The U.K.’s wind industry is cautiously responding to data showing poor project performance during a balmy summer.
Luke Clark, head of external affairs at the wind industry body RenewableUK, said his organization is awaiting official second-quarter energy figures, due out Sept. 27, before declaring an official position on news articles published last month.
The Guardian, for example, reported that calm, sunny weather had seen wind’s share of summer electricity generation dropping to 10.4 percent from 12.9 percent a year ago, forcing gas turbines to step into the breach.
“This year has seen a comparatively dirty summer for power generation, due to the weather’s impact on renewables,” said the paper. “The wind drought meant that at times turbine blades sat idle for days.”
But despite an increase in carbon emissions compared to 2017, this summer was still the second greenest on record for the U.K. electricity system, according to the paper.
In August an energy consultancy called EnAppSys claimed fossil-fuel generation had fallen to its lowest single-month level ever since World War II.
Because of this, Clark said: “It’s important to look at wind performance over a meaningful period of time, rather than focusing on shorter spells.”
In the first quarter of the year, he said, wind power had generated 19.1 percent of the country’s electricity. Annually, it is expected to contribute half of the 30 percent of electricity supply that comes from renewables, he noted.
Wind, above all, was the driving force that helped the U.K. repeatedly smash coal-free generation records earlier this year. It even had a hand in helping the U.K. get through a headline-grabbing series of cold snaps dubbed the "Beast from the East" in March.
Ultimately, though, the Beast calmed down and wind energy faltered.
Something similar happened in June this year, when Bloomberg predicted electricity price spikes from falling wind output and increased power demand as a heatwave engulfed Europe.
These incidents bolstered the stance of renewable energy skeptics. However, the markets are evolving to lessen the impact of such events.
To begin with, wind is not the only renewable energy source being deployed at scale. While onshore wind was the biggest source of U.K. renewable energy in the first quarter of 2018, representing 35 percent of the total, government figures show a further 28 percent came from offshore turbines, 26 percent from bioenergy, and 5 percent each from PV and hydro.
To an extent, bioenergy, PV and hydro can all step in during low-wind periods. Solar, in particular, was cited as benefiting from the hot, cloudless summer in the U.K. this year.
Clark said wind production could be easier to maintain as the U.K. installs more turbines offshore. “We’re building offshore wind projects further out to sea, where wind speeds have always been higher, using new technology such as floating turbines,” he said. “We’ll be capturing even more of our strong wind resource in the years ahead.”
Offshore wind provided 8.5 percent of the U.K.’s electricity in the first quarter of 2018, he said. RenewableUK is anticipating this month’s government figures to see how offshore wind fared while onshore turbines stood still in the hot weather over the summer.
The industry is also looking to add battery storage to projects. The U.K. is already a pioneer in this area.
The Danish developer Ørsted has been testing large-scale battery storage alongside its Burbo Bank offshore wind farm since last year. And in March, Equinor and Masdar commissioned another project, Batwind, attached to the Hywind floating offshore wind farm in Scotland.
The capacity of these systems is far from delivering electricity for extended periods during a low-wind event, but in time, other technologies may be able to bridge the gap.
“A number of clean technologies play key roles in our energy mix, including wind and solar power,” said Clark. “The energy sector is moving to a low-carbon, smart system that will use new technologies to manage supply and demand and which will cut costs for consumers.”