Wind power fad driven by environmental spin

This article by Mike Nahan of the IPA, in the Opinion section of The West Australian 28 September 2007, says it all.

Two posts of mine touch on shortcomings of wind power.

Should we be surprised ? August 22nd, 2007
Albany Wind Farm underperforms, December 4th, 2006

A similar Govt exaggeration to what we see at Albany is claimed for most England and Wales wind farms, full text copied below. UK article from the Telegraph, Wind farms ‘are failing to generate the predicted amount of electricity’,
For text of Mike’s article in case the link goes offline
Wind power fad driven by environmental spin
28th September 2007, 13:00 WST

Saving the environment has become the zeitgeist of our age. The challenge lies not in joining the bandwagon — that is the easy part — but in making a real, positive difference.

In no other area, however, is the old saying “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” more applicable.

Take the case of wind turbines and WA Government’s new renewable energy target.

Wind turbines have become icons of a green, clean, renewable energy.

Governments around the world promote them with quotas and subsidies. Big business has jumped on the bandwagon with money and spin. Environmentalist, desperate for a clean alternative energy, claimed that they are the answer.

Wind turbines do have many benefits. They emit no pollution or carbon dioxide. They need no water for cooling. They are a mature technology. They can be dispersed around the countryside.

However, they do have some major weaknesses, which greatly limit their utility particularly in WA. .

Accordingly WA has, to date, adopted wind in a modest but sensible manner.

The State has 190 megawatts of installed wind capacity supplying about 3 per cent of electricity consumption in the South-West grid. These turbines are located in regional areas at the fringe of the grid with good wind conditions i.e., Esperance, Cervantes, Albany.

Propelled by the zeitgeist, the WA Government recently committed to a massive increase in wind power.

It has adopted a renewable target of 20 per cent for the South-West grid by 2025 which translates into a 12 per cent wind power target.

The Government’s decision has been met with loud applause from commentators, the wind industry and it own PR machine. However, even if you accept the intentions are good, the decision is deceptive and destructive.

The key weakness of wind power is that it only works when the wind blows. In WA for new turbines this is forecasted to be no more than 30 per cent of the time.

What is worse, in WA wind turbines do not operate during peak demand — when the weather is hottest — and have a tendency to drop suddenly.

This means that wind turbines must be backed up on nearly a one-to-one basis by coal or gas generators and need a lot of spinning capacity. In other words they require duplicate capacity and require fossil fuel plants to operate on idle in case the wind stops blowing. Thus they impose big system-wide cost and are not really carbon-neutral.

They also expose the electricity grid to big shocks and the risk of damaging transmission facilities, consumer goods and power outages.

And they have major location problems. The Government’s 12 per cent target would result in the construction of 1500 huge turbines — each the height of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. They would need to be located were the wind blows which means constructing them on the coast. The problem is 80 per cent of the coast between Esperance and Bunbury is national parks. Locating wind farm in national parks is anathema even to the wind-worshipping Green Party.

These negative effects can be managed when wind power represents 3 per cent of generation but not when pushed to 12 per cent.

Indeed no electricity grid in the world has wind power anywhere near 12 per cent of capacity.

Some individual European countries have wind at or above 12 per cent of capacity, but they are tied into bigger multi-country grids which provide back-up and greatly dilute reliance on wind.

The green adage, think globally, act locally, should mean addressing global challenges in the context of local conditions and capacity and not blindly jumping on a global bandwagon.

Wind has a place but it certainly is not the main answer to our energy needs.


Mike Nahan is a consultant to the WA Chamber of Commerce and Industry and headed the housing affordability task force set up by Opposition Leader Paul Omodei
Wind farms ‘are failing to generate the predicted amount of electricity’

By Charles Clover, Environment Editor
Last Updated: 1:12am GMT 10/12/2006
The claimed benefits of wind energy are called into question today by a study that finds few wind farms in England and Wales produce as much electricity as the Government has forecast.

The first independent study to rate farms according to how much electricity they produce shows that wind farms south of the Scottish border are not generating as much as the Government assumed when it set the target of producing a tenth of Britain’s energy from renewables by 2010 and 15 per cent by 2015.

Despite millions being spent on wind turbines, the study by the Renewable Energy Foundation shows that England and Wales are not windy enough to allow large turbines to work at the rates claimed for them. The foundation, a charity that aims to evaluate wind and other forms of renewable energy on an equal basis, based its study of more than 500 turbines now in operation on data supplied by companies to Ofgem, the energy regulator.

The study shows that even wind farms in Cornwall on west-facing coasts, which might be expected to be the most efficient, operated at only 24·1 per cent of capacity on average. Turbines in mid-Wales ran on average at only 23·8 per cent. Those in the Yorkshire Dales ran at 24·9 per cent and Cumbria 25·9 of capacity. The only regions with turbines operating at or above 30 per cent of capacity were in southern Scotland, which averaged 31·5 per cent, Caithness, Orkney and Shetland at 32·9 per cent and offshore (North Hoyle and Scroby Sands on opposite sides of the country), which came in at 32·6 per cent.

The report concludes that the most effective place to site the turbines is at sea near major cities where they can harness the greater power of off-shore winds without losing much of the electricity generated in transmission through the National Grid from remote areas such as the north of Scotland.

John Constable, an adviser to the foundation, said: “All the Government’s targets are based on wind farms running at 30 per cent of capacity. It is quite clear that if they are built anywhere on land south of the border, the targets will not be met.”

The foundation’s report found some real “turkeys” in lowland England – some attached to the offices of high profile companies. Worst of all is the turbine close to the M25 at Kings Langley, Herts at the HQ of Renewable Energy Systems, the green energy division of Robert McAlpine group. This produces 7·7 per cent of the electricity it would if there was enough wind for it to run continuously at full power.

The study says the turbine at GlaxoSmithKline’s pharmaceutical plant at Barnard Castle, Co Durham, which is in a built up area and uses second-hand turbines, operates at 8·8 per cent of capacity. “We are really talking about a garden ornament, not a power station. These are statements about the company’s corporate social responsibility, not efficient generating capacity,” Mr Constable said.

The foundation says that too much subsidy (£45.50 per megawatt hour under the renewables obligation which gives wind farms 60-70 per cent of their annual income) has encouraged wind development in poor sites. One house will need between three and five megawatt hours a year. Dr Ian Mays, managing director of Renewable Energy Systems, whose turbine scored lowest in the report, said: “Situated in low wind speed Hertfordshire, the RES turbine was never intended to generate huge amounts of electricity. But each unit it does generate is zero-carbon and you can’t get much better than that.”

A spokesman for the British Wind Energy Association accused the Renewable Energy Foundation of having an “anti wind agenda” and said it was “deeply suspicious” of the findings.

A plan for a wind farm on land owned by Mohamed Fayed at Invercassley near Lairg in Sutherland has been refused by Highland councillors. An appeal is expected.

2 thoughts on “Wind power fad driven by environmental spin”

  1. Where wind power does make sense is in places like California, where, often times, when it is very hot inland, due to our inevitable summer upwelling, it is quite cool at the coast. The resulting thermally induced pressure gradient results in howling winds in the low spots in the ranges of hills and mountains which lead inland. Since most people who are heavy users of air conditioning also live inland, the timing is good in terms of providing some additional headroom for the grid.

    But how many places in the world have this unique circumstance of high winds and peak demand? There may be no other ones besides California!

  2. Warwick,

    This is the near-realtime german wind power production, a zoomed window is available too.

    The permanent power curves can be examined here.

    I have examined the right hand side of the curve more closely, based upon preliminary 2006/2007 15min-means, as published by the German Verband der Netzbetreiber. Given a >99.9% level of grid reliability in Germany, wind energy adds close to nothing (t.i. less than 0.5% of the installed wind capacity) to grid stability and security. Wind energy thus simply cannot replace fossile/nuclear power. It is and remains an unreliable and rather costly fuel saver at most and a parasitical power generation technology by nature. The Denmark case makes that clear, forcing them to export more than 3/4 of their wind power generation.

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