May 9, 2011

The 1% (or rather less) solution

It is commonly stated by the wind industry and their enablers that wind energy represented 35% of all new generating capacity in the U.S. in the past 4 years, or since 2007. This claim comes from the American Wind Energy Association's annual market report for 2010, which was released last month. It costs $550, so the only information publicly available is from the April 7 press statement.

The only relevant figure provided is that 5,116 MW of wind added in 2010 represented 26% of all new electric capacity that year. A small graph in the press release shows that coal also represented almost exactly the same percentage, whereas about 40% of new capacity was for natural gas.

Is this meaningful? According to the Energy Information Administration, total summer generating capacity increased from 2007 to 2009 (the last summary figures available) by 3.3%. So wind capacity added barely 1% to the country's electric capacity.

But wind capacity is very unlike conventional capacity. The latter can be called on at almost any time for its full capacity. Wind turbines, in contrast, produce only at the whims of the wind. Their average generation over a year is between 20% and 35% of their capacity. And for the grid, their capacity is effectively nil, because they can not be called on to provide power in response to demand.

Meanwhile, electricity consumption actually decreased slightly (about 0.5%) from 2007 to 2010.

So why the push (let alone the boasting) to industrialize ever more rural and wild places?

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism