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Resource Documents: Economics (188 items)


Also see NWW "economics" FAQ

Documents presented here are not the product of nor are they necessarily endorsed by National Wind Watch. These resource documents are provided to assist anyone wishing to research the issue of industrial wind power and the impacts of its development. The information should be evaluated by each reader to come to their own conclusions about the many areas of debate.

Date added:  July 14, 2018
Economics, Europe, Germany, GridPrint storyE-mail story

Wind energy in Germany and Europe – Status, potentials and challenges for baseload application – Developments in Germany since 2010

Author:  Linneman, Thomas; and Vallana, Guido

In Germany the installed nominal capacity of all wind turbines has increased eightfold over the last 16 years to 50,000 megawatts today. In the 18 most important European countries using wind energy today, the nominal capacity rose by twelve times to more than 150,000 megawatts. One essential physical property of wind energy is its large spatiotemporal variation due to wind speed fluctuations. From a meteorological point of view, the electrical power output of wind turbines is determined by weather conditions with typical correlation lengths of several hundred kilometres. As a result, the total wind fleet output of 18 European countries extending over several thousand kilometres in north-south and east-west direction is highly volatile and exhibits a strong intermittent character. An intuitively expectable significant smoothing of this wind fleet output to an amount which would allow a reduction of backup power plant capacity, however, does not occur. [emphasis added] In contrast, a highly intermittent wind fleet power output showing significant peaks and minima is observed not only for a single country, but also for the whole of the 18 European countries. Wind energy therefore requires a practically 100% backup. As the (also combined) capacities of all known storage technologies are (and increasingly will be) insignificant in comparison to the required demand, backup must be provided by conventional power plants, with their business cases fundamentally being impaired in the absence of capacity markets.

Windenergie in Deutschland und Europa – Status quo, Potenziale und Herausfor­ derungen in der Grundversorgung mit Elektrizität – Entwicklungen in Deutschlandseit 2010:  Die installierte Nennleistung sämtlicher Windenergieanlagen in Deutschland hat sich in den letzten 16 Jahren, von Anfang 2001 bis Ende 2016, auf 50.000 Megawatt (MW) verachtfacht. In 18 betrachteten europäischen Ländern, die Windenergie heute nutzen, erhöhte sich die Nennleistung im gleichen Zeitraum um das Zwölffache auf mehr als 150.000 MW. Eine wesentliche physikalische Eigenschaft der Windenergie ist ihre starke raumzeitliche Variation aufgrund der Fluktuationen der Windgeschwindigkeit. Meteorologisch betrachtet wird die aus Windenergieanlagen eingespeiste elektrische Leistung durch Wetterlagen mit typischen Korrelationslängen von mehreren hundert Kilometern bestimmt. Im Ergebnis ist die aufsummierte eingespeiste Leistung der europaweit über mehrere tausend Kilometer sowohl in Nord-Süd- als auch Ost-West-Richtung verteilten Windenergieanlagen hoch volatil, gekennzeichnet durch ein breites Leistungsspektrum. Die intuitive Erwartung einer deutlichen Glättung der Gesamtleistung in einem Maße, das einen Verzicht auf Backup-Kraftwerksleistung ermöglichen würde, tritt allerdings nicht ein. Das Gegenteil ist der Fall, nicht nur für ein einzelnes Land, sondern auch für die große Leistungsspitzen und -minima zeigende Summenzeitreihe der Windstromproduktion 18 europäischer Länder. Für das Jahr 2016 weist die entsprechende Zeitreihe (Stundenwerte) bei idealisiert verlustfreier Betrach tung einen Mittelwert von 33.000 MW und ein Minimum von weniger als 6.500 MW auf. Dies entspricht trotz der europaweit verteilten Windparkstandorte gerade einmal 4 % der in den betrachteten 18 Ländern insgesamt installierten Nennleistung. Windenergie trägt damit praktisch nicht zur Versorgungssicherheit bei und erfordert 100% planbare Backup-Systeme nach heutigem Stand der Technik. Da das benötigte Speichervolumen aller heute bekannten Speichertechnologien im Vergleich zur Elektrizitätsnachfrage gering ist (auch in Kombination und mit steigender Tendenz bei weiterem Ausbau volatiler, vom Dargebot abhängiger erneuerbarer Energien), müssen konventionelle Kraftwerke diese Backup-Funktion übernehmen. Deren Rentabilität steht ohne Kapazitätsmärkte schon heute in Frage.

Thomas Linnemann and Guido S. Vallana
VGB PowerTech, Essen, Deutschland

June 2017

Download original document in English: “Wind energy in Germany and Europe: Status, potentials and challenges for baseload application
Auf Deutsch: “Windenergie in Deutschland und Europa: Status quo, Potenziale und Herausfor­ derungen in der Grundversorgung mit Elektrizität
Präsentation: VGB-Windstudie 2017

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Date added:  April 30, 2018
Economics, EuropePrint storyE-mail story

The market value of variable renewables: The effect of solar and wind power variability on their relative price

Author:  Hirth, Lion

Abstract – This paper provides a comprehensive discussion of the market value of variable renewable energy (VRE). The inherent variability of wind speeds and solar radiation affects the price that VRE generators receive on the market (market value). During wind and sunny times the additional electricity supply reduces the prices. Because the drop is larger with more installed capacity, the market value of VRE falls with higher penetration rate. This study aims to develop a better understanding how the market value with penetration, and how policies and prices affect the market value. Quantitative evidence is derived from a review of published studies, regression analysis of market data, and the calibrated model of the European electricity market EMMA. We find the value of wind power to fall from 110 percent of the average power price to 50-80 percent as wind penetration increases from zero to 30 percent of total electricity consumption. For solar power, similarly low values levels are reached already at 15 percent penetration. Hence, competitive large-scale renewables deployment will be more difficult to accomplish than many anticipate.

Lion Hirth, Vattenfall and Potsdam-Institute for Climate Impact Research

Energy Policy 2013; 38: 218–236. doi: 10.1016/j.eneco.2013.02.004

Download original document: “The market value of variable renewables: The effect of solar and wind power variability on their relative price

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Date added:  January 8, 2018
Economics, EmissionsPrint storyE-mail story

Wind and solar are much less efficient decarbonizers than combined-cycle gas turbines

Author:  Plummer, James; Frank, Charles; and Michaels, Robert


We compare three technologies that produce electricity in the United States: wind, solar, and combined-cycle gas turbines (CCGT). We use the 2016 electric utility database compiled by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). That database has the advantage of being based on a census of U.S. power plants rather than sampling, as well as excluding any subsidies received by the power plants.

We show the cost savings achieved when there is a shift between coal-fired generation and generation by wind, solar, or CCGTs, where costs include both capital and operating costs. The net cost reduction per tonne of CO₂ reduction is $4,340 for a shift from coal to wind, −$98,826 (a cost increase rather than a cost decrease) for a shift from coal to solar, and a $251,920 decrease for a shift from coal to CCGT.

When the net emissions from switching away from coal are considered, the net cost savings for each tonne of emissions avoided is $1.27 for a switch from coal to wind, −$44.11 (a net cost increase) for a switch from coal to solar, and a savings of $50.72 for a switch from coal to CCGT. The differentials between the savings from a switch to wind or solar and a switch to CCGT is a measure of the “dead weight economic loss involved in switching from coal to either form of “renewables” instead of switching from coal to CCGT.

This research concludes that CCGT is the only “economic” choice from the perspective of benefit-cost analysis.




Decarbonization cost is the differential cost of producing a MW year of electricity via coal plants and three other technologies – wind, solar, and CCGTs – divided by the differential CO₂ emissions (measured in tonnes per year).

Total net cost savings in 2016 of switching from coal to …

Tonnes of CO₂ emissions per MW-year avoided by switching from coal to …

Net cost savings per tonne of emissions avoided


Of a decision to switch from coal to wind instead of to CCGT:

Of a decision to switch from coal to solar instead of to CCGT:

Conclusion: Switching to either wind or solar instead of to CCGT involves a dead weight economic loss. However, the dead weight economic loss is twice as great for a switch to solar instead of a switch to wind.


In recent years, U.S. CO₂ emissions have been about 5.8 billion tonnes per year.

Suppose a goal of reducing those emissions by 10% or about 580 million tonnes.

As shown before, substitution of wind for coal results in a cost savings of $1.27 per tonne of CO₂ reduction, or $0.74 billion in this decarbonization scenario.

As shown before, substitution of solar for coal results in extra costs of $44.11 per tonne of CO₂ reduction, or $25.58 billion if all the investment was in solar.

However, if all the investment were done in CCGT, then the total cost savings would be $29.42 billion. So, the cost savings are larger when all the investment is in CCGT. The differences in cost savings are the amount of “dead weight economic loss” from investing in wind or solar instead of CCGTs.

These equations could be turned around to calculate, for a given fixed outlay of costs, what would be the “foregone CO₂ emissions opportunity” from investing in wind or solar instead of CCGT.


Job creation. Many of the jobs created by renewables are at the installation or capital goods production stages. The inherent capital intensivity of renewables limit their job creation potential.

Infant industry learning. This was a label invented by Argentine economist Raul Prebisch to argue for tariff protection of industry in less developed countries. However, those tariffs often led to “soft industries” that became dependent on the tariffs and did not focus on increased efficiency. A higher gain results from investing in specialized R&D activity.

Siting issues. Renewables progress over time from more favorable wind and solar sites to sites that involve higher cost per kWh produced, a classic example of “diminishing economic returns.” CCGTs are smaller physical plants, which can be sited close to natural gas supply or end-use electricity customers.


Should CCGT be eligible to receive federal tax credits analogous to the current federal tax subsidies to wind and solar? No. This would be doubling down on a bad federal policy. CCGT does not need subsidies. They can out compete wind and solar on their own.

The states mainly follow a policy of “renewables mandates” placed on regulated utilities. The utilities don’t resist these mandates very hard because the system of a fixed return on “utility rate base” largely eliminates the incentives to lower costs via investment in CCGTs. This pattern is a classic example of political “confusion of ends and means.” If the goal of electricity policy at the state level is reducing CO₂ emissions, then the state should not intervene to put CCGTs at a disadvantage.

James L. Plummer, President, Climate Economics Foundation
Charles R. Frank, Senior Non-resident Fellow, Brookings Institution
Robert R. Michaels, California State University Fullerton

[presented at the 35th United States Association for Energy Economics/International Association for Energy Economics Conference, November 12–15, 2017, Houston]

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Date added:  November 11, 2017
Aesthetics, Economics, ScotlandPrint storyE-mail story

Wind farms and tourism in Scotland: A review with a focus on mountaineering and landscape

Author:  Gordon, David


1. In the course of public debate on contentious topics, especially when large sums of money and politics are involved, ‘evidence’ is often collateral damage. Statistics are more often than not used, as the old joke has it, as a drunk uses a lamp-post: for support not for illumination.

2. This paper is the product of frustration and dismay at the misuse of evidence, particularly statistical evidence, by a powerful pro-wind lobby to create a confused, unbalanced and complacent picture of the possible impact of the growth of onshore wind electricity generation in Scotland on tourism and recreation, particularly mountainlinked tourism and recreation. Hyperbole by opponents of wind energy in the face of this well-organised and well-connected lobby is understandable, but equally fails to illuminate.

3. Proponents of wind farms would have us believe that tourism impacts are negligible. Opponents would have us believe that the destruction of tourism in Scotland is nigh. Neither position is at all tenable. The real position is much more subtle and complex. That is an uncomfortable message for all sides in a polarised debate.

4. This paper is an independently-written attempt to assess, as objectively as possible, what is really known about the possible impact of wind farms upon mountain-linked tourism and recreation within Scotland. This is set in the context of tourism in general, not least because there is no data specifically on mountaineering other than that produced by Mountaineering Scotland itself. It is foregrounded by a brief setting out of my personal and Mountaineering Scotland’s positions so that readers can judge whether these have biased my interpretation of the available evidence.

The key findings are:

5. There is no simple answer to the question of whether wind farms affect tourism (or recreation). It depends on

6. The hypothesis that best fits the available, far from perfect, data is that wind farms do have an effect on tourism but the effect is experienced predominantly in areas where large built structures are dissonant with expectations of desired attributes such as wildness or panoramic natural vistas, and where a high proportion of visitors come from the 25% of tourists in Scotland who are particularly drawn by the quality of upland and natural landscapes, with mountaineering visitors prominent amongst these. In much of Scotland, and for most tourists, wind farms are no serious threat to tourism: the nature of the local tourism offer, and good siting of wind farms, mean they can co-exist.

7. The main adverse effect of wind farms on tourism, thus far, is displacement within Scotland from areas perceived as ‘spoilt’ to areas seen as still retaining the desired sense of naturalness. The GCU Moffat Centre study, relied upon by developers and the Scottish Government, estimated the likely level of tourism displacement across Scotland by wind farms to be around 1-2%. The estimates in the present paper range up to 5%. This difference is modest given the five-fold increase in onshore wind farm capacity in Scotland between the data points for the two studies (2007 & 2015).

8. Tourism in Scotland is not thriving, with standard indicators of tourism volume in 2016, the latest available consistent data, still below pre-2008 levels. Positive media coverage of a ‘thriving’ tourism sector, typically based on statistically selective press releases, is seldom supported by the full figures. In a competitive world, it is foolish to put at risk any segment of Scotland’s tourism market.

9. Five per cent of Scottish tourism spend would be £250m. This is well within the range of fluctuation seen in national tourist spend from year to year and therefore undetectable, even if it was all lost to Scotland and not simply displaced within Scotland. Since the true figure could well be smaller, attempting to find evidence in national or regional tourism statistics of the effect of any particular change is almost certainly futile. It is statistically illiterate to think the lack of detection of a modest effect in volatile regional and national tourism statistics is evidence of no effect.

10. But any effect of wind farms will be much less visible in routine statistics because the income is not lost to the national tourism economy but displaced and relocated within Scotland. Even the lowest level estimated – 1% or £35m – would have a marked impact if concentrated in a limited number of places. It is still doubtful if such an effect could be detected in routine statistics since much tourism economic activity does not feature in statistics (e.g. many tourism business are below the VAT registration level) and it is such activity that might be most likely to be affected by a local drop in visitors.

11. BiGGAR Economics has attempted to look at impact in the vicinity of a general cohort of wind farms and has found no effect. Setting aside several methodological concerns about this study, the sample included only one wind farm in an area where a tourism effect would be predicted based on the conclusions of the present paper. The postconstruction outcome data for this wind farm was confounded by continuing wind farm construction locally, making it impossible to separate any tourism effect from the effect of construction worker accommodation and expenditure.

12. The evidence on wind farms and tourism in Scotland relates to the present pattern of development consented under a rigorous planning system. Mountaineering Scotland does not agree with all planning decisions, but the process is certainly exacting. This makes it difficult to assess impact on mountaineering or wild land tourism empirically because few wind farms that might be expected to have an adverse effect have been consented and most are not yet built. Insofar as Mountaineering Scotland objections can be used to identify planning applications in areas important for mountaineering and related tourism, there have been only eight wind farm consents in such areas and only two were operational by 2016. When wind farms are refused planning permission in mountain or wild land areas the reasons given are typically landscape and visual, but an unrecognised side-effect has been to limit potential for tourism impacts.

13. Despite the clearly inadequate nature of the present evidence base on wind farms and tourism, the Scottish Government remains content with reviews of old research with almost no primary research later than 2008, despite the substantially changed context. That the government and its agencies have little interest in commissioning research to better define and understand the interaction between specific segments of the tourism market and wind farms is to be regretted and serves the public interest poorly.

14. Strategic and local planning decisions on the extent and pattern of wind farm development in Scotland should take better account of the potential for adverse impact in areas important for landscape-dependent tourism, and safeguard sufficient such areas in each part of Scotland. It is not enough to protect only those landscapes within the small number of National Parks and National Scenic Areas.

Published by Mountaineering Scotland, November 2017

Download original document: “Wind farms and tourism in Scotland: A review with a focus on mountaineering and landscape

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