July 9, 2009

Anti-wind arguments still standing

According to Friends of the Earth UK, a new report that they commissioned from energy consultant David Milborrow "scuppers anti-wind arguments". Greenpeace, the World Wildlife Foundation, and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds also helped pay for it. Click here to download the "Managing Variability" report.

They must be chagrined that the report actually underscores anti-wind arguments.

For example, the summary states, regarding the intermittency, variability, and unpredictability of wind: "This extra uncertainty means that additional short-term reserves are needed to guarantee the security of the system" (p.3). As every utility and grid manager admits, every potential new megawatt of wind requires a new megawatt of backup dispatchable power.

The heart of the report examines ways to reduce that requirement somewhat (by requiring other additions to the grid). Following are brief comments on this section.

Section 5: Mitigating the effects of variability [i.e., the many other expensive developments necessary to "integrate" wind]

5.1 Wind forecasting. At best, this improves hour-ahead forecasting of average output, but cannot predict, let alone improve, the minute-to-minute variability of wind.

5.2 Higher productivity from offshore wind. Offset by higher costs and failure rates.

5.3 Demand management. A small potential effect, particularly as wind is effectively negative demand as far as the grid is concerned.

5.4 Energy storage. As yet nonexistent on a large scale, it would likely double the cost of wind energy while adding a significant layer of inefficiency (i.e., much less energy is extracted than is put in).

5.5 Additional international connections. "effectively increasing the size of the system" (p. 20) (and increasing costs). In other words, effectively reducing the percentage of wind energy -- this is how Denmark claims 20% wind, because their wind production accounts for less than 1% of the international grids they are part of.

5.6 Electric cars. Theoretical only, and if a significant number of people are dependent on electric cars, it would actually augment, not mitigate, the problem of wind's intermittency and nonpredictability.

5.7 ‘Smart grids’ and the growth of de-centralised generation. That is, hope that whole pieces of the grid operate more on their own.

5.8 Electric space and water heating. Idiotic. Solar and geothermal power are the obvious choices for heat production (and cooling).

5.9 The hydrogen economy. Only here does the report recognize the theoretical status and uncertain costs. Hydrogen, in the present context, however, is only a storage medium, and thus would serve to substantially reduce the energy available from wind.

5.10 Overall effects. "It is quite possible ..." There is not even a pretense of method in estimating costs. Purely made-up numbers.

Section 6: Experience elsewhere

6.1 Germany. "Some problems have been reported, leading some observers to assume that difficulties there reflect universal problems, but this is not the case." Whew. Note that Germany's typical capacity factor for wind of 14% -- the basis for this report's dismissal of their experience -- is not substantially lower than Denmark's 18%.

6.2 Denmark. The report acknowledges that "Denmark has transmission links with Germany, Sweden and Norway and the power exported over these links often mirrors the wind energy production" but then ignores this by simply adding the size of those links to the capacity of domestic thermal plants to claim that Denmark still gets 13% of its electricity from wind. The fact remains that exports coincide with wind production. Denmark's efficient combined heat and power plants actually make it impossible to accommodate large amounts of wind. It is notable that Denmark has not added any new wind capacity since 2003.

In conclusion, wind is a diffuse inefficient resource whose integration requires a Rube Goldberg–like collection of measures (most of which don't even exist) which only add to its inefficiency and industrial impact -- underscoring the madness of big wind.

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism, animal rights, human rights