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Institute criticises renewables roll-out strategy

The Government’s roll-out strategy for sources of renewable energy are misguided, according to a highly critical report released by the Adam Smith Institute and the Scientific Alliance

The UK’s plans for renewables are unrealistic, and these technologies cannot provide the secure energy supply the country needs, the report suggests and it claims present policies will lead to an energy crisis by the middle of this decade.

The report states that wind and solar power do little to reduce carbon emissions, as they need large-scale back up generating capacity to compensate for their down times.

And with the decommissioning of many of the UK’s coal-fired stations – and nearly all existing nuclear reactors – over the coming decade, the report says energy security is now a priority for policymakers alongside the drive to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

However, it claims that even ignoring cost issues, problems of intermittency mean that renewable technologies are incapable of making a major contribution to energy security.

The study suggests the Renewable Energy Roadmap for 2020 is hugely overambitious and renewable energy generation is currently 28 per cent below its already reduced target. Subsidising renewable energy also comes at a cost to consumers who pay for it through higher electricity prices.

It claims nuclear and gas are the most viable energy sources to avoid a capacity crisis in the near future.

Key findings of the report, include:

  • To achieve current targets for wind turbines for 2020, almost 5 wind turbines must be installed every working day, with the majority of them offshore. This is unrealistic.
  • No matter how much wind capacity is added, there is no way of storing the energy long enough to avoid the need for backup generators. It cannot ensure the lights stay on, so there can be little reliance on it
  • Experience in other countries shows that a large investment in wind turbines must be matched by large-scale conventional back up generating capacity, which makes any reductions in CO2 emissions quite modest
  • Wind farms in the UK have a capacity factor of only 25 per cent; investment in these farms would not be a commercial proposition without subsidies, even ignoring the intermittency problem.
  • Wind power operators in the UK get a higher subsidy per MWh than in other countries in the EU and yet many approved wind farms never get built due to problems connecting to the Grid. Onshore wind turbines face much opposition from the public and off-shore turbines are more expensive to install
  • The operational life for wind turbines is just 20 years. This is much shorter than for coal, gas or nuclear and is another factor making wind power an expensive option
  • Planned high investment in wind power up to 2020 will preclude the possibility of investment in diversified and efficient generating capacity. Wind power is an inefficient of use of taxpayers’ money, is not as green as commonly perceived, and will not provide for the energy needs of the UK.

    The report also claims solar power is high cost and inefficient at our high latitude. It also suggest that the focus of subsidies has been on small scale, domestic installations which are intrinsically less cost effective.

    The report says it is difficult not to conclude that the official enthusiasm for renewables has more to do with the power of the green lobby than economics and energy security.

    Martin Livermore, joint author of the report, adds: “For too long, we have been told that heavy investment in uneconomic renewable energy was not only necessary but would provide a secure future electricity supply. The facts actually show that current renewables technologies are incapable of making a major contribution to energy security and – despite claims to the contrary – have only limited potential to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.”

    “Consumers have a right to expect government to place high priority on a secure, affordable energy supply. It seems that ministers have not yet realised the need to invest in more nuclear and gas generating capacity if the electorate is not to be badly let down.”

    But already the report has caused a furious response. Niall Stuart, Chief Executive of Scottish Renewables, said the report “conveniently” refuses to address the need for nuclear to receive public subsidy support.

    He added: “This is a one-sided argument that completely overlooks the benefits of renewables: greater energy security, reduced CO2 emissions, and protection from future hikes in gas prices – the main driver of the huge increases in energy bills in the last few years.

    “The report is full of serious flaws and oversights, and not once does it mention the need to tackle climate change, or its massive economic, social and environmental costs. Although maybe that is not surprising given the Adam Smith Institute’s involvement in other policy debates and in particular the introduction of the poll tax – an idea developed by the Institute in the 1980s.

    “The authors completely overlook the latest evidence on cost showing that large-scale onshore wind is already cheaper than nuclear, with large reductions in the costs of all renewables in the future.

    “They also fail to mention the huge increases in bills this winter as a result of the UK’s reliance on imported gas.

    “The report attack subsidies for renewable but conveniently refuse to acknowledge that new nuclear will only proceed with public subsidy support and that the latest estimate of the bill for decommissioning of the UK’s current generation of nuclear plants now stands at £49 billion.

    “They argue about the need for greater energy security but nowhere do they mention the reduced reliance of the UK on foreign gas imports as a result of renewable electricity generation.

    “They do however highlight that production of fossil fuels is likely to reduce in coming years, pushing up prices further and the role that renewable can play in reducing emissions. Investing in renewable energy today means protecting consumers from volatile gas prices and reducing spikes in energy bills for consumers in the future.”

    “The authors’ main conclusion are straight from the 1950s - build more coal and new nuclear plants. But pushing our energy policy back half a century will only drive up carbon emissions, leave us vulnerable to hikes in coal and gas prices and result in us missing a once-in-a-generation opportunity to revitalise our manufacturing sector.”