Old Boris was right. Wind cannot provide reliable energy, causes substantial broader grid costs and risks blackouts.
Back in 2013, a London mayor by the name of Boris Johnson declared wind farms could not “pull the skin off a rice pudding”.
Today, a Prime Minister by the name of Boris Johnson used his Conservative Party conference speech to claim that “offshore wind will be powering every home in the country” by the end of the decade. Johnson assured us this would be “cheaper than coal, cheaper than gas”.
Sadly, however, Old Boris was right. The capital and operating costs of wind remain extremely high. Wind cannot provide reliable energy, causes substantial broader grid costs and risks blackouts.
We are now continuously told by green activists that renewable energy no longer needs to be subsidised. Followed shortly by demands for subsidies for construction and prices. Just today, Johnson committed £160 million to upgrade ports and factories to build turbines. In March, the Government removed restrictions, imposed by David Cameron, on onshore wind farms accessing subsidies. The total subsidies for renewable energy are over £10 billion annually, and growing year-on-year.
The biggest flaw in wind and solar – and the reason why they cannot provide energy for every home as Boris has promised – is that they only provide intermittent electricity. This creates substantial and complicated grid balancing costs, to ensure supply precisely meets demand.
When the sun stops shining and the wind stops blowing, we need backup coal, gas or nuclear. This means funding the cost of maintaining equivalent backup capacity. (Despite improvements, batteries remain far too low capacity and expensive to make up for the intermittency of solar and wind.)
On the other hand, when the wind is blowing too strong and the sun shines too bright, or there isn’t much energy demand, we have to pay tens of millions of “constraint payments” to wind and solar operators for them to stop producing to prevent overloading the network. There are also substantial network costs for connecting renewables. Together, this makes the electricity grid fragile and more expensive to operate.
It is true that guaranteed strike prices for new renewable energy projects have declined. For example, new offshore wind has decreased from around £114/MWh in 2014 to £40/MWh in 2019. But, importantly, as found by John Constable and Professor Gordon Hughes: the actual capital and operating costs of wind have both increased over recent decades. There is a risk that operating costs will grow at existing wind farms because of rising maintenance costs. The more remote and experimental, like taller turbines or the floating wind farms proposed by the Prime Minister, the higher the operating cost.
The divergence between the actual costs of wind and the current prices is creating a trap. The new wind projects are providing a mirage of cost effectiveness. But once locked into energy sector planning, the struggling companies are likely to come back later demanding bailouts – either in the form of three to four times higher power prices or direct taxpayer subsidies. One way or another, we will all be paying for excessive faith in renewable energy.
It is a similar story for the hydrogen hype promoted by the Prime Minister. David Cebon, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Cambridge, has warned that hydrogen would be “detrimental to the UK’s economy, its energy security and its decarbonisation commitments”. That’s because it takes more energy, and therefore more carbon emissions, to produce than is created. Hydrogen would either require dramatic amounts of carbon emissions from converted natural gas (“blue hydrogen”) or consume six times as much energy than it produces (“green hydrogen”). In either case, it’s all very expensive and not great for the environment.
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October 6, 2020 at 01:31PM