A Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland report launched in February this year, estimated that wind was saving Ireland 2.3 % from total fuel imports per annum, of the €6.5 billion spent on fuel imports. This 2.3% saving did not include any fuel used in spinning reserve which is likely to have reduced that estimated saving to well below 2% and possibly even less than 1%.
How do we know this?
Wind is intermittent; it produces little or no electricity for about 70% of the time. For the 30% of the time when the wind does blow, coal and gas plants continue to run in the background ready to come in on short notice when the wind dies. This permanent back up is called plant cycling or Spinning Reserve.
Spinning reserve can quarter claimed fuel savings, this was one of the findings from the Fred Udo study which examined the Irish system and is unique in that it deals with real outputs and is not based on industry models or projections.
This small saving of most likely between 1 and 2 % has come on the back of 20 years and several billion euros of investment as well as 1,200 turbines and a substantial investment in the grid to cater for and balance this intermittent and dispersed power. It is also likely that further wind development will yield little or zero C02 reductions as the law of diminishing returns will apply.
The Irish Wind Energy Association (IWEA) has accused Wind Aware Ireland of using inaccurate information. However, this information comes directly from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, a body closely linked to the wind industry.
If the Irish Wind Energy Association would like to point out any specific inaccuracies, we will be happy to change them, if we are wrong. In the meantime, making sweeping statements about alleged benefits in the form of jobs and social benefits without supporting evidence will add little to the debate.
As an island nation with a strong international green image, a pristine environment is of particular importance, especially to many of our leading industries – tourism, the thoroughbred industry and food, to mention a few. No Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) has been carried out. So no overall assessment of the cumulative effects that all this infrastructure of turbines, pylons and substations would have on our environment. This is wrong and potentially dangerous.
If we are serious about reducing Co2 we need to know what is the most effective way. The current policy would seem to be largely developer driven with strong evidence that it is not working.
Lets act on evidence. We need a full independent Cost Benefit Analysis (CBA) so we all have accurate and transparent information. In the meantime Minister Rabbitte should press the pause button. There is no danger of the lights going out, we have plenty of generation capacity and time to get this energy policy right.