By coincidence, summer storms meant the UK’s wind farms were operating at near full capacity. The more wind energy on the system, the less ‘inertia’ coming from traditional power stations which have large, heavy rotating turbines. Whilst wind energy was not the cause of the issue, this lack of inertia arguably made things harder to deal with than they would otherwise have been.
This prompted scorn from climate sceptics, such as James Delingpole, the arch climate-change sceptic, who was quick to declare a “grid cock-up caused by wind farms,” although as The Times’ Emily Gosden pointed out, “Grid cock-up caused by old fossil fuel power plant” would be more appropriate.
For years, threats of power cuts have been used to justify new spending on fossil fuels and limit the growth of renewables; “give us money for this new power line/nuclear power station etc. otherwise the lights will go out!”.
New, cheaper distributed technology is changing the game, however. Several studies, such as the one published by OVO and Imperial College last year, have shown that by using batteries and smart controls, a grid powered by over 90% renewables with high levels of electric vehicles and electric heating, is not only possible, but would in fact be cheaper to run than today’s energy system. Energy storage and demand response may eventually make the grid more reliable and resilient than today, even with a rapid expansion in renewables.