December 09, 2007
British Governnment Decides On Massive Wind Farms

The Labour government of Gordon Brown has decided to strengthen their green bona fides in a big way.

Britain is to embark on a wind power revolution that will produce enough electricity to power every home in the country, ministers will reveal tomorrow.

The Independent on Sunday has learnt that, in an astonishing U-turn, the Secretary of State for Business, John Hutton, will announce that he is opening up the seas around Britain to wind farms in the biggest ever renewable energy initiative. Only weeks ago he was resisting a major expansion of renewable sources, on the grounds that it would interfere with plans to build new nuclear power stations.

But what will it cost?

Combined with almost 1 GW of existing capacity the proposed and planned wind farms will add up to 35 GW of capacity.

Mr Hutton's announcement, which will be made at a conference in Berlin tomorrow, will identify sites in British waters for enough wind farms to produce 25 gigawatts (GW) of electricity by 2020, in addition to the 8GW already planned enough to meet the needs of all the country's homes.

But since this uses wind that does not always blow are they talking about max output? If so, then assuming 32% average operating capacity (guessing based on reports about existing wind farms) a more reasonable output estimate would be maybe 11 GW. They could accomplish the same goal of avoiding carbon dioxide emissions by building 8 GE ESBWR nuclear reactors (assuming 90% uptime). I wonder whether 7000 wind turbines, deep ocean towers, and cables to bring the power to shore will cost more or less than 8 nukes. Also, the wind towers will require a lot of gas or coal fired back-up electric power plants for when the wind does not blow. That's an added cost the nukes wouldn't have.

You might expect me to think this proposal is dumb because politicians didn't realistically weigh costs and nuclear power might be cheaper. But I'm looking at a bigger picture: Even the second cheapest substitute for fossil fuels for generating electricity is still an improvement over using fossil fuels to generate electricity. Now some of the more skeptical among you about global warming are thinking I've gone soft and sentimental. Not to worry. I'm still really worried about Peak Oil and I'm thinking more and more that we need to reserve natural gas and coal for transportation, fertilizer, and plastics. That'll still leave some libertarians among you unsatisfied. But sorry, I think a world of sovereign national oil companies in control of most of the remaining oil and hiding their real reserves is not a very efficient market. Plus, I think the market is making a massive mistake on energy.

To put that 34 GW number in perspective currently the United States has 13 GW of installed wind capacity. The US had only half that capacity 4 years ago. So a tripling of capacity before 2020 seems quite possible and perhaps even likely. Not sure if Britain will ever become the biggest producer of wind power. Right now Texas alone exceeds Britain in wind energy production.

The Scots don't want wind turbines they can see.

Up to 7,000 turbines could be installed off the UK's coastline in a bid to boost the production of wind energy 30-fold by 2020. The plans are likely to see a huge increase in wind farms off the coast of Scotland, although plans to situate new farms within 12 miles of the Scottish shore have been shelved.

Instead, the new farms will most likely be in deep-water locations up to 200 nautical miles offshore.

There's a growing movement in Britain against land-based and near shoreline ocean-based wind towers. The opponents share my esthetic reaction. Wind towers might be neat to go look at in a few places. But I want most countryside to remain more natural looking.

The British government might also pursue tidal power.

Mr Brown and his environment secretary, Hilary Benn, are expected to announce a range of measures including a tighter renewables obligation on electricity companies, a commitment to the Severn tidal barrage and an offshore Thames estuary wind farm capable of supplying a quarter of London's electricity with 341 wind turbines.

The UK's outstanding tidal resources could provide at least 10% of the country's electricity, the government's sustainable development commission has insisted.

What I'd like to know: So then is Brown's government going to abandon their flirtation with a revival of nuclear power? Or are they going to do nuclear and wind? If they do both they could save future dwindling supplies of natural gas for other uses.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2007 December 09 11:41 PM  Energy Wind

Greg said at December 10, 2007 10:58 AM:

Well, indeed, for Britain to overtake the US in wind energy, US wind production needs to grow by about 9% a year through 2020. So far it was around 15-28% (for the last few years).
As to wind average vs. installed capacity, offshore turbines provide (a) higher ratio (wind offshore is more stable); (b) better efficiency.
But - alas! - they don't generate "local jobs" or help farmers' income...

Randall Parker said at December 10, 2007 9:11 PM:


But the economics of offshore wind can't be so great or we'd see a lot more of it. The deeper the water the more expensive it becomes.

I wonder whether the Brits will go through with the full building program they've announced or will they get held back by costs.

aa2 said at December 10, 2007 11:36 PM:

Common sense tells me 8 ge nuclear reactors would be far cheaper to operate then 7,000 deep water wind mills. I believe each year the cost of electricity is going to play a bigger part of the products and services we buy. Places with cheap electricity seem to have a very large advantage over those with more expensive. Imagine even 10-15% of a products cost is electricity. If one area is twice as expensive the cost would rocket to 20-30%. And I've read of industries where 10-15% is the cost of labor!

Ultimately any nation needs some world competitive industry if it wants to get the currency to purchase resources and goods on the global market.

persiflage said at December 11, 2007 4:17 PM:

Good heavens: " farms will most likely be in deep-water locations up to 200 nautical miles offshore." Have they considered transmission losses over those distances? The capital costs for deep water tower erection and transmission cabling to the onshore grid (to get the electricity to locations where there are people who want it) will be enormous. What is the annual O&M cost for 7000 towers and turbines? This does not make sense. Constructing coastal nuclear plants located near the end-users of the electricity does.

Randall Parker said at December 11, 2007 8:22 PM:


None of the news stories I found on this announcement said what the British government estimates as the cost per kilowatt-hour (kwh) of electricity generated by offshore wind towers. I would welcome links to credible estimates.

Nuclear power is probably about $0.06 to $0.07 per kwh wholesale. Though the cost depends on local cost of capital, competency of builders, and other factors. Coal is about $0.02 less per kwh. The cheapest states in the US for electric power run on coal or hydro. The cheap states have about $0.07 per kwh electricity and the average in the United States is about $0.105 per kwh.

My guess is that offshore wind will cost more. I wonder if there's any data on the web about the costs of Denmark's offshore wind farms. I suspect they are in shallower water than the water off Britain. Not sure though.

Tom said at December 13, 2007 7:26 PM:

I live in MD, where almost all my power comes from coal. Currently, I'm paying about 7 cents. They're phasing in energy competition (despite that it's been a failure in so many places), so it will be going up very soon. There are a couple "green" suppliers that will sell wind electricity. I'd love to switch off coal, but I really don't want all those friggin windmills sitting on mountaintops. I'd rather buy nuclear, and I'd be willing to pay a bit more for it. There's got to be a market here...

In 50 years, people will think we were daft for screwing up virgin mountaintops with these monstrosities.

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