Some good news blown in by the bad
There doesn’t appear much upside to the recent storms that have been battering the UK – unless you are a wind power generator. The high winds have delivered a record-breaking period of wind energy, with generation from this sector contributing 10% of Britain’s total electricity demand for homes, businesses and factories during December alone.
Wind turbines provided more than 2.8-million MWh of electricity to the National Grid over the course of the month, enough to power over 5.7 million UK homes. This is quite a jump from the previous record set in October 2013, when just under 2-million MWh was recorded.
The Saturday before Christmas (21 December), one of the busiest shopping days of the year, saw a record daily amount of electricity produced from wind, meeting 17% of the nation’s total electricity demand that day.
But it’s not just the UK that’s been benefitting from this increased source of renewable energy. Figures released earlier this week reveal that Spain recorded a record-breaking 2013, with wind generation contributing 21.1% of the country’s overall electricity demand, an increase of 12% on 2012 levels.
This achievement – along with a growing volume of power generated by hydro schemes – means that Spain’s greenhouse gas emissions are predicted to have fallen by around 23.1% last year. Overall, the country generates just shy of 50% of its electricity from renewable energy, which also includes growing volumes of solar PV and solar thermal capacity.
Of course, in a country like Spain – where the weather is traditionally more predictable than in the UK – balancing a growing volume of renewable supply with overall demand requirements is a less challenging task. Spain is also helped by significant hydroelectric storage capacity, which means it has a fast-to-deploy, carbon-free solution at the ready to meet any shortfall if the wind drops or the sun stops shining.
Finding solutions to balancing variable renewable supply in the UK is key if we are to continue to reduce our reliance on fossil fuel generation. A partial resolution may lie in greater EU-wide energy sharing, which could help to ‘smooth’ out country-specific peaks and troughs.
This approach appears popular with Ed Davey, as last week, he called on the EU to fast-track plans for new cross-border interconnectors between member states. As well as providing a larger pool to balance over-supply and demand shortfalls, it’s suggested these links could lead to overall cheaper power prices across Europe. As this in turn could provide a welcome boost to EU competitiveness, there’s clearly an argument for the development of a more cohesive EU-wide energy policy, rather than the current country-specific strategies being pursued.
Already, we in the mainland UK share interconnectors with France, Northern Ireland and the Netherlands. But while further links within the Eurozone could increase our balancing capacity, and vice versa, it’s also suggested that expanding the network beyond the EU’s borders could deliver far greater rewards. For example, an interconnector to link us to the more consistent geothermal abundance of Iceland, or to the huge solar potential of North Africa.
Clearly, there are political hurdles to cross before such a ‘supergrid’ could become reality. But at least there are options to consider. And if these – rather than more stormy weather – can deliver a higher proportion of renewable generation, that sounds like good news for us all.