When a new technology starts to take off, even if it is the result of a government policy that sees it subsidised, I think its safe to assume that the technology will improve and may even reach a critical mass where its benefits are clear.
This episode of the Science Show, featuring people from the industry of course, indicates that this may be the case with wind power. For example:
Nathan Steggel: The reality is that it's a relatively new industry; 20 years ago there was pretty much no wind energy installed around the world. But the costs have fallen dramatically, particularly with the increase in size of turbines. One of the interesting things with the wind resource is that as you go higher in the atmosphere, the level of wind gets higher, and so these larger turbines that reach up higher into the sky essentially and have bigger blades that can capture more of the energy are many times more efficient than the older generation of turbines.
Back at the Woodlawn wind farm, Miles George from Infigen Energy says not only are wind turbines able to tap into more of the wind resource, they're doing that more efficiently.
There's two factors that go into efficiency. One is the theoretical capture of the wind. A modern three-bladed turbine is very good at doing that, capturing close to the theoretical capacity to capture the wind. And the other factor is what is the energy capture relative to the maximum that could be achieved if the wind was blowing 100% all year? We call that the capacity factor. And in Australia, and including at this wind farm, it's around about 33% thereabouts would be typical for a wind farm. That is, the amount of energy that is generated is about 33% of what it would be if the machine was running flat-out all year. In Australia you can get significantly higher capacity factors than that.
In Western Australia we have over 40% capacity factors. There are others like that, particularly in Tasmania, very strong wind. So it depends very much on the location.
Miles George: It's both. So the technology has improved significantly over the last 15 years. The machines today are more than double the size of machines some time ago. The fact that they are bigger means that they are higher up and the wind speed is higher as you get above the land. That is a big factor. Then the other factor is the wind speed itself, which is very variable. You have people like us and others who go out looking for sites like this one that exhibit all the characteristics you want for a good wind farm, and they are obviously good wind, close proximity to the electricity grid so we can connect our power up, and also importantly community acceptance. It's really important we build assets that are going to last for 25, 30-plus years. We want to make sure we have a good relationship with the local community. So we've always treated that third criterion as just as important if not more important than the other two.
David Leyonhjelm, of course, seems to disagree that wind companies are interested in good community relationships. But we know who he takes his advice from, and he makes no mention of the activities of the anti-wind activists in drumming up dubious science against wind.
But back to the improvements in wind energy, and how to make fair comparisons in cost:
Miles George: The cost of wind energy has come down dramatically with the increase in scale that has occurred over the last 15 years, to the point now where in some jurisdictions globally, wind is now competitive with other technologies like coal and gas. But it's important that we compare apples with apples. We are talking about comparing new-build technology, like a new wind farm, with a new coal-fired plant, for example, and in particular a coal-fired plant that has the appropriate emissions controls on it. If you are talking about that level, then wind is becoming competitive quite quickly.
The issue in Australian is that wind energy has to compete with 50 and 60-year-old coal-fired plants that are already fully depreciated and therefore is only paying its short-run marginal costs we call it, in other words just covering the costs of its fuel, all of the plant is already written off. So wind is competitive in new-build, not so competing against a 60-year-old plant. But I don't think anything would be competitive with a 60-year-old plant.
In the same show, the one anti-wind person quoted (who follows all of the Leyonhjelm lines about infrasound and seasickness, etc) ends up coming out with this, showing he is motivated by more than just concern for health effects and how they look:
Carl Smith: Do you see a place for them anywhere?
Tony Hodgson: Yes, as long as they are not subsidised, right? Of course.