The Wind God’s New Clothes: Why Weather Dependent Power Generation Can Never Work


The wind’s fickleness is no mystery to kite flyers and sailors, yet wind power still gets pumped as if it’s cutting edge technology.

Those few places attempting to run on nature’s wonder fuels have become economic debacles. One of those, RE ‘superpower’, South Australia has suffered routine load shedding for years, and rocketing power prices. South Australians pay the highest power prices in the world and SA is the only Australian state to suffer a statewide blackout.

South Australia’s maniacal obsession with wind and solar power sees it pick up a special mention in the pointed little video above, and is further detailed in this brilliant piece by Kenneth Haapala from the US of A, below.

The Wind God’s New Clothes
Capital Research
Kenneth Haapala
22 May 2018

Part 1: The Electrical Revolution

In recent years, many politicians and promoters have claimed that wind and solar generated electricity are the obvious choices for the future. Yet, as sources of “alternative energy,” wind and solar are ultimately unreliable; both depend on the weather, which, as everyone knows, is changeable. Nevertheless, government entities have privileged the use of certain kinds of electricity generation over others, with no regard for which is the most efficient or practical. This article first examines the history of the most commonly accepted energy sources, then examines the current landscape of alternative energy sources. Even though activists and government agencies are rewarding wind and solar (particularly with subsidies), there are complex reasons why consumers should temper their excitement for long-term usability.

How Current Energy Options Evolved
It’s difficult to make sense of the current state of alternative energy options without a clear understanding of both existing energy options and basic electricity concepts. Both will have an indelible effect on the understanding of the challenges facing alternative energy.

Until about 1850, wood was the primary source of energy consumed in the world, supplemented by muscle power, human and animal, and a few mills using water power. Although coal was mined for centuries, it was not until the mid-1800s that it superseded wood as mankind’s primary fuel. Because of coal’s greater heat value, it had almost completely replaced wood-derived charcoal in blast furnaces and wood in steam engines by the 1880s; it soon became the primary fuel used in the US.

Coal fueled the Industrial Revolution, freeing large parts of the country from reliance on subsistence agriculture—a way of life which caused many to suffer, with entire populations always one poor harvest away from starvation. Meanwhile, the expanded use of coal rendered perishable agricultural goods easy to ship via fast rail from rural farms to urban areas. Many towns and cities successfully fought to have a railroad stop built in their town. Animal power and commercial barges laden with goods and traveling over hand-dug canals, of critical importance for transport earlier in the century, were gradually marginalized. Meanwhile, mountain ranges, deserts, rushing rivers, and other natural obstructions no longer presented great barriers to commerce.

Although oil had been used in lamps for thousands of years (the first primitive oil wells were drilled in China in the 4th century; the first modern wells drilled in Baku, Azerbaijan, in 1848), the industry didn’t come into its own until 1859. In that year, Edwin Drake drilled his famous well in Titusville, Pennsylvania, hitting both oil and natural gas. The oil and gas industry exploded over the next few decades. Kerosene quickly replaced more expensive whale oil and smoky candles for home illumination. In 1885, Robert Bunsen created a device that harnessed natural gas, mixing it with air in the appropriate proportions that allowed it to be used safely. Oil producers and the general public quickly realized the energy of the future lay in oil and natural gas.

In 1882, Thomas Edison opened the first coal-powered commercial central power plant—the Pearl Street Station—in Manhattan. Electricity-by-wire soon transformed the world, and, thus, is considered by many historians as one of the two most important contributions to modern civilization (second only to the printing press in the 15th century). This technological innovation transformed the world over the span of a single lifetime. Competition between types of electricity transmission favored alternating current (AC) over Edison’s direct current (DC); other innovations in power generation quickly followed. Electrification became the mark of modern industrial civilization.

The energy innovations of the mid-1800s all happened without the influence of government subsidies. But then the Cold War came.

Government Involvement
Fast forward to the 1970s. Demand for energy—specifically oil—in the developed world is at a high during the Cold War. The United States’ involvement in the Yom Kippur War antagonized the Soviet Union and led to an oil embargo by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), resulting in a massive gas shortage.

After the turn of the millennium, policymakers again believed the country was running out of oil and gas and responded by passing the Energy Policy Act of 2005 designed to provide extensive subsidies in the form of marketable tax credits for alternative energy sources (wind and solar power) and requiring the use of biofuels in gasoline.

The federal government once showed restraint as the use of electricity expanded. It now discourages it—particularly if generated by oil, coal, and gas. Instead, the government has promoted “renewable energy” that puts humans back at the mercy of the elements.

Part 2: Limits to Wind and Solar

Can Wind Be An Alternative To Thermal?
Wind has been used for thousands of years to propel sailing ships and, later, to turn wheels to grind grain and pump water. The first windmill to generate electricity in the U.S., called “the Brush” was constructed by Charles Brush of Cleveland in 1887-88. In this device, a large rotor driven by the wind, in turn, drives a generator with a vertical shaft. A few thousand such windmills generating electricity and pumping water were installed throughout the Midwest and West in the 19th and 20th centuries. But “the Brush” had outlived its usefulness by the time power from reliable centralized generation facilities became available.

Since the picturesque days of the Brush, there have been significant changes in wind machines attempting to generate electricity, intensified by the OPEC oil embargo of the early 1970s. These efforts have resulted in the modern wind turbine.

In 1919, physicist Albert Betz established a hypothetical limit to the energy that a wind machine can extract; he put this figure at about 59 percent of the kinetic energy of the wind passing through it. Today, the most efficient turbines feature aerodynamic designs with the kinetic energy of the wind captured by turbine blades on an axis that directly faces the wind. Safety features must be engineered into the design of the turbine to ensure that high wind gusts do not cause the device to self-destruct. Additionally, wind turbines must produce usable electricity from a range of wind speeds. Changes in wind speed can result in unacceptable changes in the frequency of the electricity generated, requiring gear boxes to compensate for these changes

The net result of these limitations is a complex design, with the generator and gear box located along the axis of the blades (hub) in a housing, called a nacelle. With winds blowing at specified speeds, these wind turbines can reach 70 to 80 percent of the theoretical limits calculated by Betz long ago. Modern turbines can start generating electricity at 7 to 9 mph, with the rated capacity reached at 25 to 35 mph and a cut-off speed of 90 mph. These assume constant wind speeds, not gusts. Modern wind turbines have just about reached their theoretical limits; a major technological breakthrough is now required to exceed these limits.

The inconsistent energy generation isn’t the only drawback to wind turbines

What few people outside the limited circle of wind turbine engineers recognize is the massive amount of concrete required for the base of a wind tower. A standard 1.5 MW GE turbine and blade assembly weighing about 92 tons is placed on a tower about 210 feet above the ground. The torque generated by a large spinning turbine at a high rate of speed equals a school bus fixed to the end of a plank the length of a football field. Thus, the base must be very strong and thick indeed; currently, such bases can contain more than 550 tons of concrete and 45 tons of reinforcing steel.

Additionally, when wind turbine blades pass the shaft, they set up low-frequency soundwaves; this sort of sound travels great distances and can be very disturbing to a small percentage of sensitive people, causing inner ear disorders and affecting their sense of balance.

What About Solar?
The origin of solar energy innovation also dates back to the time of the Industrial Revolution. Photovoltaic (PV) technology was first demonstrated in the mid-1800s, but the first attempts were inefficient and provided only a weak electrical current. In 1921, Albert Einstein won a Nobel Prize in physics for explaining the process by which light produces electricity, research which, in part, formed the basis of the later generations of the technology.

In this case, the government’s involvement in advancing solar energy began though military research. After World War II, research conducted by the Naval Research Laboratory and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration helped pioneer the early PV technology.

Again, interest in solar power is the result of the 70s energy crisis. Legislation passed in this era expanded the use of solar technology in federal buildings (President Jimmy Carter was the first president to install solar panels on the White House), and increased research budgets sought to make solar energy more affordable and available.

Despite the attractiveness of solar power, the logistics have proven challenging to overcome. For solar power to generate electricity at 60 percent capacity, which is pretty near peak, solar panels require cloudless skies and high sun. Even in one of the best areas for solar in the U.S. (Tucson, Arizona) solar photovoltaic panels generate electricity at 60 percent capacity only about 4 to 5 hours a day, depending on the season. Of course, they generate nothing between sunset and dawn.

Industrial solar thermal generation has been touted to overcome some of the limitations of solar panels. For example, the Ivanpah Solar Power in California, formally opened in February 2014, focuses mobile mirrors on centralized towers used to generate steam to drive steam turbines. Unfortunately, the system has been an expensive disappointment. It operates at an average capacity less than 21 percent of the time; according to planned capacity, it should achieve average capacity over 27 percent. Lack of data makes actual costs difficult to calculate, but they appear to be close to the costs of a modern new nuclear power plant which produces power 24/7. Further, the facility requires natural gas to start its boilers each morning. Future technology which generates power throughout the day via solar-powered centralized thermal generation might ameliorate the situation. No such technology exists at this writing.

Part 3: A Fair Weather Solution

The Truth Behind The Subsidies
In claiming a need for government subsidies, advocates of wind and solar power have made much of historic subsidies provided to oil and gas producers; these claims come from misleading statistics produced by the private firm known as the International Energy Agency (IEA). Among IEA’s worst statistical abuses was counting regulated low gas prices to citizens in petrostates as subsidies to oil companies. For example, IEA counted government-imposed price caps on Venezuela’s nationalized oil as a subsidy to oil companies. This market interference meant gasoline sold for as little as $0.05 a gallon in Venezuela; this while gasoline cost about $3.00 a gallon in the U.S.

In a five-year study covering 2011-16, Roger Bezdek, President of Management Information Services reported that solar, wind, and biomass received more than three times the federal incentives, subsidies, and cash payments, received by oil, gas, coal, and nuclear combined!

(This report was part of a comprehensive study covering U.S. energy subsidies from 1950 to 2016, sponsored by the Nuclear Energy Institute.)

Meanwhile, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, domestic energy production by source in 2016 added up to the following: Natural gas, 33 percent of U.S. energy production, petroleum (crude & natural gas liquids) 28 percent, coal 17 percent, renewables 12 percent (in which the EIA includes hydropower), and nuclear electric power 10 percent.

What makes up the small sliver of “renewable” energy? Biomass represents the largest component here, with 4.6 percent of energy consumption that consists of biofuels, wood, and biomass waste. Biofuels account for 2.2 percent of energy consumption, mandated by the Federal government, in the form of ethanol, to be mixed with gasoline. Wood adds up to the second largest component of biomass, at 1.9 percent of U.S. energy consumption, largely driven by the burning of waste wood at lumber and paper mills and the use of wood in home heating. Biomass waste accounts for 0.5 percent of energy consumption. Biogas from landfills, manure, sewage, is included in this total.

Hydroelectric power adds up to the second largest component of renewable energy, accounting for 2.4 percent. Wind power is the third largest component, accounting for 2.1 percent of energy consumption. Solar power figures a distant fourth, with 0.6 percent of consumption, about the same as biomass waste. Geothermal energy accounts for only 0.2 percent of consumption.

From these data, one quickly realizes that despite a great deal of press, wind and solar make up less than 3 percent of U.S. energy consumption. The major sources of energy consumed in the U.S. are petroleum at 37 percent, natural gas at 29 percent, coal at 15 percent, and nuclear electric power at 9 percent.

Why Do Weather Dependent Options Fail? The Grid
It’s worth examining what it is about energy use that frustrates these alternative energy sources. In particular, the energy grid demands reliability that weather-dependent power alternatives can’t provide.

First, the basics about the U.S. grid operations, including its origins, storage issues, and even some key misconceptions.

Formed in 2006, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, oversees operation of the grid for the contiguous United States and the southern half of Canada. The lower 48 states of the U.S. are grouped into three major interconnections, the Eastern Interconnection, east of the Rockies, the Western Interconnection, and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT)

Sixty-six authorities in the U.S. balance supply with the demand, overseeing the load for their regions. The Eastern Interconnection consists of 36 balancing authorities: 31 in the United States and 5 in Canada. The Western Interconnection encompasses the area from the Rockies west and consists of 37 balancing authorities: 34 in the United States, 2 in Canada, and 1 in Mexico. ERCOT covers most, but not all, of Texas and is a single balancing authority.

These interconnections show that electricity reliability is a regional and international issue. What effects one locality may affect the entire region and perhaps the nation or international partners. Here’s an example: In 1989 a solar storm caused a blackout of the Quebec electrical system, lasting about 12 hours. The blackout caused significant problems for electrical utilities in New York and New England.

The interconnections of the various electrical grids, plus the continuous need for load balancing, can create challenging problems for power engineers to provide reliable electricity. The addition of weather-dependent electrical generation exacerbates these problems. Providers of weather-dependent generation, such as wind power, aren’t the only ones who have to worry about inconsistent power generation.

Great misconceptions exist regarding the electrical grid. Who owns it and the electricity on it? Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas called a brief concisely describing the operation of the grid written by a power engineer one the few very useful “friend of the court” legal briefs he’d encountered in his entire career. Utilities and other entities may own the wires, the poles, and the electricity generating facilities, but not the grid itself. The grid is an energized system owned by no one, available for all users.

One might picture the grid as resembling the human central nervous system. Parts may be lost to injury, but the system will still function. Of course, a severe shock can bring down the entire system. In this way, severe injury to the grid can cause it to fail, catastrophically, for everyone.

Regarding the grid, these shocks can come in the form of surges in power and, conversely, in sudden drops in power. Surge shocks to the grid can be caused by electrical storms, solar storms, or infusing it with too much generating capacity at any one time. Drops in power can come from loss of electrical lines, generating stations, and increases in consumption. Such shocks can blow transformers, capacitors, and other important equipment; the kind of damage that can take months to repair, with irate customers calling every day. To prevent this sort of electrical disaster, power engineers must adjust supply to meet demand and keep the grid energized within the narrow frequency of 60 hertz in the U.S. This critical task is called “balancing the load.” On the other side of things, unreliable and uneven weather dependent electrical generation can wreak havoc on the entire system.

Indeed, one often hears the proponents of wind claim that the solution for surplus wind power produced at night and insufficient power during the day can be solved by “smart grids.” These are power grids that cut daytime use while permitting nighttime use as mandated by the government. Such government mandates of electricity use have not succeeded in the past. One of the most basic challenges that would need to be addressed before the concept of “smart grids” is optimized: most of us prefer not to do household chores in the middle of the night.

Storage On The Grid
For over a hundred years, engineers and utilities have long been trying to solve the problem of storing electricity and capturing waste heat. Thermal systems such as coal-fired power plants or latter-day nuclear power plants operate most efficiently at design capacity. Changing capacity, ramping up or down, results in excessive wear on the system and loss of heat—in other words, inefficiency. Utility companies have long recognized that electricity cannot be effectively stored in quantities needed for commercial operation. (Electricity can be stored in batteries, but the storage amount is tiny when compared with the enormous variation in the amount of electricity used daily.)

In 1924, Connecticut Light and Power pioneered a truly innovative system to use waste heat in the creation of electricity when needed, called pumped hydro storage. In such a system, excess heat is used to generate electricity that goes into hydro turbines to pump water from one reservoir to another at a higher elevation. When additional electricity is needed, the water is released through pipes downhill turning hydro turbines at the lower reservoir to generate electricity. Generally, the upper reservoir is purpose built, but the lower reservoir may be a lake or even the ocean.

The largest such facility in the world is in Bath County, Virginia, near West Virginia, with a nameplate capacity of 3,000 megawatts. The area features steep hills ideal for pumped hydro storage. The two reservoirs were constructed for the purpose and have a separation in elevation of about 1,260 feet. During operation, the water level of the upper reservoir may vary by over 100 feet and the lower reservoir by 60 feet.

Commissioned in 1985, the facility helps balance the electrical load and uses excess heat from a nuclear power plant and several coal-fired plants. It operates without difficulty and requires no additional water, except replacing evaporation loss from the reservoirs. According to available data, electricity loss from such pumped hydro storage facilities is about 20 percent.

Unfortunately, proposals for similar facilities elsewhere, such as the Hudson River, have been stridently opposed by environmental groups. Ironically, the bitter opposition comes from the very same environmental organizations currently demanding the decommissioning of traditional oil and gas power plants. Wind and solar are falsely seen by many of these activists as the only viable alternatives.

Part 4: Subsidized Failures

The Importance Of Reliability And The Human Factor
The traditionally understood “fossil fuel” plants (otherwise known as oil, coal, and gas plants), along with another alternative, nuclear energy plants, can be relied upon to operate 24/7, though they can be easily shut down for maintenance on a schedule determined by the owner. Nuclear plant owners usually operate the local electrical grid, which supplies electricity to its consumers, encompassing homeowners, business, industry, and government.

The operator chooses the types of plants to meet daily and seasonal variations in demand for electricity, usually based on lowest costs. The plants are usually one of four types: existing nuclear, hydroelectric, coal, and natural gas. This order roughly corresponds to operating costs from lowest to highest and also corresponds to the speed with which they can be brought up to operating capacity. Naturally, human operators control these facilities. In the U.S., petroleum (diesel) is used occasionally—for emergency back-up, or when political pressures force the closing of coal-fired power plants without available alternatives.

Typically, nuclear plants operate at over 90 percent of annual capacity, and seldom need to be shut down for maintenance. In some regions, hydro-power is seasonal and so nationally classified as “renewable,” in others it can operate year-round. Generally speaking, coal-fired plants need more maintenance and have to be shut down seasonally, when the demand for electricity is lower. Until recently, gas-fired plants have been expensive, used only when demand for electricity is greatest; this is called peak-shaving. In a few regions of the country dams have been built for peak-shaving; Pittsburg is served in this manner by Deep Creek Lake in western Maryland, which has timed water releases during the summer.

Key to all these operations, is the human factor: The supply of electricity is controlled by human operators who supply the necessary electricity based on judgment and when demanded by consumers. However, over the past few years this otherwise immutable paradigm has been changing in response to lower natural gas prices and political fads.

The Importance Of Dispatchable System Control
Electrical generation systems that can be turned on and off, with intensity controlled as needed, are called “dispatchable.” A dispatchable system can be controlled anytime; maintenance is performed when the system is not needed. A dispatchable system is reliable; a non-dispatchable system is not. As previously discussed, grid operators match electrical power supply with demand, varying daily and seasonally.

Power frequency remains critical to dispatchable power. Alternating current in the U.S. operates at frequency 60Hz while Europe operates at 50Hz. (This is why international travelers must use special adaptors for electrical devices.) Small changes in frequencies can have significant effects on electric motors and other equipment. Grid operators must keep the frequency of the power absolutely constant.

Unfortunately, wind and solar energies are not dispatchable—they do not always produce electricity when needed and may produce a surplus when not needed. Both dearth and surplus can be equally damaging. With thermal systems—coal-fired power plants or nuclear or hydro systems—the heat or water can be diverted so that the turbines do not produce electricity. This results in wasted heat or wasted water. But, the system is not dangerously overloaded with electricity.

Surplus Electricity
In Energy Matters, Danish energy expert Paul-Frederik Bach describes the highly complex system of transmitting electricity in Europe. Bach speaks from a position of authority, having spent years working with grid issues in the Danish system which has many interconnections. What to do with surplus power when wind power over produces remains a serious problem in his view.

Unfortunately, the hope of planners for the rapid adjustment of consumption is not materializing. Until demand can be easily and rapidly adjusted, Bach sees future problems with surplus electricity, declining market prices for the surplus, and congested grids. These factors will lead to increasing prices for consumers and to the curtailment of renewable sources.

The Ultimate Failure Of Subsidies, Then Mandates
In the long, complex history of energy production, innovation, storage, and maintenance, the thorny practice of allowing the government to pick winners and losers in acceptable energy practices is doomed to failure.

If radical environmental groups succeed in their policy objectives, the current preference for offering subsidies to these renewable energy sources will eventually give way to mandates. But, for multiple reasons, those solutions will fail to deliver the growing level of energy required for optimal efficiency. If the government requires operators to deliver a given percentage generated by wind power or solar power, they will no longer get the best price for the customer, but instead will be forced to meet the demands of government. The government interference will ultimately increase costs to the consumer.

By mandating a percentage of electricity from weather-dependent facilities, politicians and government entities greatly distort markets that deliver electricity at the lowest possible cost to consumers. The only way out of this conundrum is to regulate the sun and wind—a power reserved to the gods in Greek myths.

Integrating Offshore Wind in Denmark
Wind promoters often insist offshore wind is extremely reliable—this even as it has become apparent that onshore wind is fickle. Writing in Energy Matters, Roger Andrews examines the validity of the claim for the reliability of offshore wind from the world’s “wind nation,” Denmark—a small country situated on a peninsula surrounded by offshore wind farms. Andrews finds Danish claims specious and notes that they do not consider the added costs of repair occasioned by salt water corrosion and salt spray.

Finding solid data is always a problem for such studies, but Andrews succeeded in finding a Danish database that separated onshore and offshore wind energy production for three years, from 2014 to 2016.

Andrews finds that offshore wind has a capacity factor of 43 percent as compared with onshore wind of 25 percent. He also found that when wind dies onshore, it dies offshore as well. Both require back-up. Any weekend sailor of the waters off the U.S. Eastern Seaboard can attest to the unreliability of ocean winds, particularly in August.

Given that offshore wind costs twice that of onshore, wind power washes out as not much of an energy bargain.

The Canary Island Experiment
In November 1997, the government of the island of El Hierro, in the Canary Islands decided to power the island completely from renewables, making the island self-sustaining. In June 2002, a scheme was approved to use wind to generate electricity, with pumped hydro storage for a backup. The project was managed by Gorona del Viento El Hierro, S.A., with participation by the Island Council (60 percent), Endesa (30 percent), the Canary Islands Technological Institute (10 percent), and with a planned cost of 64.7 million euros.

Off the coast of Africa, El Hierro island seemed to be an ideal location for such a project. It rises sharply above the Atlantic Ocean, reaching 4500 feet in elevation. The Canary Islands have long been noted for their wind. In colonial times, ships from Europe sailed south to the Canary Islands to pick-up the trade winds to the New World. More recently, El Hierro got their power from imported diesel fuel—about 6,000 metric tons, equivalent to 40,000 barrels of oil.

The Canary Island project came online in June 2015. Its total cost is still not clear. Fortunately, Red Eléctrica de España (REE), a partly state-owned/partly privately-owned Spanish corporation, which operates the national electricity grid in Spain, has produced statistics for El Hierro. Roger Andrews of Energy Matters, followed the numbers carefully and reported that after two full years of operation the wind pumped hydro system supplied 39 percent of El Hiero’s electricity requirements and only 9 percent of its energy requirements.

There may have been significant confusion between the total energy the island required, as some claimed, and the far lesser amount of electricity the island required, as now claimed. That confusion aside, the system supplied more than 60 percent of the island’s electricity requirements for only two months out of a two year period—and fell far short of the energy requirements. During three of those months, the system supplied less than 20 percent of the island’s electricity requirements. On many occasions, the turbines generated little or no wind power. The entire electrical system on El Hierro is underserved by wind power and pumped storage. Among other issues, the upper water reserves needed for power when the wind fails are far too small to make up for the shortfall; keep in mind that wind fails frequently and for extended periods. The ability of wind to provide power 24/7 is always overestimated, even using the best backup system commercially available.

A Wind Generated Disaster in South Australia
Recently, the government of South Australia decided to promote wind power and neglect reliable coal. During a series of severe thunderstorms, wind farms shut down to avoid damage. But the shutdown of the wind farms cascaded, and the entire grid went black. Some urban areas were without power for a few hours, some rural areas for weeks. Since the first blackout last September, there have been two more partial blackouts, in December and February. The finger pointing will continue for years.

South Australia, slightly smaller than the size of Texas and New Mexico combined, has a population of 1.7 million. One of the hardest hit facilities there was an aluminium smelter. When the smelter lost power, tons of molten aluminium froze, resulting in a stoppage of production lasting many months.

[STT note: the aluminium smelter mentioned above is over the border at Portland in Victoria, and was hit in December 2016, during another wind power output collapse. The September 2016 statewide blackout hit BHP Billiton’s huge copper, gold and uranium mine at Olympic Dam and Nyrstar’s lead/zinc smelter at Port Pirie].

The events in South Australia illustrate the consequences of privileging wind-generated electricity: The owners of a South Australian coal-fired power plant needed subsidies to continue operating, not because their costs went up, but because they could not compete with subsidized wind. The plant closed down and was not available for backup generation during the crisis when weather-dependent providers could not supply electricity.

Here’s the big open secret of electrical generation: Weather-dependent providers always require backup when the wind’s not blowing or the sun’s not shining. In effect, these systems maintain a parasitic relationship with reliable providers.
Capital Research

And South Australia tried to do WHAT, relying on the wind!?!

6 thoughts on “The Wind God’s New Clothes: Why Weather Dependent Power Generation Can Never Work

  1. Oh, and as we found a couple of years ago in South Africa, pumped storage also fails if there’s a DROUGHT, and there is insufficient water in the lower dam to be pumped!

  2. First: I prefer “Intermittent “ rather than “Renewable” as a term for Wind and solar.
    Next: Most of this excellent article revolves around the basic thermodynamic principle that the capacity of Intermittent power requires that it MUST be matched by an equivalent capacity source of Reliably energy if consistent supply is required.
    The bean counters should therefore properly include this factual cost when considering the use of an Intermittent supply.

    It is outrageous that this is not being done.

    1. Rather than “intermittent”, consider “unreliable” or “weather-dependent”. Mathematicians might choose “stochastic”.

      Whatever, something that is not constant and is unable to load-follow except in restricted ranges, if at all, can never be thought of as “reliable”.

      A lot of damage has been done to the english language by those who choose to take other people’s money and, by so doing, have replaced a reliable system with one that is not reliable. This is a direct consequence of the owners of wind and solar power generators to pretend to be what they are not and thus to convince a gullible public that wind and solar power are more valuable than would otherwise be seen to be the case.

  3. who translates this report into English?
    Pellworm, an energy self-sufficient island in Germany

    Pellworm sollte zum Modell für ganz Deutschland werden: E.on wollte auf der Nordseeinsel beweisen, dass sich eine ganze Region selbst mit Energie versorgen kann – dank Strom aus Windkraft und Sonne. Jetzt zieht der Energiekonzern unverrichteter Dinge wieder ab.

    Optimismus ist eine schöne Eigenschaft. Sie sollte jedoch den Realismus ergänzen, nicht ersetzen. Pellworm ist grandios gescheitert, OBWOHL ES KEINE INDUSTRIE HAT. Das gleiche gilt auch für El Hierro. Eine moderne Industrienation können Sie mit Wind und Sonne allein nicht betreiben. Und gerade Hightech-Industrien brauchen noch mehr Strom als low-tech. Roboter, Automatiken, Computer, Internet fressen unglaublich hohe Energiebeträge.
    Hinzu kommt, dass die Speicherfrage, das A und O bei der EE-Nutzung, nicht einmal ansatzweise lösbar ist. Genau das war auch des Problem auf Pellworm. Selbst wenn Sie 200 % des Jahresbedarfs an EE-produzieren: Ohne Speicherung ist das alles sinnlos, wenn Ihnen bei Dunkelflaute mangels Speicher die Intensivpatienten in den 3 % Ausfallzeit wegsterben. Was wollen Sie dann den Angehörigen sagen?

    Die Pellwormer sehen das so negativ. Sie müssen das Experiment ausbaden. Bei der Stromversorgung geht es nicht um Rekordzahlen, sondern um Zuverläsigkeit. Rechnerisch fällt an 11 Tagen und Nächten der Strom aus. Und niemand kann sagen, wann? wie oft und wie lange. Für die Versorgung von Menschen und Tieren ist das nicht akzeptabel. Also greift man wieder auf fossile Energie zurück. Das hat auch Südaustralien nach Abschaltung des letzten Kohlekraftwerks lernen müssen, und auch die Schweiz plant nach einem Ausstieg aus der der Kernenergie den Bau von Gaskraftwerken. Mit Umweltschutz hat die Energiewende wenig zu tun.
    Die Bedingungen auf Pellworm waren optimal, ebenso auf Hierro. Beide waren im wahrsten Sinne des Wortes Insellösungen, untauglich als Modell für das Festland, und beide sind gescheitert.

    Das Jahr hat 8760 Stunden, 3 % hiervon sind rund 263 Stunden. Was im Haushalt vielleicht nur ärgerlich ist, z.B. wenn die Dusche plötzlich kalt wird, ist bei einer Fabrik schon viel ernster, denn nach auch nur 5 min Stromausfall muss die Produktion oft über Stunden mühselig wieder angefahren werden. Es gibt z.B. Schmiedepressen, die mehrere 1000 Schmiedeteile pro Stunde herstellen. Das funktioniert aber nur, wenn die Aufheizung es Materials immer exakt gleichmässig erfolgt. Nach einem auch nur kurzen Stillstand muss der Prozess abgebrochen und sehr langsam und vorsichtig bis zur vollen Leistung wieder hochgefahren werden, was Stunden dauert. Ein Stromausfall von einigen Stunden in den Kühlregalen eines Kaufhauses bedeutet, dass die gesamten darin enthaltenen Lebensmittel nicht mehr die erforderliche ununterbrochene Kühlung erhalten haben und deshalb nicht mehr verkauft werden dürfen. Usw Usw. Jetzt hat Pellworm zwar keine Industrie, aber was man schon dort nicht hinkriegt, wird auf der Ebene einer hoch industrialisierten Nation erst recht nicht funktionieren. Und mit Batteriespeichern lässt sich das auch nicht auffangen, das zu erkennen genügt ein Taschenrechner.
    Also: Es wurde nicht etwa eine “beachtliche Leistung” erreicht, sondern im Gegenteil nachgewiesen, dass es selbst bei einfachen Vorgaben – eine Insel mit viel Wind und wenigen Einwohnern ohne Industrie – nicht funktioniert. Daran werden auch Fortschritte bei Batterien oder noch stärkere Windmühlen nichts ändern.

    Mit den Realitäten der Lebensmittelversorgung und des Betriebs von Kühlhäusern hatten Sie augescheinlich noch nie zutun. Das, was Sie wiedergeben, sind weltfremde Utopien grüner Schwätzer, die heutzutage in Endlosschleife in allen möglichen Medien und Blogs ständig wiederholt werden. Deswegen werden sie aber nicht wahrer.

    Kostenfaktor Nr. 1 bei den Sachkosten eines Kühlhauses sind die Stromkosten für die Kühlaggregate, welche die ständigen Wärmeverluste ausgleichen müssen. Diese steigen mit jedem Grad, das man unterhalb der Umgebungstemperatur liegt, ganz erheblich an. Jeder Kühlhausleiter versucht deshalb aus Kostengründen, seine Lagertemperatur so dicht wie möglich an der Vorschriftengrenze zu halten. Ein dauerhafter “Kältpuffer”, von dem er nicht weiss, wann er ihn einsetzen kann, wäre viel zu teuer (und reine Energieverschwendung).

    Noch problematischer ist die Kühlkette bei der Distribution, sprich Kaufhaus. Auch hier muss die Kühlkette IMMER gewährleistet sein, das ist im Lebensmittelrecht verankert. Das Volumen einer Kühltheke ist zu klein, um einen nenneswerten “Kältepuffer” für einen längerzeitigen Stromausfall vorzuhalten.Wird die Ware für einen nicht bekannten Zeitraum nicht sicher innerhalb des geforderten Temperaturfensters gehalten, dann darf sie nicht mehr verkauft werden. Die Gewähr muss im Prinzip für den gesamten Inhalt der Theke gelten, d.h. auch für Ware, die an ungünstigen Stellen in der Kühltheke liegt. Die Türen bzw. Deckel einer Kühltheke weisen keine nennenswerte Isolation auf, weil der Kunden ja Klarsicht auf den Inhalt haben will. D.h., die Ware in diesem Bereich wird bei Stromausfall sehr schnell zu warm werden.

    Das auf Hierro realisierte Projekt ist typisch für so viele Vorhaben, die von angeblich „grünbewegten“ Geschäftemachern mit reichlich zur Verfügung gestellten öffentlichen Geldern durchgezogen und von ihren Handlangern in den Medien über den grünen Klee gelobt werden. “Es werden große Versprechungen gemacht, satte Förderungen eingestrichen und wunderschön anzusehende nagelneue Installationen in die Landschaft geklotzt.” Die Initiatoren erhalten reichlich Gelegenheit, sich und ihre Rolle bei dem Vorhaben effektvoll in Szene zu setzen, sagt er. Und nachdem alles abgegrast und der Zweck erfüllt ist, zieht die Karawane weiter. Das weiß spätestens jetzt auch Pellworm.

    1. Pellworm was to become the model for the whole of Germany: E.on wanted to prove on the North Sea island that an entire region can provide itself with energy – thanks to electricity from wind power and the sun. Now the energy company is pulling off again.

      Werner Wulf is quite important when talking about “redox flow” or “lithium ion”. Or when he fables about the storage capacity of his “master controller”, as if he had never done anything else. Now Wulf stands next to white steel containers containing batteries. He closes the door to one of the containers, then he calls his headquarters: “That’s me, do not be surprised if you get a message,” he tells his colleague ashore. For security reasons, every door opening is reported to the operations center in Quickborn.

      Werner Wulf, born in 1957, is the island electrician on Pellworm, a North Frisian island in the middle of the Schleswig-Holstein Wadden Sea. Here he learned the profession of craftsmanship, then spent three years in a factory in Hamburg and is now responsible since 1981 for the power supply of Pellwormer. Initially his employer was Schleswag, today it is the E.on subsidiary HanseWerk.

      It was exactly this company that gave him the supervision of a visionary project three years ago – the “SmartRegion Pellworm”. Wulf is, so to speak, the caretaker, who looks after HanseWerk on site for the right. At that time, the E.ON offshoot had launched a sensational energy project on the island. It was intended to show that the approximately 1,200 residents can supply themselves entirely with energy from wind power, solar collectors and biogas. This self-promise was flanked by all sorts of celebrities from business and politics. After all, all of Germany is looking for successes in the energy transition. And then it would be great to distribute the energy from renewable power generation, which is abundant in the north of the republic, over the whole country.

      Before that, however, the big problem of memory must be solved. Because not only is the power consumed when the wind turbines are turning, huge storage tanks need to be developed to ensure a steady supply of energy. Like under the glass, Pellworm should prove that this can be done. At that time, the islanders were proud of the project. There was an unprecedented spirit of optimism. Pellworm as a blueprint for all of Germany, maybe even for the whole world. That sounded good. Too good, as you know today. The goal of self-sufficiency was missed. E.on has completed the project and will move on soon. What remains is an island that has been made with great hopes and promises that have not been fulfilled at all. For the Pellwormer are hard times.

      The sticking point of the project, the self-sufficiency Pellworms with energy, is mentioned only incidentally in the recently published earnings paper: “Thus, 97 percent of the consumption can be covered on Pellworm from locally produced renewable energy,” it says. This number shows the dilemma of the energy turnaround: Pellworm generates with the community wind farm, the biogas plant and the photovoltaic system three times as much energy as the islanders themselves consume – tendency rising. The biggest energy consumers are the swimming pool and the farms. The expensive battery storage should now reach together with the decentralized storage in households, that this huge surplus of energy 365 days a year sufficient for self-sufficiency.

      But that does not work: every day on Pellworm remain purely arithmetically for 43 minutes, the lights or the milking machines are. In order to reach this last three percent of the full supply, the number of batteries would have to be multiplied. That would require many extra millions of euros. The report says for the current equipment that “currently none of the models, the investment costs of large storage covers”. The stoppages of the plant – because a sensor was broken or the air conditioning had failed – are not even included.

      At that time, in September 2013, everything had started so promisingly. Schleswig-Holstein’s Prime Minister Torsten Albig came to the official start on the island. The following spring, the plant went into operation. In the meantime, visitors from all over Germany and the world visited Pellworm to have the technology explained. It certainly helped the image and concerns of E.ON, from a conventional green company.

      The Pellwormer, however, have received little information. “It would have been better to take the citizens with them,” says farmer Nico Nommsen. For example, participation in the measurement tests was not queried or offered. The candidates were simply chosen instead. The political support was just a straw fire. The state government had no longer look, says the municipal office at the port. “I would have expected more from Environment Minister Robert Habeck,” says Pellworms
      honorary mayor Jürgen Feddersen.

      In fact, it was and is a Herculean task that E.on has faced on the island. The share of regenerative energy in power generation in Germany has increased in the past five years from 24 percent to 32 percent. According to the Federal Environment Agency, this green electricity is dominated by wind power with a share of around 41 percent. But unlike fossil fuel power plants, this energy is subject to strong fluctuations. The biggest challenge currently is to match feed-in and consumption in the grid. There are dozens of research projects in the country backed by federal money – and one of them is on Pellworm.

      According to statements from the mayor’s office, the enormous sum of about ten million euros for the islanders has flowed into the flagship project. The Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology, E.on and other project partners involved paid around one third each. The community Pellworm did not have to raise money. “We only provided the property,” says Mayor Feddersen. But hardly one euro of the investment sum has been spent on Pellworm. Not even a new road to the grounds of the plant was built.

      In addition to the battery system, power meters, so-called smart meters, were installed in 151 households on the island – which corresponds to around a quarter of all dwellings. In addition, 16 family houses were equipped with decentralized electricity storage. Partly were the night storage heaters, as they are still to be found here. A few thousand euros per household, E.on has cost it.

      Smart homes, houses with intelligent energy use, have not become from the farmers cottages but. Concerned farmers report that the counters are ignored. There was no networking of household appliances or control of electricity consumption.

      What hurts Pellwormer the most is the fact that with all the money not a single job has been created on the economically vexing island. The craftsmanship was awarded to companies on the mainland. The software development and evaluation of the measurement data was carried out by participating project partners, for example at the University of Aachen or at the Fraunhofer Institute. For the Pellwormer, the lift has not paid off. The installations in their homes, the electricity storage and electricity meters, have since been dismantled. “We thank the customers very much,” concludes Inselelektriker and E.on-governor Wulf this chapter.

      That all this would not work as desired, smart minds would have known before, says Uwe Kurzke. He was the Inselarzt on Pellworm for three decades, together with other dedicated islanders he founded the initiative “Ökologisch Wirtschaften” and an energy association. The doctor calls the Smart Region project a “marginalia”. In his opinion, the North Sea island would have to move in a completely different direction anyway.

      “We have to use the regenerative energy to live here,” says Kurzke. The purchase of the pipeline network on the island belongs to him, his own “Pellworm factory” is his goal. Energy generation should provide the island community with an ecological and economic basis for long-term survival. Industry lobbyists, on the other hand, set other standards for the project. “Pellworm was to find out if the energy transition works on a small scale and how individual components are optimally linked to one another,” says Jan Rispens, Managing Director of the Cluster Renewable Energies in Hamburg. For him, the research project has brought “insights into storage technologies and network security”.

      For the physician Kurzke, the municipality and the power company missed a chance. “E.on has unfortunately not made the island into an energy lab,” says Kurzke. There was no knowledge transfer to the island. But the waning of skills and the loss of expertise are, in his view, the biggest threats to the existence of Pellworm. Half of the population is 65 years or older, the number of students has halved in ten years to a good 70 children, young families do not move here.

      Pellworm is one of the ten poorest communities in Schleswig-Holstein, the island is experiencing some of the problems of a third world country: It has resources and resources, but the energy or agricultural products are refined on land. Value creation takes place on the mainland. Profits do not flow into the hands of the Pellwormer, business taxes accrue in other communities. Of several dozen farms, twelve farms remained. Half of them do not have a successor yet. The island is threatened with extinction. “If nothing happens, life in 20 years will be like a hallig here,” says Mayor Feddersen. The lying before Pellworm Hallig Hooge, Süderoog or Langeness have only tasks of the
      Coastal protection.

      How long the white battery containers will remain on the island is open. “We will decide on this by the end of this year, but it is also possible that we will simply dismantle everything,” says HanseWerk manager and project manager Jan Gratenau. After the feasibility phase, his company now checks how the plant can be integrated into “economic processes”. There are no funds for this anymore. HanseWerk bears the operating costs and speaks of around 800,000 euros per year.

      Mayor Feddersen, on the other hand, dreams of the energy future of his island. “For the symbolic price of one euro, the municipality would take over the battery system,” he says. Together with the University of Applied Sciences in neighboring Heide, he would like to conduct research on a truly self-sufficient energy region.

      If, at the end of the year, crane trucks and low loaders actually pick up the expensive batteries, this would also be the symbolic end of the SmartRegion Pellworm. And Werner Wulff would be a simple electrician again.

  4. Reblogged this on Tallbloke's Talkshop and commented:
    Note that ‘despite a great deal of press, wind and solar make up less than 3 percent of U.S. energy consumption.’

    Intermittency, high cost of subsidies and requirement of suitable land are just some of the reasons for that.

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