Can Wind Power be a Reliable Long Term Source of British Power?

The wind of change is blowing, but for once, that change might be affecting the wind.

Wind, often championed as a viable alternative-energy source in the United Kingdom, might not be as energy efficient as it was once thought to be. Independent reports of the wind-energy efforts in the UK “have consistently revealed an industry plagued by high construction and maintenance costs, highly volatile reliability and a voracious appetite for taxpayer subsidies.”

The cost for the energy alternative is sizable. Over the course of fiscal year 2007-2008, UK electricity customers paid a total of over $1 billion to the owners of wind turbines. That number is only expected to rise by 2020 to $6 billion a year as the government builds a national infrastructure of 25 gigawatts of wind capacity.

Currently, wind produces only 1.3 percent of the U.K.’s energy needs while a 2008 report from Cambridge Energy Research Associates warns that over-reliance on offshore wind farms would only further create supply problems and drive up investor costs.

Additionally, the average load factor for wind turbines in the UK was about 27.4 percent, meaning a typical 2-megawatt turbine only produced 0.54 megawatt of power on average. Dismissing the fact that low wind days would produce even less, all figures seem to point to poor return on investment.

Some have suggested the building of cheaper wind farms, but ultimately higher maintenance costs and spare gas turbines to replace broken ones would cancel out any perceived benefits, as gas for the turbines would only add to carbon dioxide emissions.

At this point, the outlook for wind to be a major source of UK electricity seems grim. Much like the wind itself, the problem just might be uncontrollable.