Wind power plays a “key” role in curbing greenhouse emissions from other energy sources such as coal and gas, a new study has shown.
Energy from wind farms in the UK prevented almost 36 million tonnes of harmful carbon emissions in six years, equivalent to taking 2.3 million cars off the road, the analysis found.
Edinburgh University researchers studied National Grid figures for power generated by sources including wind, coal and gas between 2008 and 2014.
They said the study is the “most accurate of its kind to date” as it uses real, rather than estimated, energy output figures, detailing figures for every half hour.
The university claimed the study suggests UK government figures “underestimate” carbon savings from wind turbines by 3.4 million tonnes – equivalent to emissions from 220,000 cars.
The study also claims the method used by the Scottish Government “overestimates” the savings.
Researchers said their findings support building more wind farms in the UK to help cut carbon emissions and reduce climate change impact.
They said the study suggests wind power could play a key role in meeting the UK’s future energy needs and the methodology used could be applied to give accurate estimates of possible future emissions savings.
Study leader Camilla Thomson said: “Until now, the impact of clean energy from wind farms was unclear.
“Our findings show that wind plays an effective role in curbing emissions that would otherwise be generated from conventional sources, and it has a key role to play in helping to meet Britain’s need for power in future.”
The analysis, published in Energy Policy and supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, was welcomed by WWF Scotland.
Director Lang Banks said: “It’s great to finally have an independent and authoritative study that puts a more accurate figure on the massive amounts of climate-damaging carbon emissions being avoided thanks to wind power.
“We’ve long-known that wind power and other renewables were making a major contribution to reducing carbon pollution, but it’s fantastic to learn more clearly just how huge that contribution is.
“The figures in the study highlight just one example of the many benefits that have come from shifting our electricity system to a clean renewable one.
“However, with electricity generation accounting for less than a quarter of our climate change emissions, it’s now time to begin to reap the same benefits by increasing the use of renewables in our heat and transport sectors.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “This study suggests power from UK wind farms prevented the creation of almost 36 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions from sources such as coal and gas, in a six-year period – the equivalent of taking 2.3 million cars off the road.
“With 34% of the UK’s wind power generated in Scotland, this reinforces the crucial role of both on and offshore wind in meeting our international climate change obligations.
“It is particularly significant that the study is reported to suggest that a greater investment in wind energy could help meet Scottish and UK government targets for carbon emissions reduction.
“This is a key message we have also been directing to UK Ministers and one that they should heed, especially in the context of wind energy being amongst the cheapest electricity sources available.”
A spokesman for the UK Government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said: “We have made a firm commitment to a low-carbon future, and our recent ratification of the historic Paris Agreement shows we are serious about global action on climate change.
“Nearly £52 billion has been invested in renewables in the UK since 2010, and just last month we reiterated our commitment to spend a further £730 million per year supporting new renewable projects over the course of this parliament.”