Wind Power. It just does not add up!  The continued installation of wind turbines in Australia is continuing despite the many financial and production failures in Europe and America.  Here in Australia there are currently 37+ wind farms in operation with many more either under construction or being planned for.  So what is the true cost of all this “free” electricity and will it replace all of our fossil fuelled electricity generation?  Lets have a good look at it then.

First, here is a quick run down on electricity usage in Australia.

In 2008-09 Australia’s power stations produced 266 billion kilowatt hours (TWh) of electricity*, 72% more than the 1990 level and growing at 3% pa. * 254 TWh public supply + 12 TWh for non-grid autoproducers.  Of this gross amount, about 17 TWh is used by the power stations themselves, leaving 249 TWh actually sent out (net production). Then about 18 TWh is lost or used in transmission and 11 more in energy sector consumption, leaving 220 TWh for final consumption (or 195 TWh apart from aluminium exports).* * Vencorp suggest that typically net TWh are about 10% less than gross TWh, with transmission and distribution losses often being 10%

Contribution from Australian wind farms in 2010 was  2.74 TWh or about 2.36% of available electricity (Aemo listed wind farms).  Federal and State governments are aiming to have 20% of our electricity generated by renewables by 2020. Most of this is to come from wind generation.

I would like to make a couple of points that may make clear some of the numbers bandied around especially in the press.

Name Plate Capacity = What the generator could produce in (continuing) ideal conditions.

Capacity Factor = The percentage of the average power output that is actually generated compared to the Name Plate Capacity

The Name Plate Capacity is what most Politicians, Environmentalists and media presenters usually use as it is a bigger number and sounds really  “awesome” and really powerful while being really green!  sarc.  So they present this theoretical number as being what is actually generated. It is a total misrepresentation of the truth and they know this, but obviously just do not care or are intentionally attempting to mislead.  Most wind farms in Australia generate about 30% of the Name Plate Capacity. Yes that is right only 30%!  So when they spruke, “Yes this wind farm will supply electricity to 9,000 homes”, the fact is they will supply electricity to about 3,000 homes, and it may not be all the time, but  I will get to reliability of supply a bit later.

Here is a good example of the cost of generating electricity from a wind farm.  Taken from

Estimated costs of generation for Brown Hill Range Wind Farm
Capital cost $233m
Annual cost of capital at 7.5% $17.5m
Annual cost of operations $6.75m
Total annual costs $24.2m
Annual generation 327 000 MWh
Cost of producing electricity $74/MWh
This figure is similar to estimates by Scientific American, listed on my Sustainabe energy page.
The cost of power is very dependent on the cost of capital.

So, how does this then compare to generating electricity by other means. As the graphic at the top of the post shows coal is still by far the cheapest form of power generation, as is so blatantly clear to many other countries especially China who are still building coal power stations.  Now the figures in the graph above may not be entirely up to date, so here is some more recent numbers.

Electricity generating costs in Australia

Or this:

Technology                           Cost (AUD/MWh)
Nuclear (to COTS plan)                40–70
Nuclear (to suit site; typical)       75–105
Coal                                  28–38
Coal: IGCC + CCS                      53–98
Coal: supercritical pulverized + CCS  64–106
Open-cycle Gas Turbine                101
Hot fractured rocks                    89
Gas: combined cycle                   37–54
Gas: combined cycle + CCS             53–93
Small Hydro power                     55
Wind power: high capacity factor      63
Solar thermal                         85
Biomass                               88
Photovoltaics                        120
Source: Graham, P. The heat is on: the future of energy in Australia CSIRO, 2006

It does not really matter how you compare, or when you compare, wind power generation will never be as cheap as coal, or nuclear for that matter.  The numbers just do not lie. A fair bit of this information comes from a pro green energy site, so there is no fudging of the numbers. Ps. The A$63 quoted in the last table is for high capacity generation. In reality it would be closer to A$100.

Question.  Who do you think will pay for the increased cost of producing all of this “green” electricity?   Hmmmm.  Those polluters I hear you say.  Yep, all of those polluters are going to dip into their wallets and not make any profit from their businesses.  I dont think so. It will be you and me. All of us mugs who are not blessed with being, or cunning and ruthless enough to become part of the elite in this world.

There are two ways we end up paying this extra cost of power generation.  Through our taxes when state and federal governments give grants to “green” energy projects, and through higher electricity prices.  Our government sets energy policy to require energy producers to source minimum amounts from “green” generation, and they also negotiate the setting of the wholesale prices to ensure these companies can stay viable.  These prices are always more expensive to cover the increased cost of generation by wind power etc.

Here is an example of the amount of subsidy that our governments supply to energy producers:(per

  • Oil 76% at A$7.4 billion
  • Coal 17% at A$1.7 billion
  • Gas 4% at A$377 million
  • Renewables 3% at $326 million
Looks like  Renewables gets the short end of the stick from these figures, however when you compare per amount of  electricity generated, it is a completely different story.
                                                                      % of total generation     Mil$ per Gwh
  • Oil 76% at A$7.4 billion                               2%                         $5481 *Note this is about roads.
  • Coal 17% at A$1.7 billion                 54%                    $     56
  • Gas 4% at A$377 million                             26%                         $    26
  • Renewables 3% at $326 million       4.5%                     $ 130
So as it turns out, coal subsidies are less than half of the subsidies that are paid to renewables per Giga Watt hour.  So for every extra gigawatt of energy generated from renewables, we will end up paying an extra  $74 Mil per Gigawatt.   If we achieve the 20% target based on these numbers the subsidies will top $1.45 Billion per year, and that is for only 20% of the generated electricity. Imagine Greenpeace’s dream of 100% generated by renewables.  That would cost us in subsidies the cool amount of $7.265 Billion for the year in subsidies!  Now I just need to put this into perspective.  That is about $31,000 per person in Australia.  So, how affordable and sustainable do you think using that would be huh?

 I will just say this about the reliability of wind power.  The wind does’nt always blow and when it does, it does not always blow at the time it is needed.  The graph shows the total generated electricity from wind (blue line) does not even come close to matching the variable demand (red line). The enormous variations in actual demand could never be matched by intermittent expensive wind power. To see a more graphic representation click here.

The other reliability problem is when the wind is too weak or too strong. Wind turbines are quite dangerous when the wind blows stronger than it is rated for, and will not generate any electricity when too weak.  Eg. if the wind goes above 80kms most turbines will shut down or “tether” so as to not damage the turbine.

The very foundation of our modern way of living is based on inexpensive power generation.  Dependency on ‘renewable’ energy is a great concept if you live in the middle of nowhere, or have no comprehension of economics, or have an exceptionally well-insulated home and work in an academic/clerical/bureaucratic, low energy, environment.

Wind power generation is neither affordable or reliable. Question it and oppose all wind generating propositions. They are all economically and practically flawed. They produce minimal amounts of electricity (for the cost) and mostly not when it is needed.  They will never replace any base load power stations, EVER.


More information available:

Wind Power Facts

WUWT failed wind turbines

The problem with wind(AWEO)

Oz Nuclear forum