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Wind: Just not ready for prime-time

Hughes calculates that the national and EU policies favouring wind will incur an additional cost to citizens of £120bn for the turbines, and the backups they require, to meet carbon dioxide emissions targets, when the same electricity could be generated for just £13bn if the UK used open cycle gas plants instead.

Meeting the 2020 renewable target using wind will require 36GW worth of wind backed up by 13GW of the rather more reliable gas. "Overall, the net saving in fuel, operating and maintenance costs for the wind scenario relative to the gas scenario is less than £500m per year, a very poor return on an additional investment of over £105bn," concludes Hughes.

Wind turbines may even increase the UK's CO2 emissions – depending on when the wind blows.

Hughes adds: "The response has been to rig the market to (in effect) guarantee the return on investment in immature technologies which are not economic at any reasonable price on CO2 emissions or if their impact on landscapes and the environment was properly internalised."

Hughes draws on capacity factor evidence from California and New York, but stresses that these numbers are widely accepted in the energy industry. Over two years in New York State, the peak-time capacity factor of wind was just 18 per cent.

"The only way of ensuring the reliability of electricity supplies," he writes, "will be a huge expansion of combined and open cycle gas plants."

It's either that or power cuts.

As with the AF Group's study, the assumptions are kind, to say the least, to wind. Hughes assumes a load factor of 33 per cent for offshore wind, which has the effect of reducing the number of turbines needed to meet the targets – which, in turn, lowers the infrastructure costs of hooking the turbines up to the grid. This is lower than most countries use. Hughes also notes that, even making these allowances, the 'gas alone' still comes in at a tenth of the investment cost required.

One of the problems, Hughes notes in a footnote, is that the UK's civil servants are fanatically optimistic about wind power, to the extent that their calculations are far more bullish than any one else's.

"For example, DECC uses load factors of 38-45 per cent for offshore wind... This is far above the average load factors for offshore wind anywhere in the world and reflects endemic over-optimism about the prospects for renewable technologies," he writes.

Symbolic logic

Indeed the response to AF Group's report on Monday is one of the most unprofessional and irrational a publically employed PR can ever have delivered.

“If this sort of short-sighted analysis informed our policies we’d not meet our carbon emission targets and keep the lights on, and the consumer would certainly be worse off," shrieked a DECC spokeswoman to Solar Power Portal, an industry-sponsored 'news' website.

It's a sign that DECC employees are not just hampered by technical ignorance – most have History, or English, or PPE degrees – they have an irrational, almost religious attachment to wind turbines. It's as if wind is favoured because of its symbolic and very visible presence. "Look at our land, Gaia, and show us mercy".

It may occasionally be worth reminding Department of Energy employees who they ultimately serve – including the poor, upon whom the cost of inefficient technology disproportionately falls.

If you're serious about CO2, Hughes suggests, a carbon tax would be much more efficient preferable than these clod-footed market interventions.

"By relying upon a carbon tax, the whole nonsense of carbon budgets, etc, with overlapping and inefficient measures for each sector, could be swept away," he states. ®

Related links

Powerful Targets - AF-MERCADOS UK [PDF]
Why Is Wind Power So Expensive? An economic analysis - Professor Gordon Hughes/GPWF [PDF]

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