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 bête 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.