Enercon E-40 wind turbine in Germany. (Source: German Wikipedia by Stahlkocher )

WASHINGTON—Peter Meier, an independent energy economist and consultant, spoke Wednesday about renewable energies in developing countries at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

According to Meier, the future of wind power as a cost-effective renewable energy source for developed and developing countries is bleak. For Meier, wind is too expensive and too reliant on unpredictable weather.

“Wind is the most expensive in the renewable energy supply curve,” Meier said, comparing costs of different energy sources. Sustainable renewable energies like small hydro or landfill gas projects are more reliable and cost-effective energy sources, Meier said.

From an economic stand-point, the benefits of renewable energy in general fall short of those of natural gas and coal-fired processes, said Meier. As one attendee pointed out however, economic projections don’t take into account future health or national security benefits ten, 20, 30 years down the line. There are great energy security benefits to reducing petroleum imports from the politically unstable Middle East, an audience member said.

While energy security considerations are important, said Meier, the challenge remains of raising wind power and renewable energy sources to the necessary productivity levels required to supplement natural gas energies.

Much of the problem Meier noted with wind farms is that, in general, it’s never as windy at as originally predicted.

“Engineers are always too optimistic, whether it’s wind or nuclear or anything else,” Meier said. Citing a wind farm in Germany, Meier showed that over the last 15 years, “the energy produced has been consistently less than the experts say it should have been.”

In countries with marked seasonal changes like Sri Lanka—with monsoon weather—and China, the differences during peak and low wind months are much greater than the more even wind seasons in Europe and North America.

“Seasonal variations between the windiest month and the less windiest month are much larger [in developing countries] than most European countries and in North America,” Meier said.

The most important consideration with new renewable energies is ‘are they politically and fiscally stable?” he added.

In fast developing Vietnam, wind farms are just not practical, Meier said. In Vietnam’s recent exploration of hundreds of new renewable energy projects, small hydro was found to be a more reliable option than wind.

Most of that reason, said Meier, is that to put together wind turbines, the Vietnamese need to import the machinery from Germany.

When Vietnamese customers buy German wind turbines they are transferring funds to German wind turbine manufacturers, said Meier, “that’s not how it’s supposed to work.”