Steady winds in late November led to an all-time record of wind-generated power, peaking on the morning of November 29. According to National Grid PLC, wind turbines generated a peek 6,010 MW in London, allowing gas-fired plants to temporarily drop output. The previous best was recorded on September 14 of this year.
The numbers from November 29 represent approximately 14% of the total amount of electricity supplied to the grid that day, replacing more than 7,800 MW that would have otherwise been generated by gas-powered plants. No matter how you look at it, 14% is very impressive. It offers a real incentive to continue pushing for more wind power generation both onshore and off.
To that end, government and private entities are hoping to design and build enough new wind projects to triple capacity by 2020. They set a goal of supplying 15% of the UK's total power needs from renewable sources between now and then. Plans call for the installation of new turbines capable of generating 18 GW offshore and additional 13 GW onshore.
As part of those plans, the government recently announced a restructuring in the way energy subsidies are awarded to companies involved in the renewable power sector. In coming years they plan to funnel more money to offshore projects under the assumption that many existing onshore projects can get by without such large subsidies. The hope is to encourage more investment in offshore wind projects as quickly as possible.
Moving in the Right Direction
While it is true that renewable energy sources are not yet mature enough to overtake gas, coal and other fossil fuels, things are moving in the right direction. If proper development and management practices are applied, there is no reason to believe we cannot reach the goals set for 2020. However, it will require the cooperation of public, commercial and individual efforts to make it happen.
Along the way, it is important that the UK not put all of its investments exclusively into wind power. We need to continue developing solar power, especially in the area of solar thermal – a strategy already showing incredible results in other parts of the world. Solar thermal uses the power of the sun to heat water, or other liquid, that can be used to drive turbines that generate electricity. Solar thermal power can also be utilised to provide space heat.
Also in the pipeline are new technologies involving wave power and biomass electrical generation. However, neither of these two options is yet ready to be discussed on a large scale. Research and development needs to continue in order to bring them up to speed.
There may eventually be a day when the UK produces the majority of its electricity from renewable sources. How long it will take to reach that day is anyone's guess. For now, we will have to be content with those brief windows when steady winds allow us to break new records for wind power generation.