NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Wind Power Will Cost Britain

March 19, 2012

Efforts to stem global warming have nurtured a strong urge worldwide to deploy renewable energy.  As a result, the use of wind turbines has increased tenfold over the past decade, with wind power often touted as the most cost effective green opportunity.  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, says Bjørn Lomborg, an adjunct professor at the Copenhagen Business School.

In the United Kingdom, for example, wind remains significantly more costly than other energy sources.

  • Using the U.K. Electricity Generation Costs 2010 update and measuring in cost per produced kilowatt-hour, wind is still 20 to 200 percent more expensive than the cheapest fossil-fuel options.
  • Even this is a significant underestimate.

With its "20-20-20" policy, the EU has promised that, by 2020, it will cut its carbon emissions by 20 percent below 1990 levels, and increase its reliance on renewables by 20 percent.  For the United Kingdom, this requires a dramatic increase in wind power, especially offshore.  This will be surprisingly costly.

  • 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 £75 billion ($120 billion).
  • And the benefits, in terms of tackling global warming, would be measly: a reduction of just 86 megatons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year for two decades.
  • In terms of averted rise in temperature, this would be completely insignificant -- using a standard climate model, by 2100, the United Kingdom'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.  Insisting on wind power means using energy that is far from competitive, does not help to avert climate change and will be costly for the United Kingdom.

Source: Bjørn Lomborg, "Gone With the Wind," Project Syndicate, March 16, 2012.

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