Free Markets, Free People

For wind power advocates, reality delivers bad news

Again I feel compelled to say, “hey, if we can develop a feasible and affordable clean alternative to petroleum, I’m all for it”.  But, we’re not even close in most areas, such as wind power.  Obviously I and everyone else hope we can develop this particular technology to take advantage of a natural phenomenon to generate power, but for then next few decades we really need to be exploiting what works – oil and gas. 


Well here’s a little wind power reality:

A new analysis of wind energy supplied to the UK National Grid in recent years has shown that wind farms produce significantly less electricity than had been thought, and that they cause more problems for the Grid than had been believed.

The report (28-page PDF/944 KB) was commissioned by conservation charity the John Muir Trust and carried out by consulting engineer Stuart Young. It measured electricity actually metered as being delivered to the National Grid.

So, as usual, theory and predictions were “significantly” off base.  The assumption, and probably the selling point, was that wind power would deliver 30% of its maximum capacity over time.   But it hasn’t:

Average output from wind was 27.18% of metered capacity in 2009, 21.14% in 2010, and 24.08% between November 2008 and December 2010 inclusive.

Apparently the new target output should be figured around 25% over time or worse.  And note it has gotten worse over time.

Another critical part of this is when it delivers power.  You’d want it at peak use periods wouldn’t you? 

At each of the four highest peak demands of 2010 wind output was low being respectively 4.72%, 5.51%, 2.59% and 2.51% of capacity at peak demand.

The way UK wind farmers make money and stay in business is through Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROC) or what we would call carbon offsets.  They sell them to more traditional power generators who need them and the trade is quite lucrative for the wind farmers (in fact, ROCs make up the bulk of their income).  The end result is higher prices electricity, both from wind power and the added cost to traditional power generation the ROCs impose.

And – Catch 22 – high electricity prices make the conversion to electric transportation, heating and industrial use less feasible and affordable. 



15 Responses to For wind power advocates, reality delivers bad news

  • It is clear from this analysis that wind cannot be relied upon to provide any significant level of
    generation at any defined time in the future. There is an urgent need to re-evaluate the
    implications of reliance on wind for any significant proportion of our energy requirement.

    That’s brutal.

    I’m horrified that most global warming folks including scientists  still claim that we are going to handle future energy needs with hundreds of thousands of square kilometers filled with wind or solar generators, when both remain unproven technologies at the necessary scales of power to run modern civilization.

  • Until we can find some relatively efficient way of storing electricity, it will be extremely difficult to meet a variable electrical demand with a variable electrical source such as wind or solar.

    • Yep. Actually impossible I think. The problem is an energy storage and regulation problem, and current tech can’t get there. If we get past that, we still have the problem that these “solutions” will have trouble providing sufficient energy at reasonable cost.

      • can’t we ask the moonponies to hold on to it for us till we need it?
        Seriously though, store it as potential energy instead of chemical.  Use it to pump water up to some height to run through turbines when needed.   Yes yes, I know, how much water, stored where?  and “not in my back yard”.
        Having done my part, the engineers can now discuss why it won’t work, or the enviros can explain why that won’t be acceptable because it will upset some species of fish, bird, moose or amoeba.

    • Just think of the massive amount of power that a “grid capacitor” (for lack of a better name) would have to contain ..  the envrio-nuts would never let you build it because it could probably be used as a weapon of mass destruction.

      • “You can’t build that here!!!  Don’t you know that compacticors cause brain cancer????”

  • Bah! I looked into fixing up my home with both wind and solar way back in 2001. It was obvious once you looked at the costs/benefits that it was a scam, and that was even counting the tax break I would have got. 

    If I remember correctly the overall cost was going to be near $60,000, but it would still not generate enough energy to reduce my average electric bill more than about half. And that was when I was living in an all electric home.

    Then there was the wear and tear, it seems that solar panels, and especially windmills are very susceptible to storm damage, and just try to get insurance on them.

    • I had a similar ephiphany: the cost of quite a lot of “green” home technology, including such things as solar panels, solar water heaters, ultra-insulating windows, etc. tend to be far greater than the potential returns.  As a friend of mine pointed out when I was waxing ecstatic over some sort of gas-filled, triple-pane, e-glass windows, the amortized costs are greater than the potential savings in utility bills.  Yes, I suppose that one could take solace in knowing that (somehow) he’s saving the environment or reducing demand on foreign oil or some other feel-good goal, but the economic fact is that green building tends to be a luxury.

      • I had solar hot water (I’ll call it a booster) years ago in Massachusetts, you couldn’t, except in the heat of summer, get hot water hot enough from the panels alone, but the system was pretty simple – all you got was a boost so that you spent less energy getting the water up to ‘hot’. On an average day in winter it would take the water temp from whatever the lakes were holding to about 80 – considering that was often a 40 degree difference, that was 40 less degrees of water temp I had to burn oil to get to.  It did cut the oil bill quite a bit – we used forced hot water to heat the house.
        But replacing the system to run ALONE and get hot water?  I’m sure would have been much more expensive and complicated.
        People need to focus on the idea that the natural systems can help save energy they would have expended through some other means, not assume their natural system can completely replace ‘the other means’.  Therein lies the problem, we want our miracles.
        And unfortunately, the way Dear Golfer is going with stopping us from harnessing our native petrol resources, it may actually get cost effective.   Nothing like the government showing up ‘to help’ is there?

    • I kept seeing the long amortization periods and tried to imagine how these devices would last long than a roof tile without periodic upkeep .. which cost more money.

  • As most know by now, I am a market capitalist kinda guy.
    Markets work.
    If wind power…or other “sustainables”…was a winner, the market would BE THERE already.
    When you see ANYTHING where a billionaire like Pickens goes into rent-seeking mode, you know it is a boondoggle.
    When you see ANYTHING like a Volt that requires heavy subsidies (and they still won’t sell), you know it is a central planning lemon.
    And, when you see a light bulb backed by Federal law, you see the witch-doctor religion of Gaia establishing taboooooos.

  • You Boo-birds! that’s because Obama hasn’t ordered the moonponies and unicorns to hover in front of the turbines and generate wind.
    Once he does that, and equips the cars with sails, followed by moon ponies to fill them, all will be well.
    In the meantime, get used to your $4.00/gal gas and stop whining, this being President and running the country stuff isn’t easy you know.

  • Looks like an engineering problem to me.
    People want the power to come straight from the windmills to the grid, but if you want steady power, it needs to be collected at a staging point.
    Then you send power from the staging point to the grid as needed.

    • Yes, I agree.  The question is: how to store the power?  Huge battery or capacitor banks?  Some sort of flywheel gizmo?  Hell, even pumping water to the top of a tank and letting it flow down to spin a generator might be feasible.

      Natch, I don’t think the greenies have thought of this.  Rather, it’s more like:

      1.  Build windmills*

      2.  ???



      (*) Except where they might spoil the view from the Kennedy compound or one of Jean-Francois Kerry’s houses, chop up too many birds, make too much noise, etc., etc.

      • Curiously Joe Kennedy’s public remarks opposing the Mass. wind farm was that the electricity would be too expensive. He was right. Though one can wonder whether things would have been different if the view from Martha’s Vineyard had not been affected.