The research, by Oxford University's Environmental Change Institute, knocks on the head many of the myths peddled by wind's opponents. It is based on an analysis of hourly wind speed records from 66 meteorological office locations across the UK since 1970.
The report supports the industry's contention that wind power reduces the need for conventional capacity. With 10% of electricity coming from wind, around 3 GW of conventional plant could be retired, though it would add 2.5% on average domestic bills. That increase is likely to fall along with the cost of balancing the system to compensate for wind's variability once improved wind forecasting techniques are introduced, says the report.
"The only sensible debate about energy is one based on the facts," says energy minister Malcolm Wicks. "Claims that calm conditions regularly occur throughout the UK in winter are without foundation. It also shows that it's misleading for opponents of wind in the UK to cite problems from elsewhere in Europe as valid here. Our wind resource is far better even than Germany and Denmark."
The research reports that for onshore wind the recorded capacity factor -- the ratio of average power output to the rated power output -- is 27% for the UK, compared with 15% for Germany and 20% for Denmark.
Alison Hill from the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA) applauds the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) for commissioning the study. "The DTI's commitment to renewables and wind has never been higher." She points out that the findings boost wind at a critical time for the industry as it awaits the outcome of the government's climate change review (CCR). The BWEA hopes the CCR will recommend additional support for offshore wind among options for bringing the UK back on track to meet its carbon emissions targets.
The country's obligation under the Kyoto Protocol is to reduce emissions by 12.5% by 2012 from 1990 levels. The government set itself an even tougher domestic goal of a 20% cut by 2010. Under current policies, however, the UK will fall far short of the 20% target -- and could even fail to meet its Kyoto goal.
According to a leaked draft copy of the CCR obtained by The Guardian newspaper, "mechanisms to increase the amount of electricity generated by offshore wind turbines" are among a package of carbon reduction measures being considered to save up to one million tonnes of carbon annually. But the Treasury -- holder of the purse strings -- needs to be convinced by the review's recommendations. The BWEA hopes the findings by the Environmental Change Institute will persuade the Treasury of wind's value for putting the UK on course to meet its targets.