Wind energy save EU €2.4 billion worth of water a year

A report published last week by the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) has highlighted the cost to the union of non-renewable forms of electricity generation.

The report, entitled ‘Saving Water with Wind Energy’, has revealed both the amount of water which is used for energy generation within the European Union each year and the amount of money which this costing taxpayers and consumers across the continent.

It should first be noted that wind energy generation is saving Europe around €2.4 billion every year. This figure represents the cost of the water which would have been incurred had the electricity generated from wind power had been generated in more traditional ways. This figure was for the year for 2012. Given the strides that wind power has made across Europe it can be concluded that this figure has risen since then and shall continue to do so.

Startlingly, 44% of the water used within the European Union is used in power generation. It should be noted that the vast majority of this 44% is used in traditional power plants. For example nuclear and coal plants which require vast amounts of water for cooling. Energy production is by far the biggest use of water within the European Union. In comparison agriculture only represents 34% of water demand, the public water supply only 21% and industry accounts for only 11%. In total 4.5 billion cubic meters of water are used by nuclear, coal and gas firing plants every year.

Given that demand for water is increasing due to population growth and density increase as well as pressures placed upon the environment by climate change water efficiency will become an increasingly important issue in the coming years. Already at least 11% of European Union citizens are affected by water scarcity – for example in the South East of England were droughts and hose-pipe bans are now an annual occurrence. Using huge amounts of water to produce electricity only exacerbates these issues.

Renewable forms of energy generation require far less water to operate than more traditional and large scale technologies. Nuclear power uses the most water to produce power; on average 2.7 cubic meters of water are needed to produce a single megawatt hour. Coal is slightly less intensive requiring 1.9 cubic meters of water for every megawatt hour and gas is further less intensive requiring 0.7 cubic meters per megawatt hour. However in comparison the amount of water required to produce a megawatt hour of wind power is minimal. Wind turbines only require water for infrequent blade cleanage and generator cooling.

Indeed the EWEA report estimated that usage of wind turbines in 2012 reduced the EU’s energy industry’s water usage by 1.2 billion cubic meters – the annual water usage of 4% of the EU’s population. Again these figures will have increased given the increase in wind capacity seen throughout the EU’s member states. 1.2 billion cubic meters saved represents €2.4 billion saved. Furthermore given the consensus existing among many economists that water is heavily undervalued the true savings could be far higher.

The EWEA’s head of policy analysis Ivan Pineda commented at the publication of the report:

“Water equivalent to over three Olympic size swimming pools is consumed every minute of every day of the year to cool Europe’s nuclear, coal and gas plants. Increasing our use of wind energy will help preserve this precious resource far more effectively than any ban on watering the garden– while saving us money”.

The report projected that by 2030 wind energy will save the EU between 4.3 and 6.4 billion cubic meters of water per year. This would represent a financial saving of between €11.8 and €17.4 billion per year. Given the expectation that water usage and efficiency will become an increasingly part of resource management governments across the European Union are being urged to factor such considerations into energy policy. Industry trade body RenewableUK’s Director of External Affairs Jennifer Webber commented:

“Water is a very precious resource – water restrictions were imposed in the UK in the summer of 2012 in areas hit by drought. One of the many benefits of wind energy is that it requires hardly any water to keep generating. This report is a timely reminder of the environmental impact of other technologies which use vast amounts of water for cooling. When Governments set energy policy, they should take this into account – it’s not just the carbon footprint that matters, but also the water swallowed up by these other thirsty generators”

In other news, this week SSE exported power from it’s offshore wind testing facility to the National Grid for the first time. The facility, sited on the North Ayrshire coast is the UK’s first, and currently only, onshore test site for offshore turbines. The site was established with support from both the UK Government’s Department of Energy and Climate Change and Scottish Enterprise.The Ayrshire site has similar wind conditions to those found offshore. The currently operational turbine is a 6MW Siemens 154 direct drive machine, some 177 meters high. Work has already begun to install the site’s second turbine; a 7MW Mitsubishi model. This is expected to be operational by the autumn.

The commencement of power exportation has been enthusiastically greeted. Clark MacFarlane, Managing Director, Siemens Wind Power Offshore UK&I said:

“We are delighted with the news of first power for our 6MW turbine at Hunterston. This is another important milestone for our next generation wind turbine technology. The SSE and Siemens team has worked extremely hard to get to this point and should feel proud of their achievement in delivering this important clean energy project.”

Ian Flannagan, SSE’s Project Construction Manager, said:

“It’s great to see the Siemens wind turbine generating electricity for the first time which is testament to the hard work and commitment shown by everyone involved in the project.

“We are busy preparing the site ahead of the second turbine, a Mitsubishi SeaAngel 7MW offshore wind model, arriving in a few months time.”

UK Energy and Climate Minister, Greg Barker said:

“SSE Renewable’s test site for offshore wind turbines is an exciting and innovative project. It will help the country take another step towards delivering £110 billion investment into our energy sector while helping to support local jobs.”

The success of the offshore turbine testing site is good news for the UK’s wind industry ensuring that it’s world leading position is maintained.

The report published by the EWEA serves to underline the many benefits which wind energy generation has; increasing both energy and water security, reducing CO2 emissions and combating climate change and helping to keep energy bills down by reducing reliance upon fossil fuel imports. We at Intelligent Land Investments (Renewable Energy) are proud to be doing our part to increase the UK’s wind energy generation capacity.

Construction begins on £1bn Grid Link

Construction work has begun this week on the new £1 billion grid link between Hunterston in Ayrshire and Connah’s Quay in Wales. This marks the commencement of what is expected to be the first of several major grid upgrade projects which are to be carried out across the UK.

The 260 mile (418 kilometer) long undersea electricity transmission line is expected to be fully operational by 2016. The project will directly support 450 jobs during the construction period. This is a joint venture between Scottish Power and the National Grid. The new link, the first sub-sea link between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom, could increase the capacity of electricity moving between Scotland and England by 2,000 megawatts. This represents enough electricity to power more than 4 million British homes.

The inter-connector, known as the Western Link HVDC (high-voltage direct-current) project is intended to open up the potential for Scottish wind energy to be supplied to areas of high population density, high-energy demand and low renewable generation potential found over the border. Such a move not only creates a bigger market and more demand for Scottish wind power but it also helps both the UK and Scotland meet their renewable energy targets. A similar project is being planned for the East Coast.

Announcing the commencement of construction Scottish Power’s chairman Ignacio Galan commented:

“We are pleased to mark the start of construction on this hugely ambitious sub-sea electricity connection project.

“Our engineers are currently delivering some of the most important upgrades to the electricity network for more than half a century, with billions of pounds being invested and thousands of jobs being supported and created.

“The Western Link project will act as a benchmark for similar developments around the world, as the deployment of this technology at such a large scale has never been undertaken before.

“This will help to increase energy security across the UK, and will benefit the people of Scotland, England and Wales.”

UK Energy Minister Michael Fallon also stated:

“The western link is a perfect symbol of the single energy market, of which Scotland is part. It will enable English and Welsh consumers to access Scottish renewables and enable Scots to benefit from base load power when the wind doesn’t blow. This world leading, billion pound under-sea connector shows the strength of our current integrated system.”

The Western Link project is a part of Scottish Power Energy Network’s wider £2.6 billion investment plans for their transmission network covering the 8-year period from 2013 to 2021. The plans are intended to deliver the following; direct creation of up 1,500 new jobs, facilitation of offshore and onshore wind generation in Scotland of around 11 GW (enough to power over 6 million British homes), reduced carbon emissions of 45 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, replacement of over 800 km of overhead power lines and an increase in export capacity from Scotland to England of nearly 4 gigawatts. Such an ambitious investment program demonstrates both the potential of Scotland’s renewable energy resources and the commitment to realizing them.

In other news this week, data published this week by Eurostat (the European Union’s statistics office) revealed that renewable energy met 14.1% of total energy demand within the European Union in 2012 (these are the most recent figures available). This represents an increase of 5.8% compared to 2004 when renewable energy met 8.3% of the Union’s total energy demand.

During this time every single member state of the Union has increased their renewable energy capacity. Perhaps somewhat startlingly, several member states have already reached and went beyond their binding 2020 renewable energy targets.

Sweden, Austria and Denmark were the three countries which underwent the largest growth in renewable energy capacity between 2004 and 2012. Sweden, which in 2004 derived 38.7% of its power from renewables, lifted that to 51% in 2012. In Denmark, the share of renewables rose from 14.5% to 26%, while in Austria it jumped from 22.7% to 32.1%. Three countries have already met their individual 2020 targets; Bulgaria, Estonia and Sweden. These three countries had 2020 goals of 16%, 25% and 49%, respectively. At the end of 2012 they had achieved respective renewable energy shares of 16.3%, 25.2% and 51%. Of course it should be re-iterated at this point that the figures published by Eurostat do not cover the year 2013 – a period of remarkable growth in UK renewable energy capacity, particularly wind generation capacity. It should also be remembered that several countries, particularly Sweden, started with far, far higher initial renewable energy capacities than the UK due to abundant hydro-generation resources.

We at Intelligent Land Investments (Renewable Energy) are delighted to see ambitious and extensive upgrades being carried out to the electricity transmission network, particularly given our own efforts in this field. Such work not only improves the country’s infrastructure but also allows Scotland’s renewable energy potential (the envy of Europe in this regard) to be fully realized. Long range energy transmission also serves to reduce instances of renewable energy generation technology having to be turned off at times of low demand. Finally it helps to further reduce the United Kingdom’s reliance upon fossil fuel imports at a time when the vulnerability of such markets could not be clearer.