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Investment for wind will be one-third of nuclear by 2015, predicts IEA

PARIS, France, May 16, 2007. Considerable investment will be required in new power generation over the next decade, if the world is to meet increasing demand for electricity and replace aging power units.

“Governments are best positioned to assess, on a broad scale, the environmental risks and costs associated with power generation, and possible macro-economic implications resulting from too high dependence on ... natural gas imports,” the International Energy Agency notes in a 208-page report, ‘Tackling Investment Challenges in Power Generation In IEA Countries.’ The lion’s share of new capacity additions in IEA countries during the past decade has been in natural gas-fired generation and in “subsidised wind energy.”

“Combined cycle gas turbines and wind power are necessary, but a continued almost exclusive focus on these technologies is a cause for concern for the future generation mix”, says Claude Mandil of the IEA. Diversification is a sensible business strategy and commercial investors are showing signs of a shift in focus towards other technologies such as high-efficiency coal and nuclear power.

However, as long as policy and regulatory uncertainties force investors to be short-sighted, natural gas-fired generation may be the default low-risk option, it notes.

“A heavy investment cycle in power generation is looming in most IEA countries and governments need to play an assertive role in reducing uncertainty and making sure appropriate investment takes place,” adds Mandil. Considerable investments during the next decade will undoubtedly see climate change and security of supply as key policy priorities.

“A window of opportunity now exists to push for a cleaner and more efficient generation portfolio that will have significant impact on the energy sector and the environment for the next 40 to 50 years,” he explains. However, the many uncertainties now inherent in the power sector create risks for investors and such risks may lead to under-investment: “too little, too late, in the wrong location and with the wrong technology.”

Some of the most serious direct risks in the current investment climate result from government policy, but uncertainty about government support for specific generation technologies also creates considerable risks. No market signals or policy-driven incentives will have any effect if investors are not given permission to build new power infrastructure and delays associated with regulatory approval of new power plants “frustrate markets, increase costs of projects and may undermine security of supply,” especially for new nuclear reactors and new transport infrastructure which require several years to go through the regulatory process.

Governments are not necessarily best equipped to manage risks by picking preferred technologies and generation portfolios, and some renewables and nuclear “need government backing that reflects the added benefits for the environment and from reduced import dependence,” the report notes. “Competition is a strong and necessary instrument in creating an efficient investment climate, provided that a clear and stable policy framework effectively reflects environmental costs.”

The latest IEA World Energy Outlook projects that installed capacity in OECD countries will need to increase by 466 GW by 2015, 20% of existing capacity. Most IEA countries have policy objectives to curtail electricity demand through increased energy efficiency which often is the most economical way to address climate change and energy security. If currently planned policies on efficiency are implemented successfully, installed capacity is projected to increase by only 15% by 2015 but uncertainty about the effectiveness of energy efficiency measures is a risk for today’s investors.

“On a smaller capacity scale but with most noticeable growth, wind power capacity has become increasingly mainstream in several countries, often backed by government subsidies such as feed-in tariffs,” it explains. “IEA countries generally give subsidies to specific renewable technologies; wind power is the most prominent recipient of such support. Some countries already have considerable shares of wind power, and total installed capacity is increasing rapidly.”

“On-shore wind power in favourable locations is moving into the ranks of more conventional technologies, and putting a price on CO2 may soon make specific additional subsidies unnecessary,” it adds. “The strong development of wind power capacity now raises important concerns regarding its integration into electricity systems” and back-up resources must be available to ensure dispatchability. “This has implications for the real-time operation and balancing of the electricity system, as well as for the total costs and the long-term development of the generation portfolio and the transmission system.”

Onshore wind will cost US$900 per kW of investment by 2015, the report notes, compared with $650 for combined cycle gas turbine, but lower than the $1,400 for pulverized coal and $2,500 for each kW of nuclear capacity. Construction of a windfarm will take 18 months, with nuclear longest at 60 months, although wind has a capacity factor of 28% compared to 85% for its competitors. Annual O&M costs will be $20 per kW, compared with $25 for CCGT, $50 for coal and $65 for nuclear.


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