July 6, 2008

20% wind by 2030

The U.S. Department of Energy, in a recent report sponsored by the wind industry, says that it is possible to achieve 20% wind "penetration" by 2030.

Accepting the possibility as valid (which it isn't without massively increasing grid interconnection and excess non-wind capacity), what does that mean?

The Dept. of Energy estimates that electricity production will be 5,397 billion kilowatt-hours in 2030, or an average rate of 616,096 megawatts (MW). Twenty percent of that is 123,219 MW. With a capacity factor of 25% (the ratio of actual output to rated capacity), 492,877 MW of wind turbines would have to be installed.

There is currently about 20,000 MW of wind capacity installed in the U.S. (according to the American Wind Energy Association, 16,818 MW were installed by the end of 2007). So more than 470,000 MW more is needed, more than 21,000 MW a year, a rate of building more than four times that of 2007's record breaker.

Each megawatt of wind turbine capacity needs at least 50 acres around it. An installed capacity of 500,000 MW needs 25 million acres, or 39,000 square miles. With the space requirements, and because the machines are huge (now pushing 500 feet in total height), visually intrusive, and noisy, most of them would be erected in previously undeveloped rural and wild areas, along with heavy-duty roads, transformers, and new high-capacity transmission lines.

And after 2030: then what? Electricity demand will continue to grow. If it grows 2% per year, then 10,000 MW -- and more each year -- of new wind turbines would have to be erected every year after 2030 to keep their nominal share at 20%.

But here's the real futility: When the wind isn't blowing, we'll still need full-capacity backup generation -- the grid has to be planned as if the wind plant isn't even there, because quite often it won't be, especially at periods of peak demand. In other words, there won't be any less coal or nuclear, and probably a lot more natural gas (which is better suited to balancing the fluctuations of wind energy production).

The call for 20% wind by 2030 is for a colossal boondoggle that would drastically alter the landscape, adversely affect wildlife, and not significantly change anything for the better.

wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms, environment, environmentalism, human rights, animal rights, anarchism, anarchosyndicalism, ecoanarchism