Kevin Myers: Wind is a waste of capital -- but at least it makes the Greens feel good
Has Germany gone mad? It does this every now and then, you know. The saga of the cucumbers is grim, but it will, however, pass.
However, what are we to make of Chancellor Merkel's decision to phase out nuclear power? What virtuous energy will now drive the factories of Europe's industrial behemoth? Kites? Wind-chimes? Some Bach motets, maybe?
Merkel proposes spending fortunes seeking some new green miracle technology. Now, I dislike using cliche images about Germany, because it's both simplistic and it alienates German readers (and we have a few). But there's one great example where a German leader ignored a practical but advanced technology in preference for some future hypothetical one. In October 1942, Hitler ordered priority to be given to the V2 rocket, and largely ignored the Messerschmitt 262 jet fighter. Why? Because the V2 was the future! The V2 was clean! The V2 was unstoppable! But most of all, the V2 appealed to his emotions. And so the V2 -- which, per unit, was about 50pc more expensive than the Me262 -- was put into production.
That single decision cost Germany the war in the west. Had Hitler put the same resources into making Me262s, the allies would soon have been swept from the skies of Europe, and there would have been no Normandy landings in 1944. Instead, he put his faith in the almost useless V2, which managed to kill just two British civilians per launch. Yet it seemed such a good idea at the time, no?
Emotion is the enemy of wisdom. And so Germany's decision to close down its nuclear programme is an abject surrender to post-Fukushima hysteria, for the Baltic is as likely to suffer from a tsunami as it is to become a wheat field. And actually, the real lesson of Fukushima is how sturdy it proved to be, even after its seawall defences were overwhelmed. For no one died because of it, unlike Germany's dodgy cucumbers: total death toll so far, 24.
Let's deal with some facts. Germany's nuclear stations constitute 15.7pc of total theoretical capacity, while wind constitutes 17.3pc. But in terms of actual generation, nuclear produces 22pc of power, and wind produces, wait for it, just 6.2pc. Yes, SIX PER CENT, around one-third of its own potential. So the hard truth is that Germany must either generate its own energy, using fuel of some kind or other, or it must import largely nuclear energy from France. Those are the only options.
Alas, Merkel's madness will probably feed into the neutralist and sanctimoniously green mindset of liberal Ireland. This thrives on the childish notion that is it possible to have electrical power without either a price or a risk. All we need is windmills, and then all will be well. No it won't. Has last winter taught our chattering classes nothing? The coldest December in history was also the most windless. How did you stay warm last Christmas? Wind-power? Or fossil fuel? So now tell us why you love wind.
But we have the sea, goes the refrain. We do indeed: and still not a single BThU in view. Which doesn't prevent Peter Coyle of the Marine Renewables Industry Association (MRIA) claiming: "We have the capacity to generate multiples of our national need, which leaves us with the potential to export."
Dear me. The MRIA is blithely boasting about our capacity to export something that doesn't even yet exist. Which is rather like the blithering nonsense that we heard recently, that the Government should nationalise our oil resources, "worth 10 billion barrels", even though absolutely no commercial oil has been found. With this kind of economics, the nation's wealth is assessed according to the king's brilliant but wholly imaginary robes.
Even the bright can be fairly dim on this subject. Professor John Fitzgerald of the ERSI is against nuclear power. His objections are: 1) nuclear plants are too big, 2) onshore wind makes it unnecessary, 3) the public are against them.
One and two are simply wrong. 1) India's Kaiga nuclear plant is precisely the size that we need: around 220 megawatts. Ireland's peak demand is for 6,500 megawatts, so a few Kaigas would do us nicely, thank you. 2) Every single erg, watt, joule and dyne produced by onshore wind will have to have an equivalent back-up of fuel-generated energy. Around 22pc of our present "capacity" to create electricity is wind-powered, but as in Germany, wind is so unreliable that it actually only generates 11pc. The rest must still come from fuel, conventional or nuclear. As for 3) "public opinion": ah yes, abject populism trumping reality once again. The old ones are always the best.
To conclude: wind power ALWAYS requires duplication, even when the wind is blowing, because standby generators must cover for wind fluctuations and sudden calms. But when they're not blowing at all, as they weren't last winter, then it's back to full-time, fuel-based power once more. Wind is therefore a shocking waste of capital, but at least it makes the Greens feels good: and isn't feeling good what the eco-movement is primarily about? Yet since all renewables will always, always, always need fuel-based power to back them up, what is your alternative to be? Coal? Oil? Gas? Nuclear? Dead cold old folk? Take your pick.