by Jerome a Paris
Thu Jun 5th, 2008 at 06:05:26 PM EST
This is me in front of the windfarm which I helped finance two years ago. It's up and running, and will be generating clean energy for the next 20-25 years - at a price guaranteed not to increase for the whole period. It was inaugurated yesterday and christened Princess Amalia windfarm, after the young daughter of the Dutch crown prince.
Wind diaries now all listed in Windpower index.
Now that French wholesale prices are becoming higher than the feed-in tariff paid to wind farms (ie it's getting cheaper to buy "subsidized" wind power than regular, "competitive" power on the free market), it's particularly sweet.
French day-ahead electricity prices on Powernext (free reg. required).
The regulated tariff for wind power is 82 EUR/MWh or lower.
Of course, the costs (and the tariffs) for offshore wind are still slightly higher than for onshore, but this is likely to change quickly as the sector moves away from semi-experimental construction procedures to standardised methods, and as the current bottlenecks in the supply chain recede as more production capacity is put in place.
The fact remains: onshore wind costs 40-70 EUR/MWh and offshore wind power costs 90-120 EUR/MWh today and both will cost that, or less, in 15 years' time. Can any other electricity source say that, except for hydro (which cannot increase its production capacity) or solar (which needs a few more years of development to see its still high costs - 250-350 EUR/MWh - come down to more attractive levels)?
Wind's only obstacle today is the still widespread perception that it is not a "serious" energy source, that it's only a small part of the solution, and that it's not really reliable anyway.
It was heartening to see earlier this week this ad in all French newspapers, whereby all the big French utilities (including almost-all-nuclear EDF) publicly supported wind power and insisted they would continue to invest in the sector:
(It was somewhat less heartening to see Poweo's Beigbeder's self-serving and bad faith ode to competition in today's Le Monde - I need to respond to that article).
But as power generation manufacturers like GE, Siemens and others get a increasingly large share of their turnover from selling wind turbines, as Vestas (the leading wind turbine manufacturer) sees its market capitalisation reach EUR 15-20 billion, as foundries, steel makers, gearbox manufacturers, shipping companies and others see massively increasing orders coming their way from the wind industry, and as local farmers and public officials realize that they can get extra income, and extra local jobs, maybe the tide of "seriousness" will turn readily enough.
And as wind capacity installed each year continues to increase by 20% or more each year worldwide, its share of world production will quickly reach undismissable levels. This year, a number of symbolic threshholds were reached - 100GW of installed capacity, one exajoule of annual electricity generation, 40% of electricity produced from wind in Spain on some days. All of this, essentially starting from scratch less than 10 years ago. what will another 10 years bring us?
Massive unreliability, as we need to wait for wind to blow to turn on our computers or our air conditioning? Or simply new ways to run the grid, as the experience of Denmark (which has enjoyed a number of days when more than 100% of its electricity needs was produced by wind) or Spain shows? The French grid operator, RTE, long extremely wary of wind power and its unreliability, had this to say in its latest annual report (big PDF, in French, see p.49):
The second point is about wind's contribution to peak demand: despite wind's intermittency, wind farms reduce the need in thermal power plants to ensure the requisite level of supply security. One can speak of substituted capacity.
The capacity substitution rate (ratio of thermal capacity replaced to installed wind capacity) is close to the average capacity factor of wind farms in winter (around 30%) for a small proportion of wind in the system (a few GW). It goes down as that proportion increases, but remains above 20% with around 15GW of wind power.
Intermittency is a real issue, but it is one that can be dealt with at what, so far, appears to be an extremely low cost - investment in the grid, something that's useful in any case if we want resilient systems.
Ah, but wind farms are ugly!