The 'wind speed lie'

  •   4 min reads
The 'wind speed lie'

Slower wind speeds are the cause of the energy crisis, suggest analysts; here is the problem with this statement, there is precious little evidence to back it up

Some people just don’t want a renewable revolution; everywhere I turn, I hear reasons why low wind speeds are the cause — or at least one cause — of the energy crisis. It is odd, though; there are very few electric heat pumps across Europe, gas is the main source for our heating.

Consumers can’t flick a switch and in a trice shift their heating, or indeed their oven, from gas to electric. It doesn’t work like that.

So why then are so many reports blaming low wind speeds for higher gas prices?

Take this piece in Bloomberg; this is a good article; Bloomberg pieces usually are. I cite it because it was the first article to come up when I Googled wind speeds Europe energy crisis.

The article cited the cause of the energy crises as

  • Lower volumes of gas piped in from Russia
  • Less gas exported from Norway, Trinidad and Nigeria
  • Less gas was stored because the previous winter was colder than average
  • Higher demand for gas globally as economies emerge from pandemic lockdowns
  • Very low wind speeds

Brownie points are in order; unlike many other reports, it doesn’t put undue emphasis on low wind speeds.

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Here is the first problem with the narrative that low wind speeds are behind the energy crisis. Wind speeds, as we all know, vary. Our foresight into the weather is limited, as this extract from the Met Office in the UK shows, "When looking at forecasts beyond five days into the future the chaotic nature of the atmosphere starts to come into play - small events currently over the Atlantic can have potentially significant impacts on our weather in the UK in several days' time. Therefore whilst we can still forecast the general feel of the weather to a relatively high level of accuracy using our ensemble models, it becomes harder to offer local detail to as high a level of accuracy as our shorter range forecasts. For this reason our text forecasts for 5 days and beyond are written on the scale of the UK as a whole."

No one knows what the wind speeds will be in two weeks, let alone throughout the winter. You could make a statement like that at any time. It is pure guesswork.

According to the UK National Grid website, at 7 am on Thursday, October 7th, which fell into the period when this article was being written, 24.6 per cent of UK electricity generation was derived from renewables. This was slightly higher than the average over the last year, which was 23.1 per cent. Over the last month, week and day, electricity generation from renewables as a share of total generation was higher than the average over the last year.

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It seems that 'low wind' speeds are everywhere but in the numbers.

But the trend is what counts, and I read that wind speeds are falling, according to this article in The Spectator: “While the current lull is chiefly a vagary of the weather, global wind speeds have been trending downwards for several decades, threatening to undermine an energy strategy which is over-dependent on wind power.”

The article cites the sixth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which said: “global mean land wind speed (excluding Australia) showed a fall of 0.063 metres per second per decade between 1979 and 2018.”

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Apparently, wind turbines themselves might be part of the problem, that wind turbines decrease wind speeds, and the best way to minimise their impact on wind speeds is to spread them out, rather than have them congregated in wind farms.

It is not a new claim

If I were a wind cynic, words like that would feel like manna from heaven. So, not only do wind turbines kill birds — which actually is an enormously exaggerated claim; and are unreliable, they affect the weather, reducing wind speeds.

Wind turbines, or windmills, as their critics call them, are a great con!

Except, according to this piece in Scientific American based on a report in Nature, “wind speeds are getting faster worldwide.”

The article states: “In less than a decade, the global average wind speed has increased from about seven mph to about 7.4 mph. For the average wind turbine, that translates to a 17 per cent increase in potential wind energy.”

It turns out that, according to the Nature study, wind speeds did start to increase from the 1970s, but since the year 2000, the trend has reversed.

The paper itself states: “Wind power, a rapidly growing alternative energy source, has been threatened by reductions in global average surface wind speed, which have been occurring over land since the 1980s, a phenomenon known as global terrestrial stilling. Here, we use wind data from in situ stations worldwide to show that the stilling reversed around 2010 and that global wind speeds over land have recovered.”

By the way, all these studies in wind speeds relate to land wind speeds; they don’t refer to off-shore wind.

This all begs the question, why didn’t the Spectator piece cite the Nature study to provide an alternative point of view?  

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