I have posted a few times on the use of wind power (here and here) and a new report from the UK think-tank Civitas, adds fuel to the fire of cynicism about the utility of wind power. However, before looking at the problems of wind power, it is notable that they provide estimates of the increases in power costs of the UK’s green energy legislation, with different estimates based upon fossil fuel prices. I will provide the central estimates here:
Year 2020: Domestic +27%, Medium-sized business + 34%, large energy intensive large industry +8-28%
As they reasonably argue, these increases in costs will simply make the UK less competitive, and will simply encourage businesses to move overseas to locations where there is no similar legislation. Even if accepting that carbon dioxide is a problem, the move of businesses to other locations makes no impact upon the total emissions.
Moving back to the subject of wind power, some selected quotes are given below:
As we have already pointed out the estimates by Mott MacDonald flatter wind-power as they made no allowance for any add-on costs. One of the main reasons is that wind-power is unreliable and requires conventional back-up generating capacity when wind speeds are, for example, very low or rapidly varying, which increases the overall costs of wind-power.
MacDonald assumed load factors of just 25-31% for onshore wind and 35-45% for offshore wind.4
However it should be noted that even these figures for load factors can give an impression of greater reliability than is actually the case. In spells of very cold weather associated with high pressure areas, when there is enhanced demand for electricity, there tends to be very little wind. This analysis was confirmed by BBC weatherman Paul Hudson, who wrote in January 2011:5
“…during the recent intense cold weather, it’s been our traditional coal and gas fired power stations that have been working flat out to keep our homes and businesses warm. And for the third winter running, the intense cold has gone hand in hand with periods of little or no wind. This should come as no surprise since prolonged cold is invariably associated with areas of high pressure”.
The following chart (chart 3) was included in this BBC report. Wind’s contribution to total electricity output (53,020 Megawatts) on 21 December 2010 was, according to the BBC, 0.04%. This insight is a useful answer to those who say “the wind is always blowing somewhere” in defence of wind-power. In Britain on very cold days it effectively is not. Twenty Megawatts of generation should also be seen in the context of the estimates for plant capacity.
They go on to cite research that finds that maintaining back up power for wind costs between 30-45% onto the costs of wind power. Their conclusion on the real costs of wind power is very clear:
The costing of wind-power electricity generation is clearly very complex. But one conclusion can safely be drawn and that is that wind-power is expensive – especially offshore. Under these circumstances it seems unwise to be embarking on a huge programme of investment in wind generated electricity, especially when the country is facing grave economic challenges. This analysis also ignores the perceived environmental costs of wind-power, especially onshore wind turbines.
Although I am not concerned with carbon dioxide emissions, it is still interesting to read this in the report:
In a comprehensive quantitative analysis of CO2 emissions and wind-power, Dutch physicist C. le Pair has recently shown that deploying wind turbines on “normal windy days” in the Netherlands actually increased fuel (gas) consumption, rather than saving it, when compared to electricity generation with modern high-efficiency gas turbines.7,8 Ironically and paradoxically the use of wind farms therefore actually increased CO2 emissions, compared with using efficient gas-fired combined cycle gas turbines (CCGTs) at full power.
In other words, even if looking at the ‘green’ justification for wind power, it seems that wind power is at best a dubious solution to energy provision.
For those that read my earlier posts on wind energy, this should all be familiar material. Problems of reliability of wind, need for back-up generation, and the location and connection of wind energy into the grid; they all make wind power expensive. This is the conclusion of the report:
It is expensive and yet it is not effective in cutting CO2 emissions. If it were not for the renewables targets set by the Renewables Directive, wind-power would not even be entertained as a cost-effective way of generating electricity or cutting emissions.
From my perspective, the most interesting aspect of the report is the way in which wind power is in receipt of indirect subsidy, which are often not considered in the official reports and statistics. It is something that has (as far as I know) not been the subject of analysis in New Zealand, and I would be interested to see how wind power ‘stacks up’ here if such a study were undertaken. Perhaps such a study is overdue, as there is a big push for yet more wind power here.
At the very least, the economics of wind power are extremely questionable, and the potential costs are loss of competitiveness, and higher bills for consumers. Those higher bills, of course, will have greater impact upon those on low incomes, who spend a greater proportion of their income on necessities such as power for heating.
Note: If you have not seen it, there is a very good post on the manipulation of temperature data on the Climate Conversation Group. Well worth a read.