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UK Generates Record Levels Of Wind Power… When Few People Needed It

Green energy proponents have cheered the news that wind power provided more electricity than any other fuel source combined last Sunday night.

What largely went unmentioned was that record levels of wind energy generation occurred at 10 p.m. on Sunday when people were getting ready for bed (or already sleeping) and many businesses had long closed down for the night.

U.K. wind power “supplied more electricity than domestic coal, biomass, and hydropower (combined) and set a new record for maximum hourly output.” At 10 p.m. on Sunday night wind supplied an “hourly average of 5 gigawatts over an hour” or 17 percent of the total electricity demand during that time, The Scientific American reports.

“We’re seeing very high levels of generation from wind throughout August so far, proving yet again that onshore and offshore wind has become an absolutely fundamental component in this country’s energy mix,” Jennifer Webber, external affairs director for RenewableUK, said in a statement.

According to SA, last Sunday’s record was 25 percent higher than the previous wind power record set in August 2013 when wind generated 4 gigawatts of electricity between 9 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. The latest wind record was provided by RenewableUK based on UK National Grid data.

“It also shows that wind is a dependable and reliable source of power in every month of year – including high summer,” Webber added.

But fans of wind energy should not be applauding just yet. Wind power made up 17 percent of the total electricity at night, when the wind typically blows its hardest and when electricity demand is ebbing away.

Peak demand hours for power are generally between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. depending on the time of the year and the day of the week. Wind’s performance during the day, or peak hours, is less impressive.

At the time of this report, data from the website GridWatch shows that wind only provided 1.44 gigawatts — 4.2 percent — of the power at 7:10 BST (British Summer Time). All while natural gas provided 43.6 percent of the grid’s power. Coal put up 21.8 percent of the grid’s power at that time and nuclear energy contributed 17.4 percent.

Wind power has been rapidly growing in the U.K. over the past two decades and is expected to reach 20 gigawatts of installed capacity by 2020, according to the U.K. government’s Office of Gas and Electricity Markets.

But while wind power continues to grow, it’s not as reliable an energy source as coal or natural gas, for example, for times when electricity demand starts peaking because it relies on the weather and can’t just be turned up or down like a traditional power plant.

As more wind power comes online and nuclear and coal-powered plants are shut down, National Grid operators are starting to see big problems. Recently, the U.K. government offered to pay businesses to shut down during peak electricity demand hours when the wind isn’t blowing hard enough.

The U.K. will also pay companies to have their own back-up generators and allow energy companies to “name their own price” for bringing shuttered coal plants back online. Many U.K. coal plants were shut down because they didn’t comply with European Union environmental rules.

“We have to get used to a world in which when power is cheap we use it, when power is expensive we find a way of not using it,” said National Grid CEO Steve Holliday. “This is the beginning of a world in which demand will be managed more actively by all of us as consumers, when we have smarter homes, smarter meters.”

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