Electricity from wind is not cheap, and it might never be

The parliamentarians prompting Rishi Sunak to reconsider his stance on onshore wind power frequently echo the wind industry’s catchphrase: “Wind is affordable.” Sir Alok Sharma claims it’s “affordable, green, and reliable,” while Ed Miliband simply states it’s “affordable.”

However, this obscures the reality. Electricity derived from wind is not affordable, and it might never be. The recent rights auction for constructing offshore wind farms saw no takers, even with the promise of higher subsidized rates. This alone suggests that wind energy isn’t becoming more affordable.

The genuine reason for the auction’s lacklustre response is the new stipulation preventing bidders from abandoning their bids whenever they find it convenient. Historically, they could submit low bids, proclaim their affordability, and later opt for higher market rates. The Government has finally challenged this manoeuvre, forcing an acknowledgement that electricity rates must increase for wind farms to be viable.

The financial burden of supporting wind energy is substantial. Consider the expenses associated with transporting electricity from distant wind farms to residential areas. Factor in the costs of grid stabilization and the necessity for gas plants to supplement wind during calm periods. Not to mention compensating wind farms when output needs to be curtailed on excessively windy days when the grid can’t handle the influx.

UK Households warned ‘era of cheap energy is over as bills forecast to rise

If wind energy is truly cost-effective, why have energy bills increased in tandem with the growth of installed wind capacity? Energy specialist John Constable points out, “Despite a significant amount of wind, it failed to shield against the recent gas crisis. In fact, it exacerbated the situation. With coal almost out of the picture and nuclear power constituting a mere fraction, the UK’s energy security now predominantly relies on gas as the main efficient fuel in the system.”

Yet, the wind sector contends that the current elevated electricity prices aren’t sufficient. Without further subsidies, they warn of halting construction. RenewableUK recently remarked, “The ongoing downward pressure on prices, driven by the existing auction mechanism, is misaligned with the actual project expenses and investment requirements, putting deployment objectives at risk.” How does this align with the assertion that wind power is affordable?

Even before the Ukraine crisis, the initial investments for the wind industry were considerable. Presently, like for many other sectors, these costs are surging. Essential components for wind turbines like steel, concrete, carbon fibre, and copper have witnessed steep price hikes. As operational costs escalate, it’s only natural that the energy produced by wind comes at a premium.

Wind power, as pointed out by Constable, is thermodynamically less efficient. To harness the sporadic and low-density wind for electricity requires massive machinery that demands significant energy. In contrast, nuclear plants use comparatively compact equipment to produce vast amounts of energy from a dense and efficient source, readily available when needed.

The average person seems to grasp this difference instinctively, while many politicians seem to miss it. Here’s a straightforward analogy: Consider electricity as you would coffee. It’s best when available on demand. Imagine owning a coffee shop where the quality matches popular chains like Costa, but there’s an inconsistency: one day you overflow with coffee, and the next you have none.

Moreover, your shop is a towering eyesore, disrupts scenic views, harms local wildlife, and depends on government subsidies. Most customers would likely choose Costa. In the current electricity scenario, consumers are bound to my inconsistent supply, only resorting to Costa when I falter. But due to my erratic supply, Costa has increased its prices.

Therefore, wind power is neither inexpensive nor reliable, and it’s not entirely eco-friendly either. The resource extraction and concrete used for wind farms significantly contribute to pollution and carbon emissions. Many voters recognize the inefficacy of wind farms and may express their displeasure at the polls.

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