Can wind energy be cheaper than regular power?

Ireland. The wind blows all the time. It's annoying but a great source of power.

Alternative energy is great for the environment, but it's certainly not cheap in most cases right now. Germany, Canada and California, among other places, have to subsidize solar power so that it can compete with electricity from coal-fired or gas plants.

But in some cases alternatives are already cheap enough to compete with conventional power. In Ireland, for instance, wind power can be supported with minimal subsidies, said Jason Bak, CEO of Finavera Renewables, which specializes in wind-powered utilities and wave power equipment. The wind blows hard on the island and its on the edge of Europe's power grid. Recent studies sponsored by the government show that wind power in many instances will be cheaper than electricity from natural gas plants.

"It's a pretty unusual market," he said in an interview in our offices this week. Sweden, Denmark and Scotland may also be able to achieve wind power parity, he speculated.

Concentrated solar power, which harvests the heat of the sun, can also compete with conventional electricity, but the plants have to be extremely large, say proponents. To date, none are large enough.

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About the author

    Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.

     

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