Wednesday, June 30, 2010

When does wind power just make good sense?

Frequent sightings of wind power projects has prompted lots of discussion as we’ve been exploring Australia. Particularly in areas where there are steady strong winds, it makes me wonder why an industry to provide home wind generators hasn’t taken off.

IMG_9549On the west coast, information panels at the impressive 48-generator Emu Downs project near Cervantes stated that this A$180 million project can provide power for the equivalent of 50,000 homes. Each wind generator was ~A$3.75 million—and likely more since the wind farm can share some expensive common control and distribution systems—but it also means that the wind farm costs work out to ~A$3,600 per home.

What homeowner wouldn’t agree to pay a one-time $3,600 to get energy from the wind forever?

Of course it isn’t quite that simple… Wind farms produce no power when the winds drop below a minimum speed—but consumers want to have power whenever they want it, so a grid connection is still needed.

Electric utilities balance supply and demand over the entire grid, but many (including our own Quebec Hydro) are not eager to let just anyone sell power into their grid. Even when they do agree, utilities can’t buy it at the same rate they sell power because their rate includes a mark-up above their generating costs to cover their significant capital investments.

But what happens as wind generator prices drop and their control systems improve? At some point, won’t it reach a point where—for at least some consumers—installing a wind generator for a home becomes economically too viable to ignore?