“Free” Energy Turns Out To Be Expensive
A new study by the UK’s Renewable Energy Foundation (REF) shows that wind farms are much less viable than expected. The assumptions used for planning new installations and subsidy programmes are hopelessly optimistic.
Turbines lose efficiency over time due to mechanical wear and tear, erosion of their blades and related factors. Also, they experience more frequent breakdowns, and operators take longer to repair them, than expected.
The study is by Gordon Hughes, economics professor at Edinburgh University, and is based on data derived from 823 wind turbines in Denmark and 282 in Britain over a range of lives up to 19 years.
It shows that on average onshore wind farms in the UK generate power for 24 per cent of the time in their first year of operations, but this declines to 15 per cent when they are ten years old and 11 per cent at age 15. Danish installations experience a similar decline.
Hughes concludes that many wind farms will need to be “re-powered” (their turbines replaced) after operating for just ten years, or at the most 15 years – well short of the 20- to 25-year lives on which project economics and electricity purchase contracts are based.
John Constable, director of the REF, comments: “This study confirms suspicions that decades of generous subsidies to the wind industry have failed to encourage the innovation needed to make the sector competitive.
“Bluntly, wind turbines onshore and offshore still cost too much and wear out far too quickly to offer the developing world a realistic alternative to coal.”
The leading iconoclastic commentator on this subject, Bjorn Lomborg, argues: “If the main effort to cut [carbon dioxide] emissions is through subsidies for chic renewables like wind and solar power, virtually no good will be achieved – at very high cost.
“The cost of climate policies just for the European Union… are estimated at about $250 billion annually.” Yet “the benefits, when estimated using a standard climate model, will reduce temperature only by an immeasurable one-tenth of a degree Fahrenheit by the end of the century.”
In the US, “instead of pouring money into subsidies and direct production support of existing, inefficient green energy, President Obama should focus on dramatically ramping up investments into the research and development of green energy.
“When innovation eventually makes green energy cheaper, everyone will implement it… Such a policy would likely do 500 times more good per dollar invested than current subsidy schemes.”
CopyRight – OnTarget 2013 by Martin Spring