Support for wind energy remains one of the most controversial aspects of renewable energy policy, despite the UK government's commitment to expand the sector and evidence that wind turbines provide one of the most cost effective sources of clean power.
The sector has faced years of criticism with opponents questioning both it's technical reliability and impact on the grid, as well as the scale of the emission reductions wind turbines actually deliver, and the justification for public subsidies.
But now a peer-reviewed report think tank IPPR along with engineering consultants GL Garrad Hassan have analysed and destroyed some of the most common myths that dog the wind energy sector in their landmark study, Beyond the Bluster – Why wind power is an effective technology. The reports main conclusions are listed here.
Myth: Wind energy subsidies are pushing up energy bills
Fact: Renewable energy subsidies do add to energy bills, but "from 2004 to 2010, government support for renewables added £30 to the average energy bill while rises in the wholesale cost of gas added £290".
Myth: Back-up power plants mean wind energy does not deliver net reductions in carbon emissions
Fact: In 2011, wind turbines in the UK provided 15.5 terawatt hours to the grid. Due to its lower marginal cost this power would have displaced fossil fuel power from the grid, meaning that wind energy saved a minimum of 5.5 million tonnes of CO2 if gas was displaced and a maximum of over 12 million tonnes if coal was displaced. "Following this logic we can say that, using government figures about electricity generated in the UK from wind and the carbon intensity of the very best available gas technologies, the CO2 savings from wind energy were at least 5.5 million tonnes in 2011. This is around 2.5 per cent of the emissions the UK is legally obliged to save annually from 2008 to 2012, as required by its Climate Change Act 2008."
Myth: The powering up and down of fossil fuel plants to cope with wind energy intermittency undermines their efficiency and leads to a net increase in emissions
Fact: More advanced modelling is required in the UK to disprove this hypothesis, but empirical studies from US states with a high proportion of wind energy have shown "unequivocally" that wind energy supplies have "significantly" reduced the average carbon intensity of fossil fuel power plants on the same grid. In the Mid West average wind energy carbon savings reached 831kg/MWh, while in Texas they hit 474Kg/MWh.
Myth: The "intermittent" nature of wind power makes it impossible to manage
Fact: Wind power is not "intermittent" in that it does not suddenly and unexpectedly turn on and off in the way that fossil fuel and nuclear plants do. Instead it is "variable", meaning that increasingly accurate weather forecasting makes it possible to predict changes in output ahead of time. This makes wind energy significantly easier to manage as you bring it on to the grid.
Read more Wind Energy articles.
Discover how you can install your own Wind Energy