Off shore wind farms cost twice as much to produce electricity as gas and coal powered stations and will need subsidies for at least 20 years, a major report warns.
Britain’s so-called “dash for wind” means that it is now the biggest off shore generator – producing as much as the rest of the world put together.
But costs of building the farms have doubled due to spiralling prices for steel and the drop in the value of the pound.
The running costs are also increasing.
The report found that costs have risen for all kinds of generation but off shore wind farms remain by far the most expensive – 90 per cent more than fossil fuel generators and 50 per cent more than nuclear.
The news is bound to lead to question over the government’s policy of using wind power to meet its target to generate around a third of its electricity from renewables by 2020.
But the authors of the report at the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC), a government think tank, said they remained “cautiously optimistic” that wind can play a significant contribution to the zero carbon energy production for Britain.
“We think that there are grounds for cautious optimism,” said Dr Robert Gross, of Imperial College London, who headed the report.
“Yes it is more expensive than gas and coal and is unlikely to reach parity for at least 20 years but we still think it is a worthwhile energy producer.
“All alternatives such as nuclear and carbon capture are bound to have teething problems too.”
With the opening of Thanet wind farm in the North Sea last week Britain became the biggest offshore wind generator in the world.
The world’s biggest ocean wind farm off Foreness Point, Kent, it has 100 turbines, each measuring more than 300ft, and will power more than 200,000 homes.
Swedish energy giant Vattenfall – which spent £780 million on the array – refuses to say how long it will take for the farm to pay for itself.
However the UKERC have calculated that the cost per unit of energy – known as a Megawatt hour – over the 25 year lifespan of the farm is expected to be £149.
That compares with £80 for coal and gas, and £97 for nuclear power.
Onshore wind farm – at £88 per megawatt hour – is almost as efficient of fossil fuels but is hampered by complaints they ruin the landscape.
Experts fear that Britain is relying too much on wind as a power source when other technologies are required in calm weather. Thanet wind farm increases the number of large-scale turbines off Britain to 436, with 2,640 on land.
Almost 1,000 turbines are being built offshore and onshore and a further 2,300 have planning consent.
The Government hopes to have as many as 6,000 onshore and 4,000 at sea.
Dr Gross said one way to reduce costs would be for the government to increase the production capacity in Britain.
At the moment almost 80 per cent of the turbines and platforms have to be imported which means they are susceptible to currency fluctuations.
It also means that Britain is losing out on the chance of building a new industry out of their world leading position.
Dr Gross said: “The UK is not yet fully benefiting from being a world-leader in the field; in effect UK consumers are subsidising Danish and German wind energy companies.
“This report suggests that policies could do more both to bear down on costs and support a UK based industry.
“At the moment the UK’s support system offers a generous subsidy but may not do enough to build confidence in the companies making components, providing vessels or delivering support services.
“We could do more to support innovation and the smaller players lower in the supply chain.”
Source – http://www.telegraph.co.uk – 27th September 2010