This is a personal view based on personal experience of harvesting wind energy.
It is intended to bring some logic and understanding into the debate concerning the potential of onshore wind turbines to play an important part in delivering solutions to both the energy crisis and the climatic consequences of the over reliance on fossil fuels.
An important starting point for all, particularly the anti-wind turbine lobby, is to appreciate that the world is certainly at the beginning of the end of the hydrocarbons – coal, oil and gas – era.
A growing number of seniors in our leading petroleum companies now confess that they will not be able to meet future demand.
To put it starkly, if world demand, fuelled by the fast-growing Asian economies, grows at a modest 2% a year, world output has to double every 35 years, and output in that year, 2047, will equate to all the fossil fuel extracted since the industrial revolution.
The immediate crisis is not the running out of fossil fuels. It is that over the next decade or two, through market pressure, increasingly costly extraction, and expensive carbon-capture requirements, the price of energy will escalate enormously.
This in turn will generate horrendous inflationary pressures that will only stabilise when new energy sources are developed to the point where they can competently fill the gap between increasing demand and reduction in the availability of current conventional fossil fuel supply.
Onshore wind power is the most physically and financially efficient potential sources of new, clean, renewable energy. Our (Mackies) experience, though a microcosm in the big picture, illustrates its potential to play a very meaningful part in finding solution to this energy challenge.
The Mackies’ experience has been a good one; one of the best investments the family has ever made. The original £2.5million investment in three 850-kilowatt (aggregate 2.5 megawatts) has not only powered the family’s various enterprises – notably advanced dairying and ice-cream manufacture – but enabled the export of significant quantities of electricity to the Grid.
When looked at it with a touch of imagination, it is possible to visualise similar patterns of supply and usage for Scotland, for the UK, and for the world.
We estimate that the Mackies investment has eliminated some 3,000 tonnes per year of CO2 since 2007. That would otherwise have been released into the atmosphere, had we relied on buying in our power requirements.
Yes there are calm days when the Mackies turbines stop or barely turn at Rothienorman, but when one considers that they are part of a growing network of turbines throughout Scotland and the wider UK, and that a blanket calm is very rare indeed, by linking farms and mini-clusters together via smart grids will help to iron out supply imbalances.
Get it right and the need for back-up (including traditional power generation) systems would be considerably less than some current estimates suggest.
Wind speeds on the ridge at Rothienorman have been such that the Mackies turbines cluster has delivered annually, circa 37% of its maximum theoretical capability at full wind speeds.
For those who argue that this is a measure of inefficiency, consider that cars deliver less than 5% of their annual capability. Then go check out the efficiency of a traditional fossil-fuelled power station.
However, more research is needed now, to determine effective ways of storing electrical energy, thus utilising windy day surpluses.
A number of novel ideas are being explored and developed. An obvious example is hydrogen production, via electrolysis, for direct use for heating, engine fuel, and powering local electricity generators to fill gaps in the wind. Further, hydrogen is the sine qua non feedstock for the production of ammonium nitrate, which, as a fertiliser, is responsible for half the food produced in the world. Its current production is totally dependent on gas and oil, which is why we ourselves are 50% oil and gas, so to speak. Serious worldwide famine looms unless alternative sources appear.
Consider the logistical efficiencies of having small hydrogen and ammonium nitrate production stations situated here there and everywhere throughout Scotland, at the feet of a widely-distributed wind turbine generating capability.
Widely-distributed windpower, coupled with such downstream potential, all retained in the hands of a multitude of local businesses, local communities, charities, and public-sector bodies, would revolutionise the economics of the rural sector, and constructively demount the oligopolistic structure of our energy supply industry.
Wind is profitable. Our investment will have paid itself off within five years. Yes, it currently enjoys a consumer-paid subsidy, the ROC, which for this scale of turbine is at present about 4p per kilowatt produced. As electricity prices rise, that encouragement to investment will not be needed.
Harvesting wind energy is one of those situations where bigger is much better. Both physical and financial efficiency is linear with turbine size.
This can be compromised when planners impose height restrictions that therefore limit a turbine’s optimal, financial and physical efficiencies. A reality is that the difference between, quite big, big and very big, is quite small.
Finally, independent analysis, and our own full costs, at about 6p per kilowatt, indicates that onshore wind power is currently the least-expensive renewable energy source.
Electricity from offshore turbines currently costs more than double. But, to meet the colossal energy challenge facing our world, all potential renewable energy sources need now to be fast exploited.
And the subjective virulent opposition by some, particularly to onshore development, needs to be tempered with reality if the lights are to remain on.
As for Donald Trump’s opposition to the European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre, which Aberdeen Renewable Energy Group and Vattenfall plan to instal offshore the Aberdeenshire coast at Black Dog, he really needs to understand the strategic value of this turbine trialling facility and come on side.
Both projects . . . his marvellous golf course and the test centre . . . are needed.
However, I remember my parents in the 1940s being deeply concerned about “these damned pylons marching across our countryside.”
Maitland Mackie sen is chairman of world-famous ice-cream maker Mackies of Scotland