January 2012

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Policy Exchange, a right-leaning think tank, has come out with a paper attacking the subsidies for offshore wind in the UK. Its reasoning is that offshore wind will always be too expensive and that the overseas market for British engineering is limited.

Both of these assumptions are probably wrong. One credible source sees the cost of offshore wind falling to levels competitive with gas, albeit over several decades. And foreign interest in offshore wind is growing as the best onshore sites are completed. A Chinese study estimated the potential for exploitable wind power offshore is about 750 gigawatts, perhaps ten times the UK’s likely resource. Over the next few years China plans enormous investments in sea-based turbines. Similar opportunities are available in the US. Read the rest of this entry »

Ruth Lea contends that onshore wind is ‘quite uneconomic’ in her report for Civitas. She says that although the direct cost of onshore wind is close to that of fossil fuel sources, this comparison excludes the impact of integrating renewables into the electricity grid. When these costs are added, she contends, wind becomes wholly uncompetitive.

This assertion is entirely based on the work of Colin Gibson, a former National Grid engineer, who has made some informal estimates of the cost of integrating wind power into the electricity networks. He suggests that these costs are about £60 a megawatt hour, adding perhaps 70% to the cost of electricity from wind turbines. Ms Lea fails to mention that many, many other analysts and engineers have also estimated the extra costs of adding large volumes of wind power to the electricity system. In this note I suggest that these alternative sources support a view that Mr Gibson’s estimates are wrong by about a factor of four, meaning that Ms Lea’s contention that wind is a very expensive technology is based on shaky foundations. Read the rest of this entry »

If the unreliability of wind power really is a problem we would have seen the evidence today (3rd January 2012). Extremely strong westerly winds were predicted to deliver about 3.5 GW of electricity from turbines during most of the last twenty four hours, over 80% of the maximum capacity from the UK’s wind farms. But as has been the case several times over the last six weeks, many of the arrays stopped as excessively high wind speeds triggered automatic shut downs. Read the rest of this entry »


A press release today (January 3rd 2011) from the Department of Energy and Climate Change makes the following assertion as part of the Department’s response to a campaign on child poverty.[1]

‘we’re also focusing on the causes of fuel poverty – in particular poor household energy efficiency. There’s free and cheap insulation available to low income households now from energy suppliers and the Warm Front scheme, and this will be also be a core feature of the new Green Deal from the end of the year.’

This statement isn’t true. The Green Deal proposals do not have ‘free and cheap insulation’ as a ‘core feature’. The Green Deal is a mechanism for allowing householders to improve the energy performance of their homes and pay back the cost slowly using a loan from electricity companies. Helping get people out of fuel poverty – one of the most important challenges facing the UK – is nothing to do with the Green Deal. Read the rest of this entry »