A qualitative survey by the European Network of Transmission System Operators (ENTSO-E), identified that “as a result of the current cold weather, the security of electricity supply situation in many parts of Europe is heavily stressed.” System demand is very high and all available generation units, in most countries, are running. Wholesale prices are also very high (up to around 2000 €/MWh), reserves are tight, and grid security is under pressure.
As a precaution, German TSOs activated reserve coal power plants, which were contracted as a result of the nuclear phase-out. Wind generation—under the current high pressure weather system—tends to be low, and ice on waterways has reduced the delivery of coal to inland generators. So it seems that when our demand for electricity is at its highest, those same elements conspire to reduce supply.
Of course, this conundrum is nothing new, and a more integrated transmission system is intended to allow this transfer of a geographically diverse range of renewable generation sources to the centers of demand.
One such example is the £750 million offshore 1.8 GW HVDC undersea cable project to export off-shore wind power from western Scotland to England and Wales. However, this appears to have sparked arguments among fisherman, and claims that this could lead to higher compensation payments being required to an industry estimated to be worth £50 million a year. These claims stem from an inadequate process between the Network Marine and the shellfishermen, who believe they were treated unfairly.
This is in the face of rising scepticism of wind generation as a truly sustainable source. Recently, over one hundred Tory MPs wrote to the Prime Minister “demanding that the £400 million-a-year subsidies paid to the ‘inefficient’ onshore wind turbine industry are ‘dramatically cut.’ ” The National Trust—which has over four million members and is committed to cut energy use by 50 percent by 2020—is well ahead of UK Government targets, and regards wind as the least efficient form of green power. Even Donald Trump has been arguing against wind turbines, which threaten to close to his golf course development in Scotland.
There are many considerations to determine the optimal mix of wind power in our future generation mix, but it seems clear that there must be substantial transport links. What does seem clear is that there needs to be a communication process that is both broad enough to secure political support and business certainty, and specific enough to address individual projects and those affected by them; since the objection of one supports the objection of the other. We seem to know this, acknowledge this, and still get it wrong.
How can this communication agenda be given the prominence it deserves?
By: Graeme Sharp, principal consultant, KEMA, United Kingdom