Blowing in the wind: are Boris’s renewable ambitions realistic?

Posted: October 16, 2020 by oldbrew in government, net zero, opinion, wind
Tags: , , ,

Boris Johnson wants us to set our gaze beyond the coronavirus pandemic to contemplate a future when our homes are powered by wind alone.

Is he tilting at windmills like Don Quixote? Victor Hill @ Master Investor is asking.

The vision thing

Right now, the British prime minister’s in-tray is full – but one of the items requiring his keen attention is the UK’s commitment to transition to a net carbon neutral economy by 2050, as decreed by his predecessor, Mrs May.

During his digital address to the virtual reality Conservative Party Conference 2020, beamed through cyberspace on 06 October, one of the key themes was to build back better by harnessing a valuable resource which Britain possesses in abundance: wind.

Boris Johnson announced a target of a fourfold increase in the amount of electricity generated by offshore wind turbines by 2030. He said that in ten years’ time wind power would be supplying every home in the country.

In the very recent past many serious analysts opined that wind power would never be economically viable without massive subsidy. Indeed, our prime minister once wrote in his days as a journalist that wind power couldn’t blow the skin off a rice pudding.

But ten days ago, the PM made it the centrepiece of his policy-setting conference speech.

The share of wind power in the UK national energy mix has been rising for years just as our reliance on CO2-belching coal has declined. Thirty years ago, Britain generated around 70 percent of its electricity by burning coal. Last year that was down to just over two percent.

As I write (Thursday) the National Grid Live Status website informs me that the UK is generating 52.8 percent of its electricity from fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas); 23.4 percent from renewables (wind, solar and hydroelectric); 21 percent from nuclear and biomass; and the other 2.8 percent is coming through an interconnector from the Netherlands.

The share of wind power in the total energy mix right now on a not particularly windy autumn day is 11.4 percent. That equates to 4.7 gigawatts (GW).

Mr Johnson mentioned a target in his speech of 40 GW for electricity generated by wind power, which would be enough to power the entire UK demand this Thursday lunchtime. The current maximum capacity of the UK wind turbine network is around 10 GW. So, Mr Johnson envisages increasing wind power capacity fourfold.

What will it cost?

In order to achieve that target the UK would have to invest an estimated £50 billion and build new turbines at a rate of about 240 a year – up from the current rate of 130 a year – over ten years, according to Aurora Energy Research.

Building such large new arrays will require the agreement of planning, environmental and aviation authorities. The network of power cables on the sea floor which connect the turbines with the mainland will also need to be upgraded.

But a study by Professor Gordon Hughes of Cardiff University published on the Briefings for Britain website suggests that, contrary to what politicians and industry leaders claim, costs of installation and production of wind power arrays are rising and future projects will require government i.e. taxpayer subsidies.

He thinks that government cost estimates are inaccurate and compares them to the cost estimates of other infrastructure projects such as the HS2 rail link which is still burgeoning.

The real cost of Boris’s target will be more like £150 billion, paid over 15 years, says Professor Hughes. He thinks that, as a result, it will be necessary to double the cost of electricity for consumers by 2030.

Taking into account rising costs and lower yields as turbines age, Professor Hughes reckons that revenues would eventually dip below operating costs by an estimated £27 billion a year.

Ultimately, either the taxpayer or the consumer will have to make up this shortfall. So, there seems to be a significant difference of opinion on the economic viability of wind power.

Full article here.

  1. tallbloke says:

  2. tallbloke says:

  3. Adam Gallon says:

    4-fold increase eh?
    As of 2.30pm today, demand is 36.6GW, wind’s supplying 1.87GW of that.
    4-fold increase, so 7.48GW. I wonder where the other 29.12GW is coming from?

  4. oldbrew says:

    Message to Boris and co.: when it’s not windy, 4 times zero = zero.

    Most of the turbines installed before 2030 will be ‘dead’ (and buried?) by 2050.

    Re. interconnectors, the UK has one with Ireland which often exports, but…

    What is the Celtic Interconnector?
    The Celtic Interconnector is a planned subsea (undersea) link to allow the exchange of electricity between Ireland and France. Since 2011, EirGrid has been working with its French equivalent Réseau de Transport d’Electricité (RTE) to find the best way to develop the interconnector to benefit electricity customers and markets in Ireland, France and the EU. We are working together to deliver the Celtic Interconnector, which, if built, is due to be completed in 2026.

    ‘Since 2011’? ‘If built’? All sounds rather iffy.

  5. oldbrew says:

    Adam Gallon: ‘I wonder where the other 29.12GW is coming from?’

    Qatari gas, nuclear and interconnectors — plus some diesel gensets if things get really awkward.

  6. tallbloke says:

    I will give Boris some credit for today’s other development.

  7. Chaswarnertoo says:

    Carrie’s idiotic policy, you mean?

  8. It doesn't add up... says:

    From National Grid Future Energy Scenarios:

    At least 3 GW of wind and 1.4 GW
    of solar need to be built every
    year from now until 2050

    What this means
    • Future markets must reflect the economics
    of zero marginal cost generation and the
    value of flexibility in supply and demand.
    • Current market arrangements for renewable
    investment need to evolve to deliver the
    generation capacity required for net zero
    in 2050.

    What this really means is lots more hidden subsidies to renewables

    FES is a licence obligation of National Grid
    Electricity System Operator set by Ofgem, to
    help them understand how the energy industry
    may develop in Great Britain.
    Local & central government
    For example, OLEV, DfT, Defra.
    The department of Business, Energy and
    Industrial Strategy refer to FES when
    considering new energy policy.
    Committee on Climate Change
    CCC also produce pathways for
    Academia & research
    Universities are active contributors to the
    development of FES and our work also
    informs their research.

    What this really means is that National Grid are at the heart of setting the entire country’s energy policy

    The net zero scenarios:

    Leading the Way
    With the urgency for decarbonisation widely accepted by the public
    and government, action in the early 2020s increases the price of energy
    (both electricity and natural gas) and the cost of carbon for industrial processes.

    The high price of both retail and wholesale gas and an
    effective carbon price encourages energy efficiency
    in the 2020s, provide incentives to choose low carbon
    processes and products.

    Energy efficiency is encouraged with increases in the
    wholesale and retail energy prices. Strengthening
    carbon pricing in the 2020s encourages low carbon
    I&C activity. Alongside the carbon prices, smart pricing
    tariffs incentivise large energy consumers to participate
    in demand side response activities and to install their
    own renewable energy generation (mainly solar PV) and
    batteries by 2030.

    That is which ever way you choose, net zero implies much higher prices, which is of course how the wind farms will make money, and renege on their low price CFD contracts. I suspect that if they are not allowed to do this, they will simply threaten to sell their output abroad, taking advantage of the interconnectors that are being built to export their surpluses on windy days.

  9. tallbloke says:

  10. Phil Salmon says:

    A more worthwhile goal for BJ will be for his government to make it to the end of the parliamentary term without the UK defaulting on its debt.

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