Q4 2017: Wind power grows 45%

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by Dr Iain Staffell – Imperial College London 

Wind farms produced a record 15% of Britain’s electricity last year, up from 10% in 2016. 

They produced 45 TWh of electricity over the year, more than twice the output from coal. The dramatic increase comes from both higher wind speeds and a jump in installed capacity. Several large offshore farms came online and onshore wind had a record year for deployment.

Quarter 4 saw Britain’s wind farms smash previous records, producing 15 TWh in three months, or 19% of electricity consumed. Their production averaged 6.6 GW in each of the three months – double the anticipated production from the Hinkley Point C nuclear plant. However, the output from wind is more variable than from nuclear and thermal power stations. During Quarter 4, wind farms spent 24 hours producing less than 1 GW, and 24 hours producing more than 11.7 GW (chart, below right).

The very active hurricane season boosted wind speeds, which were 5% higher in 2017 than 2016.1 However, the year-round average of 10.1 mph was in line with the long-term average for Britain, meaning expectations for 2018 should be just as good. Quarter 4 brought three named storms and an ‘ex- hurricane’,2 and saw Britain’s record for peak wind output broken four times. Wind output surpassed 11 GW for the first time in October then 12 GW in December. It hit 12.4 GW on New Year’s Eve as Storm Dylan swept across the North Sea – and wind has continued breaking records into the New Year.

Registered wind capacity also increased by 20% (3.2 GW) over the last twelve months.3Several large offshore farms and record new onshore wind capacity were installed in 2017, as reported by RenewableUK. Dudgeon and Race Bank on the east coast, Walney in the north-west and Rampion off the south coast each added over 400 MW (powering approximately 400,000 houses). These farms span dozens of square miles, and the latter two are still being commissioned, so operating capacity will continue to grow over the coming months.

Monthly average output from wind farms over the last five years (left). Half-hourly wind output during Quarter 4 (right). 

1: Based on provisional data from BEIS Energy Trends 
2: See the Met Office UK Storm Centre 
3: From October 2016 to October 2017. Based on BEIS Energy Trends and RenewableUK.

Authors: Dr Iain Staffell and Luke Clark.

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