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Muddied waters of electricity costs

By Ian Fells
Published: April 21 2005 03:00 | Last updated: April 21 2005 03:00
From Prof Ian Fells.

Sir, I am not surprised that Fiona Harvey is unclear whether wind power is cheaper than conventional forms of electricity generation ("Economic costs of renewable energy blowing in wind", April 13). It is a topic clouded by special pleading, green political agendas and numbers provided by trade associations and special interest groups that cannot be regarded as unbiased.

Last year the Royal Academy of Engineering took a great deal of trouble to provide an objective analysis of electricity generating costs from conventional and renewable sources. In the case of nuclear power decommissioning and waste storage costs were included.

The two cheapest technologies turned out to be gas-fired combined cycle and nuclear at 2.2p/unit and 2.3p/ unit respectively, closely followed by coal at 2.5p/unit. Onshore wind was 3.7p/unit but this rose to 5.4p/unit if the cost of stand-by generation necessary when the wind does not blow was included. For offshore wind these figures rise to 5.5p/unit and 7.2p/unit.

The Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland has published almost identical figures. Finland has used a similar analysis and on that basis ordered a new nuclear power station as being the cheapest, and incidentally the most secure generating technology for the future.

This is not to say renewable energy should not be pursued. It is a vital, if expensive, source of clean electricity but any notion that it can replace the 20 per cent of clean electricity currently supplied by nuclear power is wishful thinking. Wind power provides less than 0.5 per cent of our electricity, to raise that figure to 5 per cent will be a Herculean task.

Ian Fells,
Newcastle upon Tyne NE3 1YB