Sunday, February 19, 2012

Why renewable energy is about more than just wind turbines

The East Riding of Yorkshire is a great part of the UK for harnessing renewable energy, and the skilled workforce to manufacture the means to do so. The area is somewhat windy and as a largely agricultural part of the country is capable of producing biomass. But of equal significance, the southern border is formed by the tidal rivers of the Ouse and Humber with the North Sea to the east - the sea and rivers are used to ship parts for wind turbines, but as very predictable sources of renewable energy themselves, they continue to remain untapped.

On-shore wind turbines in the East Riding of Yorkshire have a devastating effect on rural communities and moreover, have proven to be inefficient and unreliable, so it is very frustrating that there is such emphasis on them whilst so much potential remains unexploited in our rivers and the North Sea.

To put things into perspective, one only needs to consider the 4,000 megawatt Drax power station providing the backdrop to the twelve turbine Rusholme wind farm on the banks of the River Ouse. Depending on the criteria used, it would take anything up to 4,000 of these wind turbines to replace the power supplied by Drax – and that's provided the wind was blowing.

Over recent years, the Council has seen an increasing number of wind farm applications with the wind farm companies having taken what appears to be a cynical approach as they collectively built up a portfolio of approved planning applications for turbines, yet without beginning construction of any significant number. That is up until now. What we are now beginning to see is an invasion of turbines by stealth. People will soon realise that they are to be living in a wind turbine landscape as many of the permitted turbines are constructed, and there is absolutely nothing they can do about it.

In the late 1990s we saw the then Prime Minister posing, posturing and being photographed in front of wind turbines in order to demonstrate his ‘Green’ credentials. They 'ticked the box', and whether the machines worked or not was of little importance - it was all about image. Needless to say, subsequent Prime Ministers have continued in the same vain. Unfortunately, wave and tidal power technologies are installed in, or under the water where they are not easy to see, and the link between growing crops for biomass is difficult to capture in a photograph – these alternative methods of energy creation are somewhat less camera-friendly than wind turbines when trying to convey that all important green image.

It takes a great deal of courage to say we’ve got this wrong, especially when so much stock has been put into creating an illusion of 'greenness'. But does it make sense to hobble along with heavily subsidised wind technology that clearly neither offers solutions to energy security, nor protecting the environment and producing cheaper electricity?

What is required is an injection of realism and fairness. Renewables? Yes, but only when it is a balanced and a level playing field created on which there are those same financial incentives for the development of wave, tidal and biomass.

I fully support the stance taken by 100 Tory MPs who recently sent a letter to the Prime Minister asking for a reduction in the subsidies given to wind energy.


Anonymous said...

I agree the use of on shore wind turbines is not and never will be justifiable as an answer to our energy needs.
The underlying green reasons for not using fossil fuels to generate electricity are rapidly collapsing in the face of true scientific examination. The only truth to extract from all the hype is that it will take millions of years to form coal seams and oil reserves. On that basis there is an argument to conserve what we have, however covering our green and pleasant land with turbines cannot be the way.
If you want to generate electricity without creating carbon dioxide the options are limited. Hydro electricity, and nuclear are reasonable and constant. Wave power is also reasonably constant although wind and tide has an effect on the magnitude of the waves. Tidal power is regular but is effected by wind and phases of the moon. The tide ebbs and flows twice a day, every day.
Offshore wind is somewhat more constant than on shore and does not have the effect of upsetting neighbours.
Coastal and low lying regions are not much use for hydro electricity but tidal rivers such as the yorkshire ouse have a significant low to high variation and could no doubt yield significant generation benefit if the technology is developed.
What a marvelous use for the skilled workforce of brough!

Anonymous said...

Given that Rusholme is only achieving a load factor (efficiency) of 18.7% I think it is going to need considerably more that 4000 turbines to match the output from Drax! Drax has an installed capacity of 3960 MW, and a load factor of 75%, hence achieving around 2970MW. Rusholme has 12 x 2MW turbines, so installed capacity of 24MW, but with a load factor of 18.7% only achieves 4.488MW, or 0.374MW per turbine. Therefore by my maths you would need 7941 turbines at Rusholme to match the output from Drax AND they will only do this when the wind is blowing...... So on the freezing cold calm winter days the turbines will be stood still and generate absolutely nothing when it is most needed.

observer said...

Tidal power has been studied in the past and all the serious proposals fallen foul of the green brigade. The Severn barrier showed great potential but did not make it past the objections.
It becomes somewhat nonsensical when we see a really workable green power source stopped from progressing by green arguments.
There's nowt so queer as folk!

Don't be Fooled said...

The 4000 to 8000 wind turbines that would be needed to match the output of Drax would never replace it. Not unless we want industry to stop, the lights to go out and the TV to stop working whenever the wind drops. It's not a question of having 8000 turbines or Drax, it's a question of having both.

When those thousands of turbines are producing electricity, Drax still has to be kept running, still burning fossil fuels, still emitting CO2, just not generating electricity to the grid. Power stations can not be turned on or off at will, so Drax and the others have to shadow the wind turbines so that power is available when the wind stops blowing. This is why the Government's wind turbine policy (inherited from the EU) is contributing to the increase in the UK's CO2 emiissions.

This is the tragedy of the whole wind farm issue. We are forced to pay through our escalating electricity bills for our countryside to be ruined, communities (and lives) devasted, and scant natural resources squandered, supposedly to counter climate change.

Yet wind turbines are simply not fit for purpose. They are fast becomoing part of the problem, not the solution.


Anonymous said...

Congratulations Paul - good to see you on TV....

Darks ages - no thanks, Atoms for energy said...

What a dreadful legacy we risk laving for our descendants. A once open countryside spoilt by forests of inefficient and obtrusive machines which fail to deliver the promised solution to burning fossil fuels because the vagaries of their energy source mean that the fossil fuel generation plants must be kept running so as to be on standby for when the wind lulls.
We are saddled with this because of the stupidity of the Blair and Brown governments but compounded by the Cameron government. Signing our country up to this nonsense and going further by aiming higher than the various protocols was stupid, is stupid and will continue to be stupid.
Build more nuclear plants on the sites of those presently operating or on the site of decommissioned ones. Once these have been created consider adding further ones alongside the ageing fossil fuel power stations.
Don't be a blinkered plonker, you know it makes sense.

worried engineer said...

The shift from the UK power being generated and distributed by the UK central electricity generating board (CEGB) has proved a disaster for the UK power consumers. The hoped for competition improvements never materialised. Now we have a spread of foreign companies milking the UK for all they are worth.
What we need is to stop pumping money out of the country and start pumping it into it. Stop giving aid to wealthy countries such as India who have told us they don't need it and build replacement power stations. Do you realise how many coal, oil and nuclear stations are due to close in the next ten years?
Building new ones doesn't happen overnight!