British wind farms paid not to generate electricity

February 24th, 2014, Published in Articles: Energize

 

by Roger Lilley, editor

According to the UK’s Telegraph newspaper, the British government is paying £30-million a year to the operators of the country’s offshore wind farms to keep the turbines off the grid during the windiest weather. This, in the face of electricity shortages in the UK. The article, published on 23 February 2014, states that the reason for this ruling is that the cables which connect the turbines to the grid cannot carry the amount of current the turbines generate during stormy conditions. The minister of energy, Michael Fallon, is so firm in his resolve that he is even ready to change the law to force companies to reduce their turbines’ output.

It is difficult to imagine a first-world country that invested so much in wind energy making a decision like this. It is almost impossible to understand that an electrical contractor would use under-rated cables to connect the turbines to the grid. Surely the cables would be heavy enough to carry the peak current the turbine can generate, and if not, then one would think that £30-million a year is more than enough to upgrade the cables!

Of course, the question one should be asking is, could the same thing happen here? How confident are we that the wind turbines installed in South Africa are capable of coping with the highest gusts they might receive, and that the resultant electricity can be transmitted to the grid via the installed cables?

The updated IRP 2010 – 2030 document specifies that a certain amount of energy will be derived from wind. The current figure is more than 50% lower than the original allocation. But what will happen if more power than that is generated? And what is the likelihood of more than expected or specified being produced? Weather conditions vary so wildly that accurate forecasts and wind-strength predictions cannot be expected. Will the IPPs be able to sell all they produce, and recover their capital costs more quickly, or will they be regulated and prevented from supplying the energy to the nation once the quota has been achieved?

The money paid to the operators to keep the turbines off the grid during storms costs the British tax-payers dearly. Having paid for the turbines, they now have to pay for them not to be used, and at the same time, suffer the inconvenience of living with an unreliable power source. Currently, in South Africa, we suffer the inconvenience of power shortages because of a lack of generation capacity. But will we still have to face power shortages when there’s more generation available than the network can handle? It is hoped that South African IPPs have taken that into account and that tax-payers don’t find themselves in such a situation.

Send your comments to: energize@ee.co.za

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