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Wind farms running at just a fifth of their possible capacity, says energy regulator

By This is Cornwall  |  Posted: August 18, 2010

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Wind farms in the South West are only generating around a fifth of the electricity they are capable of, according to official figures from the energy regulator.

Statistics from every major wind farm in Britain show that more than half are operating at less than 25 per cent capacity. In England, the figure rises to 70 per cent of onshore developments.

Industry experts believe generous subsidies mean that turbines are being erected on sites which are simply not productive enough.

The worst performing wind farm in the country is in Blyth Harbour in Northumberland, where the nine turbines lining the East Pier reached just 4.9 per cent of its 2.7MW capacity.

There are eight operational wind farms in Cornwall and one in Devon. The Bears Down site, near Padstow, operated at 23.9 per cent over 12 months with Delabole, in North Cornwall, at 22.8 per cent.

St Breock, near Wadebridge, recorded a figure of 21.76 per cent while Cold Northcott, near Launceston, generated 20 per cent of its 6.8MW capacity. Four Burrows wind farm, near Truro, was the worst performing at 19.5 per cent. No figures were provided for the other sites.

The figures were analysed by Michael Jefferson, a professor of international business and sustainability, who said incentives designed to help Britain meet green energy targets had encouraged firms to site their developments badly. He said: "There is a political motivation to drive non-fossil fuel energy, which I very much respect, but we need more focus."

Professor Jefferson, of the London Metropolitan Business School, believes the full subsidy be restricted to turbines hitting capacity of 30 per cent or more – managed by just eight of England's 104 on-shore wind farms last year.

Those that fall below 25 per cent should not be eligible for any subsidy. "That would focus the mind to put them in a sensible place," he added.

A spokesman for renewable energy agency Regen South West said assessments had established where the best "wind resources" were in the region.

"Regen SW has therefore carried out 'wind resource assessments' to pinpoint where these places are.

"From these assessments it is clear that we are very fortunate in the Westcountry, as we have the best wind resource not only in the UK, but also in Europe.

"Having such a resource on our doorstep is an excellent opportunity. It means that we have the chance to deliver clean, green renewable energy that will help us keep the lights on years into the future.

"It's also the reason why Regen SW is encouraging local groups to come forward, embrace the technology, and develop the wind farms and other types of renewables that will benefit their own communities in our Communities for Renewables initiative.

"It's also important to remember that – regardless of the capacity factor – for every unit of electricity that is produced by a wind turbine, it displaces one unit of generated from fossil fuels."

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    Michael White, Brugge Flanders  |  August 26 2010, 11:07AM

    The Third German Reich kept going far longer than expected because it produced benzine from coal by the Rhen process. Britain has similar coal to Germany and an almost inexhaustable supply. BUT, in the sixty years since the end of the Third Reich NOTHING seems to have been done to exploit this potential. Does anyone know why?

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    William, Turbine Alley  |  August 19 2010, 10:23PM

    Mike P. Your car analogy, much used by Ecotricity, is not very helpful. My car starts when I want it to start, runs at the speed required, in the direction I dictate. Managing large wind capacity was likened, by Per Andersen, Chief Information Officer of the then Danish grid management company Eltra, to, "driving a speeding truck without a steering wheel, accelerator, gears or brakes." Most of us are quite clear about load/capacity factors. The problem as you should know, and as at least the American Wind Energy Association is ready to admit, is that: "You really don't count on wind energy as capacity. It is different from other technologies because it can¿t be dispatched." (Christine Real de Azua, Assistant Director of Communications, American Wind Energy Association). This means that wind cannot be counted on to: (a) produce anything when needed; (b) produce the amount of power that is needed. This is the key factor in all energy production and accounts for the failure of wind in previous centuries. At the moment nearly all English wind power generation (WPG) is not even actively metered by the balancing mechanism and so is not part of load planning. In other words it is irrelevant to the real business of power generation. You make a number of totally inaccurate statements: Wind does not produce at reasonable cost. Admitted it is roughly comparable with gas if you ignore the costs associated with absorbing intermittent power generation to the grid and other power producers. If it is reasonable - why does it require the Renewables Obligation subsidy which effectively doubles the wholesale cost? Wind turbines will produce "for ever"? A very silly statement - the life of most turbines is very substantially below the 25 years claimed by the industry. Some have failed and been repowered after 8-10 years. Many that are built on peatlands are unlikely to payback the carbon burden of their construction and operation before they are repowered. The industry repeatedly excuses 5-10% load factors and non-operative turbines by saying that they are more than 10 years old and are failing/shut down. Your claim that, "They don't lead to wars over diminishing resources", may well prove to be wrong. Turbines are huge consumers of rare earths presently monopolised by China and also increase reliance on gas- or coal-fired power stations: "We can't rely too heavily on wind because it always requires a gas-fired turbine to be able to be switched on to provide alternative energy," ( Professor Sir David King, government chief scientific advisor 2002-2007, Director of the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at Oxford University, The Guardian. 28 June, 2010). "With an increase in intermittent wind power, Mr Anderson (Mike Anderson, director general of Defra's Climate Change Group) said the UK would require a jump from the current 78GW of power capacity to more than 100GW." (New Energy Focus, 8 October 2008). You should know that the 'rush for gas' Mk 2 is already beginning, with National Grid planning for 17GW of new capacity. What does that do for security of supply?

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    mike p, Cornwall  |  August 19 2010, 8:30PM

    Its hard to express the depths of despair at these constant misrepresentations of wind energy. Let me try and explain in terms we might all understand. My car alledgedly does 140 mph. If I drove it flat out all year it would do 140 mph times 8760 hours which is 1,226,400 miles. I do 10,000 miles on average. Does this mean my car is only doing less than one per cent of what it shoul be doing? NO of course not and the same applies to wind turbines. As hinted at later in the article a good wind farm site will hit 30% ( a lot better than my car!) so wind farms that are hitting 20% are not that bad. But the point is that if the wind farm is on site where the expected output is 20% and it does 20% then it is producing 100% of what it should not the paltry fifth suggested by the headline to this article. Wind farms produce a reasonable amount of energy. They do it at a reasonable cost. They will do it for ever. They do it without producing excessive amounts of pollution. They don't lead to wars over diminishing resources. They provide good interesting well paid jobs in both manufacture and operation. Whilst their contribution to national supplies is still pitifully small the answer to that is to put up thousands more not whinge about how they 'just an irritant in the balancing load'. Even then they are only part of the solution that includes other renewables and energy efficiency etc.But to do all this we need to continue to win people over to the argument and before you can have an argument you need to be speaking the same language. If you don't understand 'capacity factor' I hope the above car analogy helps but it is not rocket science even if it seems to be beyond the comprehension of a Professor at University!

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    Mike, Bristol  |  August 19 2010, 2:44PM

    Testing, [1], (two [2] two) ?[3]. testing.[testing]

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    Roger Whitwam, Falmouth UK  |  August 19 2010, 3:18AM

    Turbines/wave hubs v. nuclear and coal. Wait till the electricity companies get smart meters in our houses and they will charge the earth for each unit at a few minutes` notice when the wind stops blowing and the tides turn.

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    Denzil, Kernow  |  August 18 2010, 5:30PM

    Nuclear Power is the only real way forward, all these other methods such as wind power, wave power & water turbines will only ever produce 10% or less of the electricity we need. Why should we buy electricity from other European countries, as we do, when we could adequately produce our own and export the excess to them?

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    William, Turbine Alley  |  August 18 2010, 3:04PM

    Regen SW are guilty of anice bit of wind industry sophistry in claiming that, "every unit of electricity that is produced by a wind turbine, it displaces one unit of [electricity] generated from fossil fuels." They do not mention that hardly any English wind capacity is even monitored by National Grid. If you talk to power engineers, they will tell you that wind is regarded as little more than an irritant in balancing load. Even where capacity is monitored, forecasting wind output continues to be a hit and miss affair - frequently missing short-term forecasts by as much as 50%. This is clearly evidenced by balancing mechanism records. See: http://www.bmreports.com/bsp/bsp_home.htm This is readily understandable when you look at the power curve of any wind turbine. At median wind speeds, a +/-1.5m/s margin of error in forecasting wind speeds can be the difference between an output of 25% or 70% of capacity. Therefore, coal- and gas-fired turbines continue turning, still spewing out CO2, irrespective of what wind turbines are doing.

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    Mike Hunt, St Awfull  |  August 18 2010, 10:28AM

    We should look below the ground for our green energy. Hot Rocks is where you get energy 24 hours a day 365 days a year with only a small farm building blotting the landscape. Compare that to a windmill that only works when its blowing and when its running properly and you can see from 50 miles away.