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Europe's green energy vision puts UK in dark

It is a dazzling vision of a clean energy future. An entire continent powered by solar panels, wind and wave turbines, geothermal and hydroelectric power stations -- and all stitched together by a European "supergrid" stretching from the sunbaked deserts of the south to the windswept North Sea, from the volcanoes of Iceland to the lakes of Finland.

It may sound like the stuff of science fiction but this is a vision that the European Union wants to make a reality. The concept is gaining ground among policymakers, including leaders such as President Sarkozy and Gordon Brown, who are concerned about Europe's carbon emissions and its steadily growing dependence on Russian gas.


The truth is that, despite the Government's talk of a green energy revolution, Britain's renewable energy industry is in crisis.

About 40 per cent of the UK's power stations were built before 1975 and urgently need to be replaced. But the combined impact of the credit crunch, falling oil and coal prices and the weaker pound now threaten to hold up wind projects just as the UK has raised its commitment to green electricity.

"The economics a year ago were already tight but the cost of capital and the foreign exchange movement have made it much harder," says Sarwjit Sambhi, director of power generation at Centrica, one of Britain's Big Six power companies, which is trying to build a 250 megawatt (MW) wind farm off Lincolnshire, big enough to supply 170,000 homes. "We are not going to make investments below our return on capital so my goal will be to spend as little as possible until the economics improve," he said.


Wind power, easily the most economically attractive form of renewable energy in the UK, remains hugely expensive when compared with gas and coal.

A recently approved gas-fired station in Pembroke will cost £1 billion and will be the largest in the UK, producing 2,000MW. It would cost six times as much to build a windfarm of similar capacity.


Until Europe's governments grapple with the fine detail of these issues, the Continent's dreams of a supergrid and a future free of fossil fuels are likely to remain in the realms of science fiction.

Beyond the ignorant confusion between cost per MW and cost per MWh, there's yet more of that "wind is unserious" mindset. Wankers.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon May 4th, 2009 at 08:04:43 AM EST
Jerome a Paris:
more of that "wind is unserious" mindset. Wankers.

it's the refusal to look at any interest other than the sheerly economic that is so galling. such a case of looking through the telescope from the wrong end!

such a reductionist mindset, entirely devoid of humanity...

this refusal, coupled with the convenient overlooking of externalities in coal and nuclear (plutonium or mercury, whee!), that makes some news for wind look dire.

i believe it's just foot-dragging by any other name.

great reference diary!

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Mon May 4th, 2009 at 08:31:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And their view of "economic" is really "financial given a system dominated by large for profit banks that need high rates of return to counter losses on risky investments". Adam Smith would have been horrified.
by rootless2 on Mon May 4th, 2009 at 09:54:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Also note that apparently being dependent on Russian gas is preferable to being dependent on German gear boxes. That's about the only way I can translate the comment about the falling £: It makes the up-front cost of windmills (which, thanks to the UK's lack of energy policy for the last couple of decades, are not produced in the UK...) more expensive than the cement and steel (which presumably still is produced in the UK) needed for gas-fired power plants.

Not the geopolitical analysis I'd have made. But hey, I'm just a shill, lefty blogger...

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon May 4th, 2009 at 05:02:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The UK doesn't need to manufacture gear boxes when it is the white hot center of financial innovation.

[Laughs sardonically ]

by rootless2 on Mon May 4th, 2009 at 10:13:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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