Monday, 5 November 2012

As free as the wind

In the news this week, I saw an item about the world's largest offshore wind farm having produced its first power. The London Array Offshore Wind Farm is a 630MW scheme, located in the Thames Estuary.

This has got to be good news hasn't it?  Well . . .  OK . . .  I know that not everyone will agree with that statement, but when the lights start to go out (which seems not to be wholly unlikely over the next few years) I think even the most ardent critic of wind farms might start to see the advantage of diversity.

But this brings me to another point.  Diversity is only achieved by . . . yes . . . diversifying!  One other new and promising source of power is nuclear fusion, and the international ITER project is now under construction.

Critics in Europe continue to question the cost of the project.  People always object to anything new, and the fusion seems to be a little pricey compared with most people's personal expenditure.  But in the context of energy expenditure, are the numbers really all that high?

Rumours are beginning to emerge that the sheer cost of offshore wind might be a threat to the UK's renewables commitment.  A budget of £30 billion had been earmarked for the construction phase, up to 2020.  But now it is clear that this has been a serious underestimate because the price of concrete is rising.  In a kind of spiral, the cost of concrete depends mainly on the cost of the energy needed to produce it, and that energy needs to be made by the machines that consume the concrete.  The net result is that the offshore wind costs for the UK alone might reach £90 billion by 2020.

Now tell me again that ITER is expensive!  I suggest that you can't do that with any degree of intellectual honesty.  Even if ITER reaches a cost of £20 billion (which is way over the current expectation) this £20 billion is spread between most of the richest countries in the world, whereas the £90 billion for wind is from one small country alone.

Let's be reasonable.  Context is key.

Fusion is not all that expensive.

1 comment:

Derby Sceptic said...

One of the reasons that wind farms are being built is the significant subsidies being offered to the owner/operators for both commissioning and operating them, including a ridiculous payment if they have to turn them off due to high wind or overproduction!

The comparative costs and benefits of a number of renewable sources should be looked at, I for one would be interested to see how fusion could benefit from the investment that is being made in wind farms.

We also seem to be focussed on wind energy in terms of 'here and now' renewables. Tidal energy seems to have been sidelined but I would anticipate is more discreet and also more reliable.

As Plasma Engineer states - we must diversify and not just focus on wind. It is by far from being the only renewable and at present needs one hundred percent backup from existing generation schemes. As such it is limited in it's benefits.