Wind power reliable and green but gas still essential – think tank

Wind power could 'unequivocally' reduce carbon emissions and is a reliable source of energy for the UK, a report published by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has shown.

Fears over how long, calm, cold spells could impact wind energy security were also placated, although one of the authors of the report told edie that gas would have to play a role for the foreseeable future.

According to IPPR research fellow Reg Platt, there will always be a role for gas, at least to 2050.

“If you don’t have a high level output [of energy] you need to make up the shortfall by using gas but this doesn’t discount that wind is an effective way of reducing overall carbon emissions,” he said.

The report, called Beyond the bluster: why wind power is an effective technology,’ used comparisons with Ireland to show that the risks associated with long, cold, calm spells had been ‘overstated.’ However it acknowledged that where supply and demand had to be balanced during these periods, gas power could provide a stopgap beyond 2020.

In reference to an article in edie earlier this month, in which Professor Paul Stevens of Chatham House argued that shale gas meant bad news for renwewables, Platt agreed that there “was a tension between gas and renewables.” However he said that gas didn’t undermine renewables if used during times when there was a huge increase in demand on the grid.

The report said it was right to consider the views of more than a hundred MPs who sent a letter to David Cameron urging him to cut government support for onshore wind farms. However, while recognising that gas was needed to fill in for wind power during calm spells, it was a common misconception that wind power was unreliable and did not reduce carbon emissions.

The National Grid explained that “should no changes be made to the way that the electricity system functions, 30GW of wind power can be accommodated on the existing grid.” Platt pointed out that this is slightly more than is anticipated in the UK in 2020 and that while targets for wind power for 2020 would be easily met there were still exciting options for the sector beyond that point.

“Once we look past 2020, there are a lot of other things we can do to increase the efficiency of wind power,” said Platt.

One way would be to improve interconnection, he said.

“We can connect with countries like Ireland (because at the moment we are isolated). If we are having a calm spell and they are not we can import and export energy appropriately. We would have to build grid connections but it is already being done, everybody across the UK is looking into it.”

Platt said that fossil fuels would remain in the mix until 2050 but suggested that with advances in grid technology renewable energy could play an even bigger part beyond that.

“We can radically change the way we structure the grid. We have a very clumsy grid that is susceptible to huge fluctuations, for example when everybody puts the kettle on at the end of Eastenders. We can significantly improve this if we adopt smart grids which can be much more efficient about how supply and demand is balanced.”

Discovering` how to store electricity would be crucial said Platt.

“Another problem is that there is no modern efficient way of physically storing surplus electricity but this is a burgeoning area and there are exciting challenges to create innovative technologies to store electricity,” he said.

Renewable Energy Association Chief Executive Gaynor Hartnell welcomed the report, saying: “It clearly explains how wind is being effectively incorporated into our power system and debunks familiar myths about this cost-effective technology.

“We need to move on to a better level of public discussion about wind energy in the UK. Politicians and policy must stick to a rational approach; opponents should be honest in their motivations and not dress them up in spurious arguments; and wind energy proponents must accept that some people think wind turbines are a blot on the landscape, and they are perfectly entitled to hold that opinion.”

Conor McGlone

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