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.

Fracking Threatens Bath

Fracking  has caused further controversy in the UK as plans to begin exploratory drilling in the Mendip Hills for Shale Gas have come under attack from elected officials and members of the public in the nearby World Heritage City of Bath. The Mendip Hills themselves have also been classified as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Fears have been raised that the process of fracking, which fractures rocks by injecting vast quantities of water, sand and a cocktail of chemicals (the make up of which Shale Energy Companies remain fiercely secretive about) into the earth, could lead to the contamination of the city of Bath’s world renowned hot springs. Fracking has already frequently been accused of contaminating groundwater sources; a claim that the Shale Gas Industry has had to refute repeatedly. Figures in the industry have argued that fracking typically takes place at depths below that where groundwater sources are generally found.However the water which supplies the hot springs comes from a deepwater source. The waters at Bath have been used recreationally and medicinally since Roman times and are the back bone of the city’s vital tourist trade. Indeed Bath City Council have placed direct income from the Hot Springs at around £34 million per annum with the wider tourist trade bringing in £348 million a year to the city.

Paul Crossley, head of the Local Authority, released the following statement:

“There is a great concern that the process of fracking will result in the water courses leading to the natural hot springs being contaminated with pollutants from this process, or for the waters to adopt a different direction of travel through new fractures in the underlying rocks.

“Bath and North East Somerset Council has obtained the very best expert advice on this matter and there is little to suggest that any thought has been given to the deep water sources that supply the springs in Bath.

“Given the fact the hot springs are a crucial part of the tourist attraction that sustains thousands of jobs in the city, the council must stand up against the these drilling proposals in the strongest possible terms.”

The Liberal Democrat MP for Wells, Tessa Munt, has already written to Energy Secretary Charles Hendry to attack the lack of consultation with local people about the proposed fracking: “I share my constituent’s unease of this highly suspect method of squeezing the last drops of non-renewable fuel from a highly sensitive and indeed fragile part of the country.”

However such opposition is facing more than one problem. For one thing the Parliamentary Act introduced to protect Bath’s hot springs (the County of Avon Act of 1982, which requires council consent for any excavation below a set depth) is inadequate in this case as the proposed drilling would be carried out in the Mendip Hills. The Hills fall under a different local authority which is not affected by the Act and they are thusly under no obligation to consider the impact fracking may have upon the hot springs.

Secondly the UK government is under increasing pressure to allow Shale Gas extraction and fracking to be carried out across the West of England.Figures released by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) show that North Sea Gas production (and therefore tax revenue) has fallen 25% in the second quarter of 2011 compared to the same period in 2010. Shale Gas has been presented as a cheap bridging energy source in the shift from fossil fuels to renewables. Oil imports are up by 0.8 million tons from 2.8 million tonnes in the second quarter of 2010 to 3.6 million tonnes in the second quarter of 2011. This is despite a 1.7% drop in total oil demand.

Malcolm Webb, chief executive of the pressure group Oil and Gas UK reacted to the figures: “On the face of it, a production decline of this magnitude is extremely worrying and we need to investigate and fully understand what has happened here.

“For the sake of the Uk’s economy and its energy security, we should be doing everything we can to encourage sustained investment in our nation’s oil and gas resources to slow the decline and prolong the producing life of fields.”

Far more positive news was seen in the figures for renewable energy generation, particularly wind energy. Renewables are now producing 9.6% of the country’s total energy output; the majority coming from wind turbines. This is a significant increase compared to just last year when renewables were producing 6.39% of total energy output. The figures also revealed that output from wind energy has risen 120% year on year. Scotland’s commitment to renewables was also shown in the fact that the country now has 20% more installed renewable capacity than England.

Gordon Edge, policy director at Renewables UK made the following comment: “These statistics show the wind industry making a tremendous contribution to the nation’s energy supply. Wind is now providing enough power to supply nearly three and a quarter million homes in the UK. This will stabilise energy prices, as well as generating tens of thousands of jobs, and helping us to build a new lower carbon economy.”

With public opposition to fracking on the increase (demonstrated by the protests at Camp Frack) it seems that the energy future of the UK is yet to be decided. A future which only renewables can secure.