The Economics of Renewable Energy - Economic Affairs Committee Contents

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 power.


  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 increases.

  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 statement:

    "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. "insurance":

    "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 ..." (Reference 6).

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 Grids.

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 Go Out.

6.  House of Commons 210 Session 2004-05 (11 February 2005) Renewable Energy: Report by the Comptroller and Auditor General.

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