A bit of distortion from environment journalist Louise Gray

Posted on timeFebruary 21st, 2013 by userPali Gap

In the Daily Telegraph (February 9th 2013) Louise Gray said this about wind turbines:

“Already there are 4,366 turbines in operation in the UK providing 8.2GW of power, enough to power 4.5 million homes for a year” (source)

That sounds impressive, no? But is this claim a reasonable one? Quite definitely NOT!

If she is referring to the installed capacity. then the figure of 8.2GW is about right. When I check at Wikipedia (which in turn is based on this), I see the following:

“At the beginning of 2013, the installed capacity of wind power in the United Kingdom was 8,445 megawatts (MW), with 362 operational wind farms and 4,158 wind turbines in the United Kingdom.” (source. 8,445 MW is 8.445GW)

Yet it should be plain as day that installed capacity is not the same as the actual power generated!

Immediately on reading her article I checked at the UK National Grid web site and found that although current demand in the UK was 43.8GW, wind power was only contributing 0.29GW (admittedly it was a calm morning). It’s surely a “tell” that the the designers of the UK National Grid web site have not seen fit to set a maximum reading of their virtual wind energy meter greater than 5GW…

I don’t believe Louise Gray can be unaware of the difference between installed capacity and actual power generated. In fact I know she understands it, because later on in her article she says this:

“In the last year the industry has hit new heights, providing 10 per cent of the UK’s electricity needs – when the wind is blowing. “

This caveat –  “when the wind is blowing” – makes some difference! So, given that she understands this big, big difference, how can she allow herself to NOT qualify in a similar way her original statement? Without that caveat it vastly overstates the success of wind power in the UK. One is left to conclude that this is EITHER very sloppy journalism OR deliberately biased reporting on her part.

The way Louise Gray plays fast and loose with installed versus actual wind power capacity puts me in mind of the infamous way telecoms companies exaggerate broadband speed in their marketing literature. This is where they will make claims of, say, “up to 12Mbit/s” to sell their wares. The reality is that next to no one will ever actually obtain the advertised speeds. Fortunately they have come under pressure to be more honest. In 2010, the industry regulator Ofcom said that to combat ISP sleight of hand, they planned to get them to sign up to a new code of practice, so that customers get more information about the true performance they can expect. See  “UK broadband ads are a bloody disgrace” for a robust rant on the subject.

Do we need journalists such as Louise Gray to sign up to something similar to stop them using sleight of hand to promote wind power?



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