There isn’t going to be an answer

I’m over half way through a masters in renewable energy.

I keep reading or hearing comments like:

“Wind farms are NOT the answer to our energy needs.”

And I think, “Yes you’re right”. No serious proponent is suggesting wind power can in the near future supply all our energy needs. It is theoretically possible for the UK to extract enough energy from the wind to cover our entire energy budget. But there are practical difficulties- not least the fact the balancing of supply and demand. However there are already mechanisms and strategies in place to balance power on the grid, and cope with expected and unexpected spikes. Estimates are that the grid with these existing measures can cope with up to 20% penetration- that is 20% of our total energy use could be supplied by wind.

We are nowhere near that. There is not a rampantly aggressive and uncontrollable drive to build more and more wind farms to the point of our energy system relying too much on them.

The other thing I hear is:

“Wind farms don’t work”.

And I think, “Er in what sense?” Newspapers like The Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph simultaneously complain about how wind power is highly subsidised and that it also doesn’t generate very much electricity. These complaints are contradictory if you’re talking about the same wind turbines. There are financial mechanisms to balance the playing field between old, established technologies like combustion, with newer technologies that have not been around so long that experience has honed the designs and reduced the costs. But these mechanisms, call them subsidies if you must, only work if you are delivering useful energy to the grid. If your wind farm is not working, you are losing money, and the companies developing and investing in wind farms are not in the business of losing money.

The problem is that despite energy efficiency messages, our energy use per capita keeps on rising. And our generating infrastructure is ageing, at its heart is a bedrock of decades old coal-fired generation that must be taken out of service some time soon with little prospect of an economically viable upgrade.

Energy efficiency and responsibility should be playing a key role, but there already a lot of effort spent on encouraging this that falls on deaf ears. Part of the problem is that people read and hear messages on energy use with words like “our”, “us” and “we”, and read it as a lecture from someone using words like “your” and “you” with a superciliously holier than thou attitude. Requests for people to take a little responsibility and care are often received as if they are being asked to make unreasonably herculean efforts, or drag our lifestyles back to the stone age.

Wind power cannot be the answer, it cannot solve all our problems. But it has a role to play in moving us to a more sustainable future.


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