Study: Wind Farms Come Alive During Coldest Winter Days

Illustration. Source: SBM Offshore.

A new study by climate scientists has shown that UK wind farms produce more energy during the coldest spells of the winter compared to milder winter periods.

The study also suggests that during high energy demand periods offshore wind power provides a more secure supply compared to onshore, as offshore wind is sustained at higher levels.

The team, which involved scientists from the Met Office Hadley Centre, Imperial College London and the University of Reading, came to this conclusion by comparing wind power availability with electricity demand in winter.

“During winter in the UK, warmer periods are often windier, while colder periods are more calm, due to the prevailing weather patterns. Consequently we find that in winter as temperatures fall, and electricity demand increases, average wind energy supply reduces,” Hazel Thornton of the Met Office Hadley Centre, one of the paper’s authors, said.

“However, contrary to what is often believed, when it comes to the very coldest days, with highest electricity demand, wind energy supply starts to recover.”

The team found that during the highest 5% of energy demand days, one third produce more wind power than the winter average.

“The very coldest days are associated with a mix of different weather patterns, some of which produce high winds in parts of the UK,” Hazel said.

”For example, very high pressure over Scandinavia and lower pressure over Southern Europe, blows cold continental air from the east over the UK, giving high demand, but also high wind power. In contrast, winds blowing from the north, such as happened during December 2010, typically give very high demand but lower wind power supply.”

The research suggests that a spread of turbines across Great Britain would make the most of the varied wind patterns associated with the coldest days – maximising power supply during high demand conditions.

Finally, the study highlights the risk of concurrent wide-scale high electricity demand and low wind power supply over many parts of Europe. Neighbouring countries may therefore struggle to provide additional capacity to the UK, when the UK’s own demand is high and wind power low.

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