Amongst the diverse types of natural energy available today wind energy is one which attracts much controversy. There are rumours, counter rumours and blatant lies about the industry but how viable is wind energy going forward and is it cost-effective to harness the power of wind?
Is wind power a viable option?
The first thing to remind ourselves is that because of the shape of the Earth and the way the sun heats the sea, wind is a constant and always around us. If you look back over the years, sailors have used the wind to power their boats, farmers have used the wind to power their machinery so we know that wind power is a viable option and in theory it is one of the cheapest available today.
Wind power in the UK
At this moment in time Europe is one of the leaders with regards to wind energy with an impressive 10.4% of the European Union’s power produced by this method. In the UK the figure is 11% and is expected to grow in the short, medium and longer term as further investment in wind power continues to gather pace. The European Union is aiming for 30% of all electricity power to be produced using wind power by 2030 although there is still much work to be done.
There has been a strong appetite for wind power in recent times with nearly 8000 wind turbines already installed in the UK. This has added capacity of 16.3 GW with 11 GW located onshore and 5.3 GW located offshore. It would be fair to say that the industry has caused some controversy with regards to the size of these wind turbines which are sometimes located in highly populated areas. Some people have expressed concern about the impact they may have on the price of homes and while the current Conservative government has attempted to reduce the number of onshore wind turbines this move was voted down by the House of Lords.
The cost to consumers
It is interesting to note that between 2012 and 2014 the cost of electricity from offshore wind turbines averaged £131 per megawatt hour against a wholesale price of between £40 and £50 per megawatt hour. As you can see, offshore wind turbines are being subsidised by the UK government/consumer with government figures suggesting that the overall wind power subsidy added £18 to the average UK electricity bill in 2015. However, the situation is now starting to change dramatically!
In 2017 the Financial Times ran a report on wind turbines showing the cost of wind power falling by nearly 30% to £97 per megawatt hour which is below the UK government’s short-term target of £100 per megawatt hour by 2020. The latest rates for offshore wind farms suggest this cost has fallen even further to around £57 per megawatt hour which should significantly reduce the subsidy required to balance the electricity supply books. However, these new wind farms will not be operational until 2022/23.
While there have been concerns about the location of some wind turbines throughout the UK, with Scotland and its beautiful landscape a major focus, some reports suggest that up to 75% of the UK public are supportive of this green energy technology. The rumours and counter rumours about wind turbines being “switched off” and unable to operate in high winds are perhaps more relevant to the earlier type of wind turbines but not necessarily the new improved technology of today.
It is very interesting to see the cost of electricity produced by offshore wind turbines falling dramatically because this has been an issue for many consumers, forced to subsidise the industry in recent times. The European Union has been extremely proactive with renewable technology although some would suggest it has overstepped the mark with regards to fines and the additional cost to consumers.
The Paris Climate Agreement
The Paris Climate Agreement is a controversial agreement between 70 countries with the idea of reducing temperature rises, slashing carbon emissions and tackling climate change. Many of the countries have talked the talk but failed to walk the walk because ultimately any switch to renewable energy will require time, investment and there will be a shift in employment patterns between traditional and renewable energy sources. However, it is also worth highlighting the benefits to the climate with an estimated reduction of 218m tonnes of CO2 emissions in Europe alone in 2015, as a direct consequence of the switch to wind power.
Even though most of the UK public seem to be behind an increase in wind power capacity there are still issues to address such as subsidies added to household energy bills and the location of some wind farms. The dramatic reduction in the cost per megawatt hour needs to be highlighted more by the authorities to give consumers an idea of what is happening. As the cost of producing wind power continues to decline and the cost of traditional power continues to rise, we should eventually see a crossover point.
Like so many green technologies of today, governments around the world have gone past the point of no return in relation to their investment in wind power. As subsidies fall, fewer new wind turbines are approved this should likely increase yet further the public’s acceptance of not only wind power but renewable technology in general.