One Step Forward, One Step Back

The other day I was happy to see lefty Kevin Drum pointing out the obvious problems with subsidizing Edit Post "¹ Coyote Blog "” WordPressethanol.  This is a step forward, when smart people on both sides of the aisle can agree that a certain approach is dumb.  Of course, given the incentives in government, that doesn't mean that ethanol subsidies will actually stop.

So we make some progress on ethanol, but just replace it without another absurdly dumb subsidized energy technology, in this case wind.  Wind is not even close to being ready for grid service, and given the hot backup power one needs to cover its unpredictability, it does about zero to reduce CO2 emissions.  A series of studies have shown that it has done nothing to reduce fossil fuel consumption in either Germany or Denmark.  And the whole green jobs thing is even more absurd -- it makes no sense theoretically, as shifting private investment to less economically viable uses has never, ever created jobs -- and has been debunked in practice in both Denmark and Spain.

Unfortunately, the Obama administration has bent over backwards to ignore the science and push wind, for no other reason I can figure out except to avoid admitting he was wrong when he campaigned on wind.  This makes for a pretty depressing story, and, given there are more documents the Administration is resisting releasing under FOIA, probably more ugly news to follow.

Postscript: One way you could use wind is with some kind of storage system, of which I can think of two.  The first is to use wind to pmp water up hill into a reservoir where the potential energy could later be harvested as hydroelectric power.  The other is to use the wind power to make hydrogen from water.  You need some sort of process that can be stopped and started on short notice.


  1. Don Lloyd:

    "...Wind is not even close to being ready for grid service..."

    Nor is the grid system even close to being ready for wind. If I'm not mistaken, the Czech Republic is at the point of banning the connection to its grid of the masssive German investment in wind energy.

    Regards, Don

  2. Mike Goad:

    There is a great -- and short -- little post on Roger Pielke's (Sr.) blog, “Wind power Is No Solution To Anything” A Guest Weblog By Henk Tennekes. It's a post on wind power from an engineer's perspective. I knew that the efficiency of wind is terrible, but I never quite realized what a nightmare the variability of wind would be for grid stability. The post by Tennekes lists quite a few other frailties of wind power generation.

  3. Allen:

    How could you overlook using the wind to store air? :)

    A group of Iowa cities intends to not only harness the wind, but also capture it, store it underground and use it to help make electricity when demand peaks.

    Members of the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities have invested in a proposed power plant that would use wind turbines to drive compressed air into underground aquifers. The air would be released to generate electricity when needed.

  4. IgotBupkis:

    All of these "store the excess" notions ignore the fact that ALL such technologies are ridiculously inefficient. The best return you can hope for from pretty much all techs is in the vicinity of 35%, so you're taking an already not particularly efficient system, and cutting it to 35% effectiveness?

    Yasssss, let's do THAT.

    Here's a site I've bumped into: No Free Wind.

    Now, WARNING: I haven't vetted them out -- I cannot swear the site authors aren't making this crap up like Al Gore in full AGW defcon 1 mode. But they do appear to cite sources for data, and the numbers they cite do appear to gibe with what I know of the reality of things. So I suspect the site is on the up and up. But take your own care to vet them before quoting, or don't blame me. ;)

    And for funsies, here's another entry in the "Wind Power is one of the stupidest ideas ever to be excreted by a horse EVER" sweepstakes:
    Chinese Waste Billions Building Unused Wind Power Capacity

  5. IgotBupkis:

    > for no other reason I can figure out except to avoid admitting he was wrong when he campaigned on wind.

    Isn't it becoming increasingly, unavoidably, glaringly obvious that pretty much EVERYTHING he campaigned on -- all of it -- was just wind?

  6. Xmas:

    I believe a bunch of Texans would disagree about the viability of wind power...

  7. Bob Smith:

    Those West Texas wind turbines are "viable" only because of government subsidies.

  8. Tim:

    It may not ever be ready for grid service; but what about local service? Mount a vertical axis wind turbine on your garage roof; have it charge a bank of Li-Ion batteries as part of your plug-in hybrid/battery electric vehicle charging station. Design your charger so it can take suplemental power, if needed, off the grid at non-peak times and work with the utility to get demand-based pricing on the overall energy you buy. When the battery bank (and car) is charged, disengage the generator and have the turbine free-spin.

    Figure your total, non-subsudized cost would be in the ballpark of $16k (~6k for turbine; ~10k for charging station and battery bank.)

  9. Dr. T:

    "... he [Obama] was wrong when he campaigned on wind."

    True. Was any other candidate such a wind bag?

  10. Dr. T:

    It doesn't take advanced degrees in engineering to show that wind-based electric power is impractical. It was never practical on paper, and every study of wind-based electric power generation shows that the costs exceed the benefits. (Unfortunately, Tim that includes local generation of electricity. The average homeowner would not reach the break-even point for the initial $16,000 investment for approximately sixteen years. When maintenance costs, repair costs, and opportunity costs of the investment are included, the break-even point will be twenty years or more. By then, the system will be so worn out that continuing repair costs will prevent much savings versus buying electricity.)

    The only efficient use for windmills is to generate mechanical power in locations far from power lines (such as a well-water pump in the middle of a huge ranch).

  11. James A. Donald:

    To substantially reduce CO2 emissions involves the destruction of technological civilization and a massive population reduction through poverty, famine, and exposure the the weather. The point of windpower and the like is not to find away around this problem, but pretend that the intent is something other than mass depopulation.

  12. Rhys Howitt, Goulburn, Australia:

    Vanadium flow batteries (google it) are used with some wind farms to balance flows.


    Would appreciate having Coyote Blog look at this stuff.