April 27, 2011

If Not Wind Then What?

There was once a time when "No" was a respected and essential side of an argument. Classical debates are still based on one side supporting a proposition and the other side not. Support of the proposition requires mustering proofs to show its validity. Opposition requires showing it to be invalid, unsupported by solid proof. "Questioning", after all, is one definition of "proving", i.e., testing. It is the essence of intellectual inquiry.

Now, in the age of marketing, such proof of a proposition is no longer expected, much less required. The proposition is that you have a solution to some problem, but only the existence of the problem can be questioned (though such questioning is then scoffed at: "head in the sand!"). Rather than burdening yourself with having to prove that your product is indeed a solution, you turn the burden on to the antagonist: not to question your proposition, but to provide an alternative proposition.

This is no longer logic, much less science. It parallels religious faith. An atheist can not argue with a believer, because the believer needs an alternative: not "no god" but rather a different god.

And so we come to large-scale wind energy on the grid.

We have a fossil fuel crisis, due to either dwindling supplies or the ill effects of burning it. We also have large-scale wind turbines, which generate electricity without burning fossil fuels. Ergo, by illogical leap, the latter must be a solution to the former.

And anyone who notices that the evidence supporting the proposition is not only weak but even absent, is denounced as a naysayer, a stooge for coal, a climate change denier. Rather than prove the proposition, the marketer demands the questioner to come up with something better: If not wind, then what?

But the question is: If wind, what? It is not enough to simply assert that wind-generated electricity entering the grid reduces the use of and emissions from fossil fuels. The proposition requires numbers, data, real-world experience to show how much fossil fuel is burned per unit of electricity consumed before versus after the addition of wind power on the grid.

Since I first sought to learn more about large-scale wind energy 8 years ago and noticed the striking absence of such numbers, thus calling into question the entire enterprise, the situation has not changed. Arguments are churned out to prove the soundness of the theory, but actual data regarding fossil fuel use remain missing. The theory is not to be tested, i.e., proven.

(The theory leaps from the essentially true statement that "one kilowatt-hour of wind-generated electricity displaces one kilowatt-hour of electricity from other sources" to impute that that "one kilowatt-hour of wind-generated electricity displaces the fossil fuel otherwise required to generate one kilowatt-hour of electricity". This ignores fossil fuel burning while not generating electricity — e.g., in spinning reserve — and by less efficient operation. That is why actual numbers are needed to test the imputation.)

The heretical fact appears to be that not erecting giant wind turbines does as much good as erecting fields and fields of them. In other words, the endless erections on every hill and dale do not do much, if any, good at all.

So the question is indeed, If not wind then what? But it is for wind's proponents to answer, not those who have tested their claims and found them to be invalid.

See also:  'Saying "yes" to wind — or the new hat'

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism