There’s inefficient, and then there’s really inefficient

The one hundred and six mostly Tory MPs who think wind power is a bad idea have had their day in the Sunday Telegraph, and new  Secretary of State Ed Davey has been robust in his defence of wind as part of a mixed renewable portfolio. It is, of course, local planning that these MPs are after, as well as subsidies, and rumours are that the Government is to produce guidance that ‘rebalances’ national and local planning considerations when it comes to the siting of onshore wind.

Rebalancing, that is, …er… the shredding of planning guidance by the Government down to just fifty odd pages, thereby, among other things giving national policy planning guidance a sharp tilt AWAY from local vetoes on planning.   The localising of planning demand is set out in an annex to the MPs letter not apparently published in the Sunday Telegraph and is well dissected  in a ‘mole’ piece in ‘the Week’.

But stick for a minute with the central letter.  ‘In these financially straightened times’ the MPs declare, ‘we think it is unwise to make consumers pay, through taxpayer subsidy for inefficient and intermittent energy production that typifies on-shore turbines.’

There are two points to think about here. One is dealt with very well by Damian Carrington in his Guardian Blog, who points out that the consequence of  these MPs wanting to  ‘spread the savings between other types of reliable renewable energy production’ could well mean energy being far more expensive since these other ‘reliable renewable’ generation devices produce electricity at far greater expense per kilowatt hour than does on-shore wind.

The other point has not to my knowledge been dealt with at all. This is that, on analysis, the confident assertion by our 106 antiwinders that consumers are paying for all this ‘inefficient and intermittent’ wind through the nose doesn’t look quite so clear. Not, that is, if you look at electricity production in the round, or at least enough in the round to take into account how efficient other forms of electricity production actually are by comparison with wind.

To make this calculation, you have to take into account the thermal efficiency of other forms of power   – that is the extent to which fuel that goes in is actually produced as electricity, and doesn’t just go up the chimney in hot air.  Then you have to look at how often the plant itself is not producing at all, because it is closed, or broken down, or is being maintained.  The resultant figure is the ‘effective energy delivery’ of the technology.

Hard to find out? Not really: it’s all there on Table 5.10 of the Digest of UK Energy  Statistics’ (DUKES) a fine publication that our antiwinders would be well advised to consult more often.

So, our starter. Wind, we can generally say, has about 25% ‘effective energy delivery’. It produces electricity to about 25% of its theoretical installed capacity, but when it does the fuel is free and none is wasted.

So it’s gas next up. Very efficient, one would think. But is it? Load factor of 60.6%, thermal efficiency  of 47.6%, so it slides in just ahead of wind with an ‘effective energy delivery’ of 29% (but not very low carbon).

Nuclear – that’s low carbon, isn’t it?. Runs all the time. Must be the winner. Well, no: load factor in 2010 of 59.4%. Thermal efficiency just 38.3% – down there  in third with ‘effective energy delivery’ of 22.75%.

And coal – well, it’s not only very high carbon, but very inefficient. Much more so than wind:  a 40.9% load factor and thermal efficiency of just 36%: A poor last with ‘effective energy delivery’ of only 14.7%.

I doubt whether these ‘facts’ will  stop any of the antiwinders or their allies going on about how hopelessly inefficient and unreliable wind is.  But it is a largely groundless prejudice, and ought to be recorded as such. I am indebted to Edward Hyams, former chairman of the Energy Saving Trust for pointing me at this: it should be more widely disseminated, I think.

4 thoughts on “There’s inefficient, and then there’s really inefficient

  1. Excellent, thank you!

  2. Hi Alan,
    As you know, I am a strong advocate of Renewable Technologies, but with respect your comments muddle different measurements of ‘efficiency’

    I have worked at both Nuclear and Coal Fired Power Stations (though not gas) and I am not a fan of either, but it has to be recognised that the Energy Conversion efficiency of Conventional and Nuclear Power systems is not the same as the availability ‘efficiency’ of types Renewable Technology systems.

    Even taking into account breakdowns and routine maintenance of conventional systems, their Load Factor of installed capacity is up to 85% (a), whilst On-Shore Wind is less than 25% (b).

    With the majority of the 15% unavailability at (a) above being due to planned maintenance, the equivalent 75% unavailability at (b) is due to Wind Fluctuations.

    Therefore with ‘Conventional’ Power Stations, a 2GW capacity is predictably available for use, baring breakdowns, when it is required.

    Even if we try to replace a single 2GW ‘Conventional’ Power Station with On-Shore Wind, we would need 4000 x 2MW Turbines to just deliver the same predictable Load Factor – however, we would still need the 2GW of Conventional Power (in ‘spinning reserve’) for when the wind doesn’t blow, as we saw during the month of December 2010, when we had some of the coldest weather on record, but almost no output whatsoever from ‘our’ installed On-Shore Wind Turbine capacity.

    The UK would have to be literally covered in Large Scale Wind Turbines (each around 125m high) to meet even half of the governments 20% target of energy from Renewable Technologies and it would not lead to the closing of a single ‘Conventional’ Power Station.

    What the UK urgently needs is a further massive investment in;

    1, Energy Efficiency measures.

    2. Microgeneration, installed at load centres, but recent DECC activity has almost destroyed that hope!

    3. Investment in Electrical Generation systems for our electrical generation infrastructure that will replace conventional systems, which at the moment, in my opinion, are only Tidal Power and Anaerobic Digesters with CHP systems or used with gas powered vehicles.

    4. Off-shore Wind Farms, connected to energy storage systems and not directly to the electrical generation infrastructure.

    Perhaps the Bank of England can be persuaded to invest another £50B into the Renewables Industry, instead of pouring into the banking black hole.

    So I have to say in conclusion that I agree with the ethos of the recent letter from the 106 cross party MP’s and that in the absence of another source of funding, that I do feel that a very significant portion of the funds directed at Large Scale On-shore Wind Farms should be redirected towards other Renewable Technology systems and Energy Conservation measures.

    Kind Regards
    John Andrews
    Chief Executive – The NAPIT Group

  3. Please send a copy to the Telegraph, Simon Jenkins and all the anti wind groups asking the question – what is your answer to the legally binding emissions reduction? Because without turbines it will not be met.

  4. It has to be said, that the greatest barriers to progress are political, but:-

    These efficiency percentages seem to make a good case, but I’m not convinced. John Andrews questions the validity of this analysis. Is “effective energy delivery” even a meaningful statistic? I doubt that it is.

    On the other hand, I doubt that there is any basis in truth for the MP’s letter to dismiss on-shore wind as expensive and inefficient. As I see it, a comparison of the ‘efficiency’ of diverse systems – one using no fuel and the others consuming costly finite resources – is meaningless.

    More to the point, it is deceitful to pretend that consumers are paying a high price for the ‘green’ benefits. It is a matter of record that escalating fuel bills are largely caused by rising wholesale prices and energy company profiteering. These people never let the truth get in the way of a good story do they.

    It is also a well established fact that intermittency can be managed if wind power has less than 20% penetration of the electricity market, but that’s not to say that supply side efficiency can’t be transformed. Bearing that in mind, this is obviously the future path for renewables development to follow:-

    “Off-shore Wind Farms, connected to energy storage systems”.

    In 2009 I gave National Grid a design to surpass that by combining wind and wave energy capture with integral before-generator storage. Dispatchability is the game-changer, but in keeping with the UK’s typical incompetence in promoting radical innovation, they ignored the smart solution.

    That’s no surprise. The UK’s wet-nursed industry/energy market structure makes it dysfunctional in regard to infrastructure renewal. The corporate culture in the West compounds this problem. In stark contrast, KEPCO generates and distributes in a monopoly situation, but puts R&D investment ABOVE profit:-
    News – 31/01/2012
    “Shareholders of Korea Electric Power Corp. filed a lawsuit against the company, claiming KEPCO suffered losses due to its failure to raise electricity prices. The group claimed KEPCO’s failure to raise electricity rates caused KRW 7.2 trillion ($6.38 billion) in damage to the company between 2009 and 2010.”

    OFGEM allows an oligopoly to abuse a captive market and rip off the poor. In this crisis ALL profit should be ploughed back into building innovative solutions. The original UK grid was built by the state. Central planning is the best way to do the job, fast and at minimal cost. Simple-minded neo-liberals can’t stomach that fact. We need to resurrect a better CEGB, with a mandate to challenge convention.

    For more details follow the links:-

    Put simply, any intelligent analysis would conclude we need to stop deployment of sea bed mounted HAWTs as soon as possible. Too many WILL be a problem, that much is beyond dispute.

    Why should anyone give a toss that some idiotic theory says pumping QE into the REAL ECONOMY is inflationary? So what? Propping up a defunct banking system, that still lends to government in preference to business (when that government denies its responsibility for infrastructure investment) is sheer lunacy, as is the EU’s state aid mantra, which imposes this brainless ideology. (and corrupts the market in IPR)

    Academia, private business and the public sector are all petrified of the attendant risks of R&D. What percentage of new UK industry investment comes from foreign companies? Says it all really. It’s assumed that these industry leaders are expert, so inward investment is the ONLY ‘vision’ you ever get from politicians. Given the opportunity to leap-frog the competition and render their technology obsolete, a renaissance of British design and manufacturing should be a no-brainer, but I fear it will never happen.

    Dave Smart

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