An Essay on the Feasibility of Wind Farms. Wind Farm Composition
May I take this opportunity to outline the justifications for my repeated public support of the efforts of the wind industry to deliver clean and sustainable electricity from an inexhaustible and indigenous energy supply. It seems to me that there are far too few occasions when I read about the benefits of wind energy in the local papers, and far too many negative articles perpetuated by a tiny number of serial letter writers who claim to represent the opinions of the many, when in actual fact they only represent a flawed opinion of reality.
Firstly, my support of wind farms is largely founded on the principle that any minor negative environmental impacts are far exceeded by the beneficial impact of the enormous amount of clean energy that the wind farm will produce over the course of its life — enough for 17,000 domestic homes every year. This figure of course takes into account variability in wind resource. This is a significant amount of energy, especially when the energy consumed in manufacturing and construction will be recovered in around six months of operation of the wind farm.
The support renewable energy comes from the acknowledgment that we need to move away from producing electricity from resources that are finite and are rapidly declining; where the vast majority of resources are located in geographically distant and politically unstable regions; and where the resources are unequivocally having a detrimental effect on the world's environment — either from CO2 emissions or from radioactive waste. I suspect that the relatively small number of opponents to wind energy dislike how wind farms look and this is the principal reason for their opposition.
Wind farms will also be significantly effective against global warming although nobody is claiming that wind farms in alone will prevent global warming and climate change. What we are saying is that wind farms represent an important step on a long international journey to prevent us devastating our global environment. In time, many other renewable technologies will become feasible, and with careful planning and education, we can become more energy efficient. We must do what we can today to be responsible in our energy generation and use. I will take this opportunity to address an important technical wind farm issue that many "engineers" apparently seem unable to grasp. This is the issue of intermittency, as it is the source of much misinformation about wind energy. Wind farms are regularly criticized for the natural intermittency of the wind resource. It has been inferred that this intermittency means wind turbines are inefficient, and require permanent back-up from conventional power stations. Wind energy is therefore assumed to be almost useless.
To make such a leap in logic might seem intuitive to some but, just for clarification, it is plainly wrong. Wind is actually quite predictable. It is unlikely that the back-up required to manage a national portfolio of wind generation would give rise to instantaneous power changes as large as those currently managed. As more wind farms are built, they will be widely spread over the country and so the power swings will be generally quite gentle. In any case this is really only an issue for one group alone — the system operator, National Grid. They are quite relaxed about accommodating wind and stated in their Seven Year Statement that: "Current levels of frequency response and short term reserve are believed to be sufficient, even if the Government's 2010 goal of 10 per cent of electricity supplies sourced from renewable fuels were all to be met by, say, wind technologies".
Researchers have looked at the question in some detail have similarly concluded that variability is unlikely to cause any significant problems. In terms of financial costs. study shows that up to 20% of wind energy would have "very modest associated costs", and 20 per cent capacity of intermittents would only increase costs by around 0.2p/kWh. The fact remains that wind farms produce a large amount of valuable carbon-free indigenous energy and thereby help to combat climate change and secure our energy supplies. Public opinion surveys repeatedly show the vast majority of people are in favour of wind farms because they recognise that they are important to the energy needs of our society.
So, the next time anyone cast doubts on the viability of wind farms, we can all be comforted by the fact that they are not fooling the public and that the majority see wind farms as a necessary and responsible step forward in meeting electricity demand in the 21st Century.
Contributor: Lee Ann-Hui (Shanghai)
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