Report concludes it is possible to increase wind energy capacity without expansion in fossil fuel-fired backup power
National Grid has today released a major new report debunking the myth that the variability of wind energy means that planned increases in renewables capacity will require a similar increase in fossil fuel-based backup capacity.
Opponents of wind energy, such as the recently launched National Alliance of Wind Farm Action Groups, have long maintained that the variable nature of wind energy means that investments in wind farms will not deliver net reductions in emissions.
However, the new 82-page report from National Grid categorically rejects the suggestion that huge increases in backup power will be required as the UK’s reliance on wind energy increases. It concludes that "challenges from moving to a low-carbon electricity system with increased variable wind generation and larger nuclear power stations are manageable".
The report, which will now be subject to a consultation period, states that increased backup generation is not the only means of managing variable levels of wind energy, arguing that the emergence of new energy storage and smart grid systems, coupled with improvements in grid infrastructure, will allow wind energy to play a greater role in the UK’s energy mix.
Chris Bennett, National Grid’s future transmission networks manager, welcomed the report as the "most comprehensive view yet" of how Britain could balance electricity supply and demand, adding that it "moves the debate firmly beyond the simplistic view that we just need more backup generation".
The report predicts that in the medium term, variable wind and larger nuclear power stations can be accommodated into the grid without the need for major technology innovations.
In the longer term, it predicts that smart grid systems that can automatically turn off fridges during times of peak demand and draw on energy from electric car batteries, will limit the requirement for backup power, while improved large-scale battery and supercapacitor technologies will have a similar effect.
An anticipated doubling of the capacity for importing energy using interconnectors linked to Europe will also allow wind intermittency to be balanced out across a wider area, again limiting the need for backup power.
Maria McCaffery, chief executive of the British Wind Energy Association Chief Executive, said the report should deliver a blow to opponents of wind energy who have repeatedly used the argument that it is a variable energy source to undermine the sector.
"This report shows that large quantities of wind power can be integrated into our grid without the lights going out and at reasonable cost," she said. "It knocks on the head the myth that large amounts of capacity of "hot" standby is the only way to deal with the variability of wind."