Pdf version of the full comment is available at Response to Sue Ion on wind turbine numbers
In BBC Radio 4’s the Life Scientific (Tuesday 26th February), Jim Al-Khalili interviewed the former technical director of British Nuclear Fuels, Sue Ion.
This is a response by Kevin Anderson to her comments on wind turbines
Sue Ion suggests 1500 offshore wind turbines generate the same electricity as one nuclear power station; the real number is much lower – somewhere between 250 and 600.
Early on in the programme Sue emphasised how she is committed “to try and do more to help get facts across as opposed to just let the media run with whatever they thought … sometimes stories run when they actually do have no foundation in fact”.
Certainly the world of energy and climate change is awash with educated eloquence trumping quantitative analysis – and any attempt to rescue the latter from the former has to be welcomed.
However, despite Sue Ion’s concern about energy stories often having “no foundation in fact”, when it came to drawing comparisons between electricity generation from nuclear and wind power her comments only added to the misinformation that pervades energy debates.
“To get a feel for the numbers” Jim Al-Khalili asked about “the amount of energy produced by one modern nuclear power station – how may wind turbines would that need?”
Sue Ion was very specific and categorical in her response; “well you’re talking about one thousand five hundred  of the modern turbines out at sea. So to get the space for that is similar to that of greater London – so you’d be covering the area that is currently greater London with wind turbines – out at sea.”
The real numbers are however very different.
Over a typical year, one of the proposed new nuclear power stations would generate the same quantity of electricity (TWh) as would 250 to 600 modern offshore wind turbines … figures far removed from the 1500 Sue Ion claims.
The calculations demonstrating how the estimate of 1500 turbines dramatically exaggerates the real numbers and, in so doing, inadvertently risks misleading both the public and policy-makers, are available at Response to Sue Ion on wind turbine numbers