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28 March, 2006

Hot air

In an unfailingly positive article (pass the salt...), The Guardian reports that, according to the British Wind Energy Association (which, it has to be acknowledged, is likely to be biased):

Britain's wind energy is set to exceed expectations with 50% more wind farms powering British homes and industry by 2010 than predicted four years ago.

That'd be 6 GW; nearly 5% of the UK electricity supply and sufficient to meet the domestic demand of both London & Glasgow. It's also almost half of the government's renewable energy target.

If that's true and accurate, it's good news. On the whole, I support wind power generation, as part of a suite of technologies, emphatically including nuclear. I'm no Green, nor an extremist on either side of an unnecessarily emotive debate.

The main logical fallacy, exhibited by both sides, is absolutism: on one hand, that wind power generation isn't 'the answer' so shouldn't be pursued at all, and on the other, that wind power is always suitable and should be implemented everywhere it's technically viable.

No, wind power isn't the universal solution, and will never replace other generation techniques outright. Yet that's no reason to totally scrap wind farms and invest all resources in nuclear, or gas, or whatever. There needn't be one solution, and a mix of sources contributing to the overall result is entirely sensible.
It's a lot like speed cameras: the cameras alone won't catch uninsured or incompetent drivers (a common criticism), but whatever speed campaigners might claim, cameras aren't supposed to completely solve all aspects of road safety, they're merely one of several techniques that all need to be employed – it's not cameras or greater driver education, it's cameras and education, and policing issues, and other factors. Likewise: wind power generation and nuclear.

Conversely, there are situations where wind farms might be technically appropriate (i.e. windy locations) but socially unacceptable (i.e. especially beautiful locations or close to settlements) – I don't regard wind power generation as the ultimate good, overriding all other considerations.
I don't know the specific details, but it seems from the public enquiry that Whinash, near Kendal, was simply the wrong place for a large wind farm (though not for the reasons expressed by the anti-wind campaigners). However, that doesn't invalidate the very concept of wind farms, merely that specific proposal in that location.

So long as wind power is a rational choice supplementing other sources, I'm all for it. As soon as it becomes a moral or ethical issue, count me out.

Comments

Totally agree. Wind is not the be-all and end-all of electricity generation but it's useful on a small scale in windy locations that are not areas of outstanding natural beauty.

That said, I'm still not a big fan of centralised power generation. Ideally we should adopt a de-centralised system, where every home and business generates their own electricity. The National Grid would then provide a way of balancing out those who need more than they generate, or those who generate a surplus, and individual homes and business would be billed or compensated depending on whether they had needed to pull energy from the grid or had produced excess.

It could also lead to a greater variety of electricity generation methods. Wind power is fine, if it's windy - but what if it isn't? We'd have power cuts. So a mix of wind, solar, wood, coal, gas, oil, nuclear, wave and hydro-electric means that if one isn't working then the others can compensate. A decentralised system would also mean that the system is more resiliant to failure or attack - what if terrorists bombed all of our major power stations?

You can tell I've been thinking about this far too much, can't you? Unfortunately I have serious doubts that this would ever be widely adopted, which is a shame.

Posted by Neil T. at March 28, 2006 01:00 PM

Absolutely I'd go for decentralisation too, though I envisage problems convincing people (homeowners and businesses) to make the initial investment in turbines and associated equipment. That something might pay off in 10-15 years isn't necessarily sufficient inducement to act now, unfortunately. Large turbines in wind farms will still have a place for quite a while.

Diversity: absolutely, though I'm not so sure about opting for gas & oil (and not coal (maybe)) if others are available. I wouldn't rush to close existing hydrocarbon-reliant power stations, but I'd aim to phase them out eventually.

Posted by NRT at March 28, 2006 01:58 PM
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