Every. Single. Time.

Every single time that wind power installations are evaluated based on their actual performance, they turn out to make no economic sense.  Consumer Reports comes to the same conclusion for their wind power trial (and this does not even include the issues of standby power that make even small wind power savings irrelevant to CO2 production).

But if you're considering a wind turbine to supplement your home's power, consider our experience with one product, the Honeywell WT6500 Wind Turbine, a cautionary tale....

A tool on Windtronics' website had calculated we'd get 1,155 kWh per year at the 12-mph average it predicted for our area of Yonkers, New York. And the authorized installer, during his initial visit, didn't say the roof of our headquarters might generate any less, but that rating is at a height of 164 feet, not the 33 feet WindTronics requires for rooftop installations.

In the 15 months since the turbine was installed, though, it has delivered less than 4 kWh—enough only to power a 12,000 btu window air conditioner for one afternoon. A company representative in charge of installations worldwide recently visited our offices and confirmed that our test model was correctly installed. What's more, he told us that while the WT6500 should start generating power at about 3 mph, the initial juice goes just to power the system's inverter, which must be running before it supplies any AC power elsewhere. The true wind speed needed to start producing AC while the inverter is on is 6 mph, not far from the 7.5 mph needed by a traditional gearbox wind turbine....

At the rate the WT6500 is delivering power at our test site, it would take several millennia for the product to pay for itself in savings—not the 56 years it would take even with the 1,155 kWh quote we received.

  • me

    Smells like shoddy reporting.

    Reading the article, they installed a wind turbine with a relatively low rating (160kW) in a residential area in New York. If you look at wind speed maps for the US, you can see that wind speed is mostly below 4 m/s (wind harvesting peaks at 7 to 8 m/s). Wind turbines are usually installed with about 20x height unobstructed runway windward and 5x for lee; upwinds and turbulence from buildings are major impediments to efficiency. Looking at the google map for the install location, it looks like it has plenty of each. Looking out of my window, I can see a few dozen turbines generating 2MW on average.

    What's next from consumer reports? "Water power generation surprisingly doesn't work in the desert?" or maybe "Fraud! Cars don't run without gas!!"?

    TLDR: It helps to not be entirely incompetent at setup when testing a complex system. :)

  • bob sykes

    Texas monitors electrical generating facilities of all types. They report that modern wind turbines produce electricity only 8.7% of the time. This is probably typical for well-sited and properly installed land systems.

    Several miles away from my home in Central Ohio, a family installed a turbine to support their farm. The tower is 100 ft high, its blades sweep out a circle of 24 ft diameter, and sits on a cleared hill top 1440 ft above MSL. This is the highest point in the county. The turbine spins only about 10% of the time or less.

    Even in the very best sea shore sites turbine work only about 30% of the time. That means that all turbines are really natural gas-fueled conventional electrical systems with a very small and pointless wind power add-on. Considering the inefficiencies of intermittent start up and shut down, the natural gas system would perform better without the wind turbine small supplement.

    Wind power like solar power and ethanol and biodiesel is criminal fraud. It exists only because of very heavy government subsidies to the manufacturers. The users get no benefits.

    And since every organic source of ethanol and biodiesel diverts farmland from food crops, those forms of electric power are also immoral.

    PS. My family has a 600 ac corn and bean farm in Illinois.

  • Agammamon

    Me -

    From the details in the article, they installed the turbine according to the guidance the dealer provided. Windtronix provided data from an irrelevant windmap (windspeeds at an elevation much higher than they would install the turbine at) which leads the customer to believe the turbine is more useful than it really is - I'd say that this is in effect fraud.

    Its mostly irrelevant though - the fact that at the stated power production it would still take *56* freaking years to pay off is enough to show that the turbine was a waste of money. That's almost twice as long as it would take to pay off the house itself. If you bought your last house as young as 25 you might have the turbine paid off by the time you died.
    And who's willing to bet that the turbine won't require maintenance during that time or that it would last for much beyond 25 years anyway, starting the cycle of payment over.

  • Sam L.

    Quel Suprise! Especially since the CR folks are known to be far-right conservatives and Global Warming Deniers of the highest ranks. (Sarc on or something.)

  • me

    @Agammamon - I won't argue that the company in question isn't full of incompetent or outright malicious douchebags. I do doubt that anyone with even a bit of common sense would expect this scenario to work out,. My point was that drawing the conclusion that wind energy is noneconomic based on the analysis of the article is incorrect.

    @Bob - Wind energy harvesting has a peak efficiency at 7-8 m/s wind speeds. The reason is that turbines are shut down at high wind speeds to avoid damage; I am right now travelling in an area with hundreds of windpower generators on every available square kilometer of surface area, and I can assure you that they are turning pretty much without interruption throughout the day and the night (they actually shut down some due to limited network capacity). It's not a solution for every place, but where it works, it works quite well. As always, it pays to do due dilligence and not to trust a hawker with a vested interest in sales.

    (For interested parties - the problems with availability of wind energy get much better when energy is generated across a larger reason (evens out local variability). In addition, availability increases during the day and during winter, matching local energy consumption patterns)

  • MingoV

    @me: The German government erected a system of large wind turbines in a futile effort to reduce coal consumption. The average efficiency of their expensive system was 9%. They will never pay for themselves because they can barely generate enough electricity to cover maintenance and repair costs.

    Texas has scores of wind turbines generating electricity. They operate at less than 15% efficiency and will never break even.

    The huge wind turbine farms you talk about are more expensive than an equivalent natural gas powered electricity generating plant.

  • Ron H.

    me -

    What do you mean "shoddy reporting"? Did you really read the articlet? CR used a tool on the manufacturer's website to calculate their needs for their location. They ordered a model that met those needs based on the sellers claims and it was installed by a professional. What would you expect a consumer to do differently when considering such a device? Your comment seems to indicate that the buyer did everything right but should have known better, and it's their fault that they didn't get what they expected and paid for.

    The CR article adds just one more crack in the crumbling notion that wind is a viable source of energy, and your comments, if anything, reinforces my conviction that it's a waste of time and money - especially taxpayer's money.

    As Coyote says: Every.Single.Time.

    It seems you are convinced beyond question that wind power is the future, and if someone finds a problem with that shiny image it must be their fault or they must be mistaken.

    Why do you suppose wind power was abandoned centuries ago when something better - steam engines - came along? It was inferior then and it's most certainly inferior now, except for small niche applications like pumping water for livestock.

  • IGotBupkis, Legally Defined Cyberbully in All 57 States

    @ me: Sorry to jump on the bandwagon, here, but this isn't "shoddy reporting". They're doing the deed of actually testing and placing in place a tool which is purported by some to be able to do a specific job with specific demands -- the fact that rational thought says "No Way!" is irrelevant... unless you put it to the test, you can't SAY "No Way!". You can only say "Not bloody likely!", to which the proponents will say "If you haven't done it you've got no facts upon which to base your opinion."

    They're putting your most likely true "Not Bloody Likely!" to the test, which has a certain desirable quality all its own...

    Now, sit down, or I'll sic Zombie Feynman on your ass. :^D

  • IGotBupkis, Legally Defined Cyberbully in All 57 States

    I'd also point out that those large-area windfarms cause substantial ecological damage in terms of birds killed (many of them raptors, a fair percentage of which belong to endangered species -- in some cases faster than their replacement values) as well as bats (the overpressure of the blades causes their little lungs to positively explode when they unwarily come near). Then you should also grasp that they involve certain rare precious metals which are not found in large quantities in the USA, meaning we're trading our dependence on oil for dependence on another material in scarce supply. Ohhh, yeah, that's a great idea...!!

  • me

    @Ron - good point, it turns out I read the linked installation article instead of the August one and blew a gasket at the implication that one case of installing a low-rated turbine in an area that obviously makes no sense was proof positive that wind power generation is futile (probably more a consequence of the headline here than in the source material). The latter piece is pretty much just the "douchy manufacturer hawks useless product" as you point out, which sums it up nicely. Note that the conclusions you draw (given that one turbine installed in a residential area on a building was infeasible, the entire idea of generating power from wind is ludicrous) is exactly the unsupported overgeneralization I mistakenly read into the article.

    @IGotBupkis: I believe you mistake my assumptions (and I do wonder to which degree the set supposition that "wind power can never be efficient" leads to blindness to facts in this discussion); no power generation is ever without ecological impact. The impact of wind power is, however, relatively minor compared to coal, oil, etc. I do not see a dependence problem on foreign sourcing similar to oil - the dependency for a specific type of generator ends after installation, whereas oil is dependent on constant resupply (which comes with it's own impact on cost - those middle eastern wars aren't cheap, even if you go two-for-one). As for the history of wind power, it was given up as a means to generate flour from grains locally based on the tech available two centuries ago; today's uses are rather different in terms of efficiency and purpose.

    Regarding the feasibility of wind power generation: I am right now touring an area with pretty extreme wind power generation; it works here. In total, renewable energies supply a significant percentage of the energy needs of a highly industrialized nation (25%, 9% of which were windgenerated).

  • bob sykes

    Here's a link to the recent economic analysis of wind systems by Prof. Hughes at Edinburgh U.:

    http://thegwpf.org/images/stories/gwpf-reports/hughes-windpower.pdf

    In sum, wind power costs about 10 times what conventional power costs, and its natural gas backup systems release more carbon dioxide (because of intermittency) than a pure natural gas system would.

  • Rick

    me
    Your assumptions are wrong on several levels. Fist of all wind power is not most efficient at 7-8 mph but at 20 mph, a huge difference. Most commercial windmills barely produce power at 7-8 mph. Secondly, many large wind mills use grid power to keep their blades turning during low wind periods so they don't deform.

    Is your location a secret? Why don't you tell us where you are so we can see the numbers ourselves?

  • Ted Rado

    Yes, wind power works. You CAN generate electricity with wind. Aside from the economics of wind power itself, there is the problem of backup. Only open cycle gas turbines can be started quickly. The lower efficiency compared with conventional thermal power plants uses up all the energy saved when the wind blows. Thus, no net benefit or reduced CO2.

    If you want to replace more energy then the 30% max in the prairie, you need energy storage. This is entirely unfeasible. (Yes, it is possible at immense cost).

    The Spaniards have stopped solar and wind subsidies and those industries are collapsing.

    What is always needed is a TOTAL system study. This includes not only the wind turbines, but standby, storage (if needed), etc. Pulling out one slice of the pie and ignoring the rest verges on the criminal.

  • Ron H.

    @me

    "Note that the conclusions you draw (given that one turbine installed in a residential area on a building was infeasible, the entire idea of generating power from wind is ludicrous) is exactly the unsupported overgeneralization I mistakenly read into the article."

    Perhaps I wasn't clear. I certainly haven't drawn a conclusion about wind power from the CR article. I have studied wind power extensively enough to determine that it *just doesn't work* as a viable replacement for conventional energy sources, as many others have pointed out to you in this comment section. The CR article is just one more reminder of the problems involved and your attacking the messenger - CR - doesn't help your case. As Coyote wrote - "Every.Single.Time" - the numbers just don't work.

    Your observation that you see turbines spinning isn't much of an argument in favor of wind power.

    Neither can you claim that a technological breakthrough might happen at any time. The physics are pretty well understood, and the limits to harnessing wind power are very close. That's also true of PV solar power, by the way.

  • IGotBupkis, Legally Defined Cyberbully in All 57 States

    }}}}} The impact of wind power is, however, relatively minor compared to coal, oil, etc. I do not see a dependence problem on foreign sourcing similar to oil - the dependency for a specific type of generator ends after installation, whereas oil is dependent on constant resupply (which comes with it's own impact on cost - those middle eastern wars aren't cheap, even if you go two-for-one).

    This is based on the notion that the wars in the ME are about oil, which is just a patently stupid hoary libtard meme so execrably risible that I'll not bother to refute it. Oil certainly contributes, but the wars in the ME are about an ideological clash between Western Civilization and Islamic barbarism.

    >>>>> The impact of wind power is, however, relatively minor compared to coal, oil, etc. I do not see a dependence problem on foreign sourcing similar to oil - the dependency for a specific type of generator ends after installation, whereas oil is dependent on constant resupply

    Bat pucky. Raptor puckey too. Coal and oil don't directly kill off endangered species.

    More significant, coal and oil actually diminish the demand for the alternatives -- wind and solar -- appreciably... the contrary is not true for wind and solar re: C & O.

    Further, we HAVE our own supplies of O, C, and NG. At least one of the precious metals (Iridium? I forget, and don't feel like chasing it down) used in the windings of these wind turbines have NO significant known sources in North America or any of our close allies. So we become entirely dependent on a nation with a chance of substantial negative attitude towards us (Hint: China. Isn't that... special?) for something that, IF it actually worked worth a damn, would still make us even more vulnerable to getting cut off than we are with regards to oil and coal.

    >>>> Regarding the feasibility of wind power generation: I am right now touring an area with pretty extreme wind power generation; it works here. In total, renewable energies supply a significant percentage of the energy needs of a highly industrialized nation (25%, 9% of which were windgenerated)

    By all means, provide us with a link to those statistics. My guess is that they are heavily subsidized and the actual cost to the consumer in increased taxes results in them paying FAR more for electricity than anywhere with a modern industry, whose government is not enamored of the "alternative energy" folderol. We can exclude members of OPEC for that calculation, too. OR you're talking about France, which, with its nuclear program, is hardly a valid example of an "alternative Green energy" nation...

  • IGotBupkis, Legally Defined Cyberbully in All 57 States

    }}}} Note that the conclusions you draw (given that one turbine installed in a residential area on a building was infeasible, the entire idea of generating power from wind is ludicrous) is exactly the unsupported overgeneralization I mistakenly read into the article.

    Right. You have to actually do it, in order to prove it doesn't work. Your real name "NancyP", by any chance?

    How's about this -- YOU are the one claiming Wind Power is cost effective.

    YOU show us an example of an installation where it's cost effective, satisfactorily available on-demand, and paying itself off within the same sort of time frame one normally expects from a similar level of capital investment -- without extensive subsidies and with any expensive external power support to maintain on-demand availability figured into the "cost effectiveness" data.

  • IGotBupkis, Legally Defined Cyberbully in All 57 States

    And, LOL -- while this may be a rare occurrence (no data either way) it does note a hitherto unconsidered potential issue (H/T: Anti-Green)

    With County Supervisors poised to consider approval of Tule Wind and a wind ordinance that could open much of fire-prone East County to wind energy development, a wildland fire that started at a wind turbine facility in Riverside County last month provides fuel for opponents concerned about fire risks posed by industrial-scale wind projects. “The fire started with the windmill itself,” Captain Greg Ewing with Cal Fire/Riverside Fire Department informed ECM today.

    Despite extensive area cleared around the base of each turbine, Ewing said, the blaze still spread into a wildland fire that swiftly engulfed 367 acres. If not for prompt reporting by a witness, it could have been far worse.

    Full article here

    Certainly Cali and Texas are both well-known development areas for wind power. Both are also VERY noted for dry seasons with substantial potential for wildfires, in case you haven't noticed before this...

  • Ron H.

    Me:

    Now you've done it. IGotButkis is really agitated.

    Come on, let's have that link, and maybe a credible business case for wind power. I'm sure he'll calm right down if you provide those.

  • Not Sure

    "I do not see a dependence problem on foreign sourcing similar to oil - the dependency for a specific type of generator ends after installation..."

    Are replacement parts never needed for repairs?

  • me

    Ah, another fruitful discussion on the coyoteblog :)

    I'll just throw out a few quick notes on account of being in a terrible hurry, and I'll start with apologies to Bob, I'll look at the link once I have time again.

    The area I am staying in (Northern Germany) isn't a secret, not sure where you guys got that idea from. In fact, come visit and you might not only see some astounding amount of renewable energy being generated but also find out that beer can in fact be way better than you previously thought possible.

    Here are the quick notes:

    Spinning constantly was refuting an earlier argument (power generation not being feasible because turbines mostly sitting idle)

    7 m/s is roughly 17 mph, so the math is not far off.

    Total average replacement part cost, volume and labor over the lifetime of a wind generator being less compared to total fuel consumption plus maintenance over the lifetime a traditional generator is a bet I'd take.

    Wars in the middle east - there are plenty of barbaric nations all around the planet, IGB, why do you believe we spent 3T and counting on wars specifically in this area with its bounteous oil reserves? The us currently produces about 40% consumption for oil, GWB called it a national security concern. Not sure how much more explicit an American president would need to get.

    Subsidies and a total system study: that would indeed be very interesting, especially to compare different methods of generation. It's amazing what you'll find in hard numbers about subsidies, especially for the oil and nuclear industry, even if we're not counting the wars.

    Essentially the cost profiles are different (upfront investment vs consumables supply cost), the regulatory profiles distort the actual business cases (aforementioned subsidies pre and post tax, difficulty of costing the total system of fuel acquisition and disposal), the risk profiles are different (what is the sum total of all externalized costs like environmental impact?) and the political implications (dependence on foreign oil, centralized vs decentralized supply) are, you guessed it, different. The point being that for any sufficiently complicated process with sufficiently high number of variables, you can fit the data to any thesis ;)

    Last but not least, because I've spent way more time on this already: http://translate.google.de/translate?sl=de&tl=en&js=n&prev=_t&hl=de&ie=UTF-8&layout=2&eotf=1&u=http%3A%2F%2Fde.wikipedia.org%2Fwiki%2FErneuerbare_Energie&act=url

    It's the google translated link to the wikipedia article on renewable energy in Germany, should give some starters and supplies recent numbers (first half year of 2012 saw 25% of all energy used in Germany generated through renewable sources like Wind). Disproves the "it cannot be done on scale".

  • dearieme

    We took a train trip in N Germany a few years ago. The wind turbines weren't turning, except for the occasional brief spasm. We finally realised that the spasms occurred when an eddy from the train hit the turbine. So the turbines were drawing power from the grid.

  • Ron H.

    me

    I see it's pointless to continue, as you don't plan to provide any serious support for your argument in favor of wind power, but instead you favor demolishing strawmen.

    You really should make that good business case though, as I suspect IGB is still upset with you. Please use real numbers, and don't leave anything out.

    Yours isn't just a "reduce CO2 at all costs" argument, is it?

  • me

    Goodness gracious, no. I was upset with the conclusion "windpower cannot work" drawn from "we installed one small turbine in a suboptimal location". Logical fallacies get a rise out of me any time (cf http://xkcd.com/386/). The CO2 debate raging in the banking houses of this world is a pretty despiccable grasp for the next big bubble.

    My beef is with the knee-jerk arguments thrown over the fence (can't work because they never stand really turn, can't work due to variations in wind power, can't work on scale, ...), so I am refuting those.

    I'd love to see a full business case for renewable power generation, comparing it to oil, nuclear and coal; think a full accounting comparing different forms of energy generation on full cost for buildup, maintenance, fuel acquisition and decomissioning. Unfortunately, I don't have room in the margins to write one up myself. ;)

    The discussion is complex and therefore rather politicized (just take a look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cost_of_electricity_by_source and note the difference in estimates based on the political leaning in the domain of origin)

    Barring an unbiased fact-driven evaluation, the features that make wind in particular attractive are local sourcing and the consequent reduction of dependence on imports, well contained risk (local mechanical damage + loss of power generation), ease of maintenance and low ecological impact (might damage individual animals; will not cause cancer along fuel transport routes, devastate coast lines or render prefectures uninhabitable for centuries).

    Let me note in passing that subsidies for non-renewable energy generation to this day outweigh subsidies for the new kids on the block (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_subsidies), so this is not purely a matter of regulatory distortion.

  • Rick
  • Ron H.

    @Rick

    "German Win Energy Plans In the Doldrums"

    Gotta love this:

    "Paradoxically, RWE will initially have to resort to diesel-powered engines to keep the sensitive rotor blades and gear mechanisms turning until the power line has been completed and the turbines can become operational."

  • dr kill

    Shorter me--

    spinning blades are pretty

  • me

    *G* Yeah, a friend of mine works on turbine installations and has a lot of unfriendly things to say about the folks failing their responsibilities for connecting up to the power net and the wisdom of outsourcing mission critical components outside of the country.

    I just discovered that have a comment waiting on moderation above (too many links?), I'll just provide the summary for Ron and others looking for a response - while I don't much care about wind power, I care enough to set right incorrect arguments against it. As for business cases, I'd love to see comparative studies including full systemic studies as well. IMHO, wind power has some very interesting attributes in that respect, one of which is that the vast bulk of the cost of power generation is in building the initial devices (as opposed to fuel acquisition, maintenance, risk management or decommissioning).

  • Ted Rado

    Yes, the Germans (and others) generate a significant amount of power via wind/solar. The question is: how much fuel did they actually save? If gas turbines are used for backup, or conventional power planr are used for rolling standby, the savings in fuel are nil (or negative). One study showed that the Dutch saved nothing by using wind power.

    What is needed is a comparison of actual fuel use (coal, gas, or oil) per KWH (from all sources) as the wind/solar ramped up. If 25% 0f the energy was from renewables, the fuel use will have dropped by 25%. Has anyone seen such data? If the renewable proponents are so proud of their work, they should publish the data.

    All my calcs re standby show no net saving. A study of the Colorado power company efforts to chase the wind with conventional steam boilers showed it saved no fuel and was a disaster re pollutants.

    Power companies are forced by law to take the wind/solar power and cope with the swinging load problems as best they can. If left to themselves, they would probably not buy a single KWH of wind/solar power.

  • Ron H.

    @me

    The business case is the *entire* case. As almost everyone else on this thread has pointed out, there doesn't appear to be any savings in fuel, CO2 emissions, money, or any other justification for replacing reliable sources of electricity with unpredictable wind power. The fact that it must be mandated and subsidized is a further argument against it. If you have data that shows otherwise, let's see it, as you've been repeatedly asked. You have offered nothing substantive to refute the claims made against wind power on this thread except your opinion. "In my opinion", as you write above isn't good enough. You will need to do much better if you wish to be taken seriously.

  • me

    Precisely (see arguments about cost above). If you kindly summarize full systemic studies on oil, coal and nuclear energy and add some links, I might be motivated sufficiently to take the same time to do this for you for the case of wind. ;)

    I am not setting out to convince anyone that wind is useful; that's a thing markets will solve in the long run. I am just informed enough to be in a position to correct some of the more egregarious groupthink mistakes in arguments against it. I don't see any remaining arguments against wind in this thread that I haven't responded to, except for requests for hard data. I'd love to help you find some, but, quite honestly, thats a substantial tasks for any of the forms of energy discussed. (ie: the lack of hard data does not constitute a strong point in favor or against of any means of energy generation - it reflects the cost of creating such a comprehensive document).

  • David

    Before installing a wind turbine, a homeowner must concentrate on some key points. Along with the average wind speed of the location, he also needs to consider the structure and location of his establishment. Normally, the wind turbines need to be installed at a open space free from tall trees and buildings. Also, the equipments have to be installed as high as possible to generate more energy. But you must consult a professional before investing in a residential wind generator. The online information cannot be used as the sole criteria to choose and install a right wind turbine with the intention to meet your average energy needs.