Report: British wind farms cut carbon emissions by 36 million tonnes

Renewable energy generated from wind farms in Britain has prevented the creation of around 36m tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions over the last six years, a new study from the University of Edinburgh has found.

Engineers from the University of Edinburgh have suggested that government estimates have been underestimating the carbon savings of wind farms in Britain by more than 3m tonnes. Using real output figures from the National Grid between 2008-2014, the researchers believe that they have created a comprehensive picture of energy demand from various sources.

The University of Edinburgh’s Dr Camilla Thomson, who led the study, said: “Until now, the impact of clean energy from wind farms was unclear. Our findings show that wind plays an effective role in curbing emissions that would otherwise be generated from conventional sources, and it has a key role to play in helping to meet Britain’s need for power in future.”

Published in Energy Policy, and supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the research suggests that during the six-year period low-carbon energy generated from wind farms equated to taking 2.3 million cars off the roads nationwide.

Engineers said that the methodology used in the study could be applied to create more accurate estimates of future emissions savings and readings for energy developers, planner and policymakers. The research used half-hourly output figures and the University has suggested that wind power could play an “increasingly important role” in the energy mix, which is likely to include carbon capture, energy storage and nuclear power.

The research arrived just days after UK wind farms logged a record output, by generating more than 10,000MW of electricity for the first time.

‘Reap the benefits’

The Engineers suggested that the data should lead to greater investment into wind energy, to enable the Scottish and UK Governments to meet carbon emission reduction targets. Scotland has been leading the charge on this front, with wind farms managing to generate 100% of the country’s energy demand for two full days in September this year.

Commenting on the findings, WWF Scotland’s director Lang Banks said: “It’s great to finally have an independent and authoritative study that puts a more accurate figure on the massive amounts of climate-damaging carbon emissions being avoided thanks to wind power. 

“The figures in the study highlight just one example of the many benefits that have come from shifting our electricity system to a clean renewable one. However, with electricity generation accounting for less than a quarter of our climate change emissions, it’s now time to begin to reap the same benefits by increasing the use of renewables in our heat and transport sectors.”

Currently, the UK is not even halfway towards achieving the target of 12% of energy needs for heat generation coming from renewable sources, while the proportion of renewable energy used in transport has fallen, from 4.9% to 4.2% over the past year.

Banks also urged ministers to build upon the “massive progress” born from the renewable electricity target, by setting a 50% renewables target for all energy needs by 2030. Research from Scottish Renewables has suggested that the share of renewables in the energy mix – which currently sits at 15% – could reach 25% by 2020.

Matt Mace

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