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1 January 1998
Wind's competitors remain strong, but not so strong as they have been. In Europe, unlike America, the price of gas -- wind's most serious competitor in terms of price and the environment -- is moving upwards, and there are indications that the ratio between reserves and current consumption is steadily falling -- usually a sign that prices will go on rising. Gas in the UK is also facing a new hurdle, with warnings that the electricity industry is overly dependent on gas, which could have serious consequences for security of supply. A moratorium on new gas plant has been declared as a result. This tacitly recognises that coal underpins the stability of most power systems in the world: Britain's reliance on gas meant it was sailing into uncharted waters as gas is without the in-built inertia of steam turbine generators. In fact, gas is probably inferior to wind at holding the frequency of a system steady. The moratorium makes little difference to the economic prospects for wind, as both new gas and existing coal plant generate at around $0.033/kWh -- a tough target to beat. Coal remains king in the US. Gas prices there are expected to rise by 13% of 1996 levels by 2020. Coal prices are predicted to decline by 28%. The DOE also expects electricity from coal to cost $0.043/kWh, making wind more or less competitive as long as it retains its $0.016/kW tax credit. Predictions for the US electricity supply mix are not encouraging for renewables. According to the DOE in its annual outlook, renewables will increase their energy production by 21% between 1995 and 2020, coal will increases by 30% and gas by 47%, so that by 2020 coal and gas contribute roughly equal shares to primary energy supply. The current decline in nuclear is expected to reverse by around the turn of the century, so that it records a modest 7% rise by 2020.
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