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Wind power proves expensive

Referring to the awarding “hero of the day” in The Herald of February 6, for the R93-billion wind farms plan, let the following be known:

Firstly, why so expensive? Eskom is building Medupi power station at some R125-billion for 4800Mw, so R93-billion for a mere 1850Mw is very expensive. That is R50-million versus R26-million per Mw – nearly double the price!

This will, however, in no way reduce the necessity of building more power stations, be they coal or nuclear. All that these wind turbines will do is enable Eskom to reduce the burning of coal at certain times and thus reduce carbon emissions (which is a good thing but very costly).

Wind power requires, as the name implies, for the wind to blow and it must blow fairly hard! As the average wind turbine generates power only 20% of the year do not expect too much.

We still need power for the remaining 80% of the year, hence the necessity for the coal or nuclear power stations.

There is a big difference between installed capacity (MW) and generating capacity (MWh). The wind power will have an installed capacity of 1850MW with a potential of producing 16TWh (1TWh = 1 million MWh) of energy a year, but because of the 20% usage will in fact only produce 3TWh of energy, while the Eskom power stations will have to produce the remaining 13TWh of energy.

Hence the necessity for “proper” power stations.

Anyone who believes that in 2012 wind, solar, etc. power is going to alleviate the necessity for building nuclear or coal-fired power stations does not understand how power generation and power demand works. A lot more development is required in the alternative energy field, so perhaps in 20 years’ time!

As for the creation of jobs the statement that these are largely labour intensive projects is a myth. This project will not be like building a soccer stadium.

These turbines will be spaced apart over a large area and at different sites, as has been mentioned. The construction teams will move from one turbine to the next as in a sort of production line operation.

During construction some jobs (not a lot) will be created, but not during operation when the maintenance will use a relatively small specialised labour force.

As for a third of the project costs to be spent locally, that is a laugh. The turbines themselves will be fully imported.

All that will be left is the large concrete support foundations and columns, and the transmission system. This will not come from the local community but from some large companies supplying mainly earthworks, reinforcing steel, concrete, structural steel, overhead wire, and construction equipment.

Essentially mainly unskilled labour will be sourced locally.

The ploughing of “profits” into the community is still to be seen. The companies undertaking the operation are profit oriented and need to satisfy shareholders.

Why are the costs being kept secret? That should already set alarm bells ringing? Think of Eskom and the power sale prices to special users, such as Mozal Aluminium in Maputo.

Now to the real crunch: the turbines will be a visual blot on the skyline and anyone who believes these will be aesthetically appealing has a warped sense of what is pretty. Add to that the many extra transmission lines and substations, and in a few years’ time this project will be awarded “hooligan of the day”!

An observer, Port Elizabeth