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Wind power in the doldrums?

Many governments, including our own, appear to believe, or are hoping, that wind will supply a substantial proportion of the electricity to our national grid in the future and that this will be beneficial.

However, it must be questioned if it is realistic to expect that renewables can supply a large share of the electricity supplied to the grid.

Grid problems are already being encountered in several countries even where penetrations of intermittent renewable electricity are relatively low, as in the US, China and Australia; while in countries where penetration is significant, such as Germany, with close to 20 per cent, the problems and repercussions are more severe. It now seems possible that even at zero cost, it would not make sense to continue to add wind turbines to the electric grid in the absence of very much better and cheaper electricity storage than presently exists.

There are costs other than the turbines – such as grid connections, site access and preparation, installation, maintenance and decommissioning; not to mention the terrible environmental impact of the mining and processing of some of the critical raw materials, such as cobalt and samarium, which are out of our sight in countries such as China and the Congo.

The admission of intermittent electricity, with zero marginal cost, to the grid, in preference to that offered by other providers using coal, nuclear or natural gas, distorts competition but the contribution of wind to grid electricity cannot make up for the negative impact on the cost and performance of these reliable, predictable and despatchable electricity sources.

Even calculations of “life-cycle costs” or “energy returned on energy invested” conceal the fact that intermittent energy is of lower value and reliability than is necessary to operate a grid. They also miss the point that the timing and cost of capital are critical, as is the impact on the pricing on the economic viability of other energy products.

The fact is that prices to the consumer worldwide rise in proportion to the amount of installed “renewable” capacity in the marketplace and that this is a function of the subsidies required to induce investment in a form of generation that would otherwise not be economic even at a zero per cent cost of capital. Such subsidies result in investments in wind having a negative cost of capital. Talk about “leprechaun economics”! – Yours, etc,

DAVID WHITEHEAD,

Kinvara,

Co Galway.