Wind farms produced 'practically no electricity' during Britain's cold snap

Wind farms produced "practically no electricity" during the cold snap which manufacturers' groups say could lead to severe winter energy shortages.

By Rowena Mason
Published: 6:39AM GMT 11 Jan 2010

The cold weather has been accompanied by high pressure and a lack of wind, which meant that only 0.2pc of a possible 5pc of the UK's energy was generated by wind turbines over the last few days.

Jeremy Nicholson, director of the Energy Intensive Users Group (EIUG), gave warning that this could turn into a crisis when the UK is reliant on 6,400 turbines accounting for a quarter of all UK electricity demand over the next 10 years.

He said the shortfall in power generated by wind during cold snaps seriously undermined the Government's pledge on Friday to build nine major new wind "super farms" by 2020.

"If we had this 30 gigawatts of wind power, it wouldn't have contributed anything of any significance this winter," he said. "The current cold snap is a warning that our power generation and gas supplies are under strain and it is getting worse."

Coal stations are currently used as back-up generation when there is a surge in demand for gas and the wind does not blow which both tend to happen during cold weather.

However, increased dependence on wind farms will coincide with a European Union directive shutting down Britain's dirtiest coal and oil fired power stations.

The UK has committed to switching off these stations by 2015, leaving it uniquely vulnerable to gas shortages and the intermittency of wind farms.

The EIUG, which represents the major steel, chemicals, paper, cement, glass, ceramics and aluminium companies,
said many of its members were worried about the prospect of future gas rationing.

"It will be industry that gets its gas switched off first," Mr Nicholson said. "Just imagine going through the winter we're having now when energy demand has gone back up to pre-recession levels, we're more reliant on wind and 60pc of supply comes from gas compared with 40pc now.

"What is industry going to switch to using?"

Andrew Horstead, a risk analyst for energy consultant Utilyx, said current plans to build 30 gigawatts of wind farms could have serious consequences for the security of the UK's energy supply in harsh weather conditions.

"This week's surge in demand for energy in response to the cold weather raises serious concerns about the UK's increased reliance on wind power," he said.

"We need to ensure that energy can be quickly accessed in times of peak demand through improved gas storage and investment in clean-coal and nuclear power stations.

"Failure to address these concerns could mean further rationing of energy in future years and could even lead to black-outs, so it is vital that the UK Government takes action now to avoid the lights going off."

Last week, National Grid was forced to issue two warnings about gas supply as demand surged to a record high, forcing it to ask 95 companies to turn off their pipelines.

It lifted the warning on Friday, after problems with Norwegian pipeline gas supply were fixed, but demand may continue
to rise next week with experts forecasting more snow.

In his latest podcast from Number 10, Mr Brown insisted that the UK was not running out of gas.

"National Grid has confirmed that it expects supplies to meet demand. I can assure you: supplies are not running out.

"We've got plenty of gas, of course, in our own back yard the North Sea and we also have access to the large reserves in Norway and Netherlands via pipelines."