back to article Research: Wind power pricier, emits more CO2 than thought

Fresh contenders have entered the UK wind power debate, as a turbines expert funded by the Renewable Energy Foundation publishes an investigation into a hotly-disputed subject - the variability in output to be expected of a large UK windfarm base. In a just-released article for the journal Energy Policy, titled Will British …


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  1. Gordon Pryra

    No one ever mentions the OTHER source of energy

    When the wind is calm, then harness the other renewable source of energy


    Remember "Conan the Barbarian"?

    With the "God given right to breed" + the "I can't get a job" mentality

    We can kill 2 birds with one stone.

    Clear up the chavs and inbreed morons, creating a constant source of energy at the same time

    Actually 3 birds, we may actually reduce the amount of half wits being born as the new “Turbine Operatives” will be too knackered to mate.

  2. David Tebbutt

    Anyone know how much CO2 goes into building a wind turbine?

    Interesting article. Thanks.

    It would be interesting to know how much energy, raw materials and CO2 emissions go into creating, shipping and installing a wind turbine before it is switched on. Land and sea varieties. Then the relevant bits could be mapped on to energy generated and CO2 emissions saved in operation.

    Someone must know.

  3. Tim
    Thumb Down

    Isn't he missing the blindingly obvious?

    Gas turbines are used to quickly produce energy when demand is needed, because they take minutes to start versus hours for other methods.

    Given that we can forecast the winds DAYS in advance, then we dont need a gas turbine solution for the calm days, as we will know about them well in advance. Just use the regular but slower plants. I know it doesnt mean CO2-free production, but it isnt the panic station this fella is bangin' on about.

  4. Caoilte

    what about gas prices?

    Things carry on the way they are in Russia and an expensive gas plan that reduces the amount of gas burnt might start to look very attractive indeed.

  5. Anonymous Coward


    Pro Wind Theologists VS Nuclear Fundamentalist


  6. FlatSpot

    Not sure I get it.....

    Not sure I get it, I dont recall anybody ever saying that Wind power would be the only source.

    If it allows other power sources, more expensive money wise or Co2 polluting to be put in standby or whatever then what is the problem?

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Que folk who like to think they know more then Engineers and Physicists and like to babbel pseudo science.

  8. Mark

    RE: Isn't he missing the blindingly obvious?

    Yes, he is. However, you don't get a chance to rubbish the opposition if you think about how the problem could go away.

    So it's blindingly obvious that he needs to ignore the blindingly obvious. This is what passes for "debate" nowadays.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    <no title>

    Given that any form of non-renewable energy is inevitably limited, and we need to find something before too long, it is disconcerting to discover just about any suggested source of renewable energy seems to have flaws. Yeah ok I know, they're just challenges to be overcome :-p~

    And there's a nearby star just slinging it off into the void like it was going out of fashion.

    Maybe the only answer is to limit demand, by realising how many folk, living a decent modern lifestyle, can be supported indefinitely on the planet.

  10. Tom

    Dinorwig is in north Wales

    Not in Scotland, although the Scots have their fair share of hydro power. Incidentally, nuclear power also goes mad for these pumped storage schemes, for precisely the opposite reason - they run at base load and cannot cope with the massive swings in power demand over the day.

    As with all of these things, a mixture of power sources is the answer, and writing off wind power because it doesn't quite fit the bill is very un-engineering-like. And by 2020, we'll all have mandated smart appliances, or smart plugs for them at least, so that some of the curve is removed. In a world of less "peaky" production capabilities, you'll have to be less "peaky" in your demand.

  11. Tim Worstal

    Not Quite the Answer

    "It would be interesting to know how much energy, raw materials and CO2 emissions go into creating, shipping and installing a wind turbine before it is switched on."

    Not quite the number you're looking for but absent the emissions from the back up plants (as discussed in this paper) the CO2 output over the whole cycle from wind power is roughly equal to that from nuclear or hydro and somewhere between 1/3 and 2/5 of solar PV.

    It's low carbon but not no carbon.

  12. JimC

    > Given that we can forecast the wind days in advance...

    Better talk to the folk who really understand wind behaviour - the sailors.

    You can't. Wind bahaviour is highly variable, and even at the scale of these things local weather and geography has a big impact. Gradient wind versus themal win (sea breeze) land heating effects all the rest of it. Its enormously complicated.

    The original writer is right on the money about the calm periods. A high over Europe is all of Europe... The last three years have been unusually windy as it happens, and if you go back over the records you get windy decades and calm decades.

    Wind power is an ecological problem (think shredded birds) and comically unreliable. Water power only scales if you're prepared to commit ecological vandalism on a positively soviet/chinese scale - and how can people even consider being without the Severn bore for instance...

    CO2 into building a wind turbine is horrendous, and its hoghly dependant on oil. We aren't talking about trees here the things are about 100% oil derivatives.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    These traditional peaks are likely to change, however.

    People are now living a more 24/7 shift-based lifestyle so it's not a case of 5:30pm then the kettles across the nation go on to make the tea at home.

    It's also not going to be the case that 7:30pm (or whatever time it is) the TV goes on for Corrie and then 7:45 the kettle goes on as it's the commercials.

    With on-demand television then people will watch these shows when they want and the electricity demand will be levelled out somewhat.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The day the Earth stood still

    What I'd like to see is a study of what the consequences are of taking all this energy out of atmosphere. Will this have a knock on effect on weather patterns? And the big question I can't figure out is that once all the wind has been stopped will the Earth stop spinning because there's no wind to push it or go into overdrive because there's no wind to drag it?

  15. Tom

    @ Anyone know how much CO2 goes into building a wind turbine?

    The energy payback period is what you're after. For a wind turbine, the energy payback is 80-100 times the initial energy cost, over the 20-25 year lifespan. For solar panels it is 2-4, over the same period. To work out how long it takes to pay that back, use a calculator. To work out how much CO2 is produced, use excel.

    Fossil and nuclear fuelled power plants never technically pay back the energy put into them, because you're always putting fuel into them.

    Isn't perspective wonderful?

  16. Paul


    I don't get what you are sugesting. Coal fired plants take days, not hours to start up, and nuclear takes weeks.

  17. Anonymous Coward


    He doesn't miss the "blindingly obvious".

    Wind power would still require sufficient (mainly gas turbine) backup capacity to accommodate low wind conditions.

    - modern turbines are not designed for the stress of constant runup/shutdown cycles therefore failure rates are likely to increase

    - most of the time the turbines would be idle -> not earning revenue -> not getting the return required to pay for them -> forcing energy companies to buy cheaper, less reliable ,less efficient generators in the first place.

    - Startup only "takes minutes" (which I doubt) only if you assume the supporting infrastructure (gas pipelines) are in place and can cope with the demand surges.

    I'm not sure what you mean by "slower" plants... nasty, dirty coal maybe - even worse for the green argument. And thats if you accept that weather forecasting is accurate enough to bet the UK's power stability on... yeah right!!

    The blindingly obvious is that wind power is nothing more than a greenies wet dream and totally impractical for substantial, reliable power generation.


  18. Anonymous Coward

    Why not just convert the electrical energy into hydrogen?

    To even it out just take the electrical energy during the peak production times, make hydrogen and burn it when needed. Surely better?

  19. Natalie Gritpants

    Look on the bright side

    After a few cold miserable gloomy days in winter you'll be protected from motorway pile-ups in the fog since your car battery will be flat.

    Mine's the nuclear powered one thanks.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    The Wheel of Pain

    "Remember "Conan the Barbarian"?"

    Your plan has one big flaw - it would run the risk of creating a kind of Conan-esque Super-Chav warrior king. This person would hunt you down, because you would be his Thulsa Doom. And then you'd be run through with a sword. Nasty.

  21. Tony

    Why not just convert the electrical energy into hydrogen?

    My thoughts exactly:


  22. Tom


    Wind power is one of the many tools to relieve dependence on fossil fuels. It will not cure cancer. It will not make you better in bed. It will displace some of the coal and gas burnt in power stations today.

    The last decade has seen greater steps forward in quality of life for everyone in the UK, but Blair was a social policy man, not a power production specialist. And Brown is just a money man, bless his little cotton socks. This is a critical time in determining the energy mix of the next 100 years in the UK. Stop bickering and go and do something, before they use rolling brownouts to force your total obedience.

  23. Johnnyboy
    Thumb Up

    Excellent Article!

    Its good to see some of the problems our Electricity Generators are going to face in detail.

    Personally I think that a trough of power due to a somewhat predictable lull in wind is likely to change the wholesale energy market which will provide solutions. These solutions are likely to include novel ways of storing energy when its cheap(like the Danes car battery), but also Industries whose model could be based on using the incredibly cheap energy at peak-production and shutting down at peak-demand/lull. I believe that the Fair Isle uses its Dump-Electricity to heat the local homes, and generates 85% of its winter and 50% of its summer energy needs through wind.

    All this really says is that the Market may have to adapt to a new way of thinking, markets are good at this.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Burn Hydrogen?

    Surely burning large volumes of hydrogen would surely produce lots of water vapour? Water vapour is as eny fule kno a greenhouse gas which admittedly doesn't hange around in the atmosphere for long like CO2, but can play merry hell with the weather in leaving the atmosphere. When it comes to energy production nothing is simple.

    The whole argument over our "carbon footprint" massively over simplifies the issues invloved. Which is just the way politicians and the media like things. Firstly neither of those fine bodies of people can be bothered to look into things properly. They like everything lowering to a level that they can understand, even if that makes it completely meaningless (the BBC's report last night on the economy being a crossword puzzle, total nonesense but it makes for a simpel report). Politicians are even more keen on the "carbon footprint" because they can keep bringing the argument back to carbon emissions and so pretend that no other issues matter as far as the environment is concerned (mercury in low energy lightbulbs?).

    Then there are the safety issues regarding windfarms. Lets wait until an oil tanker hits an offshore windfarm or a blade falls from an onshore windfarm and kills somebody and see how the media and public opinion swings shall we?

  25. David Woods
    Thumb Down

    Car Battery Storage

    I don't get this idea. It appears to imply all these batteries will have a large over-capacity with respect to normal daily operation. We you really be able to use your car for 10 days without charging? Even 2 days sounds optimistic.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Researcher misses the point

    If you create a cheap fossil free energy source that happens to be intermittent, companies and people will find uses for that don't care that it's intermittent.

    You don't *need* to make a big backup gas turbine source for all the wind power and try to use it in the same way as coal fired station, that would be dumb. There are plenty of industrial users that buy intermittent power already and there will be plenty of new uses for this energy that don't care that it is intermittent.

    But I also just don't believe him, since wind power generates no CO2, even if you ran your gas turbines at full even when the wind turbines were running it would generate no more CO2 than the gas turbines alone. So if gas turbines are so inefficient as starting up and slowing down why do you turn them off? I would suggest you either:

    a) Run them at tickover always

    b) Make better turbines that aren't so inefficient to start and stop.

    c) Keep the running at full and sell the excess power as cheap intermittant power

    d) Use the power for storage station (e.g. pump water up a mountain so it can be used to cover spikes).

    Sure wind won't replace the base constant load but so what, it doesn't mean it won't reduce co2 or provide a useful energy source.

  27. Conrad Longmore

    Energy storage

    Part of the problem is energy storage, rather than wind. Indeed, it's a problem now which is why you can get cheaper rate electricity at night (when the power stations are still running but there isn't much load) just for this reason.

    There was an article in Wired a couple of months back - - where basically engineers are working on a way of sequestrating CO2 using solar power and turning it back into a liquid fuel, which can then be easily stored. There are other types of CO2 sequestration being worked on too. You could theoretically turn CO2 into anthracite, for example.

    So, perhaps the long term answer is not to use the power from renewables directly, but to look into ways of storing energy and/or using them to sequester to CO2 from the atmosphere instead.

    I'll pick up my MBE on the way out, thanks.

  28. Stuart
    Thumb Down

    When the wind doesn't blow ...

    Nothing new here I think. This is typical 'big power thinking'. It is locked to large power stations trying to deliver electricity on variable demand across the national grid. That's what power stations do.

    Unsurprisingly wind turbiines are different. You match supply & demand in a different way. Two ways:

    * STORAGE - the problem with hydro is that it runs out of water, not suddenly, but over a season or two. Opportunistic wind balanced with hydro gives effective storage. The water is saved on windy days and is there to deliver immediate electricity at a few moments notice when it is needed (yes, you need to change the generator/capacity ratio but this need no be expensive). It also means we could further expand our hydro option. Hydro accounts for more power than wind atm so this choice is significant. In the future electric cars charging overnight or whenever can use opportunistic wind and provide a pool of stored electricity and more balanced base load.

    * DEMAND - In the domestic market we only have the crude 7hr White Meter option to offset demand. Using variable power sources (tidal as well as wind) has to be balanced with managing demand more efficiently. Fridges don't need power during TV commercial breaks. We already have a way to signal power devices to turn off/on if they don't need a continuous supply like fridges. Its the AC frequency which moves down when supply is limited and up when not. There is work going on in this area but the key is to find a way to discount this type of interrupable supply agains the non-interruptable (like the light ALWAYS comes on when you click the switch).

    Frankly if we could manage supply/demand better in this way now - our emissions would be much lower without building a single turbine (but even lower if we do).

  29. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

    Thats nothing!!

    "The energy payback period is what you're after. For a wind turbine, the energy payback is 80-100 times the initial energy cost, over the 20-25 year lifespan. For solar panels it is 2-4, over the same period"

    Why is the 'energy payback period' what you are after? That's a made-up figure which measures how the energy balance between paying in and getting out works for 'free energy' generation, and has no relationship to the practicalities of useful power.

    I built a small toy waterwheel on the stream at the bottom of our garden to show the kids how to generate electricity. It puts out about 1w, and the cost of the parts was about 20p. I don't know how much energy went into building it, probably none, so that payback period would be zero. And during a 25 year life, it would generate over 100 times its initial cost in electricity at todays prices.


    But I wouldn't propose to run the UK on waterwheels in streams......

    (my coat is white, cos I'm a scientist - not green for treehuggers..)

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Why not just convert the electrical energy into hydrogen?

    Hydrogen is notoriously difficult to store compactly and for any length of time. Pumped-storage is probably still the best way to store left-over power, and still falls far short of what is required, unless we make Scotland into a pair of lakes (you take the High lake, and ...)

    Of course, then there'd be no-one there to complain about the ugly turbines on all the mountains :)

    Maybe we should go for individual pumped-storage. Windmill in garden, water tanks at top and bottom. Wind pumps the water up, water feeds generator on the way down. On the calm days you go out and pedal to fill the upper tank, so we can all lose weight and solve the UK heart disease crisis as well. No, I can't be bothered to do the math to see how impractical that would be.

    The fundamental problem is that this planet isn't big enough for all of us, so barring a way to go elsewhere we need to limit the population who eat, create waste, and burn energy. So far only the Chinese have got that message, while western politicos seem to be falling over themselves to encourage people to (over)breed.

  31. StaudN


    "most of the time the turbines would be idle"...

    what you on about man? 5 to 10 days a year is not "most of the time" lol

    "The blindingly obvious is that wind power is nothing more than a greenies wet dream and totally impractical for substantial, reliable power generation"

    Did you know that commercial windfarms already exist?? They seem to be surviving quite nicely... just because the uk government is probably going to make a balls of their wind-energy plans doesn't make wind energy "totally impractical" - by that means of comparison, computer systems are utterly worthless...

    Wind power isn't the only solution, but it's certainly one of several options and is by no means a "wet dream".

  32. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    "one little ray of light"

    Recharging electric cars is certainly a big deal. Transport accounts for about 40% of our current CO2 emissions and whether you wean the country onto hydrogen or some sort of batteries, there's a huge demand there in the medium term, which very largely *can* be switched on and off at short notice.

    So, not today, but in a few years we will have a very powerful load-balancing infrastructure at our disposal.

    On the other hand, it is the nuclear lobby who are *really* looking for that.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Pumped storage ain't the only solution

    Pumped storage is not the only possibility for industrial scale storage of electricity - a few years ago a pilot plant relying on fuel-cell type technologies was mothballed before it got as far as full trials due to funding issues. Google "Regenesys energy warehouse" for more info.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    If you are after predictable renewable power given the variance in wind and sun then surely tidal is the way to go?

  35. Anonymous Coward

    @how much CO2 goes into building a wind turbine

    ...Irrelevent compared to the continuously operating mining and refining industries which support Nuclear power. Not to mention the nuclear waste reprocessing and storage industry.

    Anyway - how come we're always talking about a 1-horse race? There are other possible technologies available (Which desperately need funding and development to get them off the ground into the realms of feasibility).

    Renewable energy is by its nature governed by various cycles in the planetary systems and therefore only makes sense when considered as a combination of solutions.

  36. paulc

    what's really annoying

    is that they've had literally decades to think of something to do when the oil, gas & coal run out.. the problem is that they've buried their heads in the sand thinking a solution will come up... this problem should have been addressed 20 years ago when they had the time do do something... but as usual, they've procrastinated...

  37. Phil Clemow

    Everythings Rubbish no

    Wind is too unreliable

    Solar is too expensive

    Demand management is too much like hard work

    Nuclear is too risky

    and so on ...

    No renewable solution is perfect, and chances are we wont be able to live exactly how we do now, but, even if global warming Isn't happening, we WILL run out of coal/oil/etc at some point and we ought to be doing something about it.

    I sometimes wonder when people will stop slating the current crop of renewable ideas and either help improve them or design their successors.

    Wind is the best we have at the moment, so building wind is a good idea. When someone comes along with a better idea, we'll talk about it.

  38. Anonymous Coward

    An expensive figleaf

    Anyone who believes that there is a role for a few windmills in the UKs energy strategy other than as a government figleaf is bonkers!

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @AC hydrogen production

    I think you'll find commercial hydrogen production is mainly done by steam reforming. So, we can turn methane into H2 & CO2, great! We could "store" that CO2 in the "atmosphere" and import the methane to make the H2...

    Electrolysis is very inefficient apparently, you'd be better storing energy in potential form rather than produce H2 (~25% eff.) then burn it to do mechanical work (~30%?) for a total of ~10% efficiency. e.g. push water up a hill instead...

  40. Austin Pass

    Tee hee.

    @ Chris W.

    The earth doesn't spin because the wind pushes it. Neither is it flat, the moon made of cheese etc. Very cute.

    The Earth has been spinning since accretion formed it. It would take quite a few propellors being wafted around to counteract the spin, especially as their rotating mass is *slightly* insignificant compared to that of the planet itself. Note also that their blades aren't being driven directly by the fabric of space-time itself, rather the gas that is spinning along with the planet.

    Look at it this way - the only thing that has *any effect at all* on the Earth's spin is the moon, and if the gravitational pull of an object weighing it at 7.3477×1022 kg which is "only" 300,000ish kilometres away has little effect, then the counter-rotating mass of a few whirlygigs will do sod all.

  41. James Pickett

    Something you should know

    Gas turbines are so called because their blades are turned by hot exhaust gas (as opposed to steam). They don't run on gas, they run on kerosene...

    WRT capacity, surely all quoted measures are wrong if you have to build in extra to allow for slack wind? AFAIK, wind farm outputs are stated as maxima (the minimum being zero or worse), while you know that a conventional power station can always deliver its quoted output.

    It always amuses me to see proposed forests of offshore turbines, when the stuff they are standing in (and expensively designed to resist) is releasing loads of wave energy (effectively concentrated wind) right below them!

    Time for a rethink?

  42. Keith Spencer

    Time Taken To Supply

    Eh Paul. I'm afraid you are wrong. Cockenzie Power Station near Edinburgh can start supplying the grid from a standing start in less than 2 hours. In fact most coal fired stations can be on load within 3-5hrs depending on the kit and the size of the turbine. Gas turbines in actual fact a little quicker. Whilst the gas turbine itself is pretty fast the secondary turbine attached to the boiler (heated by the turbine exhaust) works in the same way as a coal fired station turbine (steam driven) so is still quite slow.

    This article is in fact pretty damn good because it highlights the fallacy of the renewable argument. Reality is much more complicated and whilst we can use wind etc the baseload will be supplied by something else; my current favs are nukes and clean coal. Longer term favs would be fusion but I suspect I'll be long gone by the time that appears. Wind is only going to be a suppliment. I wish it could be different but the experience of the Danish (30% power availbility) suggests otherwise.

  43. Paul

    Pumped Storage

    If pumped storage can run the country for a day or two, it can certainly do the load balancing and allow the gas turbines to be started gently, there by removing all this nasty maintaince the Oswald refers to. If you have to (and the pumped storage is running low) you can keep the gas turbine running for an extra hour or two afterwards to replace the pumped storage that was used while the turbine was firing up.

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Tim: Well said, Tim.

    Tim, contrary to the garbage from some others, you are SPOT ON.

    Electricity generation capacity must match electricity demand, at any moment in time, give or tack a Dinorwig or two (

    So there already is, and must be, a hierarchy of generating capacity which can be switched on and off as required so supply matches demand (there's very little research gone into making demand follow supply, afaik, other than so-called "interruptible contracts", but that's another story).

    Nukes take days to warm up and shut down in a controlled way, so basically you have to leave them running 24x365 (give or take faults, maintenance, etc). Coal and big oil and gas are a bit quicker, taking hours (rather than days) to reach full power.

    Meanwhile, the hundreds of gas-powered CCGT power stations around the UK [1] as introduced by the lunatic "dash for gas" which followed Thatcher's electricity privatisation, are **ALREADY** used for short term peak following and are **ALREADY** going through thermal cycling once or twice a day, because they are able to respond within minutes, but you have to turn them off quickly once you don't need them for peak use, because the (soon to be imported) gas they use is too expensive to use for anything except short term peak lopping.

    Very poor research, very poor article. Sorry Lewis, not up to your usual standard.

    [1] Not in Northern Ireland 'cos gas is expensive there

  45. Simon Neill

    "Why not use hydrogen"

    One word: Hindenburg.

    Also, Hydrogen atoms are pesky buggers that put Houdini to shame and escape from anything you try and put them in.

    As for industries that buy intermittent power.....that only works if they want the power when the turbines are supplying it.

    One solution is super insulate all houses so that heating no longer becomes such an issue, fit energy saving light bulbs everywhere and outlaw these rediculous plasma TVs. Then there is less demand during winter.

  46. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    ...other types of CO2 sequestration being worked on too. You could theoretically turn CO2 into anthracite, for example...

    I always love these ideas.

    We go to huge lengths to extract sequestered carbon from underground, as oil/gas/coal, and burn it to release stored energy, and create CO2. Then some bright spark comes along and says "hey, we should convert the CO2 into carbon and sequester it underground"

    Precisely how do you propose doing that without having to put back in exactly the same amount energy that was released when you converted the carbon to CO2? OK, you could maybe use solar power, but why not just use that directly?

    There may be inefficient ways to store CO2 to keep it out of the air, but the only two ways that will really work are:

    - Don't extract it in the first place.

    - Use natural renewable processes like growing trees and other biomass. That, of course, is not a complete solution because of the land area required.

    Barring a major drop in energy requirements kicked off by the 4 horsemen, there's no viable short-term (20-40 year) option but nuclear. Hopefully by 2050 or so we may have some other options.

  47. Sterling Udell

    Gas plant startup

    Another blindingly obvious point here. Given the article claims the UK could run off pumped storage hydro (like Dinorwig, or the Tanygrisiau station I can see from where I'm sitting) for 1-2 days, surely that's enough time to start any gas turbine plant nice and gradual-like? So you don't need to forecast the wind days, or even hours in advance. Pumped storage hydro can ramp up in seconds, so they tell me, and could clearly cover the time it takes to spin up the gas turbines.

    Combine that with the other options for storage, plus better use of intermittent power (as other commenters have pointed out), and there's little doubt that we can happily use the output of all the windmills we can build.

  48. Donald Allwright

    Why no mention of demand management

    It seems that no consideration at all has been given to demand management - a certain proportion of energy usage is not time critical and can wait until times of lower demand or higher wind energy availability. This would cover for example heating and refrigeration loads, charging of electric vehicles (very small at the moment but likely to increase) and washing/dishwashing on the domestic front, as well as a large number of industrial loads. These don't need to happen during the evening peak and can easily be postponed (at least in part) until the night-time low (or when wind power is high).

    However without a suitable infrastructure to enable devices to know when the load is low, this is unlikely to happen as there's no financial incentive to develop suitable devices. The claim that only gas turbines can compensate for variability is a fundamental flaw in the logic of the article.

  49. david

    Just a question to those who know...

    ...on the embedded energy question.

    How long to PV cells last?

  50. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Why not just convert the electrical energy into hydrogen?

    Good question but storage is the problem, as compressing Hydrogen is very inefficient. What we really need is some nice easily reversible method of reacting the hydrogen into a solid, let me know if you find a way!

    Any method of storing energy will get around these lag days, and as stated timescales are what is important, but as suggested by the Danes if you have electric cars connected to the grid you have a phenominal amount of storage capacity ready when you need it, Obviously you use an intelligent system that doesn't drain your car flat, but even 10% of 20 Million Vehicles is massive, and massive is whats needed. The problem with cars is that unless you plug back in at work, the capacity is not available 9-5! which is useless so it only works if you connect up at home and when parked, whats clever though is that you use electricity where you are this is also where your car is!

  51. Robert Harrison


    @Tom: "It will displace some of the coal and gas burnt in power stations today."

    Isn't that the point of this report to actually determine whether wind power will fulfill that goal. Its a very good question, 'payback' has already been mentioned; just how long will it take to payback the emissions caused by the massive large scale manufacture of a lot of wind turbines and will they do the job? It'd be nice to have a fair idea of the answer before we spend X billion pounds on the project.

    "And Brown is just a money man, bless his little cotton socks"

    Ol' prudent Brown, stop it you're killing me :o)

    @AC11:28 "If you create a cheap fossil free energy source that happens to be intermittent, companies and people will find uses for that don't care that it's intermittent."

    Ok its not fossil free but what about the percentage of natural gas that still gets burned off whilst pumping oil? And the gas coming off landfill that also gets burned? Companies and people *will* find a use if a beancounter says that there is a viable ROI certainly not simply for the sake of the environment/children. Shareholders need Bentleys too y'know.

  52. Anonymous Coward

    Winds of Change

    Firstly, I'm saddened that this is the standard of reporting and debate on this subject. Quite literally, the fate of the world is at stake, and I would have thought that even El Reg would take it a bit more seriously instead of peddling narrow-minded and sensationalist tripe ... whether to boost its readership or for some other purpose, I can only guess. The article could have just as easily taken the tack, "New private study confirms view that wind can be a valuable contributor to greenhouse gas reduction, notwithstanding that peaks and troughs may be more significant than some have claimed."

    The main point: I am not aware of *serious* advocation of a wind-only (everything else as a backup) approach to fixed power generation. Sure there are some extreme opinions out there, just as there are still climate change naysayers and those pushing their particular barrow, such as "only use nuclear", "only use geo-sequestration" and "we must use hydrogen in vehicles" ... especially when those opinion holders stand to gain from adoption of their approach.

    Amongst my colleagues, the consensus (not that I claim it's the best informed opinion in the world) is that wind power is an important contributor to CO2-emission reduction but that it can rarely (anywhere) be considered the majority energy source ... and that seems more true for Blighty. But is that any reason not to exploit a valuable renewable energy resource that can quite significantly contribute to CO2-emission reduction? Of course not.

    As for the info source being an engineer (and by extension, according to the author, infallible) I can assure there are many highly-qualified, senior engineers I know who are completely clueless on the subject of climate change and even a few whose published opinions curiously mirror those of large fossil-fuel producers ....

  53. Peter W

    reg in surprise anti renewable-energy article!

    seriously, get balanced. It gets boring reading the same biased views every time.

    In regards to this particular article - in a 25GW scenario you are assuming your average power supply is on the oder of 25% of this, 6.25GW. Power usage in the UK varies from 25GW to 50GW.

    So in this situation you will *automatically* have at least 49 GW of alternative power available as there is a margin of at least 10% in the offline and offline power stations above.the peak load. In a situation where wind was dead flat for a long period of time there would *still* be far more energy being created during the off peak periods than actually being used which means the water storage etc can still be used.

    For an engineer, this is an extremely poor piece. And Lewis, you really should stick to war - those articles of yours are much more interesting and (I hope) don't contain nearly as many holes as your energy pieces.

  54. lIsRT

    Micro Pumped Storage?

    I thought about this when reading the article, I'd be grateful if someone pointed out any deficiencies...

    Given that pumped storage is an efficient way to store energy, is it possible to scale it *down* to the level of individual houses?

    I live 2 floors up, and am wondering exactly how much electricity I'd be able to generate just by using water main pressure and the fall from 10-15m.

    It would depend on the mass flow rate, but a quick estimate gives me 100-150J for every kg of water I can drop from my house to ground level (minus inefficiencies and plus energy from the main pressure).

    I know this is just taking power from the water company's pumps, but my water isn't metered; maybe if I get one of those 2-way electric meters I can actually make something out of it...

    (icon for what the water companies will say when they find out)

  55. yonorri

    @ Que by AC


  56. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @AC Peaks

    "People are now living a more 24/7 shift-based lifestyle so it's not a case of 5:30pm then the kettles across the nation go on to make the tea at home."


    I would say the number of people working shifts now is much lower than it was when we had heave and manufacturing industries worth speaking of. For blue collar workers in many parts of the UK shift working was the norm rather than the exception 30 years ago. While the situation you suggest is becoming more common among white collar workers it's still the exception rather than the rule, as demonstrated by the fact that we still have a rush hour.

  57. Charlie Clark Silver badge

    Load of hot air

    As others have noted, wind power can only be part of the mix. While high pressure generally means less wind in the area this is usually combined with clearer skies and, therefore, better solar collection. Yes, you do get cold, foggy winter days in North and Western Europe so auxilary sources will be required. Plus, of course, the high pressure zones are not endless. Anybody watching the football recently will have noticed that Switzerland and Austria have a different weather pattern - they belong to the same metereological area as Poland and the Ukraine according to German television. So while the wind patterns across the North Sea might be constant, things will be different further South and East. So we'll end up with a co-ordinated European energy policy. Which is why the Commission is so keen on separating the energy transmission networks from the energy producers.

    Where's my hippy badge!

  58. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

    About a week ago, the register linked to a free book by a physicist from the university of Cambridge. It does not advocate a specific reduced carbon or reduced oil dependency plan. Instead it allows you to estimate the consequences of your own plan. All the figures you need for rough estimates including CO2 costs of building windfarms are there.

    Birds: An impractically large number of wind farms would kill a few birds. Banning cars and replacing them with bicycles would massively over compensate in favour of birds. Even the large avian death toll inflicted by motorists is dwarfed by the UK's bloodthirsty population of cats. Decide for yourself whether you would prefer to ban motorists, exterminate cats or carefully try to measure a miniscule decline in the bird population. (See page 64 of without hot air).

    Hydrogen for energy storage: You only get back 25% of what you put in. Pumped water and lithum polymer batteries are much more effective. Ask again in a few years to see if hydrogen technology has improved.

    Scraping CO2 from the air to store energy: even worse than hydrogen. There might possibly be a future in using captured CO2 from gas turbine emissions, but the research is not going to happen without a credible threat of massive huge carbon taxes.

  59. The Mole

    Car battery problems

    The problem with using car batteries to help boost the load is that the peak time of load (5-6pm) is also probably the peak time for cars to be out driving around and not be plugged in!

  60. Jimbo


    Why does no-one, I mean bloody no-one! ever mention tidal power??? When Sarkozy was in Britain last schmoozing with Brown and cronies and generally greasing his way into the country trying to pave the way for more nuke-energy, tidal power was for the first time feeding the national grid. This is a consistent, predictable, and clean power source, but only scant attention was given in the press. And STILL all you ever hear about is wind-turbines and their bloody problems, and "oh I don't want one of them round here they're so ugly blah blah blah". Grrrr, makes me mmmaaaadd.

  61. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @@ Que by AC

    I think there are plenty examples of Anons comment above.

    Anyway the country should run with slightly different numbers it used to (becouse of the problems with getting gas and coal) 15% "green" renewable (wind/solar/hydro), 5% "non green" renewable (biomass/biofuel burning), 40% nuclear, 40% fossil fuel.

    Sadly we stopped working on nuclear so long ago we don't have incountry tech anymore and are reduced to buying it off the Yanks or French (well maybe Iran will sell us their tech cheap if they're succesful?)

    Also renewable much like nuclear has been ignored so long it's woefully inefficent. Heh we're in a sorry mess at the moment, need more power but just can't grow the balls to build it.

    Just wait till our old nuclear stations go off line.

    That'll be interesting.

  62. Peter Dawe

    No one has ever proposed a single technology solution!

    To look at any type of power in isolation is purely an academic exercise.

    Similarly, nuclear generation makes electricity at a constant rate - Say 1GW. But the UK load varies by hour, by day and by season.

    We (will) have: Wind, Tide, nuclear, hydro, storage and chemical thermal (Gas, Oil, Coal and biomass)

    We can also to some extent vary the load, both by efficiency and by timing use. They all have advantages, costs and limitations. It is the mix that provides the solution.

    The tragedy is that this type of report undermines a good technology that can make a major contribution!


  63. Peter Dawe
    Dead Vulture


    The problem with tidal is that it effects the lifestyle of a few sea birds and mammals a little. And God help anyone with the audacity to suggest that the effect on man's life style is of any importance!

    Peter Dawe

    CEO, The Wash Tidal Barrier Corporation plc

    Yes really!

  64. Nic Brough

    @Simon Neill

    >"Why not use hydrogen"

    >One word: Hindenburg.

    The Hindenburg burnt because it was effectively painted with rocket fuel, as well as being filled with hydrogen. It almost certainly would have burnt if it had been filled with helium, but probably nowhere near as quickly or violently.

    You are partly right though - raw hydrogen is a bitch to store safely for any length of time.

  65. Paul Barnfather

    Poor article

    The assumption that wind power is a substitute for peak gas plants is a pretty basic error. The whole market/pricing for renewable power is completely different:

    Fossil fuel = cost per megawatt-hour. Plant is relatively cheap. But you pay for the fuel

    Renewable = cost per megawatt. Once you've built it, the energy is effectively "free"

    At the moment, electricity is more or less the same price regardless of when you want it (Economy 7 excepted), mostly because we get most of it from fossil fuel. If we get a lot of electricity from renewables, this changes. Want power when it's windy? Heck, have all you want. Want it on a calm day? Sorry, gonna cost ya.

    Over time, you'll see new & interesting uses for the "spare" power e.g. charging plug-in hybrid cars, together with intelligent appliances that modify their behaviour to minimse your electricity bill e.g. fridges.

    As fossil fuel prices go up (hello, Gordon), renewables become more attractive - despite all the drawbacks. Nothing is going to get solved overnight, which is why some currently "uneconomic" technologies are being pursued anyway. This is just sensible planning - it's not rocket science!

    PS @david: PV cells can last from around 10 years (early stuff) to at least 30 years (current thin-film). They don't stop working at this point, but they do produce less power (~80% of the original output). Other things to consider: there's a tiny amount of cadmium in them, so you ought to recycle them when you do finally chuck them away. Even if you don't it's a lot better than burning coal for electricity and putting the cadmium up the chimney (~10x less). Greenhouse gas emissions are around 30g/kWh (current tech), vs. 10g/kWh (nuclear), 400g/kWh (combined cycle gas), 900+ g/kWh (coal). Solar cells don't appear to be very efficient (10-20%), but this is approx 10x better than sun -> biomass -> fuel -> electricity. So, PV is a long way from perfect but probably a useful improvement on some of the ways we currently produce power.

  66. John Ackers

    Government's renewable consulation

    Not sure why so much time is being spent commenting on a document that has been commissioned by an anti-wind campaign group.

    More interestingly, a week earlier, the government started a major consultation on renewables at

    There are several supporting documents including grid analysis with different levels of wind power.

    "Growth Scenarios for UK Renewables Generation and Implications for future Developments and Operation of Electricity Networks" SKM


  67. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    apologies for linking to youtube


  68. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Read the context... I was talking about *gas* turbines - not wind. Should wind turbines become a serious part of of our energy generation capacity then we will need some serious backup generation (most likely gas turbine) or storage capacity which would go unused for most of the time - except for the entirely forseeable 5-10day periods mid-winter when the wind drops below usable levels.

    As for the existing wind farms, they represent a tiny proportion of our overall capacity and only exist because the govt distorts the "market". Wind only works now because there is always something behind it to pick up the slack when it fails. I would not call the a sensible or practical basis on which to plan an energy policy for the next 20 years.


  69. Anonymous Coward

    Putting all of one's eggs in one basket

    is never a good idea. So what is so alien to you Brits about the thought of diversifying your renewable energy options? I realize you have little hydroelectric power potential, but you do have Tide potential as well as some solar & biomass potential.

  70. Bill

    Dinorwig Power Station, Llanberis

    The Dinorwig Power Station was built with a specific purpose, it helps deliver quick and copious amounts of electricity, within seconds, to the grid to cope with peaks in demand.

    It is very expensive electricity as the energy used to pump the water to the upper lake is greater than is gained from the generators when the same water is allowed to fall to the lower lake. Therefore, to store energy to cope with calm days would significantly lessen the power generation potential from wind farms especially if calm conditions are frequent.

    Wind generation cannot deliver the UK's power requirements. Even if we deployed wind farms from Land's End to John O'Groats the resulting output would not be sufficient to reliably deliver the required power.

    As to predicting wind strength, thats a giggle, look what happened to Texas a few months back when a sudden, unexpected dip in wind generation coincided with an upswing in usage. A disaster very narrowly averted.

    Therefore wind can only represent a fraction of our power generating capacity. See "Without Hot Air" that was quite nicely reviewed by El Reg last week.

    Given that we are left with other renewables, tidal is my favourite but that has limited scope, fossil fuels (increasingly expensive) but the greeny brigade do not like Co2 or nuclear. As far as I can see the solution is a one horse race.

  71. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @John Ackers

    I love how people blindly follow one group (in this case backed by the ever reliable government) and then ignore the others claiming that they're evil and heretics.

    It's all very interesting, and may I add - funny.

  72. Nigel Rook

    On the plug-in car storage concept

    I'd love to see some estimates on how much this will shorten the life of your battery, since they are lumbered with a limited number of charge cycles, as well as how toxic (I genuinely don't know, as opposed to inferring that the answer is very) disposing of / recycling a dead Lithium Ion battery is.

    And while I do pretty much agree with the concept that wind is a rubbish way to meet national energy demands (and fully support it for microgeneration), I can't help feeling the report isn't entirely balanced. For example, gas turbines may be one of the few ways to handle sudden dips in wind generation, but surely you can cover most of a 5-day lull with coal or nuclear...

  73. Paul Barnfather


    "is very expensive electricity as the energy used to pump the water to the upper lake is greater than is gained from the generators"

    You're thinking about it from the fossil fuel point of view. Fossil fuel power costs money to make, but you can have it whenever you want it.

    Wind power costs "nothing" to make, but you get it regardless of when you want it.

    It makes sense to store it when you don't need it ready for when you do. The fact that some of the energy is lost during the storage/recovery process is irrelevant, because (provided you didn't need the electricity for something else) you might as well store it.

    It's the same for nuclear. Nukes are happiest producing power 24/7, whether you want it or not. So when demand is low, you store it. That is why we built Dinorwig. And it's why we'll continue need to build expensive complexities into the system - whether we have nuclear or wind or both.

    It's just physics, man.

  74. Geoff Webber
    Thumb Up

    Real time national grid data

    if you go here ..............>

    you can see how energy is being pushed around the country (and bought in from abroad) to meet demand

  75. Anonymous Coward

    Lack of foresight....

    If only we'd had the foresight to leave London docklands alone! Why oh why did we have to build City Airport and Canary Wharf?

    Just imagine harnessing the potential of those old gated docks as inner-city tidal barrages.

    None of the usual environmental concerns, because we've already killed practically the entire Thames ecosystem!

    If the government wants a few kilowatts as a "quick win", it should be picking out disused docks and replacing the gates with barrage turbines. As with any barrage, they could also be pressed into service as pumped storage if required.

  76. Chris Gregory

    Dinorwig buys cheap electricity . . . .

    to pump water to the holding lakes up the mountain. It then generates electicity when demand is high - it then sells this for a much greater price than is paid for the electricity to pump the water.

    IIRC it uses more electricity than it generates, it is just that it can provide an almost immediate response to a surge in demand.

  77. Chris Gregory

    It DOES use more electricity than it generates!

  78. John Murgatroyd

    start time

    I think the fast-start time to baseload is about 7.5 minutes average.

    The reliability of the system if it has to be run on a fast start/run/stop routine will be considerably lower than a continuous run....

  79. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    When it's calm and not windy it's not wavy either, so wave power isn't a backup for wind.

    @Chris Gregory

    Dinorwig is a storage facility of course it uses power to store power.

    Just like a battery charger uses more electricity than the batteries will generate.

    Is this not f'ing obvious?

  80. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    You have to remember that Europe is actually pretty compact geographically, so if there are calm conditions in Britain you shouldn't be surprised that the wind is not blowing nicely in Denmark or Germany.

    As for pumped storage, it has its own environmental issues (takes up scenic mountaintops, requires a lot of canals and huge pipes) and most pumped storage reservoirs only hold enough water to run the turbines for 24 hours or so. Building enough pumped storage to keep Britain going for 2-3 days would be environmentally very difficult, especially considering that the mountainsides would already be prime real estate for the wind turbines.

  81. Joey

    Some creativity needed...

    1. People complain about the amout of methane produced by cows. Keep them in tents and collect the methane.

    2. Joggers hould not be allowed to waste energy. Make the run in big hamster wheels.

    3. Peope who are being 'made' to repay their debts to society are sitting on their arses in jails all over the country. Make them turn dynamos – might bring down crime rates as well!

    5. Fit turbines to kettle spouts.

    6. Fit helmets over politicians heads and harvest the hot air.

    7. Fly kites in thunderstorms.

    8. Fit big rubber discs to the front of tube trains and push all the hot air through turbines.

    9. Put thermocouples into volcanoes.

    10. Reduce the need for energy and improve the gene pool at the same time by culling idiots, spammers, scammers, hoodies, people who keep dogs and cats, people who wear blue shirts with fawn trousers, Robert Mugabe and his cronies, programmers who introduce more than 3.872 bugs per day into their software...etc

  82. Anonymous Coward

    Time for HHO supplementing

    Isn't it about time that fuel burning powerplants made use of HHO supplements derived from excess electricity generated to assist the combustion process and as a side-effect the powerplants would have less nasty emissions. This technology has been around since the 1800's.

    My car at the moment makes use of 8amps of unused electricity from the alternator when driving to power a HHO booster filled with vinegar and water. This gives off HHO gas, which when fed back in through the air-intake increases my MPG by 40% as the HHO makes the fuel burn more efficiently.

    It's unlikely that fossil fuels will ever be replaced, not in my lifetime (unless we run out), but there is a lot of unused technology out there that makes the burning of fossil fuels much more efficient.

    No single fossil fuel replacement will solve the problem either, we need a mixture of renewable energy from multiple sources, of which fossil fuel will be the backup on a day where it's simultaneously a solar-eclipse/not windy/calm sea'd/empty-reserviored

  83. Anonymous Coward

    Basic economics

    Let's ask a wind-power advocate "why don't you,personally, give up your job & invest everything in buying land & putting up wind turbines?"

    The answer for nuclear, gas or anything else is "economies of scale". But wind.....Buy a small one from B&Q. Your argument is that the energy it produces (which you can sell for MONEY) exceeds the initial energy requirement (which you have to PAY FOR). You will make a profit. According to someone above, 80x over 25 years. Or 4x over the next year. Invest £10k. Reap £40k at the end of year 1. Invest that in more wind turbines. Reap £160k at the end of year 2. You should be a comfortable billionaire at year 8. Hell, you don't even need to give up your job - it's less than the cost of a car, and this is one of those magic bits of kit that don't take any resources to service over its lifetime.

    Or does it only work that way when it is taxpayers money (a.k.a. green taxes) rather than your own?

  84. Dick

    Something James Pickett should know

    "Gas turbines are so called because their blades are turned by hot exhaust gas (as opposed to steam). They don't run on gas, they run on kerosene..."

    You are correct that the blades are turned by hot gas, but they don't much care what they burn to get the gas hot. Lots of gas turbines do run on gas; natural, propane, methane, biogas, whatever....

  85. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "It's just physics, man"

    Very true. In fact there's not much that matters that isn't "just physics, man". That's why UK physicists are in such demand, and why so many UK pupils are queueing up to get physics qualifications from highly qualified and motivated physics teachers, rather than get on X Factor or Big Brother or getting a Media Studies and Sociology degree.

    Or am I confusing the UK with a different country, one with an economic clue and an economic future?

  86. Sarah Davis


    they used to have a 'govenor' doo-hicky on steam engines, couldn't something of equal effect be built into turbines for when the wind blows too fast? or maybe the blades could turn more perpendicular to the wind above a certain rpm so there is less surface area for the wind to hit,... or shall i just stay in the kitchen?


  87. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    It will never work

    I work in manufacturing

    My job is to program industrial robots to make things

    Currently a machine has a 12 kw 3 phase motor on it, and the tooling and programming is designed to use all of that 12kw in making widgets.

    The least amount of power drop and I could be looking at either stalled machine at best or pranged tooling/ parts as well

    If I'm powered by wind, then a winter dropout could have disastous effects for the company I work at, the effects for a major power consumer like the aluminium smelters in North Wales would be even worse.

    Its not a case like a fridge detecting the frequency drop and not turning on for the next hour, its like 7000 tonnes of aluminium that should be molten and is'nt any more.

    The UK needs a steady base load of power.

    Wind by its very nature cannot supply that

  88. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Opt out for the Greenies

    If this Gas turbine engineer is correct then there is one obvious solution to allow the Greenies to live by their beliefs.

    When the renewable output drops below a certain level, cut them off. That way they can be happy that they aren't chucking CO2 into the atmosphere while their evil neighbours in their warm, brightly lit house, who are sitting in their front room supping coco and watching Eastenders kill the earth.

    Since none of the renewable options can produce a constant output in the same way coal, oil and gas and nuclear can (until the fuel source runs out of course) it has to be a choice between nuclear and blackouts for CO2 "neutral" electricity.

  89. Charlie van Becelaere


    That's it. Tanstaafl.

  90. James Pickett


    Thanks for the clarification. I only mentioned because there seemed to be an assumption that gas turbine powerplants were so called because of what they ran on. We have a 'backup' power station here on the Isle of Wight, which has two modified Olympus engines (half a Concorde, if you like) that very definitely do not run on gas! They don't generate steam with the heat either (as someone else mentioned, but why use a jet engine to do that?) - they have reduction gearboxes to drive the generators.

  91. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Idle Wind Turbines

    Drive along the "Acle Straight" towards Gt Yarmouth on the A47.

    To the north in view for much of the journey, is a clearly visible wind farm, with many turbines.

    I don't drive on that road every day, but I've yet to see all turbines rotating simultaneously. Sometimes only about 50% rotate; sometimes fewer than 25%.

    A disgraceful waste of capital equipment.

  92. Mark


    Yes, it's impossilble to get electricity.

    It's a big green conspiracy to enable the alien mothership to approach the UK and be hidden from radar by the windmills.

  93. Kanhef

    Offshore farms

    He seems to only be talking about wind turbines on land. Offshore winds tend to be both stronger and more consistent. It still wouldn't work as a sole power source, but it would be better than what his analysis suggests.

    @ Joey:

    Jonathan Swift would be proud.

  94. Elrond Hubbard

    Good Thing That Global Warming is Just Hot Gas

    ... for then we can just stick to what works: nuclear and gas-turbines.

  95. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "aluminium smelter in North Wales"

    That'll be the one on Anglesey, presumably. I like Anglesey, wish I could be there.

    If that is the one you mean, it's right next door to Wylfa nuclear power station.

    Wylfa power station is due to close in a few years. When Wylfa closes, so does the smelter. Before Wylfa power station opened, there was no smelter. The smelter only exists because Wylfa power station exists (and because it's a nuclear power station); the infrastructure to supply the huge quantity of electricity needed by something like a smelter that size is just too expensive, UNLESS it's right next to a power station which is able to offer "cheap" electricity, one whose costs (unlike fossil-fueled stations) are largely independent of the demand for electricity. (Nuclear electricity's costs are largely dependent on accounting techniques, not energy costs; unfortunately the "free, unmetered, electricity" which nuclear power was going to bring never quite arrived did it...).

    There are other similar examples like this, hugely distorting the electricity supply and demand figures. Smelters don't *need* to be in the UK; wouldn't it make sense to smelt the aluminium closer to where it's mined, and ship a lower quantity of refined aluminium around the world?? Obviously not if you're a Wylfa employee, but...

  96. Alan Barnard

    Let Virgin Media run the National Grid

    They are, after all, experts on managing supply and demand on a network.

    Suppose, for instance, that you opt for the Virgin XL Mains Package. This is advertised as giving you 230 volts and unlimited current.

    You will find that this generally gives you about 110 volts and if you exceed your energy quota during a peak period, the voltage is reduced to 24 volts for the next six hours.

  97. Dan

    really long HVDC

    Another solution would be to think further than Germany and France and build 3000 km long HVDC lines all across Europe, from Sevilla to Tromsoe, and from Aberdeen to Kiev. Yes, they would lose 10-20% of the power but that's better than not even using 50% of the power when it's a particularly windy day.

    If you network the whole continent, there is always somewhere where the wind is blowing, and wind isn't the only source. Norway has enough pumped storage capacity to supply the whole of Europe for weeks. Spain and Morocco are building thermal solar power plants.

  98. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I'd heard that physics teaching was in decline in this country, but I had no idea how bad the problem was. The quality of this debate - presumably dominated by people in broadly numerate and scientific professions - really, really scares me.

  99. bootlesscries

    Water power

    Water power

    Most towns and cities are built near running water.

    Therefore, most towns and cities have a cheap source of local energy.

    It really wouldn't take much to harness these local sources and produce local electricity.

    Why do we need vast and expensive nuclear power stations, that create pollution for thousands of years?

    Power is lost by being transmitted over distance.

    Local water power would be cheap and effective.

  100. RW
    Jobs Halo

    It's a systems problem

    Some power sources are very variable (wind), demand is very variable on an entirely different schedule, other sources prefer no variation at all (nuclear), and some sources vary output fairly well (turbines). What's missing is a high-capacity, efficient, highly responsive energy storage method that will buffer these variations in input and output. Pumped storage is one kick at the cat, hydrogen generation another, car batteries yet another, but none of them appear to be up to snuff.

    Can someone tell us what the total electricity consumption of Britain is during a 10-day winter calm? That gives us an order of magnitude estimate of the required capacity of any proposed energy storage system.

    I have a funny idea that the answer far exceeds the exemplars' capacity.

    @Simon Neill: "Hydrogen atoms are pesky buggers"

    You forget that stable hydrogen is in the form of diatomic molecules, H2, not atoms. I presume your misstatement is just a brain fart and not a symptom of stupidity or lack of education.

    Ballmer because hydrogen atoms have a series of characteristic spectral emission lines known as the Balmer series. That's an electron orbiting his head like in a hydrogen atom.

  101. Anonymous Coward

    Lithium-Ion Batteries

    > "I'd love to see some estimates on how much this will shorten the life of your battery, since they are lumbered with a limited number of charge cycles, as well as how toxic (I genuinely don't know, as opposed to inferring that the answer is very) disposing of / recycling a dead Lithium Ion battery is."

    Li-Ion batteries have relatively low toxicity. There's a range of materials used and "disposability" varies a little - some batteries can be disposed of in domestic waste, although that would be stupid, since they can be usefully recycled. They're much less toxic than lead-acid or NiCad, NiMH, etc.

    They also have no 'memory' as opposed to earlier battery types but do gradually degrade over time. A good-quality (choice of materials as well as manufacturing quality), well managed Li-Ion battery installation should last 5-10 years with frequent use (noting a complete discharge is not required). Keep in mind that ultra-cheap batteries in laptops don't necessarily perform as well or last as long. There are several Li-Ion battery technology developments that will improve performance in the near future.

  102. frymaster

    @It's a systems problem and others

    very good point... what is probably needed then is a way of exploiting capitalism's advantages (rapid evolution to favour maximum profit).

    one idea: per-day electricity pricing, set, say, a week in advance. That way, if you're a consumer (and especially if you're a big company) you can plan hefty 'leccy usage (for the consumer, things like washing machines and especially dryers) for "cheap" (presumably windy) days. Tie that into a 'leccy resale system (ideally a non-profit system that only takes as much commision as needed to cover its own costs) and it's very possible ideas we haven't thought of will come tumbling out of the woodwork. Depending on your level of environmentalism, certain methods of generation could incur higher taxes on the business, encouraging more innovation

  103. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    HHO HHO HHO Power..

    >My car at the moment makes use of 8amps of unused electricity from the alternator

    When your battery is charged, your alternator gets turned off by the engine management system, if you force the alternator back on then the extra energy required to turn it comes from fuel.

    The magnetic field in an alternator is an electromagnet, allowing the management system, to vary the power generated and thus the load on the engine.

  104. Che Gannarelli

    Re: Burn hydrogen

    Aside from the suggestion of hydrogen as a means of storage, which has been responded to, a poster above spoke of the idea of simply burning hydrogen as a primary power source. Sadly, hydrogen is not available on Earth in a form that can be burnt. It's generally taken from water by electrolysis, which takes as much energy as is released by burning it. As such, hydrogen burning is used where it is necessary to store power in a fuel cell. It's not a primary source. You'll only get net energy out by doing something else to your hydrogen, like fusing it to form Helium.

    On hydrogen storage, as fraught as it may be with difficulties, there's massive amounts of work going into it for the purposes of fuel cells. Wouldn't write it off.

  105. Anonymous Coward

    Fusion Power is the Answer

    .. and still just 50 years away (as it was in 1956)

  106. Fenton

    Cow farts are carbon neutral

    Cows eat grass which extracts CO2 and then fart some of it out (the rest turns into yummy meat and milk).

    I wonder what the impact on large scale energy generation would be if we all had small micro generation plants at home (wind turnbines/PV cells, methane capture from compost) that was used to pump water into community based water tower than could be used during peak times to generate power

    What about heat pumps in the local sewer. Just think 8m people in london pissing a few litres a day at 37C. That must be usable.

  107. chris
    Thumb Down

    Spinning like the blades of a turbine

    With one month to go before a massive protest outside a power station, the concentration of anti-environment stories on the Register reaches saturation of the upper-atmosphere (above the line).

    So, cause or effect: is it masses of corporate PR agencies publishing reports aimed at shifting the blame away from their preferred industry, or is the register actually looking for this this stuff to publish?

  108. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Cow farts are methane

    Which is a more damaging GHG than CO2, hence the issue people have with cows.

    Storage wise, couldn't you just heat something up and then use the temp gradient to drive a stirling engine or some such? Might be more efficient than electrolysis...

    >a massive protest outside a power station

    How are they going to get there?

  109. Paul Kinsler

    thing is, you're all looking at wind power backwards

    Post fossil, it won't be the case that the wind stops for a bit, and we all panic at the inconvenient lack of wind generated electricity.

    Instead, the wind will sometimes blow, and we'll all be bloody grateful for the extra power suddenly available to our chronically electricity starved economy.

  110. Eric Worrall
    Thumb Up

    I'm getting a petrol generator

    and wiring it to my house grid.

    You guys can have your feel good brownouts, I like the light to come on when I flick a switch.

  111. Matt


    Mecha Musume does not appreciate any of you, and you will all be punished.

    All of you!

    And once the country collapses into power poverty and economic ruin due to successive governments paralysis on the energy question (build nuclear/wind/geo/solar/hydro/wave and sod the conservationists) we'll all get to enjoy the Kalashinkov parties of Central Africa too.

    Of course I'll have my super robot - so you can all just bow down baby.

  112. Claus P. Nielsen

    Re: Re: Burn hydrogen

    "Sadly, hydrogen is not available on Earth in a form that can be burnt. It's generally taken from water by electrolysis, which takes as much energy as is released by burning it"

    Sadly, this is currently very far from the truth.

    Electrolysis of water to generate Hydrogen uses MORE energy than would be released by burning the hydrogen.

    If we use the hydrogen to produce electricity, the electricity generated will be only a Fraction of the electricity used to produce the hydrogen.

    There may be more efficient ways of producing (and burning) Hydrogen in the future, but currently there are much more efficient ways of storing electricity (still lossy, but with a much smaller loss ratio).

    If long term Hydrogen storage was easy and space efficient, it might still be worth it as a reservoir for Large scale wind power - but it isn't.

    There is a lot of research being done on how to address this, but currently no good solutions have been demonstrated on a commercial scale.

    Hydrogen powered cars are (with todays Hydrogen technologies) not commercially competitive compared to battery power.

  113. Anonymous Coward

    standard divide and conquer logic

    The usual argument used by the naysayers - take each 'alternative' power generation method in isolation, point out its problem areas and claim that either the only fix is 'traditional' technology or that 'alternative' is too expensive.

    The point is that you need to look at the whole picture. As others have said, pumped systems are actually a storage mechanism - a huge battery if you like - to store surplus power. Nuclear, wind, wave, thermal, solar, water & gas all play a role in any proper model.

  114. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "per-day electricity pricing, set, say, a week in advance."

    Pay attention at the back, that's already happening, and has been since 1998 when "NETA" (for New Electricity Trading Arrangements) was introduced in England and Wales. But Joe Public doesn't get to see the game (or even know it's happening). And the pricing varies per half-hour, not per day, because electricity is more expensive at teatime than in the afternoon or late evening. Supply vs demand, etc.

    Geoff Webber already kindly posted a very helpful link to actual realtime graphs of UK electricity usage. On the same website you will find the prices at which electricity is bought and sold in the wholesale market, in the "spot" (ie now) market and in the "futures" (er,y'know) market.

    Enjoy (for anyone still reading, after 100+ comments).

  115. Mark

    Re: I'm getting a petrol generator

    Pity you won't be able to afford the petrol...

    Meanwhile, a battery and solar panel later, your neighbour is living fine.

  116. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Re: I'm getting a petrol generator

    Although becouse of the toxic waste required to create the battery there is little life left in your battery powered future.

    If you can find pictures of the surrounding area of the smelting plant in Canada used for nickle processing you'll see what I mean. Gotta love the superstack.

  117. chris
    Dead Vulture


    > >a massive protest outside a power station

    > How are they going to get there?

    I'm going by bike from Scotland, smartarse. Don't you think the "oh but you all are breathing CO2 / that apple came here on a truck / look your shoelaces were airfreighted" line is a bit childish?

    Fact remains, the Register's found a renewable source of word fodder and pageviews, making lots of PR agencies and rightwing "think" tanks very happy. Efficiency and synergies and all that.

    I think the anti-AGW line is its attempt to diversify into the more-profitable US market, myself. That way if London floods they'll still have readers.

  118. Zero Sum

    What about flywheels?


    How efficient are they at storing energy?

    I'm sure I wouldn't want one in my car, but buried under a windmill wouldn't present much danger.

  119. Mark

    re: What about flywheels?

    See, this is why the denialists are such and NOT sceptics.

    They only see the problems, never solutions.

  120. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Always tetchy the Scots...

    And what do you want done with the power station? Just turned off there and then?

    Are you going to hook your bicycle up to the generators perhaps?

    Don't you think the protesting outside a power station that represents part of our remarkably trimmed down power supply network is pointless to the level of utter stupidity? I hope the press ignore your pathetic publicity stunt.

  121. Anonymous Coward

    Re: Flywheels

    > "Flywheels. How efficient are they at storing energy? I'm sure I wouldn't want one in my car ..."

    Actually, you already have one in your car. At the end of the crankshaft - stored energy in the flywheel smooths out cylinder head motion and reduces vibration.

  122. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Great Article.... The world should reconsider the whole energy solution thingy

    Wind energy alone will not be the solution for UK, no matter what your simplistic mind tells you. He is dead right on the money with the whole issues. The most glaring issue is the economic model in the wind energy solution.

    Since wind cannot give constant supply, who is gonna come an fill in the gap? The old trusty based load generator either by gas or coal. Who is gonna build them? So stupid sucker company that gonna lose money and go bankkrupt in no time? Unless the whole generation infrastructure is build and maintained by the government, no commercial viable company will wanna be in this business. Unless the tax payers are willing to pay 3x the amount you pay today, just to get reliable power, while feeling good about self on the small contribution to mother earth.

    The solution? I guess it will be a painful one... unless some bright people come up with some new technology....

  123. Adrian Midgley

    Methanol easier than Hydrogen

    as a storage medium and for power transmission to mobile devices - cars etc.

  124. Roger Heathcote

    Methanol easier than Hydrogen

    Indeed, you'll find that most commercially available hydrogen generators actually catalyse methanol into hydrogen as methanol's a lot easier to deal with.

    Is there an easy way to turn spare electricity into methanol though? Comparable to say electrolysis?

  125. Soylent

    Yes, it's not on most of the time.

    "what you on about man? 5 to 10 days a year is not "most of the time" lol"

    The capacity factor for wind is only ~1/3, and that's in a good location. Worse, the power output goes as the wind speed to the third power, meaning it will invariably be irratic. Either you provide storage or you use hydroelectric power(the good locations are taken; no subsidies required because it's actually very useful) or natural gas turbines for the rest of the ~2/3.

    The 5 to 10 days a year refers to a particularly nasty case that is even worse then the usual crummy performance of wind power in which not even storage is enough.

    To the guy saying just use base-load(nuclear or coal) for those 5 to 10 days. Well, see all the base-load plants are running as close to 365 days out of the year as they can; there is no spare capacity to tap into. The cost of building base-load plants is much higher than gas turbines, but they make it up on low fuel costs(particularly nuclear which is dominated by interest payments on the initial capital and wages).

    If you build more coal plants, they'll be costly and they'll be awefully temped to run 24/7 unless you pay them not to.

  126. Mark

    Re: AC

    "Wind energy alone will not be the solution for UK, no matter what your simplistic mind tells you."

    The only ones telling us that wind energy alone is the solution are the people who say it won't be enough. Wind power proponents say things like "it will replace X TW of energy". Wind power denialists say "It can't solve our energy problems", implying that wind is to be considered the only solution.

    So if you want to aim "simplistic minds", point it at the wind power denialists.

  127. Anonymous Coward

    Nuclear or nothing

    Nuclear is the only solution that can provide sufficient and reliable power to replace everything else. Considering silly notions like wind and solar power is a waste of time. France's 59 nuclear reactors provides for 80% of their electricity needs. That's what the rest of the industrilized world needs to do.

  128. Mark

    Re: Nuclear or nothing

    However, since the uranium available in the UK is nil, this cannot be the solution to all our power needs.

    If nuclear is so safe, why must government pay to ensure safety?

    If nuclear is so cheap, why must government subsidise it?

  129. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    They stole it from Batman!

    "...a few years ago a pilot plant relying on fuel-cell type technologies was mothballed before it got as far as full trials due to funding issues. Google "Regenesys energy warehouse" for more info..."

    Christopher Walken tried to kill Michelle Pfeiffer and made Catwoman when he failed, just because she realised that his new power plant was going to extract and store, rather than generate, power...

  130. Dr Alister McFarquhar

    Wind power

    Does anyone know of any official estimate of saving in fuel and CO2 by Wind turbines?

    When I ask Govt I am referred to wind farm developers-hardly an unbiassed source

  131. Soylent


    "However, since the uranium available in the UK is nil, this cannot be the solution to all our power needs."

    I wouldn't worry as much about being dependent on Canada or Australia as I am about being dependent on russian gas or middle eastern oil.

    Uranium is not hard to stockpile many years into the future; it's some 100 tonnes of low enriched uranium dioxide pellets per 1 GW reactor per year.

    "If nuclear is so safe, why must government pay to ensure safety?"

    Government doesn't pay for safety; it holds nuclear energy to an extremely high regulatory burden and safety standard compared to every other power source for which utillities pay through the nose.

    "If nuclear is so cheap, why must government subsidise it?"

    Nuclear energy is held to an irrationally high standard motivated by fear and nuclear exceptionalism rather than actual safety arguments. That hurts far more than subsidies help.

    Coal kills some 20 000- 40 000 people per year in the US according to the EPA, gets to release enormous quantities of CO2, mercury(which unlike spent fuel doesn't disappear if you wait long enough); no one bats an eye-lash. You could literally dump spent nuclear fuel straight in the ocean with no precautions, no containment whatsoever, use the LNT model(which is an overestimate at low dose rates; but its use is still required by law) to estimate the death toll over eons and you would still not get anywhere near the death toll of coal energy.

    Yet spent nuclear fuel is somehow too dangerous to salvage the useful components(platinum group metals, reactor grade plutonium, remaining U-235, possibly technitium which would be very valuable as a catalyst and is only mildly radioactive etc.) and must be burried immediately.

    The likely death toll if a spent fuel cask ever broke in a crash is zero(from radioactivity, not the crash); it's a high density ceramic with a high melting point and it will just sit there until the experts come clean it up(wait till you see the bill). A truck or train car carrying anhydrous ammonia, chlorine or any number of other common industrial chemicals is far more dangerous if the tank were ever to rupture(and they do quite frequently. it's not uncommon for a dozen or so people to die and thousands of people to be evacuated); yet they're allowed to carry this stuff in an oversized coca cola can when spent nuclear fuel has to be carried in a cask capable of surviving not only a high speed crash, but being dropped on a spike and then being incinerated for hours and still passing a helium leak test.

    When a reactor leaks some tritium, equivalent in exposure for nearby inhabitants to eating a banana and far less than going to the dentist or living near a coal plant for a few days, there's an investigation and it's reported in the news as some kind of serious accident.

    Enormous costs have been piled onto nuclear energy by "environmentalists" in the name of safety(strange how often they turn out to have ties to coal and natural gas interests). If safety was the real concern here you could get far better returns on your investment if stopped flushing this money down the toilet and spent it elsewhere; e.g. forcing roofers to wear a safety harness, a wear your seat-belt ad campaign or a publically funded search for new anti-biotics.

  132. Mark

    Re: Wind power

    Well, what's the estimate of similar for nuclear plants. You won't get it from any unbiased source.

    How about you work it out?

    You're not a biased source, are you?

  133. Phil Clemow
    Thumb Up

    Re: Yes, it's not on most of the time.

    Capacity factor of a 1/3 means that over a year it will produce roughly 1/3 of its theoretical maximum

    ie. a 1GW generator will not produce 24GWhrs a day ... but 8GWhrs ...

    this is NOT the same as producing full power for 1/3 of the time and nothing for the rest!

    yes power scales as wind speed cubed ... but there is control capability to smooth that out at low wind speeds ... and at medium high wind speeds the generator maxes out power wise so the controls are designed to limit power output

    As has been said (countless times!) the solution lies in a nice mixture

    In my opinion its something like

    Wind turbines ... lots ... offshore by preference ... perhaps with wave power mixed in using the structures as a base

    Hydro and Tidal ... as much as we can manage

    nuclear ... lots ... we need to find somewhere to store the crap though

    Import links ... we'll need some of these

    New technology ... we need to keep looking

    Storage ... we desperately need some good storage

  134. Mark


    And more importantly, the power generation should come first from those sources available to us here in this country.

    Wind/Water/Tidal. We get plenty of this as a costal country near a jet stream.

    Sun. We get a decent amount.

    Nuclear. We don't get much of this, do we.

    But more than anything, use less.

  135. Stephen B Streater

    Summary + video of turbine

    To summarise then:

    (1) gas will be ridiculously expensive and supply will be subject to political factors beyond our control, so saving gas is good;

    (2) we will have multiple distributed sources of power, including wind;

    (3) it is easier to modify demand than supply (cf Economy 7); things like storage heaters and electric car chargers will take the (relative to gas) cheap surplus wind energy;

    (4) demand will be much more spread out with everything-on-demand;

    (5) building regs will decimate surplus winter demand for heating: the heat lost in a new house is a tenth of that in a victorian house - and people will cut their use as the price goes up;

    (6) the thick birds will have all have been mown down by the millions of cars racing around the countryside. The effect of 1 turbine per 10000 cars will be minimal.

    For those who don't appreciate the scale of a wind turbine, here is a video of one with a man climbing down one:

  136. nommo

    re: nuclear

    @ Soylent

    If Nuclear is 'relatively' safe - why don't we have nuclear reactors in cities? That is where the bulk of the energy demand is... that would be far more efficient.

    Why are we trying to bury waste in Cumbria and not in existing industrial brownfield sites in densely populated areas?

  137. Mr Pedantic

    Noone has mentioned geothermal

    Supposedly, the problem with wind power is the variability of the wind.

    The answer is to drill a really deep bore hole into the ground and let the temperature gradient between the surface and the underground drive a fluid-driven turbine.

    The great thing is, in the winter when demand is higher, the temperature gradient is higher. In other words, geothermal produces more power in the winter.

    As the earth is constantly producing heat, you get constant power - and there are no complaints about spoiling the view or killing birds, and no CO2 produced once the construction is completed. To save on construction costs, they could use disused mineshafts and drill down further.

    It is now even possible to use geothermal to heat your own home. You can choose to dig a deep bore, or if you have enough lawn, you can lay the pipes under the lawn.

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