The World is Getting Colder
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Saturday, 21 January 2012
Slowly the Penny Drops
Institute for the Study of Civil Society
6 January 2011
EMBARGO: 00.01 hrs, Monday 9 January 2012
Wind-power: inordinately expensive and ineffective at cutting CO2 emissions
Energy experts warn that unwarranted support for wind-power is
hindering genuinely cleaner energy
The focus on wind-power, driven by the renewables targets, is preventing Britain
from effectively reducing CO2 emissions, while crippling energy users with additiona
costs, according to a new Civitas report. The report finds that wind-power is unreliable
and requires back-up power stations to be available in order to maintain a consistent
electricity supply to households and businesses. This means that energy users pay twice:
once for the window-dressing of renewables, and again for the fossil fuels that the energy
sector continues to rely on. Contrary to the implied message of the Government's approach,
the analysis shows that wind-power is not a low-cost way of reducing emissions.
Electricity Costs: the folly of wind-power
, by economist Ruth Lea, uses
Government-commissioned estimates of the costs of electricity generation
in the UK to calculate the most cost-effective technologies. When all costs
are included, gas-fired power is the most cost-efficient method of generating
electricity in the short-term, while nuclear power stations become the most
cost-efficient in the medium-term.
All that wind takes a lot of gas
Wind-power is acknowledged to cost more than traditional fossil fuel power stations
. But estimates from Government-commissioned reports suggest that, when the cost
of CO2 emissions is included, onshore wind-power becomes one of the more
cost-effective means of generating electricity. Offshore wind does not however.
[See p. 12 - p. 23] Unfortunately, these estimates fail to factor in all the costs
of wind-power. These costs are due to the fact that energy output from wind
is unpredictable and rarely occurs in areas of most demand:
... wind-power is unreliable and requires conventional back-up generating
capacity when wind speeds are, for example, very low or rapidly varying...
This means that wind farms need to be supported by conventional capacity
including gas-fired power stations that can be switched on whenever the
available wind fails to match demand for electricity. Lea cites research by
Colin Gibson, former Power Network Director at the National Grid Group,
who has produced some of the most comprehensive estimates for these 'add-on costs'.
When these add-on costs are included, the resultant levelised generating costs
(£ per megawatt hour) for the main electricity generating technologies are, for medium-term projects:
Nuclear pressurised water reactors (PWR): £67.8 per MWh.
Gas-fired combined-cycle gas turbines (CCGT): £96.5 per MWh.
Gas CCGT with carbon capture and storage (CCS): £102.6 per MWh.
Coal (ASC) with CCS: £111.9 per MWh.
Advanced supercritical (ASC) coal-fired power plants: £133.2 per MWh.
Onshore wind: £146.3 per MWh (including 'add-on costs' of £60 per MWh).
Offshore wind: £179.4 per MWh (including 'add-on costs' of £67 per MWh).
(Note: one megawatt hour can run approximately 1000 desktop computers for 8 hours)
The most cost-effective technologies are nuclear and gas-fired. Onshore, and especially
offshore, wind technologies are inordinately expensive.
Pumping out more CO2
Besides the prohibitive costs, the report shows that wind-power, backed by
conventional gas-fired generation, can emit more CO2 than the most efficient gas
turbines running alone:
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. 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.
This means that the cost of having wind is not just carried by consumers but by the
environment as well.
Caught in a cross-wind
The report explains how two competing environmental policies have generated a
perverse set of priorities. The renewables targets have forced the energy sector to
focus on more expensive, less reliable power sources, rather than those most likely
to reduce emissions while keeping costs to the rest of economy competitive:
The Climate Change Act 2008 requires that Britain's greenhouse gas (GHG)
emissions be cut by 80 per cent by 2050 compared with the 1990 level and
by 34% by around 2020.
The EU's Renewables Directive (2009) commits the UK to sourcing 15% of
final energy consumption (FEC) from renewables by 2020. Renewable energy
sources include wind, hydro and biomass, but not nuclear power. [pp. 4-5]
This means that UK legislation separately specifies an outcome (reduced CO2 emissions)
and a process, more renewable energy.
The outcome itself is substantial and threatens many Britons' standard of life and
employment prospects if not achieved efficiently:
... consultants Redpoint Energy point out "…meeting these targets will mean a
radical change in the way the UK produces and consumes energy over the coming decades."
Unfortunately, the legislated process is ineffective at reaching its supposed outcome.
The result of forcing unreliable renewables on the energy sector is higher costs to
consumers as well as more CO2 emissions than are necessary for maintaining the
One outcome of this micro-managed approach is that commercial and public sector
energy users are, paradoxically, charged under the Climate Change Levy for their
use of electricity generated by nuclear power stations (nuclear plants emit no CO2
after construction). The CCL is designed to encourage greater use of renewable
energy sources even though wind-power can result in higher CO2 emissions than
efficient gas turbines. [pp. 6-7]
The report concludes:
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. The renewables targets should be renegotiated
with the EU.
For more information contact:
Ruth Lea, Director of the Manufacturing Renewal Project, 07800 608 674
Civitas on 0207 799 6677
Notes for Editors
is Director of the Manufacturing Renewal Project at Civitas
and an economic adviser to the Arbuthnot Banking Group.
Electricity Costs: The folly of wind-power
is available to download
is an independent social policy think tank. It has no links to any
political party and its research programme receives no state funding.
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