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Wind Power Is Cheaper Than Coal, Leaked Report Shows 610

merbs writes: A leaked report shows wind is the cheapest energy source in Europe, beating the presumably dirt-cheap coal and gas by a mile. Conventional wisdom holds that clean energy is more expensive than its fossil-fueled counterparts. Yet cost comparisons show that renewable energy sources are often cheaper than their carbon-heavy competition. The report (PDF) demonstrates that if you were to take into account mining, pollution, and adverse health impacts of coal and gas, wind power would be the cheapest source of energy.
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Wind Power Is Cheaper Than Coal, Leaked Report Shows

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  • Too bad... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by exploder ( 196936 ) on Monday October 13, 2014 @07:10PM (#48136087) Homepage

    Too bad the operators of coal plants don't have to take all that into account.

    • Re:Too bad... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Immerman ( 2627577 ) on Monday October 13, 2014 @07:40PM (#48136319)

      We could change that - it's just a pollution tax away.

      • Re:Too bad... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by durrr ( 1316311 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2014 @12:40AM (#48138021)

        "This project was carried out and authored by Ecofys. "
        "Ecofys is a leading knowledge and innovation company in the field of renewable energy, energy efficiency and climate change."

        How surprising that a report written by a renewable energy company found out that renewable energy is best energy.

    • Re:Too bad... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by sumdumass ( 711423 ) on Monday October 13, 2014 @07:58PM (#48136449) Journal

      They do take that into account. Its called operating expenses. No one mines the coal or natural gas and transports it for free.

      Of course the report- at least as far as the sumery is concerned placed an arbitrary value on some objects like enviromental damage and health that you really cannot quantify. Especially health- their taxes go into the same pool as everyone elses and that is just how socialized medicine works- you all share the cost. So there really isn't a health cost that can be figured outside the costs of actual treatment but thats already paid by taxes.

      Now they can do something about this if they want. They can pick arbitrary amounts to recover and increase taxes on those power plants. Of course that cost will just get passed to the consumers and even if they did use more wind, they will more than likely keep the excess. If joe blow charges $50 and i make the same product for $10, i'm still charging $49 or $50 dollars because there is no real competition. You just pay more and i profit more. That's how life works.

      • Re:Too bad... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Luckyo ( 1726890 ) on Monday October 13, 2014 @08:26PM (#48136611)

        Not only that, but they actually stack the deck from the other side as well by assigning penalties to "old investments made under non-liberalized investment regime" (i.e. if you had a plant built in the 70s, they add huge costs because they can't accurately evaluate the values of government support). Finally they count the plants that are nearing end of life as a huge cost burden on things like coal because of the sheer number of the plants.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by thesupraman ( 179040 )

      And too bad they include completely made up additional costs to nuclear (like a cost of heat production - complete BS, and cost of using up uranium resources, when in fact reprocessing reduces that to almost zero very quickly ).

      In other words this is a fluff piece written by some pro-wind political pressure group with the intention of getting some good headlines and hoping no one actually looks at the numbers.

      Put another way, propaganda.

      Enjoy the lies. Pity that environmentalists so often have to resort to

      • Re:Too bad... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Luckyo ( 1726890 ) on Monday October 13, 2014 @08:36PM (#48136687)

        I'm actually reading the report right now and my jaw is literally lying on the floor. They openly admit that they have no clue how much Nuclear actually cost, but they estimate, and I kid you not, that "total investment support for coal, nuclear and hydropower capacity in 2012 is estimated between 3 and 15 billion in 2013 euros.
        Then they "weight the nuclear" because "average historic support for nuclear generation capacity is higher than that of coal and hydro".

        Basically, they have an error margin of half a fucking order of magnitude and then they weight it against nuclear just to be on the safe side.

        No wonder they got the conclusions stated, and no wonder that this report isn't released. It's utterly absurd in its current state. I suspect that this is interim because this is what pro-wind lobby came up with, and next there'll be a sanity check to get rid of the biggest points of idiocy to make it look at least remotely feasible.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by sycodon ( 149926 )

          They list all the things they don't like and arbitrarily assign some value to it and claim it as a cost.

          If you have to make shit up in order to justify your cost benefit, there must be no real benefit.

          • by Luckyo ( 1726890 )

            As I note below, they go beyond that. They even weight R&D costs in a way that ensures that nuclear is over an order of magnitude more costly in terms of those as well, because they count the research that was done long ago, long before the age of computers as very expensive.

            It's utterly batshit insane in its current state.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by MrKaos ( 858439 )

        And too bad they include completely made up additional costs to nuclear (like a cost of heat production - complete BS, and cost of using up uranium resources, when in fact reprocessing reduces that to almost zero very quickly )

        Actually the peer reviewed science [stormsmith.nl] shows that nuclear energy has no net energy return. What this means is every dollar spent on nuclear energy is wasted. The study uses industrial standards for process measurement as a basis.

        Enjoy the lies. Pity that environmentalists so often have to resort to them - not many ideals on those idealists.

        I don't think this is a matter of 'environmentalists' anymore, our society has some severe structural issues. If we don't solve them the future of the human race will become very bleak indeed.

      • Re:Too bad... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by jcdr ( 178250 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2014 @04:47AM (#48138905)

        It's actually not a lie to say that the total cost of nuclear production in unknown, as the number will only be known in about 1 million years scale in the future when the last isotope will finally be in range with the natural toxicity level. Most of the dangerous nuclear mass wast on the planet is not even close to be stocked in a final facility and most of the plans to do it are still uncertain in time, reliability, and total cost. Add to this that the deconstruction in good condition of a nuclear reactor has never be in range of what was planned. Finally add to this the over scale cost of a few major catastrophic nuclear events per century...

        I don't know how people think about nuclear production in the USA, but in EU it's clear that more and more people are aware that nuclear production is a very complex subject that deal with very high amount of money up to the point that something more simpler to manage in might be preferable.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    To decry wind energy, saying we're slowing the rotation of the earth down or something.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_Barton#Position_on_wind_energy [wikipedia.org]

      In June 2010, Barton questioned the wisdom of deficit spending to fund an extensive national wind turbine energy generation grid. He said, "Wind is God’s way of balancing heat. Wind is the way you shift heat from areas where it’s hotter to areas where it’s cooler. That’s what wind is. Wouldn’t it be ironic if in the interest of global warming we mandated massive switches to wind energy, which is a finite resource, which slows the winds down, which causes the temperature to go up? Now, I’m not saying that’s going to happen, Mr. Chairman, but that is definitely something on the massive scale. I mean, it does make some sense. You stop something, you can’t transfer that heat, and the heat goes up. It’s just something to think about."

      • by dryeo ( 100693 ) on Monday October 13, 2014 @08:29PM (#48136639)

        Skyscrapers also interfere with wind. On the other hand, we've removed many a tree that used to interfere with the wind

      • Does shag pile carpet stop his air conditioner from working, not sure but it's worth thinking about. - Seriously, the sad part is that he is not simply ignorant, he's willfully ignorant.
  • by steveha ( 103154 ) on Monday October 13, 2014 @07:12PM (#48136097) Homepage

    The article discusses wind power vs. coal and other types of power purely on the basis of cost, with absolutely no discussion of reliability.

    If wind power is as cheap as he claims, then with a reliable storage technology wind would be a total no-brainer. But as it is, wind can only be part of a strategy. You can't count on wind for base load, and when wind varies you need to have other types of power (such as natural gas) ready to pick up the slack.

    I'm hoping that the Ambri liquid metal batteries [greentechmedia.com] will do everything that Professor Sadoway claims. If so, they will change everything, and I will be cheering for more wind and solar. Until then, wind power only can serve as a niche producer.

    • If wind power is as cheap as he claims, then with a reliable storage technology wind would be a total no-brainer. But as it is, wind can only be part of a strategy.

      Germany, for example, went into agreements with Norway to build links between the two countries to allow them to use German wind when it's available, and Norwegian hydro when it isn't.

    • Read the Report (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Mr D from 63 ( 3395377 ) on Monday October 13, 2014 @07:29PM (#48136229)

      The study was performed by Ecofys [ecofys.com], a renewable energy consultancy, and the cover sheet comes with disclaimers about its accuracy.

      The actual report [europa.eu] is more interesting than the articles that hype its findings. The core results are seen on page 36 (PDF Sheet 53).

      You will find that there are a lot of assumptions. In particular, they place a great cost factor on "depletion of energy resources". That single adder more than doubles their cost for nuclear. The explanation is that this is the cost of using up our uranium supplies. This is on top of the cost of uranium, already included elsewhere. If you read enough youll find that they just made a big assumption and don't yet really have a basis for it. Its quite convenient for them to make an assumption that magically brings nuclear up to their derived cost for solar. Of course, even as assumed, that cost could be mostly eliminated by reprocessing. They also place a cost on "heat production".

      There are no cost considerations included for reliability, intermittancy and variablility. Nor direct infrastructure costs associated by technology, such as the need to add new transmission lines to accommodate wind. In fact, that is probably the biggest cost factor left out of the wind result. Section 3.4 talks about trasmission infrastructure. I'll paraphrase.. "we ignored it because it was too hard to figure out". Another nice convenience for them.

      Taken at face value, if I'm a renewables guy looking at this report, I'd have to question why more money goes in to solar than wind.

      • by radl33t ( 900691 )
        Its crazy, as if they need to exaggerate the cost of nuclear. Just look at the Areva projects. 300% over budget, how many years late? O-K.
        • Yes, there are some challenges the industry is facing getting geared back up for construction after many years. The first few plants are going to be more costly. But, we've proven in the past that once the infrastructure is running, those problems are minimized. Not all the projects are suffering from such significant problems, which, from what I understand, in Finland, a more wrapped up on contracting and regulatory disputes than actual construction problems.

          And, you must also consider that this report
    • Wind it cheaper for everyone, once you factor in all sorts of things that utility companies don't directly pay for, like pollution and radiation from coal.

      In kWh per dollar, almighty coal reigns supreme, and corporations have no soul, only ledger sheets.

    • Three mistakes.

      Wind is reliable. It just does not blow where you 'want it'. Distribute your plants, and you always have enough plants producing power.

      You don't need storage unless you are close to 100% load coverage of the grid, Storage is only interesting for home owners that want to live "off grid" ... for the grid itself it makes no sense. Instead of SORING you rather feed it into the grid, that uses it.

      Finally: base load is not what you think it is. Base load is the MINIMUM amount of power (hence the na

      • by American Patent Guy ( 653432 ) on Monday October 13, 2014 @09:08PM (#48136885) Homepage
        Of course, when you "distribute" your plants off-shore, you also need wires and supporting towers to transfer the electricity to the grid. (Science hasn't quite developed phasor transmission yet.) And when you factor in the "externalities" of building and maintaining that infrastructure (to get the power from where the wind blows to where people actually live), and the "externality" of power loss through the wires and transformers connecting those wind generators to the main grid, I'll bet the actual costs for wind-power aren't as favorable as you think.
  • Diseconomies (Score:5, Insightful)

    by the eric conspiracy ( 20178 ) on Monday October 13, 2014 @07:16PM (#48136133)

    Unfortunately our system of economics doesn't capture these diseconomies.

    Imported oil is another one. If you factored in the cost of political and military involvement in the middle east the price of oil would look very different.

    • Re:Diseconomies (Score:4, Interesting)

      by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Monday October 13, 2014 @07:28PM (#48136221)

      Unfortunately our system of economics doesn't capture these diseconomies.

      Europe (the subject of this report) has a system of carbon credits specifically designed to capture these externalities. Unfortunately, the European carbon credit market was corrupted and diluted by politicians.

    • Re:Diseconomies (Score:5, Interesting)

      by joe_frisch ( 1366229 ) on Monday October 13, 2014 @07:50PM (#48136381)

      Economics has the concept of "externalities" - basically effects of an activity that are not captured in its production costs. These can be negative (like pollution) or positive (like increasing productivity from a transit system).

      One of the primary jobs of governments is to help correct the effects of externalities through regulation and taxes. The particular problem here is that the externalities (for CO2) are global, but the governments are local. This makes proper taxation / regulation difficult. If a government taxes industry to account for global pollution, but if other governments do not, that will tend to drive industry to non-regulated and likely dirtier locations (resulting in MORE pollution not less). It may be possible to fix this with import taxes on these goods, but that gets into the very difficult and political world of international trade regulations.

      Not saying it can't be done, but its tricky.

  • Yeah but we all know that coal is so 19th century. What about clean coal?

    • Clean coal still releases lots of CO2, and you still have to do something with all of the heavy metals and sulfur compounds that are captured. It's good that they're not going into the air, but is going into a landfill that much better?

    • Clean(er) coal is still mostly an idea, not yet commercially implemented (at least when talking about carbon sequestration in the US). A pretty good article is at National Geographic [nationalgeographic.com]. It mentions that there is a plant under construction in Kemper County, Mississippi, that should capture more than half of its CO2 emissions and redirect them to an oil field. The project has suffered from cost overruns and delays (new tech, not horribly surprising). Besides sequestration, there is work being done on "gassi

  • "if you were to take into account mining, pollution, and adverse health impacts of coal and gas ..."

    What are the chances that those costs can be "taken into account" (imagined) differently by different people?

  • I'm not so sure about the assertion that alternative energy sources like wind and solar are considered more expensive than fossil fuels. I always thought that they were considered cheaper but not a serious contender to replace fossil fuel plants as the number of places on the planet that they are reliable enough for baseload generation are limited. And even though they don't contribute to air pollution, they aren't necessarily a magic bullet as they have other environmental impacts in more subversive ways (

  • by EmperorOfCanada ( 1332175 ) on Monday October 13, 2014 @07:26PM (#48136203)
    I would think a whole other factor is that when wind turbines are new to an area the expertise in putting them up and maintaining them would be low; thus the costs would be a bit higher. But after a decade or so of experience that the local talent would be getting better and better at selecting, installing, and maintaining the turbines and associated electrical infrastructure.

    This would be on top of the fact that the turbines themselves are becoming cheaper and better with their nearly continuous improvements. So for anyone making decisions on future projects these numbers would not only be getting more reliable but could end up not being optimistic enough. Whereas with more mature technologies like coal the numbers are going to simply be the numbers.
  • shocked (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bloodhawk ( 813939 ) on Monday October 13, 2014 @07:32PM (#48136257)

    wow I am shocked, a report written by a renewable energy consultancy group and surprise surprise it says renewable energy is cheaper by including a whole raft of external costs.

  • Study summary (Score:5, Insightful)

    by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Monday October 13, 2014 @07:41PM (#48136325) Journal
    Wind was cheaper if you added costs to coal for Global Warming (a large cost), for depletion of energy resources (a medium cost), and in the third category (a small cost even when all elements are totaled) "human toxicity, agricultural land occupation, water depletion, metal depletion, ecosystem toxicity, radiation, acidification and eutrophication."

    Interestingly, they also included ozone depletion as an external cost. I didn't realize the ozone layer was affected by coal plants, but apparently it is.

    To calculate the damage caused by Global Warming, they relied on some other papers published on the topic. I wasn't able to access those papers, so that is where my summary will end.
  • by angel'o'sphere ( 80593 ) on Monday October 13, 2014 @07:53PM (#48136413) Journal

    Since when did that 'wisdom' imply that wind is more expensive than coal?

    Wind was more expensive when wind plants ware scarce and 'expensive' to set up and had a relatively low yield.

    Setting up a 25MW plant (what se build now) is cheaper then setting up 5 5MW plants.

    It was a no brainer 25 years ago that wind will be in the end cheaper than coal.

    Why is everyone 'playing surprised?'

  • by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Monday October 13, 2014 @09:07PM (#48136877)

    Cheaper means only one thing. How much is my electricity bill at the end of the month.

    What? You want me the end user to be responsible for the carbon emissions of my energy use? I'm perfectly fine with that ... as long as it's as cheap as it can possibly be.

    Ok I may sound like a troll, but the reality is that is exactly how people think. Our local energy utilities have often provided split bills. For a little extra money you can fund a separate unit that is monitored by the government as not for profit, and that fund offsets the cost differences between dirty and clean energy. I bet you can imagine how much of a voluntary uptake there is on people being charged 5c/kWh more.

  • by Karmashock ( 2415832 ) on Monday October 13, 2014 @11:01PM (#48137593)

    ... the Key dodge here is "when health impacts are considered"... but the thing is you can't know what the health impacts are of the coal industry. You can ASSUME those impacts. But you can't say that because there are 5 coal plants there are 522 incidents of lung infection. You can't know that. You could shut down all those coal plants and have the same number of lung infections or quadruple them and have no significant change.

    The issue is complicated and people are going to get "emotional" or "political" about this ... I really don't care.

    Here is where I am on this issue...

    1. I am all in favor of renewables IF they are themselves produced renewably. That is, build your solar and wind power generators using solar and wind power. Ever note that a great many of these technologies are built using nuclear or coal power? I'm not asking that they locate their factories next to the production. If your industrial sector is by some coal power plants and you really have to use coal power... Fine. Buy energy credits from the renewable energy plants or something. I just find the hypocrisy of building solar on coal power to be a little odd when people keep telling me how great solar is and how terrible coal is... If solar is so great, no one has cheaper solar power then a solar panel factory. NO ONE has cheaper panels then them. Which means no one is in a better position to self generate using solar power then a solar panel factory. No one. And if they're not doing that... then I wonder if people are lying to me when they say solar is cheap. Because I'll tell you this... factories that produce coal generators are very happy to power themselves with coal power. Oil refineries are very happy to power themselves with oil. Nuclear reactor factories are very happy to power themselves with nuclear reactors. So why are not solar panel factories powering themselves with solar panels?

    2. Any estimation of cost and subsidy has to take all the subsidies and costs into consideration. It is very common for people to cherry pick numbers that make their desired conclusion look more likely.

    3. Solar and wind power are by their natures more defuse energy sources that are not as inclined to be centralized. To be truly useful both of these power generation methods needs to be decentralized... ideally to the consumer level. You might consider for example giving every resident a few solar panels to put on their roof along with the associated electrical hardware. Have them be owned by the power utility and let residents put the panels where they want so long as they get sun. Giant centralized plants are sensible with high density energy generation systems. Solar and wind are neither.

    4. In respects to wind especially, you need to make these things more aesthetic. Unlike nuclear or coal you need thousands and thousands of these things over many miles. That means rather then one ugly building we're treated to thousands. And because of that you need to have some design flexibility. Now the way they're designed now mostly is to maximize efficiency and cost. Which is fine but it looks like what it is. If you instead put out some generalized design requirements and instead let home owners, towns, local communities decide how they want it to look then you might get wider adoption. Consider for example the windmills of Holland. Not only are they not an eye sore... they're a tourist attraction. Consider further the Hoover dam... tourist attraction... because its art decto stylings make for an attractive photo op.

    5. Keep in mind that regardless of everything we need power. So if the renewables aren't up to the job right now... do not screw with power that is at this moment able to meet demand. Doing so will just drive up energy costs which mostly hurts poor people.

  • by Tyr07 ( 2300912 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2014 @04:06AM (#48138801) Homepage

    Cheaper implies less monetary cost. You can't simply go, coal bad, therefore more expensive, as a COST TO OUR HEALTH and have something where you can discuss the cost of producing electricity on a purely business level.

    Nor can you predict how the future will be handled. You can't say it's cheaper because then we don't have to build and run the super earth air filter, as we might just die instead.

    So no, cost wise, not cheaper. Heatlh wise, better for us.

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