In Great Britain, cold winter days are typically less windy than warmer days, but the colder it is outside, the higher the energy demand for heating. That means that researchers have been wondering whether wind turbines are able to tackle the challenge seeing as they'll produce less energy just as demand rises.
A new study by the Imperial College London found that there is a way for wind turbines to meet the demands of cold wintry days. The researchers looked at wind patterns throughout winter and found that during cold days, wind turbine output did fall by about a third while energy demand rose, but they also discovered that during the highest five percent of energy demand days, wind power was above average for a third of those.
Many of those very coldest days had strong easterly winds, which meant greater wind power to offset the energy demand. The researchers concluded that wind power can tackle the challenge of high energy demand winter days, but the key was distribution of wind power to take advantage of higher winds when and where they occur.
“The very coldest days are associated with a mix of different weather patterns, some of which produce high winds in parts of Great Britain," said Hazel Thornton, of the Met Office Hadley Centre, is one of the paper’s authors.
“For example, very high pressure over Scandinavia and lower pressure over Southern Europe blows cold continental air from the east over Great Britain, giving high demand, but also high wind power. In contrast, winds blowing from the north, such as happened during December 2010, typically give very high demand but lower wind power supply.”
If wind farms are placed throughout Great Britain then the varied wind patterns can be taken advantage of and places where wind speeds are high will compensate for where they are low. The study also notes the importance of offshore wind power, which remains steady with higher wind speeds. That's no problem for the UK, which has been announcing several offshore projects of late.
While the study pertains to Great Britain, it shows how distributed wind power, including offshore, could be advantageous to any country that needs to meet higher energy demands in winter.