Tuesday, January 27, 2009

They Call the Wind Uneconomic

scroby-4 Honestly, we come not to ding wind power:

One of the firms participating in the London Array project, under which the world's biggest offshore wind farm would be built in the outer Thames Estuary, has questioned the scheme's economic viability.

The Financial Times reported at the weekend that Paul Golby, chief executive of E.ON UK - which owns 30 per cent of the Array venture - says that "the economics [of the Array] are looking pretty difficult".

This is due to the extra expense of setting a wind farm off shore. Naturally, this caught our eye:

The FT quotes energy major Centrica as estimating the cost of offshore capacity at £3m per megawatt, more than double what it costs to build nuclear stations.

Once you’ve got a nuclear plant built, the running costs are relatively minimal. Nuclear energy can generate power nearly all the time while a wind farms tops out at about 30% of the time. (This fact musters this comment: “Thus, it costs more than six times as much to build a given level of power production using wind farms as it does using nuclear.” Gulp!)

While some nerves frayed past breaking on this point, there’s enough will – and monied parties - to get the windmills humming:

The London Array seemed to be under threat last year when Shell, with a 20 per cent stake, pulled out of the project saying it was uneconomic. However, Shell's place was taken by the emir of Abu Dhabi. E.ON has 30 per cent, and the other half is owned by DONG Energy of Denmark.

So, goodbye Shell, hello emir. We’d guess the emir sees this as a pilot project for something Abu Dhabi might consider for itself - his outfit is called Future Energy Company – plus the use of gas turbines as backup might be appealing. (The Danes are likely providing the know-how. See DONG if you read Danish.)

You may look back at that first sentence and think that there is indeed a whole lot of wind farm dinging going on – and we admit, we like those wind to nuclear cost comparisons.

But no, the point is that changing the energy portfolio from proven to (essentially) unproven technologies is much costlier than might first seem apparent. Nuclear energy is a proven technology that answers to the pressing problem (du jour perhaps but none-the-less)of carbon reduction – and does it better than the London Array, not needing those gas turbines as backstop. Nuclear energy is not issue-free, of course, but in this context, its virtues become much more apparent.

Wind, solar, hydro, even the bĂȘte noir of clean coal seem unavoidable routes forward – and certainly should be as long as government and industry are willing to move them forward. But virtuous, cost-free panaceas? No. In a large way, comparing them to nuclear energy only makes those drawbacks glare.

Windmills in the London Array. Be sure to visit its site for lots of interesting information.

8 comments:

Charles Barton said...

I have made an ongoing case study of British offshore wind plans on Nuclear Green. It is clear that the goals of this plan will not be meet within the projected time frame, that project costs will be very high, and that the wind generation system will be dependent on natural gas backup. The interruption of Russian Natural gas supplies to Western Europe, raises serious doubts about the security of a natural gas back up plan. While wind might be politically correct, its ability to replace fossil fuel electrical generation systems will not produce politically correct results.

In addition to the British Wind plan, I am reporting on ongoing case studies of wind projects in California and Texas. Again these case studies point to the limitations of wind generating systems as a serious liability, and the costs of correcting wind limitations as making wind systems more expensive than nuclear power generation systems.

Rod Adams said...

Mark - While I understand the reluctance to "ding" a different technology, I have gotten over the idea that speaking or writing the truth should be categorized as "dinging".

Though some people who have been keeping up with world economic events for the past 6 months may have gotten the idea that money can be magically wished into existence, the reality is that real resources (human labor, design effort, steel, concrete, niobium, etc.) are not unlimited. That should not scare us as technologists, but it does increase the importance of fact based technology selections. We cannot afford an "all of the above" approach to problem solving when some solutions are significantly inferior to others.

We must use accurate information to assess the viability of various sources of power and we must help those who are less numerate to understand the implications of their decisions. If taxpayers and consumers truly believe that unpredictable wind electricity is worth three times as the same amount of scheduled nuclear electricity they can make that call, but only if they know that is the truth.

Instead, decision influencers continue tell them that wind costs "continue to drop" while nuclear is "incredibly expensive." The following is a very recent press release that has been repeated in several major publications:

"The U.S. wind energy industry shattered all previous records in 2008 by installing 8,358 megawatts (MW) of new generating capacity (enough to serve over 2 million homes), the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) said today, even as it warned of an uncertain outlook for 2009 due to the continuing financial crisis.

The massive growth in 2008 swelled the nation’s total wind power generating capacity by 50% and channeled an investment of some $17 billion into the economy, positioning wind power as one of the leading sources of new power generation in the country today along with natural gas, AWEA added. "


Source: American Wind Energy Association January 27, 2008, 4PM

Somewhat later in the press release the AWEA admitted the following:

"However, because of the recent slowdown in orders, wind turbine and turbine component manufacturers in different parts of the country are beginning to announce layoffs. "

Not once in the press release did the AWEA mention how much actual electricity the installed base of turbines provide and how that compares to the total amount of electricity generated. Wind marketers KNOW that capacity numbers are much more impressive than their generation numbers.

Arvid said...

I think the dissing of the wind is really unfair.

Wind costs have come down and are now about the same as for nuclear, at least if you believe the IEA.

Check this: http://www.eurotrib.com/files/3/081112_IEA_cost_of_generation_15_30_US_EU_CN_IN.JPG

If you want to read more, go here: http://www.eurotrib.com/story/2009/1/21/175330/942

Anonymous said...

The dates on that IEA chart refer to 2015 and 2030. Is there a chart for 2008, a year for which data actually exists, rather than speculation of costs six to twenty years from now?

Charles Barton said...

Arvid the pure childishness of wind advocates astonishes me. if we talk about the limitiations of wind, and its true cost, we are "dissing" wind, as if the issues is one of respect not effectiveness and cost, We are then pointed to a highly speculative document, which suggested that wind might not cost as much in 20 years, but does not give a good account of factors that might effect winds cost in 20 years, and told that this demonstrates that the cost of wind has come down. {;ausably this might be the case. December 2008 wind costs might be lower than Dcember 2007, I don't know. But from my perspective the people who get dissed are the people who put time painfully teasing out an analysis from the frequently misleading information offered by wind advocates.

Anonymous said...

Now, I don't think one should ban debate on wind. Quite frankly I wouldn't like to live next to the blasted things.

But I also think wind technology has come long enough to actually make sense economically, especially in the US where the wind resources are good.

For some more no-nonsense coverage on the conomics of wind, check this out: http://www.eurotrib.com/?op=displaystory;sid=2009/1/28/1056/97684

/Arvid

Mark Flanagan said...

Rod -

The reason we don't ding other technologies is because we don't want work on them to stop. Yes, wind and the other favored renewables create problems that are not apparent when one only considers their benign "greeniness;" they do currently have practical and economic problems. We highlight those to demonstrate that nuclear energy has real strengths that have mostly sidestepped these problems - a legitimate theme for NNN. But wind and its cousins have come a far way and will likely proceed apace as long there is faith in them and emirs around to keep them viable.

Anonymous said...

Wind is supposed to be publicly funded and produce enormous profits for the suppliers and owners.

Nuke's get a free pass on failure to repay over 50% of public financing.
They ignore the cost of storage of spent fuel rods.
The idea that protecting these waste products from terrorists might be a good idea is ignored (someone else gets to run clean up, taxpayers foot the bill)

If Wind had the same R&D and the same financing plan ,,, then it would be cheaper ,,, but wind has no waste products to make bombs out of ...