Wind has the power to revolutionise the UK’s electricity industry, according to a study published on Wednesday

Research from analysts Poyry says that the UK can massively expand

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wind power by 2030 without suffering power cuts or a melt-down of the

National Grid.

The cost of electricity would then be determined not by consumer demand, but by how hard the wind is blowing.

When it is windy power will be so cheap that other forms of generation will be unable to compete, the report says.

If accepted by government, these key findings could strongly influence the UK’s future energy supplies.

The

study was done for National Grid, Centrica and others. The researchers

reviewed 2.5 million hourly weather reports on wind speeds all around

the UK.

Idle time

If the wind were to drop

everywhere round the UK (as happened during the January high pressure

cold snap), other generators would make their money by switching on

back-up fossil fuel power stations for a very short time, charging

extremely high prices, it predicts.

Dr Phil Hare from Poyry

said these back-up generators might stand idle for years without making

a profit – so the government might need to find a new way of ensuring

they were funded.

The study bases its assumptions on current levels of subsidy. It

concludes that thanks to the wind subsidy through the “Renewable

Obligations Certificates” issued by regulator Ofgem, electricity prices

would be negative if the wind were blowing hard.

“The market

will have to evolve to accommodate the wind. The average output of a

wind turbine is only about a third of its full capacity. So when the

wind is blowing strongly you’ll have to turn some of the wind power

off; otherwise it will swamp the system,” Dr Hare said.

“Nuclear

power stations will have to be built with variable output so they –

like gas and coal plants – can occasionally cut their power when the

wind is blowing most strongly. It does look as though nuclear, coal and

gas are competing for the same share of the market.”

Dr Hare

said the study answered another key question: whether we could move to

widespread intermittent power from the wind, waves and tides together.

“Some

people were worried that the complexity stemming from intermittent wind

with an overlay of tidal power peaking twice a day might simply have

been too much change for the grid to bear. But our research shows the

grid can cope.”

The study amplifies a recent paper from

National Grid itself stating that a move towards wind power would not

necessitate widespread investment in expensive back-up power plants

fuelled by gas or coal.

This is a key finding which helps remove one of the main barriers to the advance of wind (although some will remain sceptical).

But it comes with a warning. Dr Hare said: “It will cost more. There is no such thing as cheap green power – that is a myth.”

The

authors of a report from the Royal Society this week made the same

point. But politicians are still reluctant to pass on this message to

the public.

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