GETTING THE FACTS RIGHT:
Ten things to know about wind energy
- Wind energy is not highly subsidised, it simply operates into a subsidised energy market
- Wind energy can compete with other power generation options
- Wind energy is not on a "level playing field" with other fuels
- Wind energy does not need constant back-up
- Wind farms are not noisy
- Wind energy benefits the environment
- Wind energy has limited impact on habitats and wildlife
- Wind energy reduces pollution
- Wind energy generates reliable electricity
- Wind turbines produce much more energy than they use
- Wind turbines will not dominate the countryside
- Wind energy is an important part of the mix
- Wind energy is already making an important contribution to electricity supply
Wind energy is not highly subsidised, it simply operates into a subsidised energy market
In the past, no electricity generating technology has been
developed, introduced and become competitive without initial
support. Well-established industries such as oil, natural gas and
nuclear power have all benefited from significant state backing
during their development phase.
Worldwide government subsidies to the fossil fuel industry in 2008 were $557 billion (IEA study 2010), while subsidies to the renewable energy and biofuel industries in 2009 were $43-$46 billion (Bloomberg New Energy Finance study 2010). So fossil fuels received 10 times more subsidies than the clean energy sector. Subsidies also take indirect forms, such as the $35 billion paid out by the US federal government over 30 years to cover the medical expenses of miners suffering from "black lung disease".
Such distortions mean that the true cost of "conventional" energy sources is not reflected in their market price.
In the UK, the support that wind and other renewable energy technologies get (the Renewables Obligation or RO) is not a taxpayer subsidy, it is paid through electricity consumers' fuel bills, which means that it follows the 'polluter pays' principle - the more energy you use, the more you pay. And don't forget that through the RO, renewable energy generators only get paid for the power they produce so there's no subsidy for doing nothing and a big incentive for efficiently operating projects.
Wind energy can compete with other power generation options
At good windy sites, wind is increasingly competitive with other
new-build generation technologies, especially given recent and
future rises in oil and gas prices. Obviously, wind cannot compete
with the cost of producing electricity from an existing power plant
that has already been depreciated and paid for by taxpayers or
electricity consumers. Wind energy is one of the cheapest of the
renewable energy technologies. It is competitive with new clean
coal fired power stations and cheaper than new nuclear power. The
cost of wind energy varies according to many factors. An average
for a new onshore wind farm in a good location is 3-4 pence per
unit, competitive with new coal (2.5-4.5p) and cheaper than new
nuclear (4-7p). Electricity from smaller wind farms can be more
The cost of wind energy has fallen over the years as the technology has matured. Historically, the costs per produced kWh for new turbines have fallen by between 9 % and 17 % for each doubling of installed capacity [ref European Wind Energy Association - EWEA].
Finally, if the "external" costs of damage to health and other environmental effects of different fuels are added in, the European Commission has concluded that the cost of coal-fired generation would double and the cost of gas-fired generation would increase by 30 % [source European Wind Energy Association - EWEA].
Wind energy is not on a "level playing field" with other fuels
The present situation is that environmentally harmful practices are accepted, and indeed often subsidised, and there are few taxes that fully reflect the "external costs" of electricity production (effects on environment, health, etc...). Without mechanisms to internalize these external costs, a second best solution to a level playing field in the electricity markets is to enable adequate incentives to increase the proportion of renewable energy.
Wind energy does not need constant back-up
All forms of power generation require back-up and no energy technology can be relied upon 100%. The UK's transmission system already operates with enough back-up to manage the instantaneous loss of a large power station. Variations in the output from wind farms are barely noticeable over and above the normal fluctuation in supply and demand, seen when the nation's workforce goes home, or if lightning brings down a high-voltage transmission line. Therefore, at present, there is no need for additional back-up because of wind energy.
Even for wind power to provide 10% of our nation's electricity needs, only a small amount of additional conventional back-up would be required - in the region of 300-500 MW. This would add only 0.2 pence per kilowatt hour to the generation cost of wind energy and would not in any way threaten the security of our grid. In fact, this is unlikely to become a significant issue until wind generates over 20% of total electricity supply. In Denmark, approximately 20 % of electricity demand is already supplied by the wind, and is managed successfully by the Transmission System Operator.
Wind farms are not noisy
At a distance of 300 meters, a modern wind turbine is no noisier
than a kitchen refrigerator or a moderately quiet room. Improved
design has drastically reduced the noise of mechanical components
so that the most audible sound is that of the wind interacting with
the rotor blades. This is similar to a light swishing sound, and
much quieter than other types of modern-day equipment. Even in
generally quiet rural areas, the sound of the blowing wind is often
louder than the turbines.
To avoid potential disturbance to neighbours, strict rules are applied by local authorities to ensure that wind turbines are far enough from nearby houses and it's in developers' interests to design their wind farms responsibly to ensure they do not cause a noise nuisance to local residents.
Wind energy benefits the environment
Wind power has a light footprint. Its operation does not produce harmful emissions or any hazardous waste. It does not deplete natural resources, nor does it cause environmental damage through resource extraction, transport and waste management.
In a wind farm the turbines themselves take up less than 1% of the land area. Once up and running, existing activities such as agriculture and walking can continue around them. Farm animals such as cows and sheep are not disturbed. Any impacts on the local environment must be set against the much more serious effects of producing conventional electricity.
Wind energy has limited impact on habitats and wildlife
Wind farm developers are required to undertake an Environmental Impact Assessment for each project. They also work closely with conservation and wildlife groups to ensure that new developments are sympathetic to existing habitats. Extensive efforts are made to avoid putting up wind farms in areas which might attract large numbers of birds or bats, such as migration routes.
In the UK, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has said that "we have not so far witnessed any major adverse effects on birds associated with wind farms." Wind energy developers, following industry best practice guidelines, work closely with organisations such as English Nature and the RSPB to ensure that wind farm design and layout does not interfere with sensitive species or wildlife designated sites. Furthermore, a 2004 report published in the journal Nature confirmed that the greatest threat to bird populations in the UK is climate change.
In addition, impacts from wind power are extremely low compared with other human-related activities. US statistics show 1 billion birds are killed by colliding with buildings each year and up to 80 million by vehicles. By comparison, it's estimated that commercial wind turbines in the US cause the direct deaths of only 0.01 - 0.02% of all of the birds killed annually by collisions with man-made structures and activities.
Wind energy reduces pollution
Unlike other forms of power generation, wind energy is clean and renewable. It's "clean" because its operation doesn't produce any carbon dioxide, the largest contributor to global warming. There are also no other harmful gases or waste products. By contrast, power stations burning fossil fuels, mainly coal and gas, are responsible for a quarter of the increase in greenhouse gases in the earth's atmosphere. It's "renewable" because its fuel source is the wind - freely available and constantly renewed.
Wind energy generates reliable electricity
Wind turbines generate electricity most (70-85%) of the time. Their output varies according to the strength of the wind. They start generating power when the wind is blowing at about 4-5 metres per second and then stop again if it reaches gale force strength - about 25 metres/second. Over the course of a year, a wind turbine on land will generate from around 20% to more than 30% of its theoretical maximum output, depending on location. Offshore, the percentage is higher. By comparison, the load factor of conventional power stations averages 50%. Because of stoppages for maintenance or breakdowns, no power plant generates for 100 % of the time. Wind turbines can carry on generating electricity for 20-25 years.
Wind turbines produce much more energy than they use
It is a myth that building a wind farm takes more energy than it
The comparison of energy used in manufacture with the energy produced by a power station is known as the 'energy balance'. It can be expressed in terms of energy 'pay-back' time, i.e. as the time needed to generate the equivalent amount of energy used in manufacturing the wind turbine or power station.
Wind turbines will not dominate the countryside.
To obtain 10% of our electricity from the wind would require constructing around 12,000 MW of wind energy capacity. Depending on the size of the turbines, they would extend over 80,000 to 120,000 hectares (0.3% to 0.5% of the UK land area). Less than 1% of this (800 to 1,200 hectares) would be used for foundations and access roads, the other 99% could still be used for productive farming. For comparison, between 288,000 to 360,000 hectares (1.2-1.5% of the UK land area) is covered by roads and some 18.5 million hectares (77%) are used for agriculture.
Wind energy is a vital part of the mix
Wind energy has an essential role in combating climate change and the UK will need a mix of both new and existing renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency measures, and as quickly as possible. Significant amounts of investment have been allocated for wave and tidal energy development, and these technologies, along with solar and biomass energy, will have an important role in the UK's future energy mix. However, wind energy is the most cost effective renewable energy source available to generate clean electricity, help combat climate change and meet our energy security objectives right now. It is a proven, efficient technology that can be deployed quickly and has been contributing to the UK's electricity supply for years. Furthermore, developing a strong wind industry will facilitate other renewable technologies which have not reached commercialisation yet, accumulating valuable experience in dealing with issues such as grid connection, supply chain and finance.
Wind energy is already making an important contribution to electricity supply
Over the past decade the global market for wind power has been expanding faster than any other renewable energy source. Since the year 2000 the average annual increase in cumulative installed capacity has been 28%.
By the end of 2006, the worldwide capacity of wind power generation had reached 74,000 MW. In Europe, it had reached 48,000 MW. This is enough to meet 3% of European electricity demand. Denmark gets 20% of its electricity from wind power, Spain 8% and Germany 7%.
This content comes from a range of sources, including the
European Wind Energy Association and RenewableUK.