By Anders Lorenzen
As yet another winter storm ravaged the British Isles last month, one silver lining appeared – wind power climbed to new heights.
On March the 17th, power generation from Britain’s wind farms hit a record 14.2 gigawatts (GW). This shows just how much wind power can do on windy days and just how much it can contribute to electricity generation, accounting for a whopping 34% of electricity produced at around 14:30 on that Saturday.
While the building of wind farms onshore, at least in England that is, seems to have stalled due to policy changes and opposition to wind turbines, offshore it continues to grow at full steam at sea (as well as onshore in Wales and Scotland). And in 2018 the trade body for renewable energy, RenewableUK, predicts another 2GW of wind power will be added to the grid, with a slight bias towards offshore over onshore generation. Meaning it is only a matter of time before that record will be broken again. In 2017 wind power capacity grew by around a fifth with both the connection of the Burbo Bank wind farms’ offshore extension and the Vattenfall Pen-y-Cymoedd onshore project. Prior to the 17th, the previous wind power record set in the UK lasted less than a month. With the high and prolonged wind speeds producing 13.8 GW on the 1st of March surpassed within just three weeks. RenewableUK’s Executive Director Emma Pinchbeck commented “Yet again, wind is playing a key role in keeping Britain going during a cold spell. When the mini Beast from the East struck on Saturday, over a third of the UK’s electricity was being generated by wind.
As Britain are rapidly phasing out coal power stations and old nuclear power plants are beginning to close, paired with the fact that it will be quite some time before new nuclear capacity such as the Hinkley Point C station comes online, it is hoped that wind power could fill the gap.
However, as wind power is an intermittent source of electricity any added capacity to the market makes it increasingly difficult to balance the system and keep a handle on frequency control. But National Grid is certain they can rise to the challenge. Their Director of the System Operator Fintan Slye commented: “We now have significant volumes of renewable energy on the system and as this trend continues, our ability to forecast and manage this is becoming more and more important. We have an expert team of forecasters, analysts and engineers who monitor a range of data, to forecast just how much electricity will be needed by consumers and how this is matched by generation available from renewable and other sources.”