The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
EU Leak Shows Wind, Solar Energy to Double Power Bills

According to a leaked European Commission report on the future of energy in Europe, the slow switch to greener sources of energy is going to push the cost of electricity through the roof. The FT has the story:

Average electricity prices for households and businesses would rise “strongly up to 2020-2030” under all scenarios, the document says, and the highest prices would occur after 2030 if renewable sources of power, such as wind and solar, make up a large share of energy production. For example, average prices for households could jump by more than 100 per cent by 2050 if this were the case but only by 43 per cent under a scenario that assumed more nuclear power and carbon capture and storage were used.

This will not make Europeans happy, and it is unlikely that American consumers will be lining up for a 100% electricity hike anytime soon.  Those prices are also not going to help manufacturers stay competitive, and they are not going to boost the prospects of the electric car industry.

But Europeans and Americans have money to burn compared to people in other parts of the world.  India and China are not going to commit to this kind of cost structure; if the EU study is accurate it means that the developing world will never sign up to the ambitious energy targets northern greens want — and that means that no matter how high we jack up electricity prices in Europe and North America, carbon control efforts are doomed.

Unless the alternative energy cost picture changes radically from what the EU now expects, wind and solar will not do the trick.

Published on October 19, 2011 11:39 am
  • Jeff77450

    Dr. Meade, I don’t disagree with your article or conclusions, at all, but I’m genuinely curious as to how much money might be saved as a result of the reduced pollution that could result from switching to solar/wind. Pollution does x-amount of damage to health & property, not to mention the cost (to the U.S.) of maintaining a military presence in the Gulf. I’m curious as to whether it even comes close to being an even trade.

    As an aside, and you probably know this, wind-power is, in fact, solar-power since everything that we call weather is just one great big heat-exchange mechanism powered by the sun.

  • MW from Florida

    I know it’s popular to bash renewable energy these days, but it is getting an unfairly bad rap.

    Wind energy in the U.S. is not expensive. Austin Electric in Texas recently contracted for nearly 500 megawatts of wind energy at $35-45 per megawatt-hour, which is cheaper than the cost of natural gas-fired power. Solar power costs are falling rapidly.

    Nuclear power is not cheap. In fact, it is one of the most expensive sources of power. Power from a new nuclear plant costs in excess of $150 per megawatt-hour because of the massive capital costs. There is a reason why utilities aren’t building nukes unless they can get federal loan guarantees and can charge their ratepayers while the plant is still under construction.

    Natural gas is cheap and abundant due to recent advances in extracting it from shale formations. That is the best news for U.S. energy supply in decades. But if there is one thing we should have learned in the last few decades it is that you should not put all your eggs in a single basket. Natural gas looks great today, but that will probably change in the next several years. Diversity of supply is best. Much of that diversity will come from renewables.

  • Jim.

    Green ideas push prices through the roof — surprise, surprise, surprise.

    @Jeff:

    Good thoughts about wind being a matter of the sun turning the atmosphere into a heat engine.

    What’s shocking is how agonizingly *inefficient* that engine is, if you think about it.

    Picture cylindrical wind tunnel with a turbine blade stretching from edge to edge. The energy of all that wind traveling in that tunnel goes to turning the turbine blade. That’s what the turbines in coal-fired generators are like.

    Now picture that same wind tunnel with utterly minuscule toy windmills forming a thin coating on its sides. They hardly capture any of that mass of wind at all. That’s what wind farms are, compared to the motion of the air in our atmosphere driven by differential solar heating. Not efficient in the slightest.

    One thing I’m genuinely curious about, though. If you have solar panels with an efficiency of about 20% (i.e., removing 20% of the energy from the incoming sunlight that would otherwise go to heat) coating a large enough land area, would you see significant large-scale cooling of that area?

    It’s a pretty simple conservation-of-energy argument. 20% is a really big number from that point of view, particularly because solar cells (I believe) serve as pretty efficient blackbody radiators, which at night would cause more heat loss into space.

    Just curious. I wonder if anyone is both rich and curious enough to try it…

  • Rich R

    Somehow reminds me of the words of a candidate a few years back:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HlTxGHn4sH4 “Under my plan of a cap-and-trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket. Coal-powered plants, you know, natural gas, you name it, whatever the plants were, whatever the industry was, they would have to retrofit their operations. That will cost money. They will pass that money on to consumers.”
    Barack Obama videotaped San Francisco Chronicle interview, January 2008.

  • Brian H

    Will not do the trick? Was this your first clue?

    MW;
    Without going into the installation subsidies and externalities, buying wind output is a fool’s guessing game. You never know when it will be available, in what quantities, and must be ready to ramp some other generation up or down to accommodate.

    Only idiots rely on wind power. The world is well-supplied with those, but remember: In Nature, stupidity is the only capital crime.

  • Corlyss

    The Green Emperor has no clothes on. The spectacle of once rich and once powerful nations lining up to eviscerate their economies on Green’s demonstrable bad science and greed and desire to destroy Western prosperity in the name of some ficticious boogey man is absurd in the extreem.

    What is so awful about admitting the facts once and for all and use the squandered money to aid struggling economies or pay off insane sovereign debt? What Western governments are doing now is worse than criminal; it’s stupid.

  • LarryD
  • Brian W

    For prices to double by 2050, they would have to rise a little less than 2% per year. Hardly a nightmare scenario. If the developed and developing countries all gave up on renewables, one wonders what fossil fuel prices would do over the same period.

  • fgordon

    And the countries still using a lot of imported fossil fuels will have to compete with a (most probably) world dominating China in 2050.

    At the moment it’s still nice to be able to exchange “worthless” printed USDs for fossil fuels :D, but this will only work as long as the USD is the world currency.

    Do you really think in 2050 this will still be the case? I’m not that sure.

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