Britain has taken the global lead in offshore wind, but is this an accomplishment to be proud of? The Economist doesn’t think so:
[O]ffshore wind power is staggeringly expensive. Dieter Helm, an economist at Oxford University, describes it as “among the most expensive ways of marginally reducing carbon emissions known to man”. Under a subsidy system unveiled late in 2013, the government guarantees farms at sea £155 ($250) per megawatt hour for their juice. That is three times the current wholesale price of electricity and about 60% more than is promised to onshore turbines…Ten-metre waves and salty gales are just two of the hazards that keep offshore costs high. Second-world-war bombs on the seabed are slowing new projects in Germany; in December Scottish Power, an energy firm, scrapped plans for 300 turbines on a site filled with basking sharks.
Of course, the wind industry would like to see more farms built; in fact, that’s its solution for bringing costs down. But as farms keep getting sited farther offshore in deeper, more remote waters, its difficult to imagine offshore wind competing with other energy sources in the near- or even medium-term future.A German company recently scuppered plans to build the world’s largest offshore wind farm off the coast of Britain, citing difficult technical and market conditions. That failure may have been in the UK’s best interest, because the costs of building and operating these green fantasies is eventually passed on to the consumer. The British public is already chafing over high energy costs, and building more wind farms is the surest way to ensure those costs keep rising.Britain may imagine itself as a first-mover in a potentially lucrative field, but it’s worth looking around and questioning why so few other countries have made the effort to invest in offshore wind. Unless and until the technology and economics of the situation change dramatically, these farms will remain a burden for the governments that subsidize them.