December was an extremely windy month in the United Kingdom, resulting in wind farms supplying a record high of 12.2% of the UK’s electricity demand on December 28, and an average of 5.3% of demand over the entire month. That surge in wind power helped the UK cut its carbon emissions by over 750,000 tons – equivalent to taking over 300,000 cars off the road.
Wind power is accounting for an increasing proportion of the UK’s energy supply (maybe that’s what inspired the recent, seemingly desperate high-profile attack on wind). Two UK wind power developers have already hit the 1-gigawatt (GW) mark in installed capacity, and the trend shows no sign of slowing. According to new figures released by the the Department of Environment and Climate Change (DECC), the UK now has enough wind power to keep the lights on at more than 3.3 million homes.
Last year alone, the UK experienced a 64 percent increase in offshore wind power generation – largely accounted for by the Ormonde and Greater Gabbard offshore wind farms, which were partially completed and commissioned in 2011. That pair accounted for two-thirds of the overall increase in renewable energy capacity in the UK last year.
This is great news for wind farm developers, but it presents challenges for National Grid operators. As more and more of the UK’s electricity comes from wind power, integrating the variable output of wind turbines with output from other energy sources, and balancing energy supply with variable customer demand becomes more difficult. National Grid launched a wind power forecasting system last year, which allows its engineers to better predict wind farm output. But integrating the ebbing and flowing power of wind still involves performing a range of grid balancing actions, including reducing the rate at which fossil fuel generators consume fuel when wind output is higher.
National Grid’s successful management of high volumes of wind power over the holidays pleased RenewableUK, the trade association for the wind, wave and tidal industry, which issued a formal statement praising National Grid. The organization also attacked that a controversial study by the Civitas think tank, which claims that natural gas and nuclear power are more cost-effective ways to tackle climate change than wind power.
“Wind energy represents a new paradigm in electricity generation, allowing us to harness the power of the weather when it’s available, cutting our fossil fuel bills and lowering our carbon emissions,” RenewableUK Director of Policy Dr. Gordon Edge said in a statement. “As we’re generating increasingly large amounts of electricity from wind, feeding those large volumes of power into the system represents an engineering challenge to the National Grid – a challenge we are pleased to see they met over Christmas.”