Wind power costs up to ten times more!

That’s a lot of money.  The wind industry wants you to believe that the cost of wind power is not much more than that of conventional generation, and is coming down.  They mutter on about “grid parity”, and the rising prices of fossil fuels.

It’s been clear to me for some time that they’ve failed to account for a number of vital factors, but I didn’t know quite how many vital factors.  Now I’ve got hold of a paper by Gordon Hughes, Professor of Economics at Edinburgh University, written for Lord Lawson’s Global Warming Policy Foundation.  And it makes stunning — and alarming — reading.  It’s called “Why is wind power so expensive?“.  And it says that wind costs nine to ten times as much as Combined Cycle gas.

For some time I have been making the point that, because of the need for conventional back-up, wind power involves double the capital investment — once for the wind turbines, and again for the gas (it usually is gas).  And I’ve made the additional point that gas run intermittently to complement wind is run less efficiently, and therefore the electricity it produces incurs more emissions, and higher costs, than if you ran it properly.

But in Professor Hughes’ analysis there’s so much more.

First, he points out that wind turbines have a shorter operating life than a gas-fired power plant, so the CapEx has to be amortised over the shorter period.  This, he says, increases the annual capital cost by 15%.

Secondly, the more efficient Combined Cycle Gas Turbine system is not suitable for intermittent operation as wind back-up.  You have to use the older and much less efficient Open Cycle Gas Turbine system.  These OCGT plants can use up to twice as much gas per MWh of electricity — with proportionately increased emissions.  This is why a couple of recent studies have shown that wind plus gas back-up produces little or no emissions savings compared to gas alone.  As I frequently ask, “Why not just build the gas, and forget the wind?”.

The third point is slightly more esoteric, but nonetheless important.  While regular gas plants use “take-or-pay” gas supply contracts which assume a more-or-less steady, base-load-type offtake, those gas plants used as back-up for wind are much more volatile.  They are buying at variable prices depending on hour-to-hour demand.  Obviously if you’re backing-up wind, your gas demand will be strongly skewed to periods of peak demand, and therefore your gas price will be higher.  The total fuel cost in the back-up plant may not be much lower than it would have been run properly, full-time.

The truth is that “sustainable energy” is just not — well — sustainable.  Lord Smith, Chairman of the Environment Agency, told the BBC in May that a “‘dash for gas” was likely “because nuclear and renewables won’t be sufficient to keep the lights on”.  Dieter Helm, Professor of Energy Policy at Oxford University and advisor to DECC says that UK/EU climate policies have failed, and that shale gas offers a cheap, abundant domestic source of energy.

And before they warn you of the increasing price of fossil fuels, remember that in the USA, shale gas has halved the cost of electricity.

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9 Responses to Wind power costs up to ten times more!

  1. Mike Spilligan says:

    Please, please let this be a “tipping point” for those who have been “believers” and are reluctant to admit that they’ve been wrong all along. I have suspicions about Tim Yeo as I think he must be beyond redemption, being reported earlier in the week as saying that the population must be bribed (with our own money, of course) into accepting windmills.

  2. neilfutureboy says:

    On the other hand nuclear is not only cheaper now than the basket of sources we use but if there were a level regulatory playing field (nuclear is easily the safest way of power generation) at least half the cost could be removed and if mass production of reactors was allowed could probably be halved again. That means nuclear is potentially about 1% of the cost of windmills.

    Economic Freedom + Cheap Energy = Fast Growth

    Every serious politician knows this.

    We could be out of recession in days & then into growth surpassing China’s 10%.

  3. maureen gannon says:

    Those in favour have their snouts in the trough Cameron Snr/ Mrs Clegg and Chris hulme they are not going to change their money maker for us peasant’s to believe the will is in my mind , delusional. and I would lay bets they are not on their own..

  4. David C says:

    Your link is bust.

  5. Pingback: WWF: Wilful and culpable ignorance | Roger Helmer MEP

  6. David Willett says:

    You’re taking nonsense. Take the odd look at http://www.bmreports.com/bsp/bsp_home.htm , which gives live information on current power generation. Open cycle gas turbines are hardly ever used nowadays, whether the wind is blowing or not. Also, the variations in electricity demand throughout the day dwarf the variations in wind power input; our current system could cope with at least double the present wind power generation capacity without much trouble.

  7. Pingback: Wind: the light starts to dawn | Roger Helmer MEP

  8. 40kbudgie says:

    David I have to disagree with your comment there. Closed cycle plants will be used as backup yes, but they simply operate in open cycle mode. So the original point is valid. You can’t do load following at very high efficiency unless the plant is specifically designed to perform that role, and the claims of half efficiency may not be far from the truth. Likewise demand variation is much larger in magnitude than wind output (agreed), but large magnitude variation is not a problem if you can predict it accurately. Load forecasting is easy because the patterns are wholly predictable and we have had seven decades practice. Wind is alot less predictable and in general less deterministic than load patterns. IF wind forecasting improves markedly (and operators are now much more incentivised to do this), alot of these x9 cost issues greatly reduce. But there is no doubt that in the short term Gas is the cheapest option, shale indeed has changed the game in the USA, forcing down US imports of gas and meaning its cheaper for everyone else on the world market. If this is sustained and fracking is adopted on a large scale elsewhere, this is probably the start of a huge boom for gas fired electricity generation. Time to invest in manufacturers of steam turbines!

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