UK Wind Power in The Doldrums

The lack of wind in the UK this year has already been in the news resulting in poor performance of UK wind farms. UK wind now has 11.2 GW [1] of installed capacity amounting to 13.5% of total generating capacity in the UK. In September the wind park generated 739 GWh amounting to 3.3% of UK demand [2]. The load factor was only 9%.

Figure 1 The renewables revolution in the UK was barely visible in September 2014 as the UK imported twice as much electricity from the continent as was generated by the 11.2 GW of installed wind capacity. If it were not for a little bit of wind towards the end of the month, wind generation would have been close to zero. Click on chart for a very large version.

The generating data are summarised in Figure 2.

[Note added 4th October: It has emerged in comments that the wind metered by BM reports / Gridwatch may be a sub-set of installed capacity as reported by Renewable UK. This may result in an error of my calculation of wind load factor that may actually have been as high as 12% in September. Being able to access reliable and up to date statistics is an on-going problem.]

Figure 2 UK generating statistics for September 2014 from Gridwatch. Plant capacity figures from DECC [3] apart from wind where recent capacity figures are taken from Renewables UK [1] and inter connector capacity from Ofgem [4].

Nuclear also had a bad month with a load factor of 63% owing to a couple of power stations going off line for unscheduled maintenance to boilers that are on the non-radioactive end of the generating plant. 63% is poor performance, but still 7* better than wind.

So why has the weather been so calm and why were we not warned? Is this yet another freak event to be explained by CO2 and global warming? Well we were in fact warned, not by the Met Office but by Clive Best who on August 10th produced his Supermoon Weather Forecast [5] saying:

There will be unsettled weather in northern Europe until the second half of August. This will be followed by an extended period of warm calm weather for about one month. UK will then have a pleasant Indian Summer. There will be a week of changeable stormy weather around the 5th September to spoil the otherwise pleasant weather.

Watching Clive’s simulation is worthwhile especially for the cool country music soundtrack.

Roy Spencer has also been keeping his eye on global wind statistics noting [6]:

Global average ocean surface wind speeds have been decreasing. In fact, August 2014 had the lowest surface wind speed in about 25 years.

So much for the wind always blowing somewhere. Roy also brings our attention to this chart from Weatherstreet [7] which I believe speaks for itself.

The great tragedy of Science — the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact. Thomas Huxley 1870

Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones. Donald Rumsfeld 2002

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. Attributed to Mark Twain

[1] UK wind capacity data from Renewable UK
[2] UK generating data from Gridwatch
[3] UK power station capacities from DECC DUKES 5.10
[4] UK inter connectors Ofgem
[5] Clive Best Supermoon weather forecast
[6] Roy Spencer Are Record Ocean Surface Temperatures Due to Record Low Wind Speeds?
[7] Weatherstreet

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44 Responses to UK Wind Power in The Doldrums

  1. Drjip says:

    The only nation that has got its energy mix right is France, which supplies >75% of its electricity from nuclear power. They even use the profits generated from nuclear to move towards a greener mix:

    Remind me, what is out total spend on green renewable since 1997? And we gave all our nuclear capacity to EDF in 2008 when British Energy was sold off for £12.5 billion.

    If only the money spent on wind had been spent on UK nuclear power instead.

    • clivebest says:

      I make it £50 billion so far spent on renewables since 2004 – the majority of that on subsidizing wind.

      • Leo Smith says:

        £50 bn would have built 3 nuclear power stations of at least 3.2GW capacity each, doubling our nuclear capacity and adding nearly 10GW of reliable baseload to the grid.

        Instead we have about 10Gw of 25% capacity factor intermittent wind, which probably own last for more than 12 years.

        Only today, driving past our horrible 8 turbine windfarm, only up a year, one turbine is feathered, and that means its bearings are already shot, like as not.

        • clivebest says:

          Today I drove up the A14 through Northamptonshire past 3 wind farms of 8-10 turbines in strong winds. Each had one turbine feathered. It is a similar story across the UK. I estimate that at any given time 10% are broken? Now consider the future maintenance problems looming for off shore wind farms in gale force winds with sea spray. It will all end in tears once the carpet baggers have left.

  2. Joe Public says:

    There seems little mention in the MSM of the resultant adverse effect on our Balance of Payments.

  3. Ben Vorlich says:

    Using what I assume is a similar calculation (September agrees pretty well) per quarter for 2014 wind managed
    Q1 9.0%
    Q2 4.8%
    Q3 5.1%

    As March was about 75% of the average for January and February then we’ve had seven consecutive months of very low output from wind.

  4. A C Osborn says:

    Euan, perhaps you should also point your readers to Tallbloke’s Canadian take on Wind power, it tells a very similar story to the UK.
    and the original

  5. Willem Post says:


    Here is a write up of what the climate was like in the northern Atlantic around the year 1000. As it gets warmer, it would be good to start looking for pleasant summer places in Greenland.

    PV solar does not have a wind problem, and may be the best energy source, besides pumped storage hydro, for all seasons, provided lower-cost storage becomes available.

  6. Willem Post says:


    A great post that exposes a major flaw of the wind energy craze.

    Regarding world energy, since 2002, near CO2-free, nuclear energy has decreased from 16.5% to 10.2% in 2013, fossil has INCREASED from 65.0% to 67.9%, hydro remained steady at about 16.5%

    Regarding world RE, after an investment of about $1,700 billion from 2002 to 2013 (excluding investments for grid adequacy and capacity adequacy, about $400 – $500 billion), RE increased from 1.6% to 5.2%, of which wind from 0.3% to 2.6%, biomass from 0.9% to 1.6%, solar (PV+CSP) from 0.0% to 0.6%.

    Hydro + Solar increased from 18.3% to 21.7%

    Adding the 3.6% of RE required investments of $2.1 to $2.3 TRILLION!!!

    The RE craze is a high order folly that is affordable by only the richest of nations, such as Germany.

    Much greater results would have been obtained, if all those investments had been used for only energy efficiency and life style changes.

  7. clivebest says:

    There is another basic flaw with wind energy which is simply ignored.

    Does anyone remember those Electric storage heaters from the 1970s? These were timed to heat up during the night when electricity was charged at 25% of daytime prices per Kwh. Electricity at night is essentially free. Nuclear plants run around the clock and fossil plants need to keep running at some level. So at todays prices the price of night-time electricity than was just £12 per MWh.

    More than half of each GWh generated by wind is during the night when we don’t need it. Yet the providers still get paid the full £100 per MWh for onshore and £150 per MWh for offshore wind energy!

    DECCs new forecast for Gas prices yields a future electricity price of just £52 per MWh in 2020. That means that Wind is predicted to remain at least twice as expensive as Gas generated electricity. However, it is actually worse than that because you can turn Gas down at night and up during the day tuned to demand. Wind energy generated at night should be compared to the discounted night-time price of just £12 per MWh or nearly 10 times more expensive !

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Electrical storage radiators were I felt a con. My mother used to have them. Basically heat up some bricks at night in the hope they would keep you warm during the day.

      It is of course lunacy to pay for wind electricity produced at night.

      Do you feel your Supermoon forecast was more or less right?

      • clivebest says:

        It was a tongue in cheek forecast – which turned out to be exactly right! In August there were two successive ‘Super Moons’ which occur when the moon is at closest distance (Perihelion) and there is a full moon. This caused very strong tides. The tractional component of the tidal force acts horizontally on the oceans, the atmosphere and even the earth’s crust. The latitude of maximum force varies with season and lunar declination. The theory is that when this acts on the Jet Stream it causes instabilities leading to unstable weather and storms.

        The weather across UK Northern and central Italy, and most of France etc. was dreadful in August until about the 3rd week. From then until the end of September there were only very moderate tides hence my prediction for an Indian Summer.

        I asked Richard Betts why the GCM models used for weather forecasting don’t include atmospheric tides? He could think of no good reason why not and in fact it would not be too hard to include tidal forcing. I am pretty sure this would improve the Met Office weather forecasts.

        How could tides trigger storms ?

        In winter the Jet Stream strengthens as the temperature gradient steepens towards the poles. This results in instability as warm air meets cold air. It takes just small impulse to trigger a low pressure depression off Newfoundland. Large Atmospheric tides seem a likely trigger. Most of the major storms last winter coincided with high spring tides – hence also the coastal damage.

        • Yvan Dutil says:

          Tides have an extremely minimal impact on weather. It has been detected, but it very small.

          • clivebest says:

            I think you are referring to surface air pressure which is indeed very small. However the horizontal tractional force can still be large 10 km above the surface effecting the Jet Stream.

      • Leo Smith says:

        Actually Euan, night storage HEATERS were pretty useless, because you cant get enough thermal mass into em.

        But I did some calcs a year or two back on a flippin’ great tank of ‘nearly boiling’ water in an insulated concrete tank under a house.

        Using an off peak heatpump, there was enough for several DAYS of house heating. at a reasonable cost too.

        With all nuclear, that is a way to build new housing stock that is relatively cheap., and actually works.

        Running that off smart heaters that switch off when grid frequency drops would provide a wonderful ‘not urgent’ power sink to stabilise a grid.

        We have an enormous problem storing electricity safely and cheaply, but storing low grade heat for heating and hot water, safely and cheaply is something that only takes a big insulated tank. And the bigger the tank, the greater the volume to surface area it has, and the less insulation it needs.

        If you like, the earth with its still molten core is a giant storage heater that has an insulating crust, that still hasn’t cooled after billions of years…so the principle is sound.

        Storage heaters simply were not big enough. You don’t need kg, you need tonnes, of thermal mass, and the cheapest thermal mass is water.

        • Euan Mearns says:

          I think the only way they stayed warm through the day was because they contained thermal insulator that didn’t give up their heat. Warm to touch but room cold.

          A huge tank of hot water sounds eminently sensible, especially since most UK homes have wet, gas-fired heating systems. If we could buy night time Nuclear for next to nothing or heat tank using solar hot water.

    • Willem Post says:


      These costs/MWh exclude the levelized costs of grid adequacy and capacity adequacy, requiring about 1/4 of the installed capital costs of wind turbines projects.

      Levelized cost of gas energy from 60% efficient CCGTs would be at most 6-7 c/kWh, even if Russian gas, with no grid adequacy and no capacity adequacy costs.

      • Leo Smith says:

        Yes. I came up with 4p-5p for gas, using some fairly wet finger estimations of O & M costs.

        In the US its cheaper but the UK its more expensive than coal.

        And about half the break even on new nuclear under the insane regulations now surrounding it.

        I don’t want to keep pushing my paper, but for people interested in calculating l holistic levelised costs I believe the formulae I came up with in it, are pretty much correct, even if the numbers used for the various elements are historically not as accurate as they could be.

        The cost of ‘adding gas balance to wind’ which I calculated as around 2p per unit, excluding additional grid costs, was the hardest one to arrive at and the methodology is open to debate. But I think it is a realistic and better estimate than most.

        The best way to do the thing would be to get actual fuel flow data from gas power stations, and grid cost data and build a huge model of the grid and use historical data to establish how fuel burn and costs go with renewable power fluctuations, and then run low/high renewable scenarios.

        For those using Gridwatch data, as Euan points out, beware the ‘missing renewables’. A lot of the wind is embedded and doesn’t show on the meters, but you can translate the capacity factor of such wind as is centrally metered and apply that to unmetered wind to get a ‘no more than’ figure for total wind (smaller embedded systems will have lower capacity factors than the big metered farms). BM reports has the data on what windfarms are metered, and their total capacity and RenewableUK will let you know the size of the total wind fleet without grossly overstating it.

        AS far as solar goes, statistically it is possible to infer the contribution from the dip in midday demand which is the contribution of the solar capacity – generally demand in the UK is more or less flat between 9am and 5pm, before it peaks just after sunset.

        Gridwatch shows a daily demand dip, greater on sunny days, of up to 2GW, which probably represents the actual installed solar capacity.

        If you want to make any criticism of government policy on renewables, it has to be that we are subsidising them with no actual way to measure what effect they are in fact having.

        No one actually knows whether solar and wind power saves any fuel or not or reduces emissions or not. the government works on what are best optimistic guesstimates supplied by ReneableUK who are scarcely disinterested.

        The fact that a policy was implemented with no way to tell if it actually worked or not, is to me the most suspicious thing: it suggests that they didn’t actually care about what result it had. Only about the appearance of greenness. And the law was framed, not in terms of carbon reduction, but in terms of ‘renewable obligations’

        Go figure.

    • Joe Public says:

      “Does anyone remember those Electric storage heaters from the 1970s? ”

      I remember those ‘Bricks-in-a-Box’ well. The vagaries of the British weather was such that they’d often get charged up, and the following day would be ‘warm’, so overheated households had to open the windows to dissipate the unwanted heat that they’d just paid for.

      Off-peak ‘leccy prices were certainly cheaper than day-rate, but I don’t recall them being ¼ of daytime cost.

      BTW, one company tried to market an Industrial 95kW monster. The size of a decent shed.

      • Yvan Dutil says:

        They could work, but the sizing is critical. Unless you take time to build a decent model before buying them, this is not very useful. ANd of course, you need a very wide swing of price otherwise this is worthless.

    • Burnsider says:

      Worth noting in passing, given the 2014 price for onshore wind power is *already* £100/MWh, that the agreed strike price for new nuclear power in 2023 is only £89.50…

  8. Hi Euan,

    Great post. I love the Huxley quote. Interesting that coal is #1 for the month.


  9. Okay, so September 2014 was a bad month for wind power in UK. But the wind is always blowing somewhere, right? Maybe it was blowing in Ireland. Was it?


    According to Wikipedia “As of 26th August 2014 Ireland has an installed capacity of 2,652 megawatts, which could provide enough energy to power over 1.7 million homes, suitable weather conditions provided.”

    But the weather conditions didn’t provide. According to Eirgrid Ireland ran out of wind too, generating only 179,353 MWh from its 2,652 MW of installed wind capacity in September 2014, giving an average load factor of 9.4% for the month.

    Monthly statistics also paint an overly rosy picture. A grid that has to match generation to load on a continuous basis has to take short-term fluctuations into account, and between 9.00 and 9.15 a.m. on September 9th all of Ireland’s 211 wind farms put together generated only 2MW.

    • According to Fraunhofer Germany was short of wind in September too:

      Installed capacity 32.5 GW, generation 3,400 GWh, load factor 14.5%

    • Euan Mearns says:

      There are 4 inter connectors two with the continent, one with Ireland and a so called E-W inter connector – not sure what that one does. The two continental ones were importing all month. The other two exporting. I simply summed the 4 to get at a net value. Ireland will likely have been running on imported French nuclear.

      • Ben Vorlich says:

        As there was precious little wind in France during September it certainly wouldn’t have been supplied by surplus wind energy from France!

      • Leo Smith says:


        The Moyle interconnector is a 500MW Scotland to Northern Ireland. That’s down at half power (250MW) for the foreseeable future because the cable is essentially knackered and they are trying to get that replaced.

        The East West interconnector is a brand new shiny 500MW cable between Wales and the Irish republic and gives the Republic some decent access to UK balance and lower priced surplus energy.

        The French ICT is nominally 2GW but its old enough now to be almost in continuous maintenance mode with one of its 4 cables being out almost any given instant, and upgrades to the inverters at each end being regular occurrences.

        Its generally flat out importing French nuclear BUT I have seen it flat out the other way in a cold still winter, when Europes renewables contributed the sq root of SFA and only UK coal and gas was able to cover the short falls.

        The final ICT is BritNed – to Holland. That’s a 1GW one and is ‘another way’ to get at French nuclear Or surplus renewables., That too will flip on a cold winters day. Or did, when we had surplus coal capacity.

        What is most worrying is that DECC has counted on these connectors as being available to cover any UK shortfalls. Its capacity calculations dont assume wind or solar, but they do assume full import.

        The reality is, when its cold, still, windless and dark in Britain, its no different across any part of Europe. The ICTs can not be counted on to have any power available at the far end.

        That is truly staggeringly incompetent. If we do get subzero and high pressure with low cloud and fog fr 2 weeks across NW Europe, it will push things to the limit. Perhaps over the limit, in the UK

  10. A C Osborn says:

    Off topic again. Methane hydrates are being taken very seriously, see this article.
    I was not aware of the successful drilling tests in the Alaskan north slope.
    See this article for more data about the Governments interested in exploration.

  11. Dave Ward says:

    Euan – thanks for the article, but I’m a little unsure how you arrived at the figures in the first paragraph. I’m not disputing the 11.2GW “Installed Capacity” [1], but unfortunately this isn’t reflected in the “Metered Capacity” shown on BM Reports, as used by Gridwatch [2]. That hasn’t changed from 8,403MW for ages! The RenewableUK site explains their “Energy Produced” figure by multiplying installed capacity by hours in the year and the DECC notional capacity factor of 27.82%. But this obviously doesn’t reflect the real and variable figure, so I can’t see how you got 739 GWh for September? Apologies if I have missed something.

    I have just replied to a letter in our local paper, and downloaded Septembers wind figures from Gridwatch. I see a peak of 5006MW and a low of 106MW. The monthly average demand was 32441MW, with wind supplying an average of 1026MW or 3.16%. 1026/8403 equates to a L/F of 12.21%, but with wild swings from 59.6% down to 0.3%…

    I just wish there was one source for ALL the relevant information, so we could produce similar figures when answering questions!

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Dave, if the BM reports wind production data are for a sub-set of wind turbines then my calculated load factor will be in error. If the correct figure is 12% that doesn’t bother me much since it is still very low. It is currently a nightmare trying to keep track of our generating infrastructure with some being wrecked on a monthly basis some moth balled and evidently some new renewables not yet being metered?

      I get 739 GWh for September as follows. Gridwatch data are at 5 minute intervals and reported as MW. Sum column and divide by 12 to convert to MWh. Divide by 1000 to convert to GWh. I hope this is correct?

      • Roger Andrews says:

        On review I find that the 739 (actually 738.5372) GWh is correct. What isn’t correct is the 11.2 GW installed wind capacity, which includes 573.9 MW from Northern Ireland that isn’t part of the National Grid (but which I believe is included in Eirgrid).

        With this capacity ignored the September 2014 UK wind power load factor increases from 9.2 to 9.6%.

        • clivebest says:

          I think what really matters is the average contribution of Wind to peak demand. If total generating capacity ever fails to match peak demand then the lights will go out.

          Wind provided < 3% of peak demand in September. Last winter it averaged 7%.

      • Leo Smith says:

        What you should do is use gridwatch divided by the metered wind capacity of about 8GW to get a notional capacity factor and apply that, or a little less, to the unmetered wind.

        And add that into the wind totals.

        Or simply multiply the gridwatch figure by 11.2/8.403

        Neither will be exact, but they will be within reasonable bounds

        DECCS 27.822% capacity factor is sheer fantasy. big offshore might get there or higher, but the average is 22%-25% overall.

        And often less.

        By the way, its trivial for me here to get a capacity factor out of the sql database under grid watch, so if you need stuff like that run, or produced on a regular basis, just ask.

  12. Dave Ward says:

    Euan, thanks for the speedy reply.

    Firstly, my comment seemed to vanish after submission, but is now visible – do you have to approve first time submitters, before they appear?

    Secondly, yes, I agree with your working for 739GWh. But it shows both my (and your) frustration at the many different sources of data! I feel another meeting with my MP coming on – to ask why there are so many discrepancies. I suppose one could multiply the BM Reports / Gridwatch numbers by 30% (11.2 / 8.4) to get a reasonable idea of total UK wind contribution? This would work if we could safely assume the geographical spread of un-metered sites was comparable with metered ones, but might be a long way out if they all happened to be in Scotland!

    I might also enquire why organisations in receipt of huge sums of our money are not required to have websites showing real time numbers for their output. A handful of these do exist, so it’s perfectly possible. If their performance is as good as we are told, the operators should have nothing to fear. The same goes for solar farms…

    • Leo Smith says:

      That is as close as you will get. Needless to say no one really knows exactly what reneable energy does. Nor do they want to know.

  13. Euan Mearns says:

    Dave, first comment needs to be approved thereafter should appear although there are sometimes unpredictable problems. Energy stats – huge amounts of them and a real task trying to keep on top of their limitations.

  14. Sam Taylor says:


    I’m reminded of a quote I read elsewhere, I can’t remember it exactly, but I’ll paraphrase.

    If someone pursues a solution to a problem which they are convinced is correct, but which actually makes the situation worse, then the initial failure of this solution will just lead to them trying even harder to make it work, since they’ll be convinced that they’re just not going at it hard enough.

    I hope that isn’t the case here.

    • Leo Smith says:

      It is exactly the case with renewable energy.

      Green success= abject failure we simply haven’t spent enough of someone else’s money on yet

  15. Euan: Have you looked at the work of Garrad Hassan concerning wind speed trends?. See for example this paper from 2009:

    You can also find their analysis of the windless 2010 by googling ‘Garrad hassan wind speed trends uk’

    Being the UK major consultant to the wind industry, their work has to be taken with a large dose on NaCl.

  16. Leo Smith says:

    I did some work for Garrad Hassan years ago. Took ages to get paid fr it. Total swine IMHO. It was to counter that sort of green propaganda that I built gridwatch. Never mind airy fairy computer projections, What were we actually getting?

    And the answer was a lot less than the projections .

    Stuart Young did a paper some years back and blew a gaping hole in ‘wind power predictions’

  17. Hugh Sharman says:

    BM Reports does not include Northern Island wind, nor any NI generation at all, just grid connected wind in GB (England, Scotland, Wales). There is roughly 2000 MW of on-shore wind that is connected to the distributors and is “invisible” to National Grid.

    So in calculating the load factor of metered wind from Gridwatch, use whatever capacity factor BM Reports shows for the relevant month. Like this month, use 8403 MW from

    The capacity factor of grid-connected UK wind in December looks to me like 47% during which month, wind supplied 9.9% of all TWh reported at BM Reports. I used a notional 8200 MW of wind capacity in that calculation!

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