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Fluky wind calls for big back-up

Wind energy's erratic performance as a power source means the more it forms part of a power system, the more back-up supply is required and the less cost efficient it is, according to a report on renewable energy produced for Britain's House of Lords.

Some evidence put to the Science and Technology Committee which produced the report claimed wind energy needed a 100 per cent back-up to overcome the reliability issue. In other words 100 megawatts of wind power would require 100 mw of conventional power as a back-up for times the wind didn't blow.

However the committee rejected that argument saying winds' need for back-up could be balanced across the reliability of the whole power system.

As a result, the relative amount of back-up generation needed for wind would increase as wind's share in overall generation increased.

The report found that if wind were to provide 10 per cent of Britain's power needs it would require back-up generation equivalent to 72.5 per cent of its rated output. However if wind were to make up 20 per cent of power generation capacity it would need back-up generation amounting to 80 per cent of its potential output.

Regulators in South Australia estimate that wind generation demands a reserve margin of 92 per cent in back-up generation.

The British report found that regulators had not addressed the reserve margin issue. "We are . . . concerned that at the same time as Government policies are encouraging large-scale development of wind energy capacity, margins are at low levels," the report said.

It found that while there are no technical limitations on the amount of wind that can be introduced "penetration much beyond 10 per cent will become progressively more costly".

Editorial Notes: CM, Australian energy expert, writes: "I don't agree that 100% backup is required, but the need for gas turbine backup is an issue, and it does have a cost. With 10% penetration of wind energy, that cost might be just a fraction of a cent per kWh, but the cost increases rapidly above that. There are also grid operability and transmission capacity issues that need to be considered. The variability of wind energy is less of a problem if there are many small wind farms scattered over a wide area so that low output in one area can be compensated by high output in another area. However, experience so far suggests that operators prefer to have a few large wind farms located in in certain areas where wind speeds are higher and transmission capacity is available, mostly along the coast. Hence, the aggregate output does tend to fluctuate wildly and the utilisation of transmission capacity is not asd good as it could be." There is an article regarding the benefits of small scale distributed wind power here: www.energybulletin.net/newswire.php?id=922

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