Dramatic offshore wind cost reduction drives nuclear industry myth-making

11 September 2017

The sustainable energy world was in a state of satisfied shock today (11 September) following the news that offshore windfarm energy-generating costs had fallen faster than even the most optimistic of last year’s forecasts.

As reported across the media (see report in BBC, Telegraph, Guardian) the cost of subsidies for new offshore wind farms is now £57.50 per megawatt hour (MWh) for plant coming on stream in 2022-23 – half of what it was in 2015.

This compares to the index-linked £92.50/MWh that electricity consumers will fork out to EDF for the new nuclear plant at Hinkley Point  in Somerset (at some point in the late 2020s if it is built to the schedule).

“What we’re seeing is an amazing reduction in costs over a relatively short space of time,” said CSE’s chief executive, Simon Roberts. “In 2011, DECC set a target of £100/MWh for off-shore wind power by the year 2020. This target has been smashed. The reductions have been driven by rapid technological advances and the opportunity offshore to use much larger turbines. And those advances have been possible because the government backed the technology, providing support for innovation and a dedicated market for these vital early stages; that gave confidence to the industry to invest.”

“Contrast this to nuclear: costs still rising despite 60 years of eye-watering public subsidies and government-backed R&D.”

Unsurprisingly, the nuclear industry is in no hurry to join in the celebrations. Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, was quoted on the BBC as saying "It doesn't matter how low the price of offshore wind is. On last year's figures it only produced electricity for 36% of the time."

“This is nonsense from someone fast becoming the industry’s mythmaker-in-chief,” says CSE’s Simon Roberts. “The true figure is more like 80% because the turbines generate some power even at quite low wind speeds – and relatively predictably and usefully for the National Grid. The 36% which Mr Greatrex quotes is the load factor – it’s a well-known concept that captures the turbine’s output over a year as proportion of what it would be if it was running at full power all of the time.  He’s perpetuating a myth – and you have to think it’s deliberate given its so blatantly incorrect.”

And speaking of myths, CSE recently published a new and updated edition of the wind-energy mythbuster, Common Concerns about Wind Power. The first edition was downloaded over 60,000 times, and over 10,000 print copies were sold or given away.

The second edition is produced in PDFs only, and in separate chapters. Click here to go to a page where you can download each chapter, or click here for the offshore wind chapter.

Stay up to date with our work - sign up for our fortnightly newsletter