Imagine a wind turbine so big that it would take Usain Bolt 19.32 seconds to run across the 200m diameter of its blades (before plunging tragically into the sea). This is what wind manufacturer Dong says will help bring the cost of offshore wind down to below that of new gas-fired power stations (the size of the blades, not Bolt’s premature demise).
Dong’s commitment to reducing costs comes at a time when MPs are calling for a “Plan B” to address the growing probability that the nuclear industry will not deliver new power stations on time or on budget. And when the government’s independent climate advisors have already said that George Osborne’s ‘dash for gas’ should be “Plan Z”.
If Dong is right and costs can be reduced to £87/MWh by 2020, a sprint for wind rather than a dash for gas becomes an even more economically attractive proposition. Projections for the Department of Energy and Climate Change predict that the price of producing electricity from new gas power stations built in 2023 will be £111/MWh (pg. 105), and could be even more if the price of gas is higher than DECC is predicting.
Opponents of clean energy continuously base their attacks on the costs, arguing that during a recession carbon-free energy is a luxury we can’t afford. In doing so they fail to acknowledge the huge subsidies that went into building infrastructure in the North Sea to extract oil and gas. As Lord Browne, former head of BP puts it : “people forget that the Government supported the oil and gas supply chain in its early days… the result today is a world leading industry.” Clean energy’s detractors also ignore the fact that the cost of new nuclear power is still going up, despite the technology being over fifty years old, and that the price of gas is forecast to rise even further.
In contrast, it’s worth looking at the steep decrease in the cost of solar power, which was once derided as expensive and pie in the sky. And the falling price of onshore wind, which Bloomberg New Energy Finance has said is now cheaper than new coal and gas power stations in Australia – without subsidy.
Businesses want to invest billions of pounds in clean energy in the UK, but need the government to provide certainty for them by including a target for almost completely eliminating carbon from our electricity system by 2030 in its new Energy Bill.
This really is a no-brainer. According to analysis by Treasury consultants Cambridge Econometrics, wind would be better for the economy than gas by around 0.8% of GDP by 2030. And if Dong can make good on its pledge, a gas power station built in the 2020s would be more expensive than offshore wind. It would also emit millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide. It’s time for less gas and more wind.