Is Wind Power the Solution for the UK?

08-09-2022 | By Robin Mitchell

Recently, a deal between a coal-fired power plant and the UK authorities has delayed the coal plants decommissioning in fear of energy struggles this winter, but could wind energy be the solution to the UK’s future energy concerns? What challenges does the UK currently face regarding energy, how will older coal plants play a critical role during times of great energy scarcity, and should the UK focus its attention on wind turbines?

What energy challenges does the UK currently face?

The end of the COVID pandemic was supposed to bring about normality with the removal of masks, reopening of businesses, and global economic recovery. And yet, a country with a particularly troubled past decided to jump on an opportunity that it thought it could seize; we are, in fact, talking about Russia. 

Some believe that Russia initiated its invasion of Ukraine to demonstrate its military capabilities, while others think it was due to the discovery of new oil and gas fields in the eastern regions. Whatever the reason, the invasion has undeniably shaken world stability and has shown clarity on which countries side with who. As the West is unable to demonstrate military strength in this conflict, it has instead leveraged its economic might, with many countries turning their backs on the Russian market and products.

But as much as the West would like to cut all ties with Russia, the West has become highly dependent on Russia’s oil and gas over the past 20 years. While the US and UK remained suspicious of Russia, others (such as Germany) decided that the best way to defeat Russia was to create close ties and, through cooperation, eventually become friends.

Now, that hasn’t worked out well with Germany, which has been pushing green energy with its massive use of solar panels and wind turbines while simultaneously eliminating nuclear fuel. As renewables cannot provide instantaneous power at all times, gas turbines are needed to stabilise the power supply, but the Russian invasion (and resulting sanctions) has seriously hurt Germany’s ability to generate power.

To summarise, the Western dependence on Russian oil and gas has resulted in massive energy hikes throughout the world, and the UK is now facing an extremely tough winter. The cost of energy has more than tripled, and there is no sign that it will fall. At the same time, OPEC recently announced that it will not be increasing oil production to combat the embargo on Russian oil, which not only helps to protect Russia (Russia and OPEC have a close relationship), but the increased price of oil boosts the profit generated from oil-rich nations while doing the same amount of work.

As such, energy prices will continue to rise, gas and oil will be more scarce, and rising inflation rates will make it even harder to pay bills. Even if the next Prime Minister introduces cuts on income tax and VAT rates, the rise in energy bills coupled with inflation will hit millions extremely hard.

How could coal plants help with energy security?

While the UK does have oil reserves in the North Sea, it can take a long time to establish a viable site, drill the well, and start producing oil. At the same time, oil fields have to be authorised, which in itself can see long delays. As such, the oil reserves of the UK are not enough to meet the coming energy challenges in the winter.

One potential solution is the revival of coal power, which has been hinted at with a recent report of a Nottinghamshire coal plant being kept open in the event additional power is needed. Unlike oil and gas, coal is extremely abundant and exists worldwide, including in the US and UK. Should energy prices become too extreme, it is more than possible for coal plants to be fired up and provide significantly cheaper energy sources.

Now, the idea of restarting coal plants may sound frightening, but the truth is that the construction of modern coal plants could be more environmentally friendly than those of the past. For example, new chimney stacks can be fitted with specialised filters and carbon trapping mechanisms that reduce the number of volatile compounds and greenhouse gasses, while excess heat can be used in district heating.

At the same time, the UK has extensive reserves of coal that could readily be mined, which would provide the UK with a local energy source. Using local coal would not only reduce the price of energy but also help ease inflation rates and attack Russia economically by reducing its dependency on oil and gas.

Is wind the UK’s long-term answer to renewable energy?

It should be noted that while coal power would be a great temporary solution, it is temporary. Generating a bit of extra CO2 is an excellent trade-off when considering that lower energy prices would help to kickstart the economy, kickstart renewable energy integration, and kick Russia between the legs.

However, like any non-renewable energy source, coal will eventually run out, which is why it should be avoided at all costs. But of all renewable energy sources available, there is clear evidence that by far the best energy source for the UK is wind.

Common sense would suggest this is simply due to the lack of sun that the UK receives, but energy data published by the government clearly shows the combined capabilities of on-shore and off-shore wind farms (making up more than 50% of the total energy generated). Since wind turbines generate less CO2 than solar panels, their mass deployment would have a better impact on the global environment. Of course, solar panels make sense on individual houses due to their low profile, but when it comes to off-shore locations, the UK has plenty of windy places, all doing absolutely nothing.

As wind power cannot be stored when produced in excess, the UK still requires non-renewable energy sources to provide this extra power, and it is this peak power that makes energy generation expensive. However, traditional coal power stations are unable to respond to sudden changes in demand (unlike gas turbines), and this makes coal less desirable than gas, but coal can be readily turned into coal gas, and this presents opportunities for the energy industry to respond to sudden changes in energy demand.


By Robin Mitchell

Robin Mitchell is an electronic engineer who has been involved in electronics since the age of 13. After completing a BEng at the University of Warwick, Robin moved into the field of online content creation, developing articles, news pieces, and projects aimed at professionals and makers alike. Currently, Robin runs a small electronics business, MitchElectronics, which produces educational kits and resources.