Powering Down: Wind Industry Being Crippled By Relentless Wind Droughts

Long bursts of calm weather are no mystery to sailors and kite flyers, but the wind industry apparently never got the memo. Hence the type of indignation expressed when the wind fails to materialize – in its financial statements, Australian outfit, Infigen has repeatedly cursed the Wind Gods for its often-dismal profit results.

The industry has started calling a hitherto well-known meteorological phenomenon a “wind drought”. As if there’s some basis to expect that the wind will blow around-the-clock, at a constant 11m/s – the ideal rate at which wind turbines operate.

Rafe Champion has been tracking these so-called “wind droughts” and their consequences for our power supply for some time. Here he is again.

The endless wind drought crippling renewables
Spectator Australia
Rafe Champion
23 April 2023

The spectre of power failure is haunting Europe as Britain and Germany demonstrate that modern societies can’t run on wind and solar power. Wind droughts are the fatal flaw in the system and one can envisage a future book titled How Wind Droughts Destroyed Western Civilisation. Think about the consequences of a system blackout if Net Zero policies are pursued to the bitter end in Western Europe and Australia…

Texas in 2021 gave us a glimpse of the abyss during a spell of low wind and a serious cold snap. Hundreds died and it would have been thousands if the state had gone completely black, instead of hanging on by a thread. Now, Texas is planning to subsidise gas producers to maintain capacity in the face of competition from subsidised wind and solar power.

Don’t laugh, this was happening here with a deal in Victoria to maintain the supply of coal power from Loy Yang A to the Portland aluminium smelter. However, plans are now in motion to close Loy Yang B ahead of schedule with things looking increasingly grim for the smelter. Both the major parties in NSW promised before the recent election to keep the coal fires burning at Eraring.

Wind droughts were not properly considered in the rush to decarbonise the power supply, but they can’t be ignored any longer. The burning question is: How did the meteorologists fail to issue wind drought warnings? They monitor every other kind of extreme weather to feed the inexhaustible appetite of the media for bad news about ‘climate change’.

In Australia the answer is easy. According to a CSIRO report in 2002, the Bureau of Meteorology used the average velocity of the wind for weeks and months to measure wind resources with information collected at hundreds of sites established by the BOM during the 1990s. Tom Quirk and Paul Miskelly first reported wind droughts using the AEMO data which reports the output from the registered wind farms at five-minute intervals.

Our wind droughts mostly last less than a day and they max out around three days, based on the AEMO records. In the BOM records, a wind drought lasting three days would simply lower the number for the week or the month without signalling that there was a serious restriction in the supply.

The neglect of wind droughts in Europe is harder to explain because the Dunkelflaute or ‘dark doldrums’ (the still, dark periods), can persist for weeks. They must have been well-known to sailors for centuries, also to the millers who pumped water in Holland and those who milled grain across the continent. And what about the experience of recreational sailors in modern times? In the absence of readily available historical records, it was helpful to read this comment by ‘Michael’ on a recent post by my colleague Peter Smith. It is an extract from a 1901 book by H.G. Wells.

‘Wind was extremely inconvenient for the purpose of pumping [water from mines] because in these latitudes it is inconstant: it was costly, too, because “at any time the labourers might be obliged to sit at the pit’s mouth for weeks together whistling for a gale”.H.G. Wells, in Anticipations of the Reactions of Mechanical and Scientific Progress upon Human Life and Thought, 1901.’

Yes Virginia, they did have wind droughts in England before 2020!

Official recognition in the wind industry was slow in coming, although the German policy of energiewende was clearly in trouble in 2018 when a government report admitted that it was failing on three vital metrics: cost, reliability, and emission reduction. Recently, there has been more coverage of wind issues, but officially the green transition is still happening. More research is required, with hard questions directed to the responsible authorities.

On the home front, in 2021 I put some hard questions to the energy ministers in each state. The objective was to present a paper at a seminar organised by the Clean Energy Authority. The paper would describe the due diligence performed in each state to take account of wind droughts

The abstract was submitted in good time, but it was not accepted for the program. Still, the investigation went on. All the states had ambitious green energy plans and I asked how they would deal with a month like June 2020 with multiple wind droughts. The bottom line was: ‘Please specify the quantity and the estimated cost of the various kinds of storage and any other resources that would be provided to cover a period like that.’ The relevant departments sent their plans but in my opinion, did not provide the detailed information that was requested.

Then followed persistent requests to the NSW Department of Planning, Industry, and Environment, for a conversation with a planner to discuss the matter of wind droughts. Eventually, they referred me to an officer in AEMO. He invoked the Holy Trinity of transmission lines, pumped hydro, and batteries. This is clutching at straws as energy realists have repeatedly explained.

We are left with serious concerns about the diligence and competence of our energy planners. Let’s see how it goes in NSW after Liddell Power Station closes at the end of the month. If you are worried, think about a home generator, or a move to Tasmania.
Spectator Australia

12 thoughts on “Powering Down: Wind Industry Being Crippled By Relentless Wind Droughts

  1. I quantified the wind drought problem using data from California (12 years), Texas (5 years), USA as a whole (5 years), and Germany, Denmark, and EU as a whole (5 years). Everywhere, storage in the range 900-1,200 watt-hours per watt of average demand was required — about fifty days, not twelve hours as greenies insist is adequate.


    I wanted to run Australian data through my software, but couldn’t find it. AEMO was not helpful. Are generation data summarized by “fuel” type available anywhere, preferably in monthly or yearly, not daily batches? AEMO provides data per generator, but didn’t respond when I asked for a table that tells what “fuel” each generator uses.

  2. I’ll tell you how it happened. Mark Jacobson at Stanford used Monte Carlo methods to estimate the variance in wind power. Monte Carlo methods assume no wind droughts, just mean and variance. They also have baked in the reduction in wind variance due to using multiple wind sites.

    It’s a classic case of assuming what you want to prove, using some elaborate statistics and getting the answer you want. It is not clear if Jacobson knew what he was doing, or if he just liked the answers he was getting and stuck with it.

  3. I resend to Berkeley and Yale – two universities that have ruined their reputations for integrity by not knowing the science.

  4. Hi STT and Rafe,
    Rafe, another small error, but due diligence being due diligence, here we go:
    The paper, “Wind Farming in South Eastern Australia”, was co-authored with Dr Tom Quirk, thanks to Dr Tom’s generosity, by Andrew Miskelly. Andrew did the data extractions from the convoluted datasets then published by the AEMO, and which indeed are still published in the same convoluted form by the AEMO. The extractions are no easy task. Once made available, Dr Tom was then able to conduct the damning analysis which is described in that paper. My role then was merely, due to the help of another colleague, to be able to tell Andrew where to find the data, and to recognise that what we were seeing was horrifyingly awful. I believe that this analysis of Dr Tom’s was a world first in publicising the fact that the supply of electricity from wind energy is extremely variable and horribly intermittent. Because we were lampooned by certain academics as having “cherry-picked” the data in choosing just a few weeks of data, I subsequently decided to conduct an analysis of a full 12 months’ worth of data, of the data of all those wind farms that the AEMO made publicly available, for the calendar year 2010. This analysis was published as “Wind Farms in Eastern Australia – Recent Lessons”, in 2012. As you know, that paper is still freely available from the publisher for download, and thank you for your constant citing of it, STT. Dr Tom contributed a great deal of advice to that paper also, but refused my request that he be named as a co-author. (I have named him there in the acknowledgements of course!)

    Coincidentally with your publishing Rafe’s recent article today, Anton Lang has posted on his site an analysis of a prolonged “wind drought” that has happened on the Eastern Australian grid during just the last couple of days. What is interesting to me is that Anton describes very clearly, as he has said to Rafe and myself since, an event which is precisely in line with the predictions that I made all those years ago. It is very scary to see that one’s predictions are yet again proved correct, (see the conclusions in my 2012 paper), but there it is. Anyway, Anton describes this particular event far better than I can. See:
    And, still as always, Andrew Miskelly’s wonderful site is used as the presentation of choice of the AEMO data.

    Thanks Rafe, thanks STT for re-publishing Rafe’s recent paper, and to Anton, thanks as always for your constant monitoring and exhaustive analysis.

    Best regards,
    Paul Miskelly

  5. Small misprint in the article, the hard questions were directed to the energy ministers in 2021, not 2001, that timing was probably clear from the context but just to be sure:)

    The meteorologists are now under investigation, bearing in mind that they bought into the climate emergency narrative long before the IPCC became the major ball carrier.

    In 1985, Maurice Strong was serving as the Secretary-General of the United Nations, and he wanted an international scientific body to provide a comprehensive assessment of the state of knowledge on climate change. He proposed the idea of an international panel on climate change to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which were the two UN bodies responsible for climate issues at the time.
    Strong’s proposal was supported by the WMO and UNEP, and in 1988, the IPCC was established.

    Game, set and match. Thank you Maurice Strong and thank you WMO!

    1. Unknown to most, two IPCC rules require that IPCC GOVERNMENTS, NOT SCIENTISTS control what it reports as “scientific” findings on CO2, fossil fuels and man-made global warming. IPCC governments meet behind closed doors and control what is published in its Summaries for Policymakers (“SPMs”), which controls what is published in full reports.

      Here are the two important IPCC rules:

      1. All Summaries for Policymakers (SPMs) are approved line by line by member governments.


      “Procedures for the Preparation, Review, Acceptance, Adoption, Approval and Publication of IPCC Reports”

      Click to access ipcc-principles-appendix-a-final.pdf

      Nobel Physics Laureate Richard P. Feynman emphasized “No government has the right to decide the truth of scientific principles.”

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