The economic argument over wind power has been settled. Britain’s national gamble on offshore wind arrays in the North Sea and the Irish Sea has been vindicated in spectacular style. This should be proclaimed, assiduously nurtured, and expanded where compatible with marine ecosystems. If you are looking for a turbo-charged venture to lift British fortunes after Brexit, offshore wind is as good as it gets. The prospects are suddenly so enticing that we could in theory be an aeolian superpower by the 2030s or 2040s, trading places with Saudi Arabia to become the energy sheikhdom of the northern seas. The deeper question is not whether we have the technology to do it, but whether we should compromise the ecological integrity of the North Sea in such a fashion. Industry insiders are not surprised by the strike price of £57.50 per megawatt hour unveiled this week for two giant wind projects, half the levels struck in contracts two years ago. They already knew that the technology is advancing by leaps and bounds. But it seems to have stunned everybody else. The UK is the world leader by far in offshore wind with 10 gigawatts (GW) of installed capacity planned by the late 2020s, as is fitting given the near perfect mix of shallow waters and optimal wind speeds through the North Sea. Britain could theoretically produce up to 595GW at competitive cost, an order of magnitude more than Britain’s entire power needs, even at peak times in the dead of winter (53GW). Even a fraction of this would of course require a revolutionary step-change for British industry, a mobilisation akin to rearming for war. Yet it is in principle “doable”. Some excess power could be sold to Europe through interconnectors, reversing the pattern of flows and generating export income instead of a deficit. Much could be turned into ultra-green hydrogen through electrolysis, to be exported worldwide or kept as a reserve source of baseload power. This technology too is moving fast. The US National Renewable Energy Laboratory is working on a “wind-to-hydrogen” venture in Colorado. The EU’s Don Quichote project has a pilot scheme in Belgium. Leeds aims to convert its whole grid to hydrogen with its H21 Citygate plan. Seventeen global companies launched the Hydrogen Council in Davos this year to accelerate the shift. This body expects the cost curve to mimic the dramatic falls seen in wind and solar over the last 15 years, once serious effort was thrown at the endeavour. Hydrogen has its problems. It is highly flammable. It needs “expert management”. Yet it can be mixed with natural gas for combustion. Siemens is developing an H-Class of gas plants that allow a hydrogen mix of 60pc. What has become clear this week is that the long-standing cost objections against offshore wind have been blown to smithereens. Britain is sitting on cheap and almost limitless green energy. It has won the zero-emission lottery.
Telegraph 13th Sept 2017 read more »