Dr Robert Gross can sum up the Global Warming Policy Foundation’s position on the economics of wind energy in a few words.
“It is propaganda and it is deliberately misleading.”
Dr Gross, the UK Energy Research Centre’s Technology and Policy Assessment Theme leader based at Imperial College said a series of claims made by GWPF before a Commons committee earlier this year do not stand up to scrutiny.
GWPF claimed the cost of installing wind to meet 2020 targets will be £124 billion.
Dr Gross said peer-reviewed research by UKERC estimates the figure is likely to be less than half of that, in the region of £60 billion.
“They overstate the actual volume of capacity by 2020,” he told Central Lobby.
“We don’t know how much will end up being built, but none of the serious pieces of analysis envisage as large a capacity as they do.”
On cost, Dr Gross said GWPF “appear to have costed the entire wind capacity as if it was offshore.”
Claims that a threshold on how much wind the system can absorb will be passed in 2015, leading to wasted wind power, are also challenged by Dr Gross and his team.
“The amount of wind energy needed to be ‘wasted’ in the system is likely to be very small,” he said.
Dr Gross said there are “some ambitious projects for offshore wind”.
“The level of subsidy appears to be attractive enough for those projects to be initiated.
“Offshore is much more expensive than onshore, but one of the reasons for going offshore is because of concerns about the visual impact of turbines.”
“I like the countryside as well - I don’t think we should put wind turbines everywhere.”
While there is a certain amount of jostling for position among the renewable energy sectors, such as solar and wave power, the real competition is between nuclear and wind.
“There are issues that wind does not bring,” Dr Gross explained.
“Wind does not create weapons grade plutonium or radioactive waste, but the argument for nuclear is that it is cheaper.
“What we are seeing suggests a new nuclear power station’s ‘strike price’ places it in offshore wind territory in terms of cost. It does not look like a cheap option but an expensive option. That might change. It could come down as more stations are built.”
This week Hitachi bought Horizon Nuclear Power from energy companies Npower and E.On for £700m. But the government-guaranteed ‘strike price’, a minimum price for nuclear generated power, has not been agreed.
The other new power source that has hit the headlines is fracking. Dr Gross warned against claims it could be a ‘magic bullet’ solution to the UK’s energy needs.
“What we have seen in America is shale gas coming in and taking off - it is about 20% of their gas supplies,” he explained.
“Gas prices in America have come down dramatically as a result and it is expected to continue to play a significant role in America.
“It is possible that America will start to export more gas and that will have an impact on prices in other countries.
“It is also possible that we will start to see shale gas being exploited in Europe and in the Far East and in the rest of the world.
“When I speak to gas experts they are very cautious about the short term prospects of shale gas in Europe and particularly in the UK. The resource base is not as large as it is in America and because of things like density of population it is going to be much more difficult to extract it in the kind of volumes we see in the US.
“I am very cautious about the potential for it to be a long-term game changer around the world.”
Dr Gross ended by reminding us all why the UK started to investigate and invest in alternative forms of energy in the first place.
“We weren’t doing renewables because we thought we were running out of gas, we were doing it because of climate change and gas price volatility.”
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Dr Robert Gross is Director of the Centre for Energy Policy and Technology at Imperial College, London.