Looking at the bigger picture


October 31, 2013

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For anyone that’s either not opened a newspaper or stepped outside all week, the past seven days saw a significant storm breeze in.

We’re not talking about the energy utilities having to fight their corner in front of a Parliamentary select committee – more on that on Monday. No, on this occasion, we’re talking about an actual storm. Named St Jude, apparently.

And, depending on how much you’re inclined to believe, it was one of the most significant windstorms to hit mainland Europe in 30 or so years.

For the UK in particular, and as is inevitable with high winds, certain sections of the media were quick to trumpet that, as a result, a whole bunch of turbines have either shut down or been knocked over.

Oh please.

The text that makes up the bulk of such articles tends to resort to tired clichés, suggesting that wind turbines operate in such narrow parameters as to be almost pointless.

A number of outlets even highlighted figures from the national grid, arguing that 2GW of wind capacity was lost; leading many to suggest that somehow wind power was the sole provider of base-load energy during these freak high wind periods.

However, what this churn of wider consumer editorial misses is the bigger picture. Again.

So let’s set a couple of things straight.

First, there was only widely reported instance of a turbine actually falling over– a small-scale machine located in the county of Devon.

Second, the common argument follows that, given that a number of machines automatically shut down in extreme wind speeds to prevent damage to gearboxes and other ancillaries, therefore wind power must be inefficient.

Yet that’s simply not true. For the fact remains that due to its national distribution, wind energy will inevitably still be feeding into the grid somewhere. And while power production at the London Array was briefly shut, there aren’t, for example, any reports that suggest Scottish developments were closed down throughout the same period.

Yet that’s not the thing that grates the most.

What’s perhaps most tiresome about the whole episode is that without a strategic communications shift, the industry will be forced onto the defensive time and time again during these periods of high winds.

The industry is rapidly evolving and as a market we’re quick to champion the benefits and potential of new technology and sector growth. However, as the energy debate continues to dominate mainstream politics and as utilities point the finger at green levies as the rationale for consumer price hikes, there’s danger afoot.

And, if we don’t begin to tackle this issue of proactive consumer engagement now – at both a local, national and international level, then we’ll be stuck on the hamster wheel for some time to come.

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