What happens when the wind doesn’t blow?

In the last decade, wind turbines out to sea and on land have gone from producing less than 2% of our electricity to 11% in 2015. Sometimes it’s windy and the turbines produce more power, sometimes it’s not that windy and they produce less. But they still produce enough electricity to power 30% of UK homes. And they haven’t caused any blackouts.

Wind turbines do cause some variations in electricity supply for the National Grid. But it’s predictable (we’re pretty good at predicting the weather these days!). We can plan for wind generation with a high level of certainty. Plus, energy secretary Greg Clark thinks the concerns about wind power’s intermittency have been ‘overblown’ and we’re more than able to deal with them.

What about as we build more wind turbines? Germany and Denmark are streets ahead of us when it comes to renewables - in 2015 Danish wind turbines contributed 42% of their electricity needs. And yet these are two of the most reliable energy systems in Europe, with four times fewer power cuts than the UK (pdf). A more diverse electricity grid (rather than one based on a small number of centralised power stations) means if something does go wrong with one part of the system, it is far less likely to cause big power cuts.

As we build more wind turbines in the UK, we can use demand management, interconnection (linking up with other parts of the country or other countries) and energy storage to help us manage. It will need a bit of thinking, but it’s well within our capabilities, and something we need to do as we move towards the cleaner, smarter, more efficient energy system of the future. And the government are already investing in it.

Wind would never be the only electricity source we use - it complements other sources like solar, hydro and tidal. But it is a pretty good one, especially in windy places like the UK. Wind turbines deliver two and a half times as much electricity (pdf) during periods of high demand (like cold winter nights) compared to times of low demand. There’s plenty we can make the most of.

If you’re wondering what happens when it’s too windy - we’ve also written about that!

Banner image: One Fine Stay, creative commons