Domestic solar panels & offshore wind - more expensive than nuclear

Professor Dieter Helm, from the University of Oxford, gave an interesting interview in 2011 to BBC regarding cost of carbon abatement and affordable electricity generation.

Several things emerged. If the cost of energy generation and carbon abatement matter (which they must):

  1. Onshore wind power makes much more sense than offshore (essentially we'd be paying ~80-100% more to keep turbines off hill sides and shorelines), see graph.
  2. Onshore wind is the second cheapest way to generate electricity listed in graph after gas (though interestingly ahead of coal) which suggests to me that in near the future, when fossil fuel prices rise further, it should become the cheapest: that's great news. 
  3. Professor Helm concluded by saying that he doubted the UK electricity customers both industry and homeowners (in the context of economy and fuel poverty etc) could actually afford the cost of the electricity that would flow from the commitment the UK government had made to build offshore wind.
  4. In addition he stated in the interview that domestic solar panels were by far the most expensive way of delivering low carbon energy generation: more expensive than offshore wind and nuclear energy (and he described those as 'staggeringly expensive ways to generate electricity)!

I have frequently met homeowners who comment on the great value they got from the new high performance factory-insulated cylinder they were forced to get with the (grant-aided) SHW panel, but could see looking at the SHW display how often they were getting no feed from the panel at all. Why is that?: it's because in Winter the solar radiation is so much less but also because if the water in the cylinder is warmer than the heat available from the panel no heat will transfer across, regardless of the fact that 25-50 degrees may be available from it. 

​When one considers (a) the short lifespan of domestic solar hot water (SHW) systems, (b) the poor payback to homeowner (possibly no useful heat transfer for half the year if one has a well-insulated cylinder and hot water is generated at least occasionally in a conventional way) and (c) the cost to the state in grants etc., it really makes one wonder if the reason that UK and Ireland governments promote micro-renewables (such as SHW) is simply to encourage people to 'think green' (to begin to make more sustainable life and consumption choices) rather than actually BE green. Surely it's time to get serious?

At a domestic scale (besides other building fabric measures) governments should add really well-insulated hot water cylinders, with well-installed good pipe insulation, to their grant schemes: not very sexy, but they are robust, simple and have a good payback! Between national and domestic scale the middle ground of local seems under-recognised. At that scale renewables become more robust, econom,ies of scale begin to kick in and the potemtial toempower cmmunities acting together becomes possible. I suggest we need to look at area-based energy efficiency measures, district heating, medium size renewables etc.

Above all we needs energy systems that are low carbon, work well, are robust and affordable on into the future!


Sunday, February 2, 2014

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