September 6, 2004

High time to strike back

Windpower Monthly, in its September editorial, is alarmed at the public reaction in the "has-been island" of Britain against the government's aggressive pursuit of wind power.
"Anti-wind power sentiment boils down to four main concerns: [1] that wind turbines spoil attractive landscapes and wildlife habitat, [2] that when the wind stops blowing so does electricity supply, [3] that only vast arrays of turbines can provide enough power to make a difference, [4] that wind power is expensive.

"The concerns are easy to counter.

[1] "Environmental opposition crumbles in face of the alternatives: global warming, storing nuclear waste, unproven renewables, or living with power shortages. That is why mainstream environmental groups like Greenpeace back wind."
Note that the charge is not denied but is argued to be worth it. Unfortunately, there is no sign anywhere of wind power bringing about a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, nuclear power, or blackouts. It is a false choice. With or without wind power, the same energy problems remain, so it is not at all necessary to despoil the few wild places left for humans and other animals.

It must be remembered that nuclear plants provide nonfluctuating base load, which wind power -- even by the claims of the sales brochures -- would never impact. And most greenhouse gas emissions are from burning fuel for needs other than electricity, which again wind power would have no effect on.
[2] "The technical concerns have no foundation. More than 40,000 MW of wind power stations daily demonstrate that wind makes a significant contribution to electricity supplies and lower greenhouse gas emissions. The lights stay on without dedicated back-up power -- even in regions where for periods wind meets total demand ..."
40,000 MW of installed wind capacity translates to an output of about 87,600 GWh/yr (assuming a capacity factor of 25%). World energy use in 1990, according to the U.N.'s International Panel on Climate Change, was 106,645,000,000 GWh. Wind's "significant" contribution represents eight 100,000ths of that.
[3] "[I]f a small land like Denmark can get 20% of its electricity from wind turbines without being overrun by them, so can other countries."
Denmark is overrun, so much so that even the government has noticed and has stopped development of any more on-shore facilities. And Denmark does not get 20% of its electricity from the wind turbines. The turbines may produce that amount, but more often than not demand does not rise with the wind, so the extra electricity is exported to Norway and Sweden, where they can use it to pump hydro, and to Germany, which is large enough to absorb it. The western Denmark transmission company, Eltra, exports 87% of the wind energy in their grid, according to their 2003 annual report.

Eltra also says that for every 1000 MW of wind capacity added to the grid, 300-500 MW of back-up power has to be made available. That is, at a 25% capacity factor for wind, 1.2-2.0 times as much "conventional" power dedicated to making the "free and clean" wind power work. Such back-up power can not be the newer cleaner more efficient plants, because they are not able to respond quickly enough to the rapid fluctuations of wind-generated power. So wind power not only requires at least an equal amount of back-up, it also ensures the continuation of less efficient plants to provide that back-up.
[4] . . .
The editorial skips the last charge about expense. Later, it admits the charge by urging developers to work on changing the subsidy and "renewables obligation" structures to try bringing down the cost.