Wind Powered All of Scotland in October and Other Renewable Success Stories


Wind and solar keep falling in price—each fell 6 percent in 2016. That fall was not as big as the two previous years, but there is every reason to expect price drops much bigger in coming years, as new technology makes the move from basic science to implementation. The Trump strategy of slapping penalties on these technologies and giving fossil fuels subsidies has a very limited shelf life, since there aren’t enough resources in the world to stand against this kind of inexorable progress.

Wind turbines in Scotland during the month of October, driven by unusually strong gales, generated enough electricity to supply 99 percent of the country’s power needs, taking into account residential, industrial, and business sectors! And if we just looked at the residential market, the wind turbines could have powered 4.5 million homes! One catch: Scotland only has about 2.45 million households!

On average through the year, Scotland now gets 60 percent of its electricity from renewables and is on track to get 100 percent from green sources by 2020. One impediment standing in the way is that the English-dominated government of the U.K. is deeply tied to BP and other fossil fuel companies and keeps trying to hobble green energy. In the U.K. as a whole, green energy only produces 29 percent of electricity.

And then there is Sweden.  GE and Green Investment Group have raised some $900 million. for the largest onshore wind farm in Europe. To be built in northern Sweden, it will have a name plate capacity of 650 megawatts and will be operational in only two years. With increasingly inexpensive battery storage or e.g., hydropump storage, such wind farms could generate up to half as much steady electricity as a small nuclear reactor. (Toshiba is putting in huge battery storage near a major wind farm in Texas.)

In Sweden, this one wind farm will increase the country’s wind power by 12.5 percent. Sweden is already a relatively low-carbon country for an industrial economy, though it can do substantially better. Some 83 percent of the country’s electricity comes from nuclear and hydroelectric power. Only 7 percent comes from wind at the moment.

Still, the average Swede emits over 4 tons of carbon dioxide a year. That is better than Europe’s average 6 tons and “way better than the U.S. average of 16 tons per year per person(!!!). But 4 tons a person is still huge, given that CO2 is like setting off atomic bombs in the atmosphere. The new Markbygden ETT wind farm will be an important step toward carbon-free Swedish electricity. Of course, that has to be combined with switching to electric vehicles and adopting low-carbon agricultural and building techniques if we are to move to a net carbon zero civilization.

Juan Cole