Over the last year I have written quite a few posts about wind power stations.The posts have discussed their situation on wild land, the economics of wind power, the distribution of the electricity and how National Grid is trying to cope with its unbalancing effects. I have shown how the wind energy businesses dramatically exaggerate the benefits of wind power in the reduction of greenhouse gases. I have included posts that show how the lives of people forced to live next to wind power stations have been wrecked.
The politicians and the wind industry would have you believe that wind power creates jobs and i have linked and posted papers on here that show exactly the opposite is true: Wind power actually has a net effect of costing jobs .
You will have gathered that I am not a fan.
Well today the Adam Smith Institute published a document that neatly summarizes everything I have been banging on about in a very polished way. The front cover looks like this:
The report covers the whole gamut of renewable energy so that, for the first time that I can recall, this is a report that deals with renewables in the round. It comes up with pretty damning conclusions. I have posted just the executive summary and the main conclusions. For an in-depth read you can go HERE. It’s an incredibly interesting read.
1. EU and UK national government policy is driving a move towards progressive replacement of fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) by renewable energy sources and nuclear power. However, with a few notable exceptions (hydro power in Norway, geothermal energy in Iceland, for example) available renewable power technologies are neither economically competitive nor easily capable of providing the degree of energy security demanded by a developed society.
2. This report reviews the options from a technical and economic standpoint and assesses the real contribution they can make to a future secure, affordable energy supply. At the same time, we consider the efficiency with which they can achieve one of their primary objectives: to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide.
3. We conclude that the renewable energy technologies which are commercially available or in development cannot form more than a minor part of the overall mix without putting the security of supply at jeopardy. The need for increasing amounts of conventional backup capacity as renewables form a larger part of the overall mix severely limits their contribution to emissions reduction.
4. On-shore wind is the lowest-cost option, but still requires financial incentives to encourage investment and has limited scope for expansion because of public opposition and lack of appropriate sites. Its viability would be reduced even further if developments had to carry the cost of the additional gas-fired generating capacity needed as backup. 28% of Ireland’s installed electricity generating capacity is in the form of wind farms, but only 13% of power consumed was generated by wind in 2010/11. UK capacity factors are lower.
5. Experience from other countries with larger percentages of wind generation shows that only limited savings can be made in fossil fuel consumption and that security of supply can only be guaranteed by having a large-scale backup capability or a high degree of interconnectivity with neighbouring countries having surplus capacity. Wind farms supply only about 10% of Danish electricity consumed, despite generating more than double this.
6. Burning of biomass to generate electricity has some merit and may be economically competitive as fossil fuel prices rise. However, its relatively low energy density increases transport costs, and in practical terms it can never make more than a minor contribution to the overall energy supply. To meet DECC’s targets for the UK, by far the greater part of the biomass would have to be imported. For example, UK-grown straw could generate less than 2% of the country’s electricity needs.
7. Solar power – the most expensive of currently available technologies – has little contribution to make in northern Europe. Germany has become the world’s leader in solar cell installations, paying billions of euros annually to provide just 2% of the country’s electricity from photovoltaic panels with a capacity of 17GW but which operate at a capacity factor of only about 10%.
8. A high contribution from intrinsically intermittent renewable power generation without matching conventional capacity as backup – even if demand and supply were to be better balanced via a Europe-wide grid – would require affordable and reliable large-scale energy storage capacity capable of providing backup over a period of days or weeks. No technologies capable of providing this exist or are in development.
9. The economically extractable supply of fossil fuels is not infinite and our dependence on them must inevitably decrease as their real price increases and viable alternatives are developed. Some public support will be needed to bring these new technologies to market. However, governments are currently indulging in the dubious practice of providing guaranteed, long-term subsidies to technologies which have little hope of becoming truly competitive for the foreseeable future.
10. In the meantime, taxpayers’ money would be far better spent on measures to increase energy efficiency, plus investment in proven nuclear and gas generating capacity to provide energy security as many of the UK’s coal-fired stations – and nearly all existing nuclear reactors – are decommissioned over the coming decade.
11. Neither can we ignore the possibility of building new coal-fired stations, or commercialising underground gasification, to make use of the large reserves of coal in the UK and other European countries, which could contribute to energy security for many years to come.
This review has shown that the renewable energy technologies which are commercially available or in development cannot form more than a minor part of the overall power supply without putting the security of supply at jeopardy. On-shore wind is the lowest-cost option, but still requires significant financial incentives to encourage investment and has limited scope for expansion because of public opposition and lack of appropriate sites. Its viability would be reduced even further if wind farms had to carry the cost of the additional gas-fired generating capacity as backup. Experience from other countries with larger percentages of wind generation shows that only limited savings can be made in fossil fuel consumption and that security of supply can only be guaranteed by having a large-scale backup capability or a high degree of interconnectivity with neighbouring countries having surplus capacity.
Our more detailed conclusions are:
• Given that there is very little scope for development of new hydroelectric schemes, the only technologies which are sufficiently developed for large scale deployment in the UK are wind and solar power (both photovoltaics and concentrated solar thermal), together with burning available biomass.
• Use of biomass is relatively attractive, having none of the drawbacks of wind or solar power, but the contribution it can make is constrained by the need to grow food and provide raw materials for transport biofuels and industrial processing. It can only be a minor part of the overall energy mix.
• On-shore wind is the least expensive of the other options, but is still uncompetitive without continuing subsidies. It is also both intermittent and unpredictable, requiring conventional capacity to be on standby to balance the supply, and is subject to increasing public opposition. Service life, at 20 years, is short compared with conventional generating technologies.
• Off-shore wind is considerably more expensive, although more acceptable to the public.
• Despite the cost of cells having come down recently, photovoltaic systems are far more expensive than wind and require large subsidies. Their use in such high latitudes is not to be recommended, and the willingness of the government to provide large subsidies, particularly for small-scale installations, is difficult to understand.
• Solar thermal systems are also only suitable for much sunnier environments than northern Europe.
• Heat pumps are suitable as a source of heating in some circumstances, but only on a local basis. They are efficient at producing low-cost heat, but are costly to install.
• Tidal barrage schemes, such as the proposed Severn estuary project, have limited potential. There are relatively few appropriate sites, they have a large environmental impact, and they are intermittent (although predictably so). Nevertheless, they cannot be ignored.
• Neither wave nor tidal stream technology is close to commercialisation. The need to harvest energy during normal conditions while withstanding storms presents enormous engineering difficulties. However, tidal power currently seems to offer greater practical possibilities and neither can be completely ruled out as long-term options. That said, there is no foreseeable prospect of them becoming competitive with gas or nuclear power generation.
• Wind and solar power generation schemes operate at a fraction of their installed capacity.
• Because – with the exception of biomass – renewable energy supply is intermittent, conventional generating capacity, particularly gas, has to be kept running on standby to balance the grid. This means that actual reductions in carbon dioxide emissions are lower than theoretically possible and that the cost per tonne is relatively high.
• Intermittency also causes significant problems with balancing the grid to maintain energy security. While not insurmountable for modest levels of renewable energy, these problems limit the effective contribution which renewables can make to the energy supply.
• With the exception of pumped storage, there are no means of storing energy on a large scale and for a significant period to smooth the contribution of wind and solar generation, which often peaks at times of low demand. Even pumped storage can only provide backup over a timescale of hours rather than the days or weeks necessary to guarantee continuity of supply in a renewables-based system. With the current state of knowledge, there is no foreseeable possibility of developing practical and affordable options.
• There is no prospect of most renewable technologies – particularly solar and off-shore wind – being competitive with conventional power sources in the foreseeable future.
• In light of this assessment, we conclude that taxpayers’ money would be far better spent on measures to increase energy efficiency, plus investment in proven nuclear and gas generating capacity to provide energy security as many of the UK’s coal-fired stations – and nearly all existing nuclear reactors – are decommissioned over the coming decade.
© Adam Smith Research Trust 2011
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