Wind energy study says opponents’ claims are unfounded

The report, from IPPR in association with the leading energy consultancy GL Garrad Hassan, concludes there is no technical reason why wind turbines should not be supported.

A new study into the efficiency and reliability of wind power has concluded that a campaign against them by Conservative backbenchers and others is not supported by the evidence.

Reg Platt, an IPPR fellow, said government and local communities were right to scrutinise costs and planning issues, but that the report showed “unequivocally that wind power can significantly reduce carbon emissions, is reliable, poses no threat to energy security and is technically capable of providing a significant proportion of the UK’s electricity with minimal impact on the existing operation of the grid”.

Claims to the contrary are not supported by the evidence, said Platt, who pointed out that the study had been peer-reviewed by Nick Davis, the head of the Institute of Energy at Cardiff University.

The economic model GL Garrad Hassan adopted showed that every megawatt-hour of electricity wind power produced led to carbon savings of a minimum of 350kg.

On that basis, it said, the increasing number of wind farms both on and offshore saved 5.5m tonnes in 2011, at a time when the UK is committed to meeting EU carbon reduction targets in a bid to counter climate change.

Although wind is a variable energy resource in that it cannot be guaranteed to blow at a constant rate, GL Garrad Hassan said it was predictable as a result of weather forecasting technology and the fact that turbines are located all around Britain, meaning that even when some areas are calm, others are likely to be windy.

“Our ability to ‘keep the lights on’ during ‘cold, calm spells’ is secure at the levels of wind power projected for the UK by 2020,” said Oscar Fitch-Roy and Paul Gardner, the authors of the technical aspects of the report, entitled Getting “Beyond the Bluster” on Wind Power.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change has predicted it could need up to 30 gigawatts (GW) of wind power in place by 2020, compared with the current operational level of less than 7GW.

Although National Grid, which operates the electricity transmission system, has said it will be able to accommodate this amount of power from geographically diverse sources, critics are sceptical.

In February more than 100 Tory MPs sent a letter to David Cameron arguing for a cut in state support for onshore wind power and describing turbine technology as inefficient and less reliable than traditional power sources.

The new IPPR report points out that more than 75 countries are pursuing major wind power strategies, not least China, which is aiming to have 100GW in place by 2015.