Taking environmental and human health factors into account, onshore wind power is actually more cost-efficient than coal, gas and nuclear energy, according to a new analysis from the European Union.
In the analysis, non-renewable energies are assessed based not only on their isolated financial costs, but also their impact on air quality, human health and global climate change. With these additional factors, gas can cost up to €164 per megawatt hour of electricity generated (MW/h) and coal can cost up to €233 per MW/h. Nuclear costs roughly €125 per MW/h, whereas wind costs only €105 per MW/h.
“This report highlights the true cost of Europe’s dependence on fossil fuels,” Justin Wilkes, the deputy CEO of the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) told the Guardian. “Renewables are regularly denigrated for being too expensive and a drain on the taxpayer. Not only does the commission’s report show the alarming cost of coal but it also presents onshore wind as both cheaper and more environmentally-friendly.”
The Guardian also contacted Frauke Thies, policy director for the European Photovoltaic Industry Association, for comment. Thies pointed out that, though renewables are currently receiving over €10 billion more in government subsidies than fossil fuels, the true costs of wind and solar have been steadily decreasing over the years. The same cannot be said for traditional energies.
“Despite decades of heavy subsidies, mature coal and nuclear energy technologies are still dependent on similar levels of public support as innovative solar energy is receiving today,” said Thies. “The difference is that costs of solar continue to decrease rapidly. If the unaccounted external costs to society are included, the report demonstrates that support to fossil fuels and nuclear even by far exceeds that to solar.”
The new EU analysis is almost unnecessary for Nordic energy consumers, who have been convinced of wind power’s superiority for years. In Finland, Norway, Denmark and Sweden, wind power is showing almost uncanny domination of the energy market.
Denmark in particular wants to phase out all coal-fired energy generation by 2030 and transition into complete renewable-generated heat and electricity by 2035. Its midpoint goal is generating 70 percent of its power by 2020, and it’s already more than halfway there. Today, 43 percent of Denmark’s power comes from wind and solar.
Sweden and Norway seem to be almost in a friendly renewable competition. Currently, wind in Sweden generates 8 percent of electricity consumed. Not as impressive as Denmark, but its total wind capacity has more than doubled since 2010. According to Reuters, Norway has pledged to change its tax laws in order to catch up with Sweden’s capacity.
And while generating clean energy from wind is a success in itself, the biggest benefit to the environment has been the gradual reduction of fossil fueled plants in the Nordic region. As wind and other renewables supply more of the energy market, many of the older plants are simply becoming too expensive to operate. Earlier this year, a 695 MW coal-fired plant was shut down in Inkoo, Finland; this month, Norway’s Naturkraft announced it would put a 420 MW gas-fired power plant in “cold reserve”; and in May, Vattenfall reported that it would shut down a 409 MW coal-fired plant in Denmark by 2016 and sell it to Danish utility HOFOR, which will convert it to a biomass plant.
A representative from the Oslo-based consultancy THEMA estimates that, overall, 2,000 MW of coal condensing capacity in Denmark and Finland will be mothballed by 2030.