Wind Power: an Insanely Costly Exercise in Pointless Futility

Scoreboard-2

Robert Wilson is a PhD Student in Mathematical Ecology at the University of Strathclyde. Robert has a had a little stab at getting behind the greatest fraud of all time; although he’s on the right track, he doesn’t quite get there, as we’ll explain below.

Why wind farms can be relied on for almost zero power
Robert Wilson
The Energy Collective
17 November 2014

Modern society is fundamentally dependent on a reliable and on-demand supply of electricity. This electricity comes almost entirely from burning coal and natural gas, fissioning uranium or by large hydro-electric dams. On aggregate, these power plants can be relied on to supply electricity around the clock; a reliability that would seem miraculous to people living only a few centuries ago when light availability was completely dependent on whether the sun shone.

Wind farms, however, cannot currently provide this reliability. In fact, on the scale of most countries aggregate wind farm output can be assumed to have almost zero reliability. In this sense, every wind farm must have a fossil fuel power plant sitting in wait for when the wind does not blow.

Let me begin by unpacking a banal statement: All power plants need back up. A century of technical innovation has resulted in electricity grids that are ultra-reliable by any reasonable standard, but power plants still cut off on occasion; they are vastly complex industrial machines and things will sometimes go wrong. When a power plant does goes off-line, others will respond by changing their output. In this sense, all power plants are backed up by each other.

Coal power plant outages, however, are always independent of each other. I live in Scotland, and the probability of Longannett power station – a short drive from where I live – going off-line at exactly the same time as Drax power station – a 3 hour train journey away – is close to zero. The same cannot be said for wind farms.

Anyone who regularly watches weather forecasts knows that wind speeds over large areas, e.g. the whole of Britain, are closely linked. If you are comforted by the claim that “if it is not windy in one place, it will be windy elsewhere”, I suggest you watch a weather forecast.

How much the aggregate output of countries’ wind farms varies can be discovered by looking through spreadsheets produced by grid operators And the lesson is clear: In every country aggregate wind farm output often goes close to zero. I will illustrate this for Britain and Germany.

Wind farms can reliably supply less than 1% of installed capacity

Britain is perhaps the windiest country in Europe; while Germany is more or less the least windy. In 2009, Boccard estimated that the average capacity factor of Germany’s wind farms was 18.3%, while in Britain it was 26.1%. In other words 10 GW (GW = billion watts) of installed capacity in Britain will deliver about 2.6 GW on average, but the figure will be 1.8 GW in Germany. Recent production data in Germany and Britain indicate that these are still reasonable estimates. (Britain’s government publishes annual figures here.)

How much does wind farm output vary in these countries? Let’s look at Germany first.  Last year the power output of Germany’s wind farms peaked at 26 GW at 6 pm on the 5th of December (see technical note for details of calculations). In contrast, minimum power output of Germany’s wind farms was 0.128 GW at 2 pm on the 4th of September. Minimum power output was therefore only 0.5% of maximum power output. Not quite zero, but not much higher either.

GermanyOverall, Britain has a much better wind regime than Germany, with higher average wind speeds and fewer lulls. However, it also sees periods of close to zero wind.

Britain’s total wind farm output peaked at 6 GW at midnight on the 21st of December. Its output reached a minimum of 0.025 GW at 11 pm on the 16th of June. The minimum was therefore only 0.4% of the maximum.

Britain installed some new capacity between June and September. However, the lesson is reasonably clear; Britain and Germany’s aggregate wind farm output can be expected to go below 1% of total installed capacity with reasonable regularity.

The day of the peak in Britain is also notable for another reason; it shows how much wind farm output can vary in a single day.  By the end of that day wind farm output was 1% of what it was at the start of it. As the graph below shows output went from around 2.5 GW to almost 0 GW in a single day. This is a switch from average output to almost zero output in 24 hours.

britain

 Wind farms should be viewed as fuel savers

The immediate consequence of this is that wind farms cannot be total replacements for fossil fuel or nuclear power plants. If we build wind farms, we need to acknowledge that we will also need conventional power plants to be ready to increase their output when wind farms produce almost no electricity. This will hopefully change with future innovation in energy storage or with the erection of continent sprawling super-grids, but it will likely remain the case for a while to come.

Wind farms, then, should be viewed as “fuel savers”. When they are generating electricity they save fuel, and CO2 emissions, because you need to ramp down a fossil fuel power plant. In other words, they displace electricity generation from fossil fuel power plants, but not the power plants themselves; the power plants will largely still be needed for when it is not windy.

This, of course, does not mean that we should not build wind farms. The benefits that result from the carbon dioxide emissions saved by wind farms are obvious. Similarly, wind farms are among the most economical ways of generating low carbon energy.  However, the role wind farms will play in an energy system should be acknowledged. Anyone advocating the large scale expansion of wind farms must recognise that they will have a large number of fossil fuel power plants on the side. Advocating an expansion of wind farms, while opposing almost all new gas power plants, as some environmentalists do, is either hypocritical or a display of ignorance of basic engineering realities. As the great physicist Richard Feynman said, “For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled.

Technical notes

1. Wind farm output covered in the above graphs does not cover all wind farms. Some wind farms are not “visible” to the grid, and are not reported in these statistics. Because I am only interested in variation, not absolute numbers, the exclusion of some wind farms should not be material.

2. Data is taken from PF Bach’s website, who has aggregated the data from the German and British grid providers.

3. Calculations were performed using R and plotted using the package ggplot2.

The Energy Collective

Not a bad little first effort there, from Robert. However, when he talks about wind power being a “fuel saver”; and claims that wind power generation reduces CO2 emissions, he hasn’t quite come to grips with the practical operation of base-load generators (ie coal and gas-steam plants) – that don’t stop burning fuel when the wind is blowing and wind power is adding more than a doughnut to the grid.

Nor has he got a handle on the need to have highly inefficient Open Cycle Gas Turbines and – especially, in Britain’s case, massive banks of diesel generators ready to fire-up in a heartbeat to cover routine, total wind power output collapses:

Delingpole On Fire: Exposes $Billions Spent on Diesel Generators for Wind Power Backup

Bobby thumbed a “Diesel” down …

As we have pointed out just once or twice – the need for 100% of wind power capacity to be backed up 100% of the time by fossil fuel generation sources means that wind power cannot and will never amount to a meaningful power generation source.

And, for the same reason, nor will wind power reduce CO2 emissions in the electricity sector (see our posts here and here and here and here and here and here and here).

E.ON operates numerous transmission grids in Germany and, therefore, has the unenviable task of being forced to integrate the wildly fluctuating and unpredictable output from wind power generators, while trying to keep the German grid from collapsing (E.ON sets out a number of the headaches caused by intermittent wind power in the Summary of this paper at page 4). Dealing with the fantasy that wind power is an alternative to conventional generation sources, E.ON says:

“Wind energy is only able to replace traditional power stations to a limited extent. Their dependence on the prevailing wind conditions means that wind power has a limited load factor even when technically available. It is not possible to guarantee its use for the continual cover of electricity consumption. Consequently, traditional power stations with capacities equal to 90% of the installed wind power capacity must be permanently online [and burning fuel] in order to guarantee power supply at all times.”

STT is happy to go all out and say that in Australia wind power requires 100% of its capacity to be backed up 100% of the time by conventional generation sources.

In just one example, on 3 consecutive days (20, 21 and 22 July 2014) the total output from all of the wind farms connected to the Eastern Grid (total capacity of 2,952 MW – and spread over 4 states, SA, Victoria, Tasmania and NSW) was a derisory 20 MW (or 0.67% of installed capacity) for hours on end (see our post here). The 99.33% of wind power output that went AWOL for hours (at various times, 3 days straight) was, instead, all supplied by conventional generators; the vast bulk of which came from coal and gas plants, with the balance coming from hydro.

For wind power to reduce CO2 emissions in the electricity sector it has be a true “substitute” for conventional generation sources. Because it can’t be delivered “on-demand” and is only “available” at crazy, random intervals (if at all) wind power will never be a substitute for conventional generation sources (see our posts here and here).

Never mind that there hasn’t been a shred of evidence produced anywhere in the world to show that wind power reduces CO2 emissions in the electricity sector – probably because all the evidence points in the opposite direction (see our post here).

As to Robert’s “hope” that all this will change in the future when, somehow, a cost effective means of storing electricity in bulk magically appears, it’s just that: hope.

output vs demand

****

Wind power apologists have been talking about storing electricity generated by wind farms (usually at night, when there’s no market for it) and feeding it into the system to match demand for over 30 years; while at the fantasy level almost anything is possible, the economics of energy production says otherwise:

The Economic Storage of Wind Power is a Pipe-Dream

And that’s where Robert’s analysis runs aground, more generally. He’s happy to see more wind power capacity built, but, in the same breath tells us that we’ll have to have an equal amount of gas generating capacity built to match.

No mention of the capital cost, or the need for investors to recover a handsome return on that cost; no mention of the added fuel costs; and no recognition of the fact that, without conventional generation capacity, we would all be sitting freezing (or boiling) in the dark, praying to the wind Gods for a little breezy, power mercy.

With the advent of steam power and, later, the internal combustion engine, wind power quickly became recognised for what it is: a pointless source of power for growing, modern economies – which was happily abandoned in the 19th Century for that very reason.

Aeolus1

About stopthesethings

We are a group of citizens concerned about the rapid spread of industrial wind power generation installations across Australia.

Comments

  1. bettyhill says:

    Wind Energy Generation: The $500 Billion Global Fraud – The British People and those across the world are Being Totally Conned and Absolutely Misled by our Politicians with an energy policy that is based upon predominantly, hot-air, for Wind Turbines are sheer economic madness in the long-term – http://worldinnovationfoundation.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/wind-energy-generation-british-people.html

  2. Jackie Rovenksy says:

    I have been noting the performance of the Grid connection IWT’s for a little while now, by logging their performance at different times of day on different days, sometimes I may record more than once a day.

    Here are some random recordings by State of MW’s being produced at times noted:

    Output in MW : 27.2.15 9.48am
    SA 105
    Victoria 0
    NSW 77
    Tasmania 10

    Output in MW: 27.2.15 4.28pm
    SA 132
    Victoria 100
    NSW 10
    Tasmania 79

    Output in MW: 26.3.15 10.20am
    SA 766
    Victoria 813
    NSW 423
    Tasmania 80

    Output in MW: 27.3.15 4.07pm
    SA 68
    Victoria 357
    NSSW 511
    Tasmania 141

    Output in MW: 4.4.15 8.13am
    SA 148
    Victoria 76
    NSW 197
    Tasmania 65

    Output in MW: 4.4.15 1.29pm
    SA 55
    Victoria 78
    NSW 224
    Tasmania 81

    Total MW Registered Capacity:
    SA 1441
    Victoria 1183
    NSW 651
    Tasmania 308

    I have not yet recorded a single time when a site has produced 100% capacity. They may have at times when I have not logged on to take a recording, but may have reached capacity on days of excessive winds – for a moment. But not for a consistent period that would suggest they can meet their capacity on a regular basis.

    Almost the whole time I have been logging on to take recordings I have recorded far less than 50% of capacity from every site. One day in February I recorded Waterloo as performing at 99%, and Hallett 2 at 94% and the Bluff at 88%, these were at 10.37pm.

    Wonder if people got up switched on all their electrical appliances and went to work so the energy being produced wasn’t wasted?

    At Portland it was stated (by an industry representative) that there is no need for constantly running backup as wind conditions can be predicted and the fossil fuel etc. backup is informed ahead of time when it will be needed and that’s when they ‘fire-up’ to be ready!

    Obviously if this were true, then considering the records I have been keeping this will be necessary many times a day, and you could say from minute to minute, which would make constant back up an absolute necessity.

    Such irrational comments made to the Senate Inquiry just shores up what people have been saying for a very long time, these companies and their supporters are delusional, and in need of a dose of truth serum.

    • “At Portland it was stated (by an industry representative) that there is no need for constantly running backup as wind conditions can be predicted and the fossil fuel etc. backup is informed ahead of time when it will be needed and that’s when they ‘fire-up’ to be ready!”

      Jackie, to a limited extent this comment has some validity but, typical of the wind industry, it only looks at the very tip of a large iceberg.

      The balancing plant that can be “fired-up” at short notice is typically either open cycle gas turbine generators or Diesel generators.

      These forms of generation are highly inefficient, emitting lots of CO2 plus significant amounts of harmful pollutants like NOx SOx and particulates.

      Not only that, but the cost of generation from OCGT and Diesel can range anywhere from thirty to hundreds of times more per megawatt hour than normal coal fired generation.

      Coal generation also can provide limited amounts of balancing power but when forced to operate in this abnormal mode it operates inefficiently burning more coal per megawatt hour of electricity produced and emitting more CO2.

      As rational means of generating electricity wind power comes up very much as a “dead parrot“.

  3. Bob Brown's Lament says:

    I trust James Lovelock on industrial wind energy.

    He would support it – “if it worked”.

    It is a fundamentalist Green delusion that does not care for the rural landscape and communities it fractures and tears apart.

  4. One such period of low wind output in the UK was 9th Sep 2014. The average output from all UK wind on that day was 280 MW. [ The total wind electricity delivered that day was: 6,711 MWh ] Back then, the nameplate capacity for all UK wind was: 12.562 GW (according to DECC). So, UK wind turbines only averaged 2.2% of nameplate capacity. (figures were downloaded from GridWatch, with ½ as much added again for non-metered wind).

  5. Martin Hayles says:

    As you have pointed out, Robert is nearly there but lacks a little understanding. He is not completely across his brief.

    This goes the same with different people who know they do not want to have windmills near them because of legitimate reasons, but feel the need to nearly apologise by the statement “We are not opposed to windmills in general” yada yada yada.

    I have witnessed this from within by the well intentioned but slightly misguided.

    I witnessed this at the Federal Senate hearing at Portland on Monday. Just not quite across their brief.

    Quite frankly, Industrial Wind Turbines suck. Full Stop.

    They are not fit for purpose.

    They do not achieve the benchmarks they are supposed to.

    They are not reducing coal usage.

    Carbon Dioxide levels are rising but temperatures are not; and have not for nearly two decades.

    This brings into question the veracity of global warming which is the only, apparent, ‘reason’ for windmills.

    If CO2 levels are rising, but global temperatures are not, there is no point in windmills; therefore I am against windmills. Full Stop.

    They are a blight on the landscape.

    Go to beautiful Cape Bridgewater and deny it.

    They are wasting human and financial capital.

    Yes, in building them a few people are employed, materials used and goods produced. But, this argument could be used for a myriad of human endeavour.

    They are a danger for firefighting aircraft and, therefore, a danger to people.

    The argument by the CFS/CFA that they are like any other physical obstacle is fallacious.

    We do not have trees 150-200 metres tall.

    We do not have communication or electrical towers of these heights spread across thousands of hectares of cropping country, that regularly has catastrophic fire days, and on occasion has catastrophic fires.

    For this reason alone the Ceres wind farm project should never have been given approval.

    The CFS is just doing the bidding of its political masters.

    John Rau as planning minister has his signature on the planning approval of Ceres, yet 54 conditions of approval have not been met.

    What is the point of a planning approval process requiring conditions to be met before approval is given, but then giving approval whilst they have not been met?

    Whilst not suggesting anyone has taken part in corrupt behaviour it is self-evident that the planning approval process has become corrupted.

    Quite literally, it stinks as only the corrupt can.

    They make the use of agriculture aircraft problematic and, therefore, are a further pressure on our foodbowl. Another danger to people.

    They are making people sick. There is no doubt that this is occurring. Therefore, they are a danger to people.

    They are killing large numbers of raptors and displacing the endangered Southern Brolga. They destroy bats.

    They are destroying harmonious communities. Another danger to people.

    These reasons alone encourage the statement “We are against Wind Farms”; and make opposition to the great wind power fraud both perfectly acceptable and reasonable.

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