Renewable Energy Foundation

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Security of Supply

REF Questions Simplistic Claim that Wind Power Contributes to Security of Supply

The Renewable Energy Foundation (REF), a UK registered charity and think tank (1), today labelled as simplistic the claim that wind power will contribute in any substantive way to the United Kingdom’s security of supply.

In public discussions regarding the recently opened Thanet Offshore wind farm, RenewableUK, the trade lobby of the wind industry, has suggested that very high subsidies to wind power are justified because of the contribution that this technology can make to security of supply.

However, sober consideration of the available empirical data (2), and analysis by other organizations, eg. Ofgem (3), suggests that this is a simplistic analysis, and that government subsidy for wind will deepen and cement the gas exposure of the UK electricity system, particularly at times of peak load.

By distorting the market the presence of large quantities of subsidized wind gives the market no option but to invest in gas generation, and not necessarily the most efficient type of such generators.

Investors will make this choice because the variability of wind, which is difficult to predict, creates a volatile market, and gas generation, which is relatively cheap and flexible, reduces investor exposure to this volatility.

Thus, a renewables policy that is over-reliant on wind is in fact a gas policy.

As is now well-known, even a geographically distributed wind fleet in the UK and northern Europe can fall to low output at times of high electricity demand, requiring conventional generators equivalent to peak load (plus a margin). In the UK this indispensable conventional generating fleet will, because of ambitious plans for wind, necessarily be gas-fired, thus meaning that the UK will be heavily dependent on gas to guarantee reliable electricity supply.

Dr John Constable, Director of Policy and Research for REF said:

“For economic and technical reasons overcommitment to subsidized wind power runs a high risk of cementing gas dependency at those times when our need for electricity is greatest, thus increasing the UK’s exposure to gas rather than alleviating it. A more prudent policy is required .”


For more information please email Margareta Stanley on This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , visit our website or telephone 020 7930 3636 or 07968 049 832

Notes for Editors

1) The Renewable Energy Foundation is a registered charity funding research into renewable and alternative energy technologies and policy. We have no political affiliation and no corporate membership.

2) Recent empirical work on the performance of the Danish, Irish and German wind fleets shows that there is little wind “smoothing” across Northern Europe and that prolonged periods of low wind conditions at times of high electrical load are to be expected as regular occurrences. See Paul-Frederik Bach, The Variability of Wind Power (REF: London, 2010). This point is confirmed by other work, for example National Grid, SSE, SP Transmission, NETS SQSS Review; Industry Review Group Wind Criteria Workshop, 2010, where they comment “Wind generation cannot contribute significantly to demand security.”

3) The contribution of wind power has long been recognized as questionable, for example by the industry regulator, Ofgem, Ofgem's response to BERR consultation on the UK Renewable Energy Strategy (Ref 139/08: 2008), 23.

“[…] we consider that the net effect on security of supply of displacing fossil fuel generation with (largely) intermittent renewable sources of generation is at best neutral, but not beneficial. There are considerable management issues that arise in electricity generation […] and no evidence to suggest that the availability of wind is more reliable as a fuel source than imported fossil fuels (which in any case will still be required as a back-up source of generation)."

Last Updated on Monday, 13 February 2012