June 23, 2012

Wind and Coal and Natural Gas

So how's it going, the reduction of fossil fuel emissions with the expanded erection of industrial wind? Today I looked at IEA data for electricity generation in the U.S., which I haven't done since a few years.

From 2006 to 2010 electricity from coal went down 139.8 TWh, from natural gas up 165.4 TWh, and from wind up 68 TWh. Overall generation went up 55.3 TWh.

If anything is replacing coal, it is obviously natural gas, whose increase seems to be proportional to that of wind.

Natural gas emits about half of what coal does, and without particulates, so that is indeed an improvement. The practice of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to get more natural gas, however, is certainly a worrying one, and the emissions and widespread contamination from fracking may well cancel any benefit of switching from coal to natural gas.

Furthermore, there are different kinds of natural gas–fired turbines: open-cycle and combined-cycle. The latter can be about twice as efficient as the former. But because wind turbines are also being erected, the less efficient open-cycle gas turbines must be used, because combined-cycle gas turbines can not power on or ramp their output quickly enough to balance the fluctuating power generated by wind.

In summary, wind is not doing much at all to reduce fossil fuel emissions, and may well be responsible for less reduction than is possible without wind. That only makes industrial wind's own environmental and social impacts that much more unacceptable.

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism