Damning Wind Power Study

Wind is not the worst form of alternative energy -- that probably has to go to corn ethanol.  But it is close.  The consistent experience of European countries that have more wind power than the US is that, because wind is so unreliable, hot backup fossil fuel generation capacity nearly equal to wind capacity needs to be maintained.  This means that even when the wind is blowing, it is not reducing fossil fuel consumption in any meaningful way.  In other words, billions are spent on wind but without any substitution of existing power sources.  Its just pure wasted money.

Anyway, here is a recent study by an environmental group, no less, that found that Britain's wind generation plants are running well under the promised efficiency.  That is, of course, when they are even operable and not just broken down.  In the latter case, companies go for the quick bucks of up front subsidies, then find that the units are not worth the repair costs when they break.

  • tomw

    I read that the German[& Danish?] government required the utility power generators to buy any electricity generated by wind power, thus guaranteeing a market. That has lead to significant overdevelopment that is not really supportable without economic 'fudging'.
    Ok, given that it has been funded, built, and is in operation, I had the thought that the way to minimize the variability was to use the wind power to run pumps replenishing the water behind hydroelectric dams. Might as well use it for that for a 'stabilizing' effect if you have to run the baseload systems anyway.

    What a fine mess you've gotten us in, Ollie!

    Replace Ollie with your favorite addle-brained watermelon. I picture some of the CA congressional delegation...

  • Henry Bowman

    I don't think you quite understand, Coyote. The fact that wind power is unreliable is simply part of Gaia's wonderous way. We are not supposed to build dirty fossil fuel power generation facilities as backup: we simply need to learn to live with highly unreliable power, that's all.

  • Dr. T

    Germany released figures a year or two ago showing that the efficiency of its wind turbines was 9%, and that the value of the wind-generated electricity did not cover installation and maintenance costs. (tomw is correct that German power companies had to buy wind-generated electricity at ridiculously high rates per kWh.)

    Coal burning will be Germany's main source of electric power for decades. Germany has the most automated and safest (and most costly to operate) coal mines in the world. Germany was a participant in the 1999 Kyoto agreement. Ironically, Germany's carbon dioxide production per person went up while ours went down.

  • Ted Rado

    This is another example of plunging ahead without a complete engineering study. Because of the intermittent nature of wind power, it must be backed up with fossil fuel capacity. The only easy-to-start-up method is open cycle gas turbines. These have a much lower thermal efficiency than boiler-steam turbine plants. Thus, much of the savings of fuel from using wind power is lost when the standby generators are running. Finally, the TOTAL capital cost is out of sight.

    Water storage of energy is a very bad idea. When you take into account the efficiency of pumping to storage, and the subsequent power generation in a water turbine, a substantial part of the power is lost (not to mention the cost of impoundment basins, pumps, and water turbines). A few simple calcs lays all these schemes to rest, unless you are the US government.Then you fund billions of dollars worth of research, protoypes, etc., only to find out that it was all nonsense in the first place.

    Every alternative energy scheme I have looked at comes out the same. Simple calcs show them to be unworkable, uneconomical, usually both.

    All this could have been determined before the first wind turbine was built. Gee! Isn't it more fun to fritter away money than to do the most elementary calculations?
    We are doing the same thing with other forms of "alternative" energy. I guess my studying engineering many years ago was a waste of time. Just sight down your thumb and charge ahead without calculations!

  • IgotBupkis, President, United Anarchist Society

    Ah, wind power. Even China's Getting It. Or not getting any. Depends on how you look at it.

    But the UK's energy future appears to be safely assured by its investment in wind power.

    But what of the Danes, whose investment has been truly serious?

    I will tell you this: ChicagoBoyz is on the case.

  • IgotBupkis, President, United Anarchist Society

    > I guess my studying engineering many years ago was a waste of time. Just sight down your thumb and charge ahead without calculations!

    Ted, Ted, Ted, you just aren't getting with The Program. Liberals were inspired by reruns of The Music Man on TV many, many decades past: They use the Think System, invented by Prof. Harold Hill.

    They just THINK about how they want things to be, and Voila!! The universe provides!!

    "Fie on your engineering (attach high voltage sneer onto that last word)!" sez they. "Clearly, you just need to figure out the right incantations! And you'll never, ever manage that with your negative attitude. You have to learn to WANT these things. And if you can't learn that, then perhaps some... re-education... is called for!"

  • Gringo

    When wind energy is dispersed over a large area, the intermittent issue will be more likely to be averaged out than with a smaller area. Wind blows in area A, but not in Area B. Backup for B from A. As the US has much more area than Denmark or the UK or Germany, intermittent wind energy will not be as much an issue in the US.

  • Don Lloyd

    Although my memory is incomplete, I seem to remember that the Czech Republic was forced to ban the import of German wind-driven power a couple of years ago to protect its electrical grid from damage.

    Regards, Don

  • DMac

    Wasn't it just last month when the head of the National Grid said....UK families will have to get used to “only using power when it was available”.

  • Bryan

    If you follow the links through to the original paper, you'll see that it explicitly addresses the argument of "The wind is always blowing somewhere". Their analysis found that that is not true for Britain, and that in fact 'very low wind events' happened with fair regularity throughout the year.

    But let us accept that someplace like say the US West Coast is much bigger than Britain or Germany and that there will always be sufficient wind somewhere on the coast sufficient to generate at least a normal load on the turbines. If we were to rely on wind power without thermal backup, in order to have a stable grid we would need to maintain fully redundant capacity (and probably doubly redundant capacity) so we could be assured that no matter which region the wind is blowing in, there would be enough generating capacity on hand to supply not just that region but other regions as well.

    This of course represents a huge duplication of effort and a corresponding outlay of resources. If the cost of wind power generation were low enough, it could still be a viable solution, but my impression is that the cost of wind is not nearly that low.

  • tomw

    Ted Rado, I only proposed the use of water power storage as a way to use the intermittent wind generated electricity without having to ramp up and ramp down 'surge' sources. Given that Germany decreed,[much like is being proposed here], that XX% of the power must be generated by windpower, this seemed to me to be the best use of such power. It will be fed into the grid, so minimize its effect on generating economically using standard sources.
    Of course, that depends on being able to transfer the power, and having available storage beforehand. It would not pay to invest in them to use the intermittent power, but if they are available already...

  • perlhaqr

    Gringo: Ever heard of "transmission losses"?

  • Gayle


    Gringo: Ever heard of “transmission losses”?

    Or the insane idea that rural citizens of the US really do not want millions of acres of wind turbines cluttering up the landscape and killing birds to provide this mythical continuity?

  • IgotBupkis, President, United Anarchist Society

    > As the US has much more area than Denmark or the UK or Germany, intermittent wind energy will not be as much an issue in the US.

    perlhaqr and Gayle beat me to one point. Bryan sorta touches on another -- that in order to do what gringo suggests, the total number of turbines that must be placed in the field is enormous. These devices are hardly cheap. Producing 3,4,5 times as many of them just to produce "1x" the power is hardly an economically viable solution.

    The last one that everyone seems to have missed is noise pollution. These things ain't quiet, folks...

    You start putting them all across the landscape and you're not going to be amused with THAT, either.

    What gringo and virtually every other fan of Alternative energy doesn't get is the same thing as with money -- in order to get anything done, you basically have to concentrate it. Energy doesn't do work unless you can make it flow. That requires a high concentration of energy. Since wind and solar energy are so dreadfully dispersed, they really ARE NOT capable of being readily concentrated to make the energy do work.

    Likewise with money -- if you want to get a substantial project off the ground -- build a skyscraper, a large company, or a strip mall, you need a certain minimum concentration of capital -- that is, money -- and then that money has to flow somewhere. One of the real reasons for recessions and depressions is that people lose faith in their ability to get more money, and so they hoard it somewhat, keeping it in reserve for a critical need. And so the economy, driven by capital flows, grinds to a halt. It's a positive feedback loop, unfortunately, as the decreased flow makes the economy worse which scares people more which means they hoard which means the money doesn't flow which makes the economy...**

    **NOTE: This is NOT a defense of Keynesianism. Government "flows" of money don't
    1) occur in truth -- usually it's just "created" money, which has a deleterious effect on the economy all its own.
    2) have proper direction -- often they're directed towards makework projects rather than valued, worthwhile projects that natural market forces have developed.
    3) demonstrate efficiency of capital use. They encourage rent seeking rather than rational economic behavior.
    Q.E.D., the flows in question have to derive from natural, proper sources of capital formation. Allowing people to have more of their own money, encouraging businesses to expand or otherwise act in a "safer", more predictable economic environment is the best goals. Encouraging stability is the best way to allay peoples' fears about the short-term future of an economy.

  • Gringo

    If you follow the links through to the original paper, you’ll see that it explicitly addresses the argument of “The wind is always blowing somewhere”. Their analysis found that that is not true for Britain, and that in fact ‘very low wind events’ happened with fair regularity throughout the year.

    My point was directed towards the US, which is rumored to have be much larger in territory than the UK, so any point you make about the UK is irrelevant to my argument.

    Gringo: Ever heard of “transmission losses”?

    Yes, I have. I get wind power from hundreds of miles away.There will need to be an upgrading of transmission lines.Texas OKs New Wind Power Transmission Lines.

  • Gringo

    Or the insane idea that rural citizens of the US really do not want millions of acres of wind turbines cluttering up the landscape and killing birds to provide this mythical continuity?

    That’s right, Ted Kennedy didn’t want the Cape Wind turbines cluttering up the view from his Hyannisport compound. You agree with Ted, don’t you?

    Regarding bird kill, I suggest you read Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects. [National Academies Press]
    Having said the above, we provide here estimates summarized by Erickson et al. (2005) and estimates reported by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS 2002a). Those sources emphasize the uncertainty in the estimates, but the numbers are so large that they are not obscured even by the uncertainty. Collisions with buildings kill 97 to 976 million birds annually; collisions with high-tension lines kill at least 130 million birds, perhaps more than 1 billion; collisions with communications towers kill between 4 and 5 million based on “conservative estimates,” but could be as high as 50 million; cars may kill 80 million birds per year; and collisions with wind turbines killed an estimated 20,000 to 37,000 birds per year in 2003, with all but 9,200 of those deaths occurring in California. Toxic chemicals, including pesticides, kill more than 72 million birds each year, while domestic cats are estimated to kill hundreds of millions of songbirds and other species each year. Erickson et al. (2005) estimate that total cumulative bird mortality in the United States “may easily approach 1 billion birds per year.”
    Clearly, bird deaths caused by wind turbines are a minute fraction of the total anthropogenic bird deaths—less than 0.003% in 2003 based on the estimates of Erickson et al. (2005).

  • Gringo

    IgotBupkis, President, United Anarchist Society:

    What gringo and virtually every other fan of Alternative energy doesn’t get is the same thing as with money — in order to get anything done, you basically have to concentrate it. Energy doesn’t do work unless you can make it flow.

    Are you going to tell me that solar energy and wind energy in the Great Plains are of similar magnitudes of energy dispersion?

  • http://thegameiam.wordpress.com David

    I do think that using wind power to do things like pump water up to the top of municipal towers or other activities that don't require constant effort (perhaps hydrolyzing water to make hydrogen?) would be worth additional study - it's probably a useful solution to a corner case. However, as a first-line solution, wind power is terrible for all of the reasons you describe.

  • IgotBupkis, President, United Anarchist Society

    > Are you going to tell me that solar energy and wind energy in the Great Plains are of similar magnitudes of energy dispersion?

    I'm saying that if you don't grasp the elements of just how ridiculously small the energy gradient in solar OR wind power is, then you don't know enough to be vocalizing an opinion. Look at the numbers, stop thinking that it just takes some "notable but minor breakthrough" to "solve this problem". It's not an even vaguely trivial problem, and if anyone does manage to solve it
    1) He's going to be making both Bill Gates' and Croesus' combined wealth look like two-bit chiseling pikers.
    2) Change the world in some fairly dangerous ways (the kind of breakthrough suggested has secondary and tertiary implications which not only can't we imagine but we can hardly even guess at -- anarchy is not impossible)
    3) Win multiple Nobel prizes for making Einstein grade developments in physics AND engineering (and yes, I know there isn't a Nobel for Engineering. For him, they'll create one).

    The amount of solar energy striking the earth ANYWHERE is barely adequate to get any useful energy out of it. In the back-of-the-envelope calculations I made -- not even vaguely technical, very optimistic, and easily followed by the average Joe, in order to replace 100% of the US power grid you have to cover a land surface area of NOT LESS THAN 4/5 of the entire state of Delaware! Only 20%? Ah, so covering 1/5th of the entire state is A-OK with you? And this is either solar cells (identical, currently, with producing computer chips, a remarkably filthy process with massive amounts of toxic waste AS-IS just for making lots of tiny little CPUs, but you're talking about ramping it up to literally billions of square meters -- "clean solar" indeed) or mirror-concentrators, along with any and all physical support infrastructure to keep the mirrors/cells facing the sun for maximum functionality.

    And let's not ignore cleaning them -- constantly... because even a 10% film can reduce output by 40% or more. Biggest cause of accidental death in the USA after autos? Try "falls". Gravity is a bitch. "Safe Solar" indeed.

    Gringo, you don't know what you're talking about, PERIOD. You want to believe, but it's simply not there. The energy is like that in lightning. Largely useless. The effort -- the human-time/energy expenditure -- required to actually concentrate it together to the point needed to derive useful work from it is greater than the useful work derivable from it.

    Wind and Solar will ALWAYS require very heavy subsidies in order to compete at all, and will ALWAYS involve hiding a substantial aspect of the problems associated with them in order to fool people into thinking they are worthwhile.

    This really isn't debatable.

  • Gringo

    Gringo to IGotBupkis
    Are you going to tell me that solar energy and wind energy in the Great Plains are of similar magnitudes of energy dispersion?
    My point, which admittedly could have been expressed better, is that wind energy and solar electric energy have vastly different economic profiles. I have been paying for wind energy in my household for 7 years at prices that are comparable to what has been charged for fossil sources. Solar electric energy would have cost much more.

    From nuclearfissionary.com, which is hardly an advocate of wind energy.

    Nuclear and coal are tied at $0.04 per kWh. This comes as a bit of a surprise because coal is typically regarded as the cheapest form of energy production. Another surprise is that wind power ($0.08 per kWh) came in slightly cheaper than natural gas ($0.10 per kWh). Solar power was by far the most expensive at $0.22 per kWh—and that only represents construction costs because I could not find reliable data on production costs.

    The wind energy cost profile in the above article is roughly equal to what I have been paying for wind energy for the last 7 years.

    The WSJ articleWind Power Hits a Trough also shows that wind energy is much more cost effective than solar electric energy. It also shows that wind energy can be competitive with more conventional energy sources. Contrary to the above source, it shows wind energy as competitive with coal-fueled electric energy.

    The Energy Information Administration projects that, in 2016, the cost of producing electricity from a new wind farm will be about equal to that from a new gas-fired plant in the windiest parts of America's midsection, such as the Dakotas and Colorado. It forecasts that producing wind power still will cost about twice as much as producing gas-fired power in less-windy places such as the Mid-Atlantic coast and the Southeast.

    Build them on the Great Plains, not where the wind doesn’t blow.

    Without renewable-energy mandates, Horizon's Mr. Alonso says, most wind farms would be built only where they are economically competitive: in the nation's midsection. That, he says, would mean that wind "wouldn't become a sustainable source of growth for the country."

    I would not agree here with Mr. Alonso. Build wind turbines on the Great Plains, where they are competitive, not where the wind doesn’t blow.

    Gringo, you don’t know what you’re talking about, PERIOD.
    Then go ahead and refute the above sources. If you can do that THEN you can correctly claim that I don’t know what I am talking about.

    That you do not appear to distinguish in cost effectiveness between wind energy and solar electric energy just might indicate that YOU do not know what you are talking about.

    I found it rather comical that you spent about half your time in your previous comment making the case against solar electric energy when nowhere did I indicate that I was at present in favor of vastly increased use of solar electric energy. The only mention I made of solar electric energy was to make an implied comparison between it and wind energy. Nothing you wrote about solar electric energy changed my mind about it. I already agreed with you about solar electric energy. It is currently nowhere near being a cost-effective electricity source. See the above links.

    I am also in favor of increased use of nuclear energy. I am not in favor of green mandates to kill off coal-fueled electric energy. Similarly, we need to drill offshore and in Alaska. The sleazy operations of BP should not be used as justification to damn an entire industry, especially since at Macondo BP violated accepted industry procedures in many ways.

  • TaxSlave


    Your sources have already been discounted. Wind power is not useful without backup or storage. If you have to build backup, it's cheaper (because more efficient) to just use it as primary and forgo the build costs and maintenance of wind. Storage is lossy (and so is transmission over extremely expensive distribution infrastructure).

    Bottom line: if wind power made sense, they would be using it to produce wind turbines. But they don't. Because it doesn't make sense. You need an abundant supply of cheap, reliable power to produce anything, and that includes wind turbines.

    Wind makes sense where it makes sense, and not elsewhere. Invent a super storage battery, and it might gain a little on real fuel sources. Until then, it's a tool for statists. Why don't you make some aluminum with wind power and tell us how it works out for you?