More Wind Craziness

I still contend that wind is, except in a few niche applications, probably the worst alternate energy source.   Other forms of energy like solar have issues, but there is a lot of reason to believe these a fixable over time with better technology.  Wind is just a plain dog.

One of the biggest problems with wind is the need for backup power.  Because wind's lapses are hard to predict, a lot of fossil fuels have to be burned in spinning, hot backup capacity ready at a moment's notice to take over.  In Germany, the net effect has been very little substitution of fossil fuel burning despite an enormous wind investment

As wind power capacity rises, the lower availability of the wind farms determines the reliability of the system as a whole to an ever increasing extent. Consequently the greater reliability of traditional power stations becomes increasingly eclipsed.

As a result, the relative contribution of wind power to the guaranteed capacity of our supply system up to the year 2020 will fall continuously to around 4% (FIGURE 7). In concrete terms, this means that in 2020, with a forecast wind power capacity of over 48,000MW (Source: dena grid study), 2,000MW of traditional power production can be replaced by these wind farms.

Natural gas makes this situation a little better, as natural gas turbines can be brought up much faster than, say, an oil or coal-powered plant.  But the duplicate investment is still necesary

Britain's richest energy companies want homeowners to subsidise billions of pounds worth of gas-powered stations that will stand idle for most of the time.

Talks have taken place between the Government, Centrica, owner of British Gas, and other energy companies on incentives to build the power stations needed as back-ups for the wind farms now being built around the country.

It is understood 17 gas-fired plants worth about £10 billion will be needed by 2020.

The Energy Department has been warned that without this massive back-up for the new generation of heavily subsidised giant wind farms, the lights could go out when the wind dies down.

Sam Laidlaw, chief executive of Centrica, said renewables, such as large-scale wind energy, were intermittent and required back-up generation, a role gas was uniquely qualified to fill.

But as power stations that operate only intermittently would not be financially viable, Laidlaw said: 'The building of new gas-fired capacity must be incentivised so that gas can fulfil its role as a bridging fuel.'

Great.  So we have wind power, which is not financially viable so it must be subsidized, that required backup power plants to be constructed, which will not be financially viable so gas plants must be subsidized.

I have an idea, why not have gas plants which are financially viable serving the base load and just get rid of wind and this double subsidy all together?




  1. NL_:

    Wind energy might make sense if you have some sort of storage system. That could be a high-efficiency storage battery, or storing pressurized air in underground caverns (to release during times of higher demand) or it could be used to perform electrolysis to supply hydrogen fuel cells. I have no idea whether the science or economics of these proposals works out, but it seems like the important thing is that wind isn't best seen as a direct replacement for fossil fuel plants.

    If the politicians eliminate the subsidies and R&D spending, then it's hard for them to claim credit for any new windmills built in their mostly-rural constituencies.

  2. a_random_guy:

    Of course, there is also the reverse. I know of two wind-parks (one in Scotland, the other in Germany) that are periodically shut down during ideal generating conditions, because their power simply cannot be accommodated on the net at that particular time. So we build these lovely, expensive generators and don't use them.

    NL_ has the point, of course: storage. The problem is, just about the only system that can store that kind of power is hydroelectric (pumping water up *into* the lake). There are two problems with this. First, environmentalists will not accept the construction of large, new hydroelectric dams. Second, wind farms are normally located on plans or near the ocean - whereas dams are best built in hilly or mountainous inland terrain - so you get to build power lines and suffer transmission losses on top of the inefficiency of pumping water.

    Around here, solar is being pushed hard by one group of environmentalists, while other groups fight just as hard *against* it. Unsightly, don't you know? Who knows what effect that might have on the rare, spotted, duckbilled, desert frog? We don't need nuclear or solar or anything else - electricity just comes magically out of the plug?


  3. Ted Rado:

    The use of gas turbine backup because of its ease of quick startup masks another problem with gas turbines. The thermal efficiency of open cycle gas turbines is much less than conventional thermal power plants. The numbers are something like (as I recollect) 27% vs 37%. The saving of 100% of the energy 30% of the time is almost completely offset by the higher fuel consumption during the 70% of the time the standby gas tubines are running. Combined cycle plants are slow to start up and are therefore not suitable for backup. Idling conventional thermal power plants to permit relatively fast increase in power output is also wasteful.

    The standby required for solar is even worse. The sun only shines at maximum during the noon hours on sunny days. When the sun is low in the sky, it is cloudy, or at night, power is reduced or stops entirely. The backup problem is the same as for wind.

    German experience is that wind availability (as % of max) is 18%, solar is 8%. In AZ or windy places I am sure they are much better. US experience with wind is about 30%.

    Because of the backup problems pointed out above, the USG is sponsoring all sorts of energy storage studies, such as hydraulic or compressed air storage. These schemes become absurd when you hang some numbers on them.
    For example, to go completely to wind power (at 30% availability), 3.33 times the final power load is required at the wind farm. Most of this is used to pump water to storage (2.33 of the 3.33). The final hydro power plant would only need to be equal to the final power load. Finally, the efficiency of the pumping system and the water turbine system, including pipeline pressure drops, must be taken into account. These losses amount to 25-30% (max pump and turbine combined eff. alone is about 85%. Add pressure drops up and down based on local physical situation). Thus, one has to divide the rated capacity of the wind farm by .75 or so, resulting in nameplate wind farm capacity of 4.75 times final power load. Same sort of calcs for pumping capacity. Thus, an enormous amount of electrical equipment ( perhaps approaching 10 times the final power load) is needed. All this plus huge reservoirs.

    Compressed air storage is even worse, because of thermodymamics of compressing a gas. The heat of compression must be removed and is not available to the expansion turbines. For those of you interested in thermo, run the calcs. In addition, large reservoirs capable of storing huge amounts of compressed air must be found.

    The conclusion one reaches is that thermal backup is MUCH more effective, but hugely increases the capital cost. As pointed out above, unless someone comes up with a high efficiency backup thermal system, most of the fuel savings diasappear.

    By the way, hydraulic storage IS being used in some places. If the generating capacity, dam and turbines are already in place, it requires only pumps to store the energy above the dam (assuming that dam/turbine excess capacity is available to use the newly stored energy). In certain situations, this is apparently feasible. (I think this is done in Scandanavia).

    The reason wind and solar are being used is because government subsidizes it and free standby is available from the existing system. Once a substantial part of the power is supplied by wind/solar, dedicated standby must be provide, makind the whole thing absurd. The Spaniards, Germans and Brits are now finding this out the hard way. (Check the internet for many articles on the subject).

    Bottom line: Every alternative energy scheme I have looked at is absurd once you run the numbers rather than just say "Oh, we can use hydro or compressed air storage, molten salt, or whatever". While anything is theoretically possible, very few are engineering-wise or economically doable. Those pushing some energy scheme need to run a few calcs before becoming too enamored of their idea. Meanwhile, our super-efficient USG marches on, pushing our tax dollare out the door in support of schemes which any engineer could show to be nonsense in an afternoon. Government money is corrupting us all. They should get out of the way and let normal technical and economic forces lead the way. Whether or not we ahall ever come up with a viable alternative energy scheme remains to be seen, but wasting our resources chasing idiot projects is not the way to find out. Some engineering studiea BEFORE charging off Don Quixote- style would be a blessing indeed.

    P.S. I am sure someone can come up with somewhat differsnt numbers, depending on location, etc., but please spare me "but the Spaniards are doing it, so it must be a good idea".

  4. Dan:

    A Random Guy is right. I'm not sure where the most liberal environmentalists expect electricity to come from. Are they OK with the idea of the lights flickering out when the sun sets or the wind stops blowing? Sounds like a step backward to me. Maybe I should stock up on candles. Or how about whale oil? (wait, Greenpeace might have something to say about that one!)

    The NYT recently had a front-page article decrying the production of natural gas from shale, and comments on the newspaper's web site were telling. Most of the far-left responders were of the opinion that we need to stop "fracking" right now. Like the anti-nuclear movement in Germany, which used the crisis in Japan to eliminate nuclear energy from Germany's future, the anti-natural gas crowd here seems to believe that energy will somehow just magically appear, and it will be clean. Energy generation is never going to be clean, but natural gas and nuclear energy are two of the cleanest forms known, and the environmental movement seems to want to eliminate both.

  5. Rhondo:

    Stop making sense.

  6. dullgeek:

    I'd be curious what you think of the noise and strobing that is caused by wind farms. A large number of farmers in rural wisconsin seem to be very upset about this. It appears to be impacting their ability to sell their homes. Some details available here:

    The wind turbines seem to have negative externalities that behave an awful lot like pollution. If that's a fair analogy, then the wind turbines are replacing one form of pollution (CO2) with another (noise & flicker).

    I've never read you (Coyote) comment on this. Did I miss the commentary or is there some reason why this isn't noteworthy?

  7. GoneWithTheWind:

    Your problem is you are assuming this is/was about real green power and viable alternatives. Au contraire mon frere. This is about increasing taxes and funneling huge amounts of tax money to special interests. So wind power is a tremendous success!! Solar too!! Just keep paying those taxes and higher utility rates and consuming the spoon feed pap.

  8. Dr. T:

    Wind power is great for pumping water to troughs for animals or through pipes for irrigation, especially if you have storage tanks for those dry but windless days. But, wind power is not economical for producing electricity except in those rare (and usually remote) places with strong, constant winds.

    The German experience with wind-powered electricity generation is worse than what Ted Rado quoted. A 2010 report indicated that the average efficiency of Germany's many wind turbines was only 9%. Germany, one of the signatories of the Kyoto agreement, still generates most of its electricity by burning coal. (It's a good thing the AGW theory is just hot air.)

  9. Graeme:

    "I have an idea, why not have gas plants which are financially viable serving the base load and just get rid of wind and this double subsidy all together?"

    Are you NUTS! What about all those poor people working jobs in the wind industry subsidised at $250K per year - what will they do in the future without subsidies - flip fries for a living???

    Surely it's better to keep printing money and shoveling it into entirely useless activities while pushing the debt onto future generations...

    My goodness I just love wind power. Wind it's always blowing somewhere, and will never run out. The perfect energy source for our world.


  10. John Moore:

    On my recent storm chase, I drove about 5000 miles through the middle and high plains. There were wind farms all over the place, and trucks moving blades to new ones frequenting the roads.

    My thought was... what will they be saying in 15 or 20 years... My guess is...

    "Those things are an eyesore, and there's nobody to take care of them now that the operators have gone bust. We need a "superfund" to pay for getting rid of these things before they fall on someone and kill them, or worse, kill some more birds."

  11. IgotBupkis, President, United Anarchist Society:

    >>> Other forms of energy like solar have issues

    As I have extensively justified myself a couple years ago, Solar Power is not just wrong "at this time", it is Flat-Out Wrong For All Time.

    It is literally incapable of producing not just the power we need, but even the "environmentally friendly" power its proponents claim it to be.

    It is a stupid pipe dream for technologically illiterate fools who want to "feel" their way to the solution of a problem by following a path beset with their idiotic ideas of not How Things Work, but How Things Ought To Work.


    Wind power is just as ludicrous, and suffers from the same basic problem that causes both to be major FAILs when it comes to doing the job:

    The energy densities, the energy gradients essential to drawing useful power out of them are simply not there.

    Even IF they were magically made reliable -- if the wind always blew, if the sun always shined on the earth's surface -- they STILL would be incapable of producing the kind of power we need.

  12. Ryan:

    "We need a “superfund” to pay for getting rid of these things before they fall on someone and kill them"

    I don't think we'll have to worry about that, those things have so much copper and steel in them people will be pretty quick to drop and cut up the ones that are not turned into cell towers or deer blinds.

    There will also some hipsters who try to live in one of them.

  13. caseyboy:

    Ahhhhh! Green jobs taking us into the future. I think we should dome cattle grazing pastures to collect the methane they release so that it can be used to power backup generation systems. Dome manufacturing, installing and servicing jobs. Cross train with the windmill techs and we're on to something.

  14. John Moore:

    "Even IF they were magically made reliable — if the wind always blew, if the sun always shined on the earth’s surface — they STILL would be incapable of producing the kind of power we need."

    This is simply not true. The sun puts 1KW of radiation per square meter at the equator. Add that up, and you can produce enough energy to run the US in a relatively small fraction of the state of AZ (I haven't done the math, but I've seen it).

    The total energy in wind is also huge, but you have to spend a whole lot to get it.

    The problem is, of course, cost - cost of the systems, cost of operation, and cost of storage or backup systems. The physical issue, other than unreliability, is that the energy is far more diffuse than any other form that we use (with the possible exception of hydro power). The total energy produced per square kilometer is tiny compared to that of fossil or nuclear power.

  15. caseyboy:

    The environmentalist gymnastics in this area is quite entertaining. Kill coal plants and build solar farms, but not in the CA desert because some of the little critters there won't like the shade. No to nuclear power, lets get those windmills up and running instead. But not where they might endanger migrating birds.

    Listen, the end game is getting rid of pesky people who use energy. Get rid of the demand and walla problem solved. Has lots of other benefits as well. Real estate prices go down, traffic jams a thing of the past, no lines at Disney World, wow a "greenies" dream come true, UTOPIA!