Dependable wind

Bishop Hill has rightly pointed out that the current weather is casting the Met. Office's claims of technical superiority in a bad light. But let's not limit it to the Met. Office. It is also making a monkey of wind fanatics.

The current weather presents an interesting challenge to proponents of wind-power. Jeremy Paxman just asked Mike O'Brien how much power is currently being produced by renewables (assuming in standard BBC-style that renewables would deliver power on demand regardless of conditions), to which O'Brien answered truthfully "very little".

Even that is an exaggeration for wind at this precise moment. Just when our needs are greatest, because of the cold weather, our output of wind-power must be less than "very little", because of the same high-pressure system that has caused the cold weather.

Wind-fans argue that if we had better networks, the wind will always be blowing somewhere. But it would need to be a big network, with massive redundancy, in conditions like this. The UK is not remotely big enough. Western Europe wouldn't be big enough. In these conditions, we would need a network that stretched from Scotland to Greece and from Spain to Estonia, to achieve reasonable smoothing through geographical diversity. It would need to be a completely new, DC network because of the losses on AC over that distance. It would need massive duplication of wind capacity over that network. The cost would be immense. And the geopolitical insecurities huge. Hardly an answer to our energy-security problems.

The reality is that wind-power cannot serve much more than the 20% of our electricity demand (7% of our energy demands) that always used to be assumed (before the Renewable Energy Directive made it necessary to lie), and needs standby thermal generation capacity equal to almost the whole of the wind capacity. Like a pan-European HVDC network, keeping those power-stations available but idle won't be cheap.