12 December 2011

  • As renewable energy sources produce power intermittently, they cannot replace gas, coal and nuclear generation, even with further development.
  • Solar and wind energy have no prospect of becoming economically competitive in an unrigged market. Government intervention will lead to higher energy costs and jeopardize energy security.
  • Increased investment in wind turbines will do little to reduce carbon emissions and fossil fuel consumption.

The report ‘Renewable Energy: Vision or Mirage’, released today (MONDAY) by the Adam Smith Institute and Scientific Alliance, reveals that the government’s focus on renewable energy sources is misguided. The UK’s plans for renewables are unrealistic, and these technologies cannot provide the secure energy supply the country needs. Present policies will lead to an energy crisis by the middle of this decade.  The key points from the report are detailed below:

  • Wind and solar power do little to reduce carbon emissions, as they need large-scale back up generating capacity to compensate for their intermittency.
  • With the decommissioning of many of the UK’s coal-fired stations – and nearly all existing nuclear reactors – over the coming decade, energy security is now a priority for policymakers alongside the drive to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. However, even ignoring cost issues, problems of intermittency mean that renewable technologies are incapable of making a major contribution to energy security.
  • The Renewable Energy Roadmap for 2020 is hugely overambitious. Renewable energy generation is currently 28% below its already reduced target. Subsidising renewable energy also comes at a cost to consumers who pay for it through higher electricity prices. Nuclear and gas are the most viable energy sources to avoid a capacity crisis in the near future.

Wind turbines are not the solution

  • To achieve current targets for wind turbines for 2020, almost 5 wind turbines must be installed every working day, with the majority of them offshore. This is unrealistic.
  • No matter how much wind capacity is added, there is no way of storing the energy long enough to avoid the need for backup generators. It cannot ensure the lights stay on, so there can be little reliance on it.
  • Experience in other countries shows that a large investment in wind turbines must be matched by large-scale conventional back up generating capacity, which makes any reductions in CO2 emissions quite modest.
  • Wind farms in the UK have a capacity factor of only 25%; investment in these farms would not be a commercial proposition without subsidies, even ignoring the intermittency problem.
  • Wind power operators in the UK get a higher subsidy per MWh than in other countries in the EU and yet many approved wind farms never get built due to problems connecting to the Grid. Onshore wind turbines face much opposition from the public and off-shore turbines are more expensive to install.
  • The operational life for wind turbines is just 20 years. This is much shorter than for coal, gas or nuclear and is another factor making wind power an expensive option.
  • Planned high investment in wind power up to 2020 will preclude the possibility of investment in diversified and efficient generating capacity. Wind power is an inefficient of use of taxpayers’ money, is not as green as commonly perceived, and will not provide for the energy needs of the UK.

Solar power

  • This is high cost and inefficient at our high latitude.
  • The focus of subsidies has been on small scale, domestic installations which are intrinsically less cost effective.
  • As there is no technology for long-term, high capacity storage of electricity, this technology cannot help to meet Britain’s energy needs.
  • Large solar farms are difficult to build as they need a large land area. This acts as a financial disincentive – nuclear and coal-fired power stations need much less land.

It is difficult not to conclude that the official enthusiasm for renewables has more to do with the power of the green lobby than economics and energy security. Martin Livermore, joint author of the report, adds:
 
“For too long, we have been told that heavy investment in uneconomic renewable energy was not only necessary but would provide a secure future electricity supply. The facts actually show that current renewables technologies are incapable of making a major contribution to energy security and – despite claims to the contrary – have only limited potential to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.”
 
“Consumers have a right to expect government to place high priority on a secure, affordable energy supply. It seems that ministers have not yet realised the need to invest in more nuclear and gas generating capacity if the electorate is not to be badly let down.”