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REF Blog


REF's director, John Constable, has just published an article "Thermo-Economics: Energy, Entropy and Wealth" in the journal of the Economics Research Council. This piece attempts to explain the relationship between thermodynamics and the theory of wealth in economics. From this perspective Dr Constable then argues that government attempts to drive an energy transition ahead of the learning curve and against the cost gradient and dangerous and likely to be reduce well-being as well as creating political discontent.


REF on Guardian Constraints Story

On the 3rd of April the Guardian published a short article on constraint payments to wind power in Scotland ("Gas company special payments dwarf constraint payments to wind farms"). This story was based in part on a story in The Times earlier in the week ("Wind farms are paid £8.7m in one month to stop turbines"), and partly on an interview with REF.

The Guardian does not seem to have fully explained the significance of these extra payments to wind power, or the relation between payments to wind to stop and payments to conventional generators to start generating. REF sent the following letter to the editor, which has not, as far as we can tell, yet been published:


New Monthly Record for Wind Farm Constraints Payments

It is now three years since the Renewable Energy Foundation revealed the growing problem of excessive prices charged by wind generators in Scotland to cease generation. However, and in spite of an intervention in February 2014 by the Minister of State for Energy, Michael Fallon, MP, there is no sign that the wind industry is willing to deal with this profiteering through self-regulation.

March 2014 has seen both the largest monthly volume of wind energy (107 GWh) constrained off the GB electricity system, and the largest monthly amount paid for wind farms not to generate (£8.7 million), as can be seen in the following chart, which also shows the steadily increasing trend over time.


REF Comment on Staffell and Green

In December 2012 REF published Professor Gordon Hughes’ paper The Performance of Wind Farms in the United Kingdom and Denmark.

This seminal paper used advanced but standard statistical techniques to estimate the rates of decline in performance over time. Professor Hughes found that the economic lifetime of wind farms in the UK was very much shorter than currently estimated, at between ten and fifteen years, with those in Denmark faring better but still declining significantly.

The study has attracted a great deal of attention, and its fundamental finding is not now contested. Decline in performance is real and should be taken into account by policy makers and investors since it has significant implications both for the subsidy cost of the current renewable energy targets, and for the levelised cost of wind electricity and thus the rate of return to capital.

The study has been the subject of considerable criticism, particularly with regard to the methods employed, and Professor Hughes has responded and defended his approach (for example here in response to Professor MacKay, Chief Scientific Advisor to the Department of Energy and Climate Change and here in response to remarks by a blogger, Mr Chris Goodall.


REF Statement on Constraint Payments

It appears from an article in the Sunday Telegraph for the 23rd of February 2014 that the Minister of State for Energy, Mr Michael Fallon MP, has written to the wind industry trade lobby, Renewables UK, instructing them that he will not tolerate the current demands for constraint payment compensation well in excess of lost subsidy.

The scandal of constraint payments to wind power was first revealed by Renewable Energy Foundation in 2011, and we have argued from the first that government and the regulator, Ofgem (to whom we wrote on the 6th of May 2011 suggesting an inquiry), must intervene to protect the consumer and the reputation of the energy sector.


REF Consultation Response on EMR

The following email was sent on the 13th of February 2013 to DECC as a formal submission to the consultation on competitive allocation of contracts of Feed-in Tariffs with Contracts for Difference (FiTs CfDs) under the Electricity Market Reform (EMR) package. 


Professor Hughes and Chris Goodall

Last week the energy blogger Chris Goodall published, on two websites, a comment on Professor Hughes' study for REF on the degradation of wind turbine performance over time (See Carbon Commentary; and also the website of the Ecologist magazine).

Mr Goodall posed two questions, and invited a response. The following text is Professor Hughes' reply and has also been published on the Carbon Commentary site, where Mr Goodall's further comments, and those of others, can be read.


Emissions Savings' Potential of Wind and Solar Power

REF is often asked about the lifetime emissions saving potential of uncontrollable renewables such as wind and solar, the output of which is difficult to predict with great accuracy even a few hours ahead.

Given uncertainties about the embedded emissions in site specific applications of these technologies, which may vary considerably (due to difficult access or disturbance of peat, for example), it is inherently very difficult to give a generally adequate answer.

Moreover, it is not clear how solar and wind generators interact with the conventional plant in the rest of an electricity system. To be specific, there are uncertainties a) as to which conventional plant is likely to be displaced by wind and solar, and, b) if it is fossil-fuelled plant, whether the thermal efficiency of plant is significantly degraded by the ramping of output required when operating in the support role.


Are Fossil Fuels Subsidised in the UK?

In discussions of subsidies to renewables it is sometimes claimed that fossil fuels in the United Kingdom receive greater support. This misunderstanding arises from the confusion of two quite different things:

a) subsidies to investors in renewables which increase consumer costs


b) Lower VAT (5% not 20%) on gas and electricity used by domestic energy consumers, and tax breaks to oil and gas companies, both of which will reduce costs to consumers.

It is obviously misleading to treat these two effects as if they were similar in economic character. However, this is increasingly common, even amongst those who might be expected to understand these matters.


Constraint Payments: Misunderstandings and Misrepresentations

REF was the first organisation to draw attention to the excessive prices demanded by windpower to reduce output (constraint payments), and the resulting publicity is in part responsible for the fall in prices, though these are still, in our view, excessive.

The wind industry has responded to this criticism by attempting to confuse the public with claims that other generators are paid more to be constrained off. This is untrue, but unfortunately was made the central argument in a piece in the trade journal, Utility Week:


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