Now if wind power did indeed turn out to be both low carbon and economic then I\’d cheer: the things is though, will it ever be so?
Wind power ticks more good boxes than almost any other option. It is clean, nearly silent, emits no CO2, pays its way, and is "home made" – no small matter as Europe\’s reliance on imported gas jumps from 54pc to 80pc over the next 15 years.
Unfortunately, there\’s two errors in that (at least). Wind does not emit no CO2. Over the lifecycle it emits around and about the same as nuclear, about the same as large scale hydro. It\’s low CO2 as compared to coal and soon, for sure, but we still use cement to stick the things into the ground….
Secondly, it doesn\’t actually pay its way:
E.On is coy about profit margins. The European operations are flirting with break-even cost, but the company\’s huge 10-mile wind farms in the Texas outback have reached the magical level of €50 per megawatt hour (with US government subsidies), far below natural gas at the current market price.
How much is that subsidy? It doesn\’t actually pay its way until it is competitive without subsidy now, does it? We can of course at this point go off and argue about whether the externality of gas\’ CO2 emissions are a subsidy, one slowly being addressed by the cap and trade (or cabon tax) proposals, but it\’s amuch more complex calculation than just saying that wind is competitive now.
And finally, we\’ve got the great big bugbear of wind energy. What happens when the wind is too weak or too strong:
Yet the International Energy Agency says 3.5pc is more realistic. A report from the UK\’s Royal Academy of Engineering concluded that wind power still costs two to three times more than nuclear energy, even after decommissioning. The dispute centres on the back-up needs when the wind is not blowing.
This is something I\’ve still not seen explained in a manner simple enough for me to grasp. Yes, there\’s those who point out that we only get the energy from the mills 30% of the time and that we\’ve got to have other sources to back them up. I get that.
What puzzles me is that I\’ve never seen an attempted refutation of that point. Why? Is it because no refutation is possible? Or because there\’s something in that argument that means it doesn\’t need refuting?
Anyone actually able to guide me to a discussion of both sides of this?