatures.

          This would be true even if the UK’s moderation were not offset by intemperance elsewhere. In fact, investment in energy-intensive industries is already being drawn to countries such as the US where costs are lower. Britain may end up exporting emissions – and jobs – to countries that have shunned such onerous environmental commitments. The halting progress towards a global carbon pact provides scant vindication for those who thought that where Britain led, others would follow.

          Politicians portray these policies as the inevitable consequence of legally binding commitments. Such wilful naivety gives an unintended meaning to Prime Minister David Cameron’s pledge to lead the greenest government ever. If the UK’s environmental policy is defensible, it should be defended. If not, the government should repeal or renegotiate the laws and treaties in which these commitments are enshrined. Mr Cameron has pledged action to prevent Brussels from throttling UK companies with red tape. He should not pretend that crucial parameters of energy policy are out of his hands.

          Alongside this revolution in the means of production is one of economic planning. Since privatisation the electricity industry has been run on market principles. Price controls were abolished and politicians placed their faith in competition to keep prices low and the grid adequately supplied. Now, the government is becoming the industry’s Gosplan. It decides what plants are built, sets their prices and guarantees financing for their construction.

          Mr Miliband’s price freeze is an extension of this approach, which presents him as the solution to a problem that he helped to create as energy secretary. Despite fingering power companies for rising energy prices, Mr Miliband produced no evidence of profiteering.

          A fairer criticism is that energy companies have invested too little in replacing the country’s ageing power stations. One explanation is that generators are restricting supply in the hope of driving up prices. Another is that they lack incentives to build capacity needed to meet peak demand, because current rules pay little to plants that usually sit idle.

          Either way, urgent reforms are needed if the UK is to avoid a capacity crunch. The best solution would be to rewrite the market rules to spur the needed investment in the most efficient way. Alternatively, the power industry could be nationalised and financed with cheap government debt – although efficiency would suffer.

          But politicians have chosen neither course, preferring to make private generators bow to government plans. This is capitalism with British characteristics. It combines the inefficiency of state planning with the expense of private capital, exacerbated by the fear that politicians will retrospectively change their minds.

          The losers from this shambolic policy are more numerous than the struggling households that are rightly at the centre of political concern. The prosperity of a generation is at risk. Britain cannot afford to hobble itself with overly high energy costs as it embarks on the road to recovery.

          Financial Times, 28 October 2013

      • To Douglas & Clive: You are both obviously critical of wind power – fair enough, but do not exaggerate the problem. It is not ‘ridiculously expensive,’ It’s the SAME PRICE plus subsidy and it was NEVER quoted as being a replacement for grid base load. Electricity is very valuable, flexible, easily transported and totally undervalued by the public: proof – they care more about shopping, holiday’s, entertainment, sport etc., never about how much energy that costs; and how much do they spend on wind farm subsidies – 29 pence per week!!!!!! Check my figures..
        What is missing here is the very core of WHAT’S IMPORTANT; do you want all peoples to survive? Good, then do you want all people to have equality? I can see you wavering now..Is energy one of the three basic needs for life – that should be equally shared? If yes, then we in this country should pay more regardless of which generation supplies. (Clive) Did you see the fallen turbine? did the grid fail ? Did you see the power to Dungeness nuclear plant had been cut, shutting down the power atation? mmmm! which one caused more losses????

        • mikeh12345 says:

          The article is right but I think my article provides a better explanation. At least, Europe doesn’t try to hide much of the cost with tax write-offs like the US. The cost of electricity from wind turbines is about 10 cents (in feed-in tariffs). But, like the article says, there are additional costs for extra transmission and integration. Transmission lines are triple those of other generation sources due to the lower capacity factors. These costs are also driven higher by the need to locate further from load centers. Typically, extra transmission costs are about two cents more.

        • mikeh12345 says:

          Integration costs become significant beyond low levels of wind penetration. A US study reports requiring base load power plants to ramp up and down increases maintenance costs and reduces fuel efficiency. “Effective” fuel efficiencies can also be reduced by a failure to respond rapidly or drop output enough. An April 18 Reuters article claims “inefficient single cycle gas turbines are likely to be the only practical option for load-following on the grid.” Wind backed by single cycle or diesel generators uses as much fuel and emits as much CO2 as just using combined cycle (without wind power). Single cycle gas turbines also cost twice as much to operate. Wind turbine costs are 10 + 2 +6 = 18 cents in the US.

  15. clivebest says:

    Is anyone taking bets on how many wind turbines will collapse tomorrow in the predicted 80 mph winds ?

    Wind power is proving to be the Goldilocks factor for UK energy security.

    First, she tried a spoonful from Papa Bear’s great big bowl. “OW!” she yelled, “TOO WINDY!”

    Next, she tried a spoonful from Mama Bear’s medium-sized bowl. “Brrrrr! TOO STILL!” she complained.

    Finally, Goldilocks tried a spoonful from Baby Bear’s tiny little bowl. “YUMMY!” she cried. “THIS IS JUST RIGHT!” Goldilocks ate the entire bowlful of wind.


    • Euan Mearns says:

      Ha! Good luck with the storm Clive – but you cannot say that you weren’t warned;-) I’m off whaling today.

    • clivebest says:

      Too back up the Goldilocks comparison. Wind power output dropped by 50% this morning as wind speeds increased ! I suspect most wind farms across southern Britain were shut down in order to protect them !

  16. Phitio says:

    Too bad that the Kite Wind Generator technology has been bought by Saudi.
    It promised ten times more electricity and to be 80% less intermittent than current wind farm technology. Maybe we will again depend on Saudi for the foreseeable future of energy supply even for wind.

  17. Mike Roberts says:

    Your last comment in the post was interesting, Euan. Do you think that having schools and hospitals (and, in general, not returning to what you think of as subsistence society) depends entirely on generating enough electricity to run this society? Do you think this society can operate only on electricity and that there are enough resources (of all sorts) to enable that?

    Just wondering because I’m interested in what can actually be saved from this civlisation as resources deplete and the environment continues its deterioration.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Mike, industrialised society doesn’t run only on electricity but the way it is currently configured it is an essential ingredient. There is a deep Green point of view that the economy can be run on an entirely different footing and that we can still have Universities and CAT scans. My view is that the current state of our capitalist system runs on Net Energy – the energy surplus derived mainly from fossil fuels. The Net Energy consumed per capita is rising rapidly in parts of the world and falling in others. The Euro Zone periphery is now consuming less energy – a good thing? Does anyone believe they can have strong economic recovery without their consumption of oil, gas and coal rising again? Pensions everywhere are also IMO a reflection of Net Energy surpluses, past, present and future. Energy efficiency gains and recycling also play a crucial role in our ability to maintain or increase output at constant / falling consumption of energy and raw materials.

      • Mike Roberts says:

        Indeed, electricity is an essential ingredient, as net energy is (though I’m not sure what net energy per capita is a measure of, or how it’s determined). The activities that don’t contribute to energy acquisition (including food) will decrease as net energy (and total available energy) decreases. So hospitals and schools will have to compete for that energy. Maybe they will be considered essential, except that a load of other activities hang off those (e.g. pharmaceuticals, computer manufacturing, etc.). Apart from energy, though, a whole load of other resources is needed to maintain some kind of civilisatiion and “civilised” societies, including resources for renewable energy production. All of these resources must be done in a sustainable way otherwise it will all be in vain as the environment crumbles (as it seems to be doing now). The environment, of course, underpins all that we do.

        I think hoping for a maintenance or increase of output as raw materials and energy decline (and without other harm to the environment) is a very optimistic view. More likely, we will have to change everything about the way we live.

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