The wind of change
For the first time in Spain’s history, wind contributed the same proportion (21%) of electricity as nuclear last year, according to Red Electrica de Espana (REE), Spain’s national grid. Both now contribute more than any other power source.
This record feat appeared to confound the energy sceptics, who have argued that low-carbon renewable energy production is too intermittent and expensive to be a reliable alternative to coal, gas and nuclear.
If this was just the case in Spain we could put this down to the vagaries of the Spanish weather but there is a similar story in the Nordics.
Wind power is blowing gas and coal-fired turbines out of business in the Nordic countries, and the effects will be felt across the Baltic region as the renewable glut erodes utility margins for thermal power stations. Fossil power in Finland and Denmark has historically acted as swing producers helping to meet demand in Norway and Sweden when dry weather means hydropower is not contributing. The arrival of wind power on a large scale has made a real impact and adding further wind power capacity at current market conditions could lead to power prices dropping as low as 20 euros per MWh, the marginal cost for nuclear reactors. The likely result of this is the mothballing of 2,000 MW of coal condensing capacity in Denmark and Finland towards 2030.
Wind power is expected to meet half the consumption in Denmark by 2020, up from 33.4 percent in 2013. In neighbouring Sweden, wind meets about 8 percent of total consumption, and installed capacity has more than doubled to about 5,000 MW in 2014 from 2010. Its wind power association predicts the capacity to rise to some 7,000 MW by 2017.
It would be foolish to suggest that the rise of wind power poses a significant threat to demand for fossil fuel but it does suggest that wind power has the potential to make a much greater contribution to future energy needs than many of us thought likely.