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Al Fin

Al Fin

Al Fin runs a number of very successful blogs that cover, energy, technology, news and politics.

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Why Big Wind Power Won’t Work

Obama's regime and faux environmentalists around the globe have been gung ho over big wind power farms for years now. And every time anyone takes a close look at the economics and the details of wind energy, they come back to the same fact -- wind doesn't work.

The operating characteristics of turbine and generator mean that only a small part of wind energy can be captured.

Wind power is also intermittent, unreliable and hard to predict. Therefore large backup or storage systems are required. This adds to the capital and operating costs and increases the instability of the network. Wind farms are uniformly hated by neighbours and will not be willingly accepted without heavy compensation payments. Their noise, flicker, fire risk and disturbing effect on domestic and wild animals are well documented.

The wind is free but wind power is far from it. Its cost is far above all conventional methods of generating electricity. Either taxpayers or consumers will pay this bill.

...Electric generators achieve maximum efficiency at their design capacity. This is planned to suit the "average" wind speed, and the generator produces maximum safe output at this speed. If the wind drops, so does the power generated. If the wind rises, the energy generated is limited to the design capacity of the generator (by varying the pitch of the blades) and at some point the generator is shut down to prevent burnout. So the generator cuts off all the high-energy infrequent wind, in order to capture the maximum energy from the winds expected by the turbine designers at that location. These unavoidable operating characteristics of the turbine also reduce the power generated.

...Wind energy promoters usually quote the maximum attainable output as the capacity of the wind farm. This is the maximum power that could be produced if ideal winds blew all the time at all turbines (the 100% level in the figure above). However, this needs to be multiplied by the "capacity factor" to get the actual power likely to be generated. Because of the variable winds and the energy unable to be captured by the generator, the capacity factor lies in the range 25% - 35%. However it can be much lower. UK offshore wind rarely exceeds 20%.

In summary, wind power is very dilute and it takes a huge area of land to collect significant quantities of energy. Then vagaries of the wind mean that only a small proportion of the wind energy can be captured by the blades. Then only a proportion of this energy is converted by the electrical generator into electrical energy.

...In the recent frigid snap in Britain end 2011, when power demand was at a record high, the average power generation from Britain’s wind developments – the majority of which are in Scotland – was just about 11% of the total possible of 2,430 MW. On 30 Dec 2010 UK's 3,000 operational wind turbines produced only 0.04% of the country’s power. There were days when the contribution from Scotland's forests of wind turbines was precisely nothing. At times it was even worse than that. As the temperature fell to record lows, the wind turbines had to be heated to prevent them seizing up. So, at a time when all Britain needed every bit of power, the wind industry was using more electricity than it generated.

...Depending on the vagaries of the weather, wind power produces anything from zero to 100% of design capacity. This change can come in a short time and affect large areas of land. Therefore, to maintain grid stability and the ability to supply customer demand for continuous electricity, every wind farm has to have a backup generating facility for 100% of the wind capacity, and this backup must be able to swing into production immediately.

It is even worse than that. Suppose a wind farm is producing an average of 50 MW, but varying from zero to 100 MW. The backup has to be able to handle both changes, namely a drop of 50 MW and an increase of 50 MW. So basically, you have to have 100 MW capacity on spinning reserve, but running at 50% so that you can increase or decrease power by 50 MW. So the backup facility has to have TWICE the real rated capacity of the wind farm. Imagine what this does to the capital, operating and maintenance costs if the power company is forced to include wind power in its inventory.

Only hydro power and gas have the ability to sit idle until needed and then swing into production swiftly. Coal and nuclear could do it but at great cost – all fired up, idling, using fuel, but not producing saleable electricity. Even for gas or hydro, a backup facility incurs the full additional capital cost which has to be recovered from a lower output of electricity. Any sensible person would say "If we have to spend all that capital to build a gas/hydro power plant, why not use the reliable plant full time and forget about the costly, intermittent and un-predictable power from wind towers?"

The unreliable Danish wind farms only survive because they call on hydro power from Norway and Sweden to step in at short notice when wind fails. Then they sell excess wind power produced at times of low demand back into the Scandinavian grid.

...A wind tower is a massive industrial plant. Each turbine requires a foundation of almost 1,500 tonnes of concrete and a base of about 5 acres. Each structure stands nearly 200 metres tall and they could be as close as 140 metres apart. UK has a plan to generate 30% of its electricity from renewables by 2020. For wind power to do this would require about 15,700 wind towers. At 140 metres apart, they would stretch from the north of Scotland to the south of Spain.

...And it is unsafe anywhere near them. Lumps of ice, burning embers, and broken blades get slung off and towers collapse. In one case, a broken blade was flung through the window of a house over 5 km away.


...Danish electricity consumers pay higher prices than any other Europeans. And well before they could repay the initial capital, the wind towers are reaching the end of their life and will need to be replaced. Not one coal power plant has been replaced by wind power. It is doubtful if all this community pain and suffering has reduced carbon dioxide emissions. It has certainly caused no measurable improvement to global climate and has brought great environmental damage and human worry. The sorry story of wind power in Denmark is mirrored in Spain, Hawaii and California. _ WattsupWithThat?!?!

If you want to understand the modern clusterfuck of big wind power, read John Droz' presentation on wind power, Ted Rockwell's Energy Facts PDF, and David MacKay's Without Hot Air.

Such documents changed the minds of Al Fin energy analysts about big wind, as you will see if you go back far enough in the archives. Al Fin engineers particularly hate the idea of placing fine machines out in the elements to be tortured and destroyed long before their time. This has been particularly true of offshore wind installations, where fine turbines and gearboxes are exposed to salty spray, wind, and the constant inertial stresses of wind, wave, and storm.

By. Al Fin

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  • Anonymous on February 16 2011 said:
    More propaganda from the proponents of "kill he planet no matter what it costs". I live in Denmark and we are proud that 25% of the electricity produced is by wind. No one here has been killed by a Wind turbine, as opposed to the number of people killed either mining coal or breathing the fumes. Besides, we are taking control of energy production, making us independent of looney dictatorships and at the same time creating employment domestically.So, get sensible, drop your sponsors in the coal and oil industry and think about the planet for a change.
  • Anonymous on February 16 2011 said:
    The article has a good point, but doesn't argue it properly. Wind energy is important for the future energy mix and we need more of it in the US, especially offshore; HOWEVER wind does not provide adequate base load power. The only option for this in the future is nuclear.
  • Anonymous on February 17 2011 said:
    WINDFAN NO. 1, I might of course be wrong to bring this up, but the last time I looked Denmark was a major consumer of coal. Of course, what they would really like is to get most of their electricity from the hydro and nuclear in Sweden, and the hydro in Norway, but they are too hypocritical to attempt to do that.
  • Anonymous on February 17 2011 said:
    WFDenmark boasts of the highest electrical utility rates in Europe. And much of that is not due to Danish 25% wind generated power. When the wind does not blow, that 25% is purchased from Norway and Sweden on the spot market. Danish taxpayers foot that bill.I will agree that Norway and Sweden are not controlled by looney dictators, but control of your energy production you do not have. You buy your coal from Germany and your gas from Russia. Unless you control the wind, you control nothing.If oil and gas production, foreign and otherwise is destroying your planet, then best to rid yourself of their evil influence before you presume to lecture the rest of us. Please update us on how far you get.
  • Anonymous on February 17 2011 said:
    I am a completely neutral researcher and observer of energy technology and policy. I do this as a hobby. It's a fun and interesting field to follow. But I've got to say, pieces like this are pathetic. This was a complete bull***t article. What a joke. Could it have been any more of an ideologically driven, cherry pick the data, twist the facts to support your narrative worthless, waste of my time. If you support conventional petroleum based energy systems and are opposed to something like wind than at least present the facts and don't treat me, the reader, like some uneducated idiot. What a waste. This was a propaganda piece. Next time present the facts in an unbiased manner both for and against and let your readers actually use their own intelligence to come to a conclusion. We don't like being spoon fed nonsense. Again, what a waste.
  • Anonymous on March 14 2011 said:
    Jonathan writes:However wind does not provide adequate base load power. The only option for this in the future is nuclear.Jonathan, are you willing to defend nuclear power in the wake of the disasters in Japan?Owing to what I'm anticipating will be(I'd like to emphasize, this does not mean I want) overwhelming opposition to nuclear power in the wake of what happened in Japan, I've given a lot of thought to windmills. Unfortunately windmills do have consequences, such as people objecting to the whoosh-whoosh-whoosh sound they make, flickering shadows, and bird kills. I would like to ask everybody the question: If we are to abandon nuclear power for all time in the wake of what happened in Japan, are YOU willing to put up with windmills near YOUR home?
  • Anonymous on March 14 2011 said:
    Big wind energy is a joke and a scam. :-* Placing fine machines out in the harsh elements to break down after a few years -- when they were never able to provide reliable energy under even the best circumstances -- is a cynical and corrupt political exercise.No one is dying from the Japanese reactor damage, whereas 10,000 died from the earthquake and tsunami. Billions will ultimately die if viable energy supplies are banned by gullible or cynical politicians out of misguided priorities and a vision of distorted proportions.
  • Anonymous on March 14 2011 said:
    Good point, Alfonso. Problem is, how does one convince people of that? For myself, I would feel more comfortable with a nuclear power plant near my home than I would with a coal-fired power plant or windmill farm. In Michigan there is the possibility we may have an earthquake someday, but not a tsunami. So nuclear would be the way to go, if I and others of like mind could convince environmentalists.
  • NR on March 01 2012 said:
    If wind works so well.. why are there 1400+ dead turbines in the USA


    Oh and by the way I live in the state of Texas which has the highest wind electricity production in the USA, so much wasted time and effort on an intermittent power source.

    Solar is at least marginally predictable (although inefficient but getting better) Wave is very predictable but hard to harness, Hydro is only base line "green" power option at this time.

    As for the comments against Atomic Power, using the Japanese Tsunami and earthquake as a base line seems to be a bit on the extreme side. The Atomic reactors of the near future are much more stable then the LWR designs in present use.
  • Jennings Cunningham on October 12 2014 said:
    Just stop subsidizing energy and deregulate the industry and let the free market determine what energy we use. People will buy the cheapest energy they can get. That will lower the energy prices for the poor. If it's wind mill then so be it, if it is nuclear then so be it, it it's oil and natural gas then so be it. If an industry has to be subsidized then it is not going to be effective in my opinion.

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