There was an article in the Telegraph yesterday about the True cost of Britain’s wind-farm industry. The article highlighted government figures showing that the wind farm industry received £1.2 billion in subsidies last year and employed 12000 people, hence it was costing £100000 per person.
I must admit that I don’t really understand these numbers, so maybe this analysis has merit. It does, however, seem a little simplistic and this clearly is not all the money associated with the wind farm industry. It is simply the subsidy that they get. Presumably, this is mainly to reduce the cost to the consumer, rather than to produce more jobs in the industry. Furthermore, this Guardian article suggests that wind power still gets less in the way of subsidies than fossil fuels. This appears to be the totals, rather than relative amounts, but it still seems reasonable that we really should be doing some kind of comparison, rather than simply saying “look how much money they get”. Providing energy is expensive, so it’s no great surprise that the amounts involved are high.
Anyway, something that I’ve always thought is that it’s important to do a proper comparison of the actual total costs of the different energy generating mechanisms. So a quick search produces a Wikipedia page on the cost of electricity by source. A lot of the information seems to be based on this report. It calculates the Levelized Energy Cost (LEC) for the different energy sources. This is simply the total cost (initial cost, running costs, maintenance) divided by the total amount of energy generated.
The table below is from the report above and indicates the LEC for the different sources. Many seem to have LEC’s of around 100. Offshore wind appears particularly expensive at the moment. It’s also clear that the capacity factor (what fraction of the time the source is able to generate usable energy) is lower for the renewable sources than for the non-renewables.
I don’t really know what to make of the whole subsidy issue, but essentially it seems that the total cost (LEC) of many renewable energy sources compares well with that of non-renewables. It also seems to me that one should also consider where these costs go. Spending a little more on something that is manufactured locally and maintained locally may be preferable to spending a little less on something where much of the cost is importing the fuel (for example). Again, I’m not particularly well-informed about these issues, so if others are more informed (not difficult) I’d be happy to learn more through the comments.