Maximising the Carbon Impact of Wind Power

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Imperial College Business School

Abstract

The UK has invested heavily in wind power in recent years, and is widely expected to build much more capacity in future. One of the driving reasons is to reduce carbon emissions, but there has been no in-depth study of how effective wind power has been, or will be, at achieving this. The simple question of 'how much carbon dioxide does a wind farm save?' has a surprisingly complex answer as it depends not just on how much power the farm produces, but on how the rest of the electricity system responds to its production.

Past work by academics and government bodies has concentrated on calculating the average emissions (in grams of carbon dioxide per unit of electricity) from the entire UK power sector in various future scenarios. This project will be the first to understand the marginal emissions from wind power: the change in national emissions from adding one more or one less wind farm to the power system, the driving factors behind this, and how those factors can be used to maximise the savings. The more carbon dioxide that each turbine saves, the fewer turbines will have to be built, and the lower the cost to consumers and the UK economy.

This detailed study is necessary because not all power stations respond equally to the output from wind farms. We must identify which specific power stations reduce their output when wind generation increases: high-carbon coal or lower-carbon gas? Secondly, more power stations will have to run part-loaded to cope with the weather-driven variability in wind output. We must understand how large this effect is, how great an impact it has on station efficiency and thus on national emissions. Third, large-scale investment in wind power will change the mix of other power stations that the rest of the industry chooses to build, and those stations will have different emissions at times when the wind is not blowing. Finally, to provide a holistic view of emissions we must consider the carbon emitted when power stations are built or fossil fuels are extracted from the ground using Life Cycle Assessment methodology.

We will investigate these issues using a range of techniques intelligently integrated across several academic disciplines to give a complete whole-systems picture of the emissions displaced by wind, and:
1) Address fundamental problems in the emerging field of using reanalysis weather data to simulate historic wind farm outputs, allowing the output from the UK's future mix of wind farms to be quantified.
2) Produce the most detailed estimation of British power sector emissions, combining the output from every power station with their likely efficiency, derived from hourly emissions data from similar stations in the US (as these are not reported in Britain).
3) Develop statistical regression techniques to discover how these emissions vary with the level of wind output, with fuel and carbon prices, and the accuracy of the wind forecast.
4) Employ both engineering and economic models of the future electricity system to investigate how investment and operating decisions change with more wind power, and what this will mean for emissions.
5) Develop a reduced-order model of the global electricity system to replicate this analysis for other countries to ask whether the UK is well- or badly-placed to reduce emissions with wind power.

Our aim is to understand the factors that affect the emissions savings from investing in wind power, so that these savings can be maximised. Energy storage, international interconnections, accurate output forecasts and a high carbon price will all help to increase the emissions savings from wind power, and we will quantify the effects of each.

Planned Impact

The immediate beneficiaries of this research are likely to be policy-makers in government, regulators such as Ofgem and advisers such as the Committee on Climate Change. The UK and other European countries will be investing billions of pounds in wind turbines over the next decade or so, and policy-makers need to know how this investment can be made most effective in decarbonising the UK and other economies.

We are therefore determined to bring the results of our work to policy-makers and to other interested parties. We expect to produce answers to the following policy-relevant questions:
1) How much carbon dioxide has been displaced by the UK's recent investment in wind power?
2) What factors, such as fuel and carbon prices or the accuracy of wind forecasts, have affected how the displaced emissions varied over time?
3) How much carbon dioxide will be displaced by different levels of further investment, compared to precisely specified counter-factuals?
4) How can complementary investments, such as energy storage or international interconnection, affect the level of emissions displaced?

These answers should help policy-makers develop a road-map for the development of the power sector that can assist it to reduce emissions at the lowest possible cost. Ensuring that policies are cost-effective can minimise the chances of an undeserved public backlash, as can providing accurate information about their impact on emissions. While the questions above are UK-focused, one of our work packages will have a global scope, giving similar information to policy-makers in other countries in Europe and around the world.

In setting and evaluating performance against emissions targets for the power sector, it is becoming critical for both DECC and CCC to understand the range of variation in actual emissions that may result from a generation mix designed to target a particular emissions intensity, and in this context, the project will provide new insights in relation wind generation.

Industry will benefit from learning which investments are likely to be cost-effective in reducing emissions, and from discovering which complementary investments should be encouraged. Specifically, National Grid will know how far any improvements in the accuracy of its wind forecasts can feed through into lower emissions from plant providing reserve. Current work by two of the applicants has estimated the economic benefits from dispersing wind farms around Great Britain and the surrounding seas; we will be able to generalise this work to include the impact on emissions and disseminate it to investors in wind farms.

The UK economy and electricity consumers will benefit if our insights lead to a reduced cost of decarbonisation; the sums involved are so high that even a small percentage change in costs will being worthwhile benefits in aggregate.

Training can bring a further economic benefit to the UK: we will train a PDRA (likely to have a background in economics or power system engineering) in the techniques of the other discipline, developing a multi-disciplinary researcher. The two Co-Is who are (relatively) early in their careers will gain experience, mentored by RG and GS. A PhD student at the Science and Solutions for a Changing Planet DTP at Imperial College will also be supervised by this research team for the project life (and beyond), further developing capacity.

The UK public will gain from better information about the role that wind power is playing and can play in future in the important task of decarbonising our country. Our work has the potential to reduce electricity bills for consumers and industry compared to those that would come from adopting a pathway with too large or too small a contribution from wind.

Publications

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Green, R.J. (2018) Electricity, Wind and Carbon

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Teng F (2016) Assessment of the Role and Value of Frequency Response Support From Wind Plants in IEEE Transactions on Sustainable Energy

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Teng F (2017) Full Stochastic Scheduling for Low-Carbon Electricity Systems in IEEE Transactions on Automation Science and Engineering

 
Description We have estimated the potential energy production from onshore and offshore wind farms sited all over the world. The technical potential of onshore wind is estimated at over 580,000 TWh a year (over 1,700 times the UK's annual electricity generation) and that of offshore wind at almost 330,000 TWh a year. We have shown that deploying capacity in regions facing different weather regimes would significantly reduce the variations in Europe-wide wind output.
We have studied the costs of integrating the variable output from wind farms into the electricity system, where demand and generation must always balance. Increasing transmission links across the North Sea could play an important role in reducing the costs of electricity in Britain.
We have estimated the impact of changing fuel prices, carbon taxes, and generation capacity on carbon dioxide emissions, which fell from 164 million tonnes (mt) in 2012 to 77 mt in 2016. Fuel prices were responsible for 17-27 mt of the reductions, carbon prices for 12-14 mt, and wind generation for 9-12 mt. Reductions in demand (mostly due to greater energy efficiency) contributed 12-13 mt of emissions savings. We are currently working to differentiate the impacts of earlier and later changes, particularly in renewable capacity.
Exploitation Route The work on wind potentials can be of use to energy system modellers at a variety of scales, since they use open-source methods and data. The power system modelling techniques can also be applied in other studies on renewable integration. Our methods for estimating carbon savings could be applied to other countries and time periods.
Sectors Energy

 
Description "Delivering future-proof energy infrastructure": report for the National Infrastructure Commission
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a national consultation
Impact The report to the National Infrastructure Commission provided quantitative evidence based on advanced modelling, on the value of flexibility for the infrastructure in the future decarbonised energy system. Smart power - principally built around three innovations, interconnection, storage, and demand flexibility - could save consumers up to £8 billion a year by 2030, help the UK meet its 2050 carbon targets, and secure the UK's energy supply for generations.
URL https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/smart-power-a-national-infrastructure-commission-report
 
Description Analysis of alternative UK heat decarbonisation pathways
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
Impact Importance of the whole-energy system paradigm is now recognised by the OFGEM and BEIS.
URL https://www.theccc.org.uk/publication/analysis-of-alternative-uk-heat-decarbonisation-pathways/
 
Description European Technology & Innovation Platforms and Strategic Energy Technology Plan (2017)
Geographic Reach Europe 
Policy Influence Type Membership of a guideline committee
 
Description Whole-system cost of variable renewables in future GB electricity system (joint project with an industrial consortium)
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a national consultation
URL http://energysuperstore.org/esrn/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Whole-system-cost-of-variable-renewables...
 
Description A talk or presentation - A talk or presentation - Invited Keynote Speech at Workshop on Wind Integration 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Gave keynote speech on "Flexibility in heat and gas sectors supporting integration of wind generation" and inform the debate in this area.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description A talk or presentation - Invited Presentation at International Energy Agency Task force of Wind Integration 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Gave presentation on "Cost effective integration of wind generation in the UK electricity system" and inform the debate.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Demonstration at the Energy Futures Lab tenth anniversary celebration 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Demonstrated a spreadsheet model that allows the user to select a combination of power stations to build for the UK, and shows the consequences for emissions, bills and reliability
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Efficient System Integration of Wind Generation through Smart Charging of Electric Vehicles 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact 8th International Conference and Exhibition on Ecological Vehicles and Renewable Energies (EVER 13)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://conference.evermonaco.com/everconference_uk/venue.php
 
Description Electric Insights Quarterly and website 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact We are now working with Drax Power to produce a quarterly newsletter, and they maintain a website of accessible and processed data from Elexon and National Grid, showing the state of the electricity system in Great Britain. The insights in the newsletter, commenting on developments in output shares by generator type, wholesale prices, carbon emissions, and similar indicators, draw on the research for this project. The newsletter has been mentioned in several national newspapers or other media outlets (particularly the finding that over half of Britain's electricity was low-carbon in the third (summer) quarter of 2016) and the website is now regularly referred to by the Financial Times as a source of electricity data
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017
URL http://www.electricinsights.co.uk
 
Description Give speech 'Role and value of flexibility in the future low carbon energy systems' at 7th China International Conference on Electricity Distribution 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Give a speech at 7th China International Conference on Electricity Distribution regarding 'Role and value of flexibility in the future low carbon energy systems' and inform the potential development of electricity market in China.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Panel session on the energy crunch organised by BDB law firm 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Panel discussion at the launch of a report on the so-called energy crunch facing Great Britain
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.bdb-law.co.uk/services/expertise/planning-and-infrastructure/energy-crunch/
 
Description Paticipation in EERA Joint Programme in Energy Systems Integration 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The EERA ESI event held in Copenhagen in November 2016 was attended by 50+ energy system researchers from across Europe. The programme included several presentations by Imperial team members.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Renewable, Flexible and Resilient Energy Grids 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact The central theme of this conference was to discuss how to obtain the right mix between flexibility and robustness necessary to operate energy systems with greater presence of renewable generation in a reliable and resilient way, considering several sources of uncertainty in the short and long term. The focus was on latest advances in the use of innovative forms of operation and in the design of electrical systems (including new technologies such as storage and demand control), market instruments and appropriate policies for this new context.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://www.cesworkshop.cl/18/es/inicio
 
Description The uncertain costs of the future transition - talk at Transition Pathways conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Talk on uncertainties in energy modelling at the concluding conference of the Energy Transitions Project, London, February 26, 2016
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.realisingtransitionpathways.org.uk/realisingtransitionpathways/news/Dissemination_confere...
 
Description public engagement talk to Sidmouth Climate Week (Sidmouth Science Festival) - "How low can you go? Electricity, Emissions and Costs" 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This was a talk to people from Sidmouth (Devon) on the subject of low-carbon electricity, part of a series organised by local people interested in climate issues
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description talk on "Electricity, Wind and Carbon" at the Supergen Wind General Assembly 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact talk to a mixed academic / industry / policy audience at the annual general assembly of the Supergen Wind Consortium
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017