Looking on the bright side

After all the controversy of the wind power debate, I want to pass on a bit of optimistic news concerning solar power. According to today’s FT (you may need a subscription to read it), solar power costs have fallen dramatically and could compete on price with conventional power generation within three years. Admittedly, this is for the sunny south-east of the US and for commercial operations. Nonetheless, the rapid improvement of the efficiency of solar cells may mean that domestic solar generation of electricity might become viable within the next 5-10 years. It is unlikely that a typical UK house will be able to generate all its electricity needs alone and storage is an issue for night-time use, but it could greatly reduce domestic consumption. What happens to the wind turbines then? Even greater subsidies? Government policy may be backing the wrong horse. What chance in 20 years’ time that there will have to be a massive decommissioning of industrial wind turbines?

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9 thoughts on “Looking on the bright side”

  1. Don’t hold your breath, Robin. Another article in the FT paints a different picture. The forthcoming IPPC report (the one that last time round was largely written by a PhD student…) is *demanding* a growth from the current (nominal) 2% to 20% for wind. The cost, all included, is slated to be $12,000bn (and you bet that’s a conservative estimate).

    The article is here:

    http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/4b2fc2d2-7a8e-11e0-8762-00144feabdc0.html#axzz1OmC0S6K9

    If you want to by-pass the (free) registration process just google:

    “World faces $12,000bn renewable energy bill”

    So, although the news about solar is promising, they are going to be pushing for wind for a long time to come.

    1. When I was working, I came across a company that reckoned it was five years away from truly economically viable solar panels. It could be a big game changer. Unlike wind, the technological progress is rapid. Like microprocessors, there is huge scope for efficiency improvements.

  2. Indeed.

    See two recent pieces in the Scottish press:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-13710892

    — Salmond still in denial about wind!

    And

    http://www.thecourier.co.uk/News/Angus/article/14735/there-is-so-much-potential-inch-cape-offshore-wind-farm-seen-as-start-of-something-big.html

    I’m not sure what to say. If we are right, the country is heading for massive bankruptcy in 2020. If they are right and wind is viable, Robin’s prediction will come true and we’ll get more and more of the stuff all over the place. Either way, we who love the wild are stuffed!

  3. That’s a good link, Robin.

    To me, the choice of quote is the one at the end where the writer concludes:

    “Wind is clean and renewable, but it is proving far more complicated than many politicians may have imagined.”

    The first sentence is false, for wind is neither clean nor renewables (the steel for the turbines and the other nasty stuff that goes into the nacelle—lots of oil, for instance—is neither clear nor renewable), the second sentence is also false. It’s not the politicians that have failed to consider the implications. It is those nice guys at the European Commission pushing a technology that is dominated by Danish and German firms. True, the politicians who went along with it lacked imagination and common sense, but the root problem goes beyond that.

    There’s an ominous undertone to the article though. The increasing cost of offshore wind (as far as I know the greatest problem is the lack of specialist ships to install the flaming turbines and the cost of maintenance. The latter is a problem also for onshore and when we get the storm of the century—we’ve been lucky in the last fifty years, but we’re surely due one sooner rather than later, as the last serious storm, apart from the 1987 hurricane, was, I think, 1953—loads of hill turbines will get damaged.

    Anyway, the ominous thing is that because of the cost of offshore, we’ll get even more onshore turbines. The momentum is unstoppable. And that has always been my main argument: why commit to wind before we have enough data to see whether it actually works?

  4. Hmmm. Been away for a day or so. It’s important to get this information under the noses of the politicians. I am sure they are unaware of the increasing costs of wind and the increasing associated risks.

    A letter campaign outlining it in SIMPLE English should do it… (some of them aren’t too bright – Arts Grads…) – ooh I’ll get my coat.

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