UK Onshore Wind Turbines
In this weeks blog we are going to look at the advantages of onshore wind turbines. In the UK, wind energy plays a significant role in our energy mix, providing enough electricity to power 4.5m homes in total.
Onshore wind has an installed capacity of 5,619MW, roughly twice that of offshore wind, and produces about 13,000GWh of electricity, enough to power about 3m homes per year.
There has been lots of press attention recently over the role of wind turbines in our energy mix, so we are going to weigh up what we see as the potential advantages and disadvantages of this form of renewable technology.
Advantages of Onshore Wind Turbines
It is a proven Technology
It is already helping provide a significant amount of electricity to the grid. In 2010, onshore electricity provided about 7TWh of electricity to the grid, approximately 25% of the renewable energy in the energy mix in the UK.
It is thought that this might be as high as 30TWh by 2020.
It is comparatively Cheap
Onshore Winds primary advantage is that it is the cheapest renewable energy source currently available to the UK, working out at about 8p / kWh. This puts it slightly more expensive that gas and the other more established fossil fuels which come in about 4-7p / kWh, but is substantially lower than situating the turbines out at sea.
It is quick to install
While a nuclear power station might take in excess of 20 years to construct from the initial planning permission phase, a wind turbine can go up and start providing electricity to the grid in a matter of months.
Limitations of Onshore Wind Turbines
Not 100% Green
So are wind turbines completely green? Well no, despite producing emission free electricity when in operation, they are limited emissions associated with their manufacture and installation.
Some people who live in close proximity of the wind turbines complain of the noise they make when the wind is blowing. The infographic from GE demonstrates how loud wind turbines actually are.
Onshore wind turbines are often criticised for their visual impact, ruining what previously have been areas of natural beauty. They are typically spread out over larger areas than other energy producing installations, and therefore have a larger impact on the local environment.
They don’t produce electricity 24/7
The other major issue with any type of wind turbine is that it produces electricity intermittently. This wouldn’t necessarily be an issue if we could store the electricity produced when demand is very low, but energy storage is currently very inefficient, expensive and unproven.
The Future for Wind Turbines
If the cost of manufacturing wind turbines falls, then very quickly the cost per kWh of electricity produced from wind will reach parity with electricity made from burning fossil fuels.
Potentially, as the wind industry continues to grow, economies of scale can be introduced (ability to make something cheaper, the more you make of it) and the technology will become more efficient (for example, nanotechnology allowing the blades to capture more of the kinetic energy in the wind) so the price to produce the electricity from wind turbines will continue to fall.
There are initiative solutions to make renewables produce power 24/7 currently in development. The Crescent Dunes Solar power plant takes advantage of molten salt technology to keep electricity flowing while the sun doesn’t shine.
In theory, Wind Turbines could be coupled with pumped storage such as the Dinorwig power station in Wales, but even that storage mechanism is limited, and requires a lot more energy to create the electrical potential energy, than can be used for useful work.
Have a look at our energy storage section to see other potential solutions that make make 24/7 production viable.
The last point here, and the one that I think is most important, is that as people begin to grow up with wind turbines around them, they will become the norm and therefore more accepted. Currently many of the people complaining about them have seen these things installed in the last 5 years or so, so knew what the land was like before they were there.
Children growing up now will know no different, the wind turbines will simply be ‘part of the furniture’ and therefore they will recognise them as what they are, simply smaller scale energy power plants.