Onshore wind power is as cheap as coal power, study finds

Onshore wind found to be as cheap as coal

The cost of onshore wind power generation has dropped to the level of coal-fired production, even if health and environmental effects are not included, a study has found.

The assessment by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) has taken into consideration all cost involved in various types of power generation, including construction, maintenance, the cost of fuel and waste removal, as well as expected lifetime.

They found that while 1KWh of electricity produced by an onshore wind farm could cost €0.05 (£0.04), the same amount of electricity produced by an average coal-fired plant is only €0.001 cheaper. However, the analysis doesn’t include the cost of fossil-fuel power generation to society – effects of global warming on the planet and health problems of the global population stemming from breathing polluted air. Gas-fired power generation fared slightly better, at €0.041/KWh.

“If the environmental and health costs of fossil fuels were properly priced at realistic levels, the situation would be even more favourable for wind,” said IRENA analyst Michael Taylor.

The problem, Taylor believes, is the fact that the public is failing to catch up with the development and gauges renewables by metrics that were valid thirty years ago.

“Renewable power generation technologies can now provide electricity at very competitive levels,” Taylor said. “Yet despite these facts, many of the world’s decision-makers have yet to grasp how competitive renewables have become. Often, vested interests lead to propagation of the myth of ‘costly’ renewable energy. In other cases, the change has simply come so fast, and so unexpectedly, that public information has yet to catch up.”

According to IRENA’s data, the levelised cost of energy of onshore wind (which factors in all costs related to a certain type of power generation) has dropped by 65 per cent between 1988 and 2014.

The reduction has been mainly driven by the growth of the industry that has enabled economies of scale and the maturation of the technology. However the industry has not yet reached its full potential.

“Reducing the need to replace components and to extend the periods between scheduled maintenance reduces operating costs and thus the cost per MWh,” said Fernando García Ayerra, chief engineer of technological development at Gamesa, when asked where there could be further room for improvement.

“The European wind energy sector and, more specifically, the turbine manufacturers, must continue to optimise wind turbine technology and O&M services in order to deliver the most competitive products and technologies and services, both for onshore and for offshore.”

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