Memorandum by Dr John Etherington
My name is Dr John R Etherington, formerly Reader
in Ecology in the University of Wales, Cardiff.
Since my retirement from the University I have
spent much time researching the implications of intermittently
available renewable electricity generation, in particular wind
There is now ample evidence that wind power
will require backup from conventional power stations to very nearly
the installed capacity of the wind farms, a fact which has been
ignored to the present and yet has enormous economic implications.
The Government and wind power industry has been
warned on many occasions that the unpredictability of wind power
will make it a threat to security of supply unless very substantial
and costly dedicated back-up power is provided.
It is disingenuous of the wind power industry
to claim that backup is already in position to insure against
failure of conventional supply which will progressively lead to
under-insuring as the installed capacity (i.c.) of wind power
Early warnings came from one of the largest
wind operators in the world, E.ON Netz Gmbh with the publication
of its Wind Report 2005 (Reference 1) which claimed that a backup
provision of 90% of the wind i.c. would be necessary.
By 2007 this problem was widely appreciated
and the European Transmission Union (UCTE) summarised it in the
"The variable contributions from wind power
must be balanced almost completely with other back-up generation
capacity located elsewhere. This adds to the requirements for
grid reinforcements." (Reference 2).
Despite various reports which have attempted
to refute this problem and the need for a solution (Reference
3) the UK subsidiary of E.ON Netx, E.ON UK has very recently made
a public statement reiterating the need for 90% wind power i.c.
"E.ON said that it could take 50 gigawatts
of renewable electricity generation to meet the EU target. But
it would require up to 90% of this amount as backup from coal
and gas plants to ensure supply when intermittent renewable supplies
were not available". (Reference 4)
In other words, to quote Dr Dieter Helm speaking
in 2003 on a BBC 2 programme:
"So the paradox of building windmills is
that you have to build a lot of ordinary power stations to back
them up" (Reference 5)
Not only does this have implication for the
overall cost of the venture which is so high that it requires
the near 100% consumer-sourced subsidy of the Renewables Obligation
but it also comes with a carbon dioxide (CO2) price-tag. Sir Donald
Miller, former Chair of Scottish Power, speaking at the Whinash
Public Inquiry suggested conservatively that the loss of CO2 abatement
might be 20% of the equivalent wind power feed.
I believe that these facts have not received
sufficient attention, despite the warning from the Auditor General
in 2005 that:
"The Renewables Obligation is currently
at least four times more expensive than the other means of reducing
carbon dioxide currently used in the United Kingdom ..."
18 June 2008
1. E.ON Netz (2005) Wind Report 2005
2. UCTE (2007) European Wind Integration Study:
Towards a Successful Integration of Wind Power into European Electricity
3. Oxford Environmental Change Institute (2005)
Wind Power and the UK Wind Resource and UKERC (2006) The Costs
and Impacts of Intermittency.
4. E.ON UK (2008) Statement by the CEO of E.ON
UK, reported in The Guardian, (4 June. "E.ON warns
over backup for renewables").
5. BBC 2 (2003 10 March) If|.. The Lights
6. House of Commons 210 Session 2004-05 (11 February
2005) Renewable Energy: Report by the Comptroller and Auditor