Whitelee wind farm, the biggest wind farm in Europe, is to be completed and 'switched on' this week. And
the news says that the power company is applying to extend the wind farm to increase its capacity from 322 MW to 614 MW.
I mentioned the predicted output of Whitelee in my book (page 33). Since the predictions for Whitelee were one of the sources for my estimated wind-farm-power-per-unit-area of 2 watts per square metre, I thought it was a good idea to look at Whitelee's updated numbers.
When I was writing my book in October 2006, Whitelee's predicted output was said to be "enough to power Glasgow" (Independent, Oct 10, 2006). And now, the latest news says
that, with the proposed increase in capacity from 322 MW to 614 MW, the farm will... generate enough power for [all the homes in] Glasgow!
Curious, Alice might say. We run, and we stay in the same place?
Here are the new numbers.
With two extensions, the total number of turbines would be 221, the capacity would be 614 MW, and the predicted total output is "340,000 households", which in sensible units is 184 MW (assuming that "a household" is defined to be 0.54 kW). This implies a load factor of 30%. The area of the site (according to the Sunday Herald) will increase to 75 km2. So the average power per unit area of the enlarged wind farm is predicted to be 2.45 W/m2.
What is the honest relationship of Whitelee to Glasgow? (I think talking about 'households' is a bit misleading.) The predicted output of Whitelee, shared between the 616,000 people of Glasgow, would deliver 7 kWh per day per person on average. That's roughly 40% of the total electricity consumption of Glasgow, and roughly 6% of the total power consumption of Glasgow (that's 'total power' including transport, heating, etc; not just electricity).
Implications for the scale of wind farms required for a substantial contribution to British power consumption
If we assume Whitelee (including its planned extension) is representative of future big wind farms that could be built in Britain, here are some more numbers.
- The government's 2020 target is for "33 GW" of wind capacity. That would require 54 more Whitelees. The area of those wind farms would be about 4000 km2, about 20% of the area of Wales. The power delivered by those wind farms would be about 4 kWh per day per person, which is roughly 4% of the UK total power consumption today. (That's 'total power' including transport, heating, etc; not just electricity).
- If we wanted to get 20 kWh per day per person from wind power, we'd need 270 Whitelees, which would take up an area of 20,000 km2. That's roughly the area of Wales, or 8% of the area of the UK.
If we want to get off fossil fuels using renewables, we must expect those renewable facilities to be somewhat intrusive.
End notes (in anticipation of the responses people often make)
- Yes, the wind-farm land in between the wind turbines can also be used for agriculture or other activities.
- Yes, the output of wind farms fluctuates, so if we build wind farms we will have to do some other smart stuff, as discussed in chapter 26 of my book. For example, ensure that lots of smart [easily switch-off-and-on-able] demand is added to the grid, for example, charging electric vehicles and running heat pumps to make hot air and hot water.