Incorrect statements on wind / nuclear power by BBC

Dear BBC,

I wrote in complaint on Sept 11th and the letter is reproduced below. I think it is worth explaining further in simple terms why Greatrex is wrong when he incorrectly states that “wind power only operates for about 36% of the time” and that this is a dangerously misleading statement.

Wind power generation of electricity is very similar to a modern leisure yacht which uses wind power most of the time and a small diesel engine for the rare occasions when there is insufficient wind or when there is too much wind and the sails are taken down. (or when maneuvering near harbours)

The yacht is quite able to deal with huge variations in wind supply by raising or lowering its sails and for most of the time is quite able to proceed without the diesel. If Greatrex’ statement were applied to a yacht, it is equivalent to saying that the yacht would only have any useful wind for 1 out of 3 days, or one out of 3 months etc, and the rest of the time there would be no movement of the boat. This is clearly absurd. Furthermore his statement implies that the wind power would be at its full storm level again for one out of 3 days, or at zero, which is absurd.

In the same way yachts work round the year, wind turbines generate over the entire year except for a few weeks. When wind is very strong, just like a yacht, the turbines feather their blades and spill the wind much as a yacht lowers the sails somewhat. When it is extremely windy, the turbine stops generating, which is equivalent to a yacht taking all its sails down. But this only happens for a few weeks of the year. During that time, the missing power power can be made by cheap to build gas fired power stations, which are equivalent to the yacht’s diesel engines. The fact that the sail rarely generates fully power does not in any way undermine the economics of sail power and the same applies to wind power.

If better electrical interconnections with european countries are built, as they in fact are being, then because wind outages are not synchronised over the whole of europe we can import wind energy from these still windy countries during uk wind outages and vice verse export it during times of excess British wind.

Furthermore better interconnections mean that Europe can share the massive existing hydro power resource ( 6 weeks of full load european demand) in europe and use it as a store of surplus wind during windy periods and a battery during low wind periods.

Regarding his claim that nuclear can stand in or back up wind turbines when there is no wind, again this can be seen as nonsense by considering a yacht. If this were to have a small nuclear reactor powering, it, then for a mixture of technical and economic reasons it has to be operated at full output most of the time, and cannot be started and stopped at will as implied, they are simply not flexible in this way taking days to alter power levels significantly. Therefore such a yacht would have to have the nuclear generator running and propelling the vessel at high speed continuously, The wind would only be used when it reached storm force. Again this is clearly absurd. Not only would a very expensive and inflexible back up source have been installed on the yacht, but it would also eat into the economics of the sails which would now be rarely used. Exactly the same would apply if nuclear were to be used as a backup for a large wind penetration – the capacity of this very cheap wind resource would be greatly diminished, as they could not supply the baseload which nuclear needs.  But note, wind can also provide baseload power ( another misleading claim often permitted by the BBC).

The attached papers go into this in more detail and the attached image makes the point very well. Wind power rarely produces its maximum output ( like a sail) but does generate over most of the year.

The BBC has a duty to ensure that its journalists provide clear understandings of the complexities of this issue – for example you make sure your interviewers understand financial issues when grilling politicians, so you need to make sure your journalists also understand the technical issues of wind energy, now the cheapest form of power and that people representing particular interests such as Greatrex are not allowed to use the BBC as as misleading propaganda vehicle on the level of the Daily Mail.

With Kind Regards
Dave Andrews
Chairman Claverton Energy Group
Ex Expert Advisor on Power Generation and Combined Heat and Power to the European Union.


On 11 September 2017 at 17:54, dave andrews <> wrote:
Dear BBC. can you explain why people are allowed to make statements that are technically incorrect and which go unchallenged as per the below instance:

Interviewed on “Today” the BBC flagship news program, Tom Greatrex CE nuclear industry association, on responding to how cheap offshore wind now is compared to Hinkley, made two completely incorrect statement, at about 0624

…..” it doesn’t matter how low the price of offshore wind is on last years figures it only produced electricity for 36% of the time, and that is the issue with renewables is that they are by their nature intermittent so you need a range of different sources….”…and ” there is a good a good place for nuclear both wind and solar”.

The first and last part of the statement is not true, what is true is that the average power output of offshore wind is 36% of the peak. In aggregate the fleet is producing power nearly all of the year and only produced nothing for a few weeks per year. Wind does need a mix of other resources, notably cheap and flexible gas power ( also better interconnection to Europe, and storage)  but not expensive and inflexible nuclear.

Also it is quite wrong to suggest that large amounts of wind power is compatible with large amounts of nuclear implying that nuclear can “fill in” when there is no wind. This is wrong because nuclear has for a variety of reasons to be producing power all the time, is inflexible and so cannot shut down or rapidly vary its output  when all wind turbines are operating, or ramp up to fill in for wind power when there is not enough wind.

My credential are that for two years I was the Technical Expert for the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre on Power Generation, and am Chairman of the Claverton Energy Group which is a collection of independent energy experts and which has been in operation for over 15 years. I am a chartered engineer via the Institute of Energy.

The BBC has a statutory duty to provide accurate informed information and should not permit biased and partisan sources to give misleading and wrong information.

I look forward to your response.


Dave Andrews


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