“People should believe that [wind power] is very, very cheap.”
Connie Hedegaard, EU Climate Commissioner
Another Dane, Bjørn Lomborg, who is not - like Hedegaard - acting as PR agent for the Danish wind turbine industry, does not agree:
In fact, this is a highly problematic claim. While wind energy is cheaper than other, more ineffective renewables, such as solar, tidal and ethanol, it is nowhere near competitive. If it were, we wouldn’t have to keep spending significant sums to subsidize it.
To prove his point, Lomborg refers to recent U.K. studies - and the IPCC(!):
The U.K. Carbon Trust estimates that the cost of expanding wind turbines to 40 gigawatts, in order to provide 31 percent of electricity by 2020, could run as high as $120 billion. And the benefits, in terms of tackling global warming, would be measly: a reduction of just 86 megatons of carbon-dioxide per year for two decades. In terms of averted rise in temperature, this would be insignificant. Using a standard climate model, by 2100, the U.K.’s huge outlay will have postponed global warming by just over 10 days.
Moreover, this estimate is undoubtedly too optimistic. Wind frequently does not blow when we need it. For example, as the BBC reported, the cold weather on Dec. 21, 2010, was typical of a prolonged cold front, with high-pressure areas and little wind. Whereas wind power, on average, supplies 5 percent of the U.K.’s electricity, its share fell to just 0.04 percent that day. With demand understandably peaking, other sources, such as coal and gas, had to fill the gap.
Contrary to what many think, the cost of both onshore and offshore wind power has not been coming down. On the contrary, it has been going up over the past decade. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change acknowledged this in its most recent renewable-energy report. Likewise, the U.K. Energy Research Center laments that wind-power costs have “risen significantly since the mid-2000s.”
Like the European Union, the U.K. has become enamored with the idea of reducing carbon-dioxide through wind technology. But most academic models show that the cheapest way to reduce carbon-dioxide by 20 percent in 2020 would be to switch from coal to cleaner natural gas. The average of the major energy models indicates that, downscaled for the U.K., achieving the 20 percent target would imply a total cost of roughly $150 billion over the coming decade, and $29 billion every year after that. These figures include reductions in areas other than electricity, as well as higher energy prices’ total cost to the economy.
Nonetheless, the lesson is clear: If the goal is not just to cut carbon-dioxide emissions, but also to use renewables to do it, the models show that the cost balloons to $298 billion for this decade and $57 billion every year after 2020. In effect, insisting on wind power means using energy that is far from competitive, does not help to avert climate change, and costs an extra $146 billion for the U.K. alone.
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