Study hails onshore wind cost lead

Onshore wind is cheaper than gas, coal and nuclear when air quality, climate change and human toxicity are taken into account, according to a study published by the European Commission.

An analysis by the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) of the data in the Ecofys report finds that onshore wind costs about €105 ($133) per MWh. Gas costs up to €164/MWh, nuclear €133 and coal €162-233.

Offshore wind comes in at €186/MWh and solar photovoltaic around €217.

Based on the total cost of energy production, which factors in the externalities, coal was found to be more expensive than the highest retail electricity price in the EU. The report puts the figure of external costs of the EU's energy mix in 2012 at between €150bn and €310bn.

“This report highlights the true cost of Europe's dependence on fossil fuels. Renewables are regularly denigrated for being too expensive and a drain on the taxpayer,” says Justin Wilkes, deputy chief executive of EWEA.

“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.”

EWEA points out that onshore and offshore wind technologies also have room for significant cost reduction. Coal, on the other hand, is a fully mature technology and is unlikely to reduce its costs any further.

"We are heavily subsidising the dirtiest form of electricity generation while proponents use coal's supposed affordability as a justification for its continued use," Wilkes adds.

“The irony is that coal is the most expensive form of energy in the EU. This report shows that we should use the 2030 climate and energy package as a foundation for increasing the use of wind energy in Europe to improve our competitiveness, security and environment.”

The European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA) says the report demonstrates that the direct total cost of conventional energy technologies such as coal and nuclear is much higher than the direct cost for solar.

“Despite decades of heavy subsidies, mature coal and nuclear energy technologies still rely on similar levels of public support as innovative solar energy is getting today,” says EPIA policy director Frauke Thies.

“However, support to solar electricity is already coming down, in line with rapid technology cost reduction, as opposed to coal and nuclear energy, which remain locked into subsidies as they have been for the last 40 years.”

EU energy commissioner Günther Oettinger says the report is only “a first step and there are still gaps in our knowledge. We have to continue to work on filling these gaps.

“More research is needed, in particular on historical subsidies in the energy market in all EU member states and in the EU overall.”