Monday, 2 May 2011

Wind farms paid to switch off.....

6 wind farm operators in Scotland were paid nearly £900,000 (in total) to halt their wind turbines for several hours between the 5th and 6th of April because too much energy was being produced and the National Grid couldn't cope. The night in question was a very wet and blustery one and so the turbines were producing a lot of energy, as were the hydro-electric power plants but demand for the electricty they were generating was very low. Storage space for this excess electricty was extremely limited and the power could not be transported to England as the transmission cables lacked the capacity to carry it south. The nuclear power plants in Scotland continued to run as per normal whilst England met its energy needs purely by using fossil fuels.

At present, wind turbines contribute less than 5% of the UK's energy needs and if situations like this occur again then it will become increasingly unlikely that the UK will meet its target of producing 20% of its power from renewable sources by 2020. I think that not only does this paid switch off demonstrate that renewables can generate a lot of energy but that, perhaps, due to a lack of transmission cables and storage space, the percentage that they can contribute to the UK's energy mix is being restricted. Therefore, if we are to meet the targets, more investment needs to be placed in developing transmission networks and storage space. Storage space is crucial and its development needs to occur along side that of the turbines themselves due to the lack of consistency in the amount of power they produce. I think that this also highlighted the flaws in the subsidy scheme as the average turbine generates power worth around £150,000 but attracts subsidies of £250,000 which only increases consumer bills. Also, in some cases, the compensation offered to cover the switch off was 20 times the value of the power the wind farms would have generated which, to me any, seems a ridiculous - why should wind farms earn more money for switching off the turbines than keeping them on?

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