You can’t write off the contribution of wind energy

May 23, 2014 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

As well as the coal miners killed in disasters, Simon Jenkins (A dash for renewables won’t rid us of the horrors of coal, 16 May) could have added their occupational illnesses, as well as the diseases suffered by everyone as a result of breathing air polluted by burning coal. The great London smog of December 1952 killed more than 15,000 people. Electricity has a high political profile but only represents about 12% of end user power consumption, and unlike other fuels, electricity cannot be stored, so generation and consumption must be simultaneous. As peak electricity use only occurs for about 20% of the day, there are idle generators for more than 80% of the time.

The biggest UK energy problem is not supply but waste. By 2026 100% of German houses will be zero energy consumers. In the UK it will be under 5%. Thirty years ago more than 60% of electricity was coal-fired; today the figure is 38%. Electricity generation wastes nearly 60% of input energy. Other EU countries have combined heat and power stations that are 70% efficient. The most wasteful sector is transport at nearly 80%, and 99% dependent on oil. Indeed, more than 80% of all UK oil is now used for transport, as other oil uses have been replaced mostly by gas. There is as yet no economic alternative to oil for transport, but there needs to be: toxic transport fumes kill about 29,000 people a year, and all UK cities breach both the WHO and EU air standards.
Professor LJS Lesley

• Simon Jenkins states that “wind generated electricity … but not much”. The Department of Energy and Climate Change published statistics in March showing that renewable energy provided a record 15% of the UK’s electricity in 2013, leading to a 3% drop in the UK’s use of coal and a 1% drop in use of gas. For the last quarter of 2013 the figures are even better, with renewables generating an all-time high of 18% of the UK’s electricity.

That meant that the amount of coal being used to generate electricity was 7% lower in the third quarter of 2013 than a year earlier, with the share taken by gas also falling to the lowest for at least 15 years. Jenkins is incorrect to state that “wind power has driven up fuel poverty”. The increase in the price of gas over the last few years is the main cause of rising fuel bills. Last year, wind energy powered more than 6m homes, and helped lead to a decrease in use of fossil fuels.

These are real achievements of which the UK should be proud. When it comes to taking practical action against climate change, wind energy is a key player.
Jennifer Webber

• Three cheers to Simon Jenkins for his reference to Wade Allison’s book Radiation and Reason. If coal, oil, gas, etc operated to the equivalent safety level of nuclear power, they would be prohibitively expensive. To make further environmental progress, the government should back an immediate investment in a thorium nuclear plant – smaller, safer and can’t be weaponised (which is why governments ignored it 60 years ago).
Dominic Rayner

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