Wind stock

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A new report warns the UK is not ready for a large growth in wind energy without better technology for storing power and smart metering.

The report from global energy analyst Pöyry Energy Consulting is backed by major power-industry players including Centrica and National Grid.

The Pöyry report pointed out that the variation between low and high wind in the UK will strain other parts of the future low-carbon electricity infrastructure.

James Cox, the project manager on the study, said nuclear power plants and carbon capture and storage equipped coal-fired power plants run most efficiently when they run continuously.

This is incompatible with wind energy’s peaks and drops.

‘We could have one day all the thermal plant running at full tilt because there’s no wind,’ he said.

‘Then eight or 12 hours later all of that plant would have to switch off because the wind picks up.

‘So that means you end up with a lot more loading on plant in terms of thermal stresses.’

These stresses, he added, lead to increased maintenance and running costs.

Cox said some solutions to the problem include storing energy from the wind turbines so that power generated during peak wind-gusts could be released during less breezy periods.

The energy could be potentially stored with batteries, but he said there has yet to be a viable commercial option for doing this.

Cox added that smart metering could also help alleviate the problem by moving demand from times of peak to off peak and dynamically managing the demand on the network.

The Pöyry report also mentions challenges related to transmitting wind-energy power from one area of the UK to the other; particularly from Scotland down to England.

‘It could be a major bottleneck if we’re trying to install a lot of wind generation up in Scotland,’ said Cox.

Apart from the technical issues, the more wind-based energy infrastructure will have an impact on the electricity market.

Cox said the electricity prices could dramatically change day by day depending on how the wind blows.

‘The sort of plant the current market incentivises is base load generation and what we really need now is peaking generation,’ he said.

‘We need a review of the market design and in this report we haven’t concluded what the solution is but we want to make government and industry aware that it is an issue.’