WIND FARMS ARE REDUNDANT
A DETAILED ANALYSIS OF THEIR ALLEGED FUEL AND CO2 SAVINGS
The rationale behind our politicians´ enthusiasm for windpower and other renewable energies is not rooted in objective analysis. We shall not speculate here on political agendas or corrupt behavior, but simply explain why windfarms serve no useful purpose.
Above: windfarm in Germany, ruining the health of neighbors, property values, etc.
In Western countries, public energy policy is based on this fundamental premise: wind farms are a mature technology for producing green energy, and are competitive. But, if they are competitive, why do they need enormously expensive subsidies, direct or indirect?
The wind farm industry routinely replies to this question by pointing to the “external costs” of producing energy with fossil fuels. These external costs are, in a nutshell, pollution, CO2, and global warming. The flaw in this line of argumentation is that the external costs in question equally apply to wind farming, as I shall now endeavour to demonstrate in easily understandable language.
I) – Wind farms cause conventional power plants to burn more fossil-fuels per KWh produced.
It is an undisputed fact that anyone driving in city traffic spends considerably more fuel than he would on the motorway. There are two reasons for this:
- An engine burns fuel more efficiently when running at its optimal cruising speed (about 100 kph for most cars).
- An engine burns fuel with low efficiency and produces more harmful gases when it accelerates. Who hasn´t noticed the blue smoke coming out of exhaust pipes when cars accelerate? (black smoke in the case of poorly-tuned diesel engines).
In city traffic, cars accelerate, come to a stop, accelerate again, stop again, etc. This causes more fuel consumption and more pollution. And we must add to this the burning of fuel for nothing when cars are stopped at red lights, of stuck in traffic-jams.
The same happens with fossil-fuel power plants: they consume and pollute more when accelerating and stopping frequently. And the crux of the matter is that wind farms force these plants to operate that way.
Here is how:
A) - When the wind is blowing, fossil-fuel power plants (FFPPs) must curtail their productions because electricity produced by wind farms enjoys priority on
the grid. As there are no batteries large enough to absorb electricity produced in excess of demand, the FFPPs are thus ramped down to lower levels of production. This is necessary in order to maintain the required frequency of 50 Hz on the national grid, failing which there would be crippling black-outs, something a modern economy cannot tolerate.
The optimal efficiency of FFPPs being when they operate at about 95% capacity, this ramping down causes them to burn more fuel, to emit more CO2, and to pollute more for each KWh produced.
B) - Conversely, every time the wind speed goes down, whether or not temporarily, FFPPs must ramp up their production rapidly to avoid black-outs. This ramping up is comparable to the acceleration of an automobile in that it burns fuel quite inefficiently and emits more gases.
As this ramping up and down occurs frequently during a single day due to the high variability of wind speed, fuel consumption, CO2 emissions, and pollution
increase greatly for each KWh produced by the FFPPs. And wind farms are responsible for it.
C) - Finally, when one or more FFPPs must stop producing altogether because an increased quantity of wind-generated electricity has entered the grid, they must continue to spin in stand-by mode, burning fuel and emitting gases but not producing any electricity. This is necessary because wind is unpredictable, and these power plants will be required to ramp-up again at a moment’s notice when wind speed will go down.
Coal-fired power plants need several hours to produce electricity from a cold start. Closed-cycle gas turbines (CCGT) can respond quicker, but not at the flick of a switch. Nuclear plants cannot ramp up rapidly. Hydro power can, but is kept in reserve for emergencies (e.g. a FFPP breaking down). Flick-of-a-switch open-cycle gas turbines (OCGT), which are relatively expensive to operate, are being kept in reserve like hydro or used for peak loads only, i.e. at the time of day when electricity demand is at its highest. In the circumstances, a number of coal-fired or CCGT plants must be kept operating in stand-by mode when the wind is blowing, just in case it would abate rapidly.
A, B and C cause fuel to be burnt for nothing. This is caused by the existence of windfarms, whose "non-dispatchable" (uncontrollable) production must be "balanced", or "backed-up", by dispatchable FFPPs.
The higher the installed capacity of windpower in a country, the higher the number of FFPPs that must be kept running in back-up when the wind is blowing, balancing the erratic production of windfarms; and the more fuel is burnt for nothing.
An example will help understand these constraints of electricity production:
- Suppose a country has 20,000 MW of installed capacity in windpower.
- Suppose that, on a windy day, these windfarms are producing at 95% capacity, i.e. 19,000 MW (there will always be a few turbines in need of repair).
- Now suppose that the wind abates rapidly, and that within 2 hours only 10,000 MW of windpower capacity are actually being used. All things being equal, e.g. the demand for electricity, the grid manager will have to ramp up 9,000 MW into the grid. If he doesn´t have at that moment a dozen or so FFPPs spinning on stand-by, he will not be able to avoid a black-out, or at least a brownout (this is when electricity supply is being cut to certain customers, generally industries that use a lot of electricity). Brownouts already occurred in California and Spain, and a black-out in Germany. Although windfarms were not made officially responsible for these costly disruptions (political correctness oblige), they did play a substantial role.
Above: windfarm in the US, ruining the health of neighbors, property values, etc.
Recapitulation: extra fuel burnt to back-up windpower
1) More fuel is burnt by FFPPs spinning in standby, assuring againt the risk of wind abating.
2) More fuel is burnt per KWh produced when FFPPs are ramped up every time the wind speed inches down.
3) More fuel is burnt per KWh produced when FFPPs are forced to ramp down and operate at a lower level of efficiency when the wind is blowing.
All in all, there is considerable suspition that wind farms may be saving next to nothing (if at all) in fuel, pollution, and CO2 when their detrimental effects on the operation of FFPPs are considered. Yet these plants are needed to back-up windpower: without them there would be black-outs every time there is a change in wind speed, for the electricity´s frequency on the grid must remain steady at 50 Hz. To achieve this, the grid operator has to match supply with demand at all instants, with temporary variances in grid frequency not exceeding 1%.
Several papers, and a book, have been published on this matter, addressing some of the points raised above:
“The hidden fuel costs of wind generated electricity” - K. de Groot & C. le Pair
“Subsidizing CO2 emissions via windpower - the ultimate irony” - Kent Hawkins
Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland
Wind Power Important Questions And Answers
There are more papers and articles, all raising important questions, all calling for a comprehensive study on the unproved claim that wind farms save on fuel, pollution, and CO2. Unfortunately for taxpayers, consumers, and windfarm neighbours, who all pay dearly for this unreliable energy, no such study was ever made. Arguably, the results would be embarrassing for those governments that have been destroying so much landscape for nothing. This lack of transparency causes a growing number of people to think that wind farms are in fact useless, and just a means for a few to get rich quick at the expense of the many.
Internet is full of warnings from independent engineers, economists, and environmentalists. But the mainstream media ignores them, having abandoned investigative journalism long ago. Political correctness is so much more rewarding for them, and easier to follow than ethics.
Here is a paper, written by a retired Australian engineer with 40 years’ experience on a wide range of energy projects throughout the world, including managing energy R&D and providing policy advice for government and opposition:
“Cost and Quantity of Greenhouse Gas Emissions Avoided by Wind Generation” - Peter Lang
His paper concludes: “Wind power does not avoid significant amounts of greenhouse gas emissions.” Other valuable insights:
“ Because wind energy is variable, unreliable and cannot be called up on demand, especially at the time of peak demand, wind power has low value.
“ Because wind cannot be called up on demand, especially at the time of peak demand, installed wind generation capacity does not reduce the amount of installed conventional generating capacity required. So wind cannot contribute to reducing the capital investment in generating plant. Wind is simply an additional capital investment. ”
In other words, intermittent windfarms are simply redundant in a market where the needs of consumers must be filled exactly and instantly 24hx365d. Back-up by FFPPs is a necessity, and in the final analysis we would be better off letting these plants function at their optimal level of efficiency, rather than force them to burn more fuel and pollute unnecessarily by operating in an inefficient mode to balance the erratic production of windfarms.
This truth becomes more inconvenient still when one takes into account the collateral damage done by wind farms: they are harmful to people, the environment, landscapes, tourism, property values, bird and bat life, and the economy (the huge cost of subsidies actually destroys jobs).
And there is more. The very construction of these superfluous wind farms causes considerable amounts of fossil fuels to be burnt:
- when steel is manufactured for the towers, fiber-glass for the blades, etc.
- when the wind turbines are shipped, trucked, and then assembled on location.
- when top soil is removed, borrow pits are excavated, roads and platforms are built across the numerous landscapes that wind farms desecrate across the land (50 windfarms of 30x2MW turbines are needed to produce as much electricity as a single gas-fired power plant).
- when cement is produced for the concrete bases of the wind turbines. To make one ton of cement one must burn approximately one ton of oil or its equivalent in coal or gas. Each turbine base requires over 1,000 tons of cement to anchor the tall structure firmly into the ground, i.e. 1,000 tons of oil must be burnt to install each wind turbine. And brand new concrete bases will be needed for implanting new turbines 15 - 25 years down the line, when the old ones are no longer operative.
- when thousands of miles of new high-tension power lines are built to link hundreds of windfarms to the national grid, often from remote locations all over the country. By the way, the transmission cables must be 4 to 6 times bigger than the average amount of electricity produced by windfarms would require, for these only produce on average 15-25% of their nameplate capacity. Yet on those few days when the wind blows strongly, the transmission cables must be able to accommodate up to 95%. This is wasteful, and so is the amount of electricity lost while being transported from so far away to the big cities where most of it is used (loss is about 9% of the electricity transported).
- when the grid itself must be updated, at the expense of electricity consumers, to allow for the highly variable amounts of wind energy to be distributed around the country. Let alone the cost of building "smart grids" which would be able to switch off your refridgerator when wind speed goes down.
Consider then all this fuel burnt in the construction of hundreds of redundant wind farms, their access roads, and their power lines. Add it to the increased amounts of fuel burnt by back-up plants which must run in stand-by mode or at reduced capacity, or ramp up many times in response to the capricious nature of wind-based electricity production. One may then legitimately wonder if wind farms do not actually increase the total amount of fossil fuels burnt. Some of the papers quoted above mention that possibility.
Actually, with all the sophisticated measuring instruments at the disposal of governments and industry, no figures have been published on the supposed CO2 and fuel savings realised thanks to wind farms. Since this is the whole purpose of our colossal investment in this form of energy, why would these figures be kept secret?
If there are no fuel and CO2 savings, then the famous “external costs” of electricity obtained from fossil fuels apply equally to wind farms. Their alleged “competitiveness” based on the external costs of fossil fuel energy is therefore a fallacy.
Indeed, not a single fossil-fuel or nuclear plant was ever decommissioned thanks to wind farms. On the contrary, more of them are being built as electricity demand continues to grow, as if windfarms did not exist. Windfarms are thus redundant rather than competitive.
II) – Wind farms will never be competitive in the short to medium term.
On average, throughout the world, windfarms produce electricity at a cost in excess of 300% that of conventional energy, >400% when offshore. In these figures are included direct and indirect subsidies, plus the cost of backing-up wind farms´ unreliability with fossil-fuel power plants, capital costs included. Direct subsidies may take the form of:
– price fixing assorted with an obligation to purchase all electricity produced by windfarms at that price;
– financing a percentage of capital costs - cash grants;
– Renewable Obligation Certificates (UK);
– premiums over the market price (“Primas” - Spain);
Indirect subsidies are awarded by way of:
– tax credits;
– special low-interest financing;
– government guarantees given to banks doing the financing;
Opacity generally prevails in these matters. Rent-seeking investors know everything there is to know about the financial advantages being offered to them, but the general public is poorly informed. When, further down the line, electricity prices to households are increased to alleviate national budgets from these costly subsidies, the blame is often placed on rising petroleum prices, regardless of how little electricity is actually produced from oil (e.g. less than 1% in Spain). In Denmark, the European champion in wind energy per capita, household electricity prices are more than 100% higher than in the UK, France, Spain etc.
Wind power enthusiasts are often heard saying that the rising price of fossil fuels will soon make their technology competitive. It is a fact that the price of oil has risen lately, caused in part by a succession of severe winters, the emergence of rapidly growing markets (China, India, etc.), and political instability in oil-producing countries. But diesel generating units only account for a tiny percentage of total electricity production. Coal, gas and nuclear account for the bulk of most countries´ production of energy. The price of coal has remained relatively cheap, that of natural gas has been declining substantially, and the new generation of nuclear plants is more expensive than the old. The exploitation of huge reserves of shale gas in the US, Canada, Europe etc. is likely to maintain the price of gas down for many decades to come. Therefore, the “soon-to-be-competitive” argument does not stand scrutiny either.
Countries that stay away from wind power, investing in gas-fired power plants instead, will enjoy a competitive advantage over those that burden their economies with expensive yet redundant renewable energies.
III) – Wind farms will never be competitive in the long term.
Wind power is a mature technology, say its proponents. But this also implies that there is little to expect from cost improvements in the future. In fact, wind farms are becoming more expensive because of the rising price of steel and other materials. Building them offshore also causes costs to spiral upwards. The fact that the new, gearless wind turbines use “rare earth” metals, of which China has a quasi-monopoly, does not bode well for their future cost and our energy independence.
There is no valid reason whatsoever permitting to say that wind-produced energy will one day be cheaper than electricity generated by coal, gas, and nuclear plants. Windfarms need to be backed-up by fossil-fuel power plants, and that alone ensures that their electricity will always be more expensive than that of fossil fuels. Promises of new battery technology, of (low-autonomy) electric cars recharging at night when the wind blows, and other such wishful ideas cannot form a reasonable basis for decision making.
Above: windfarm in the Philippines, ruining tourism potential.
IV) – Wind farms hurt the economy.
We have seen that, when running fossil fuel power plants without hindrance from wind turbines, we were unlikely to be consuming more fuel than if we had a large penetration of wind energy displacing some of their production when the wind is blowing. Thus, it is not unreasonable to suggest that windfarms serve no useful purpose. Yet they inflict huge collateral damages on:
- the economy
- landscapes and their tourism potential
- property values (cumulatively a huge loss in capital resources)
- health of neighbours
- quality of life for everyone
I was not surprised, in the circumstances, to find a book entitled The Wind Farm Scam, by Dr John Etherington - former Reader in Ecology, Thomas Huxley Medallist at the Royal College of Science and former co-editor of the Journal of Ecology.
The Wind Farm Scam
On the economy front, the only thing that windfarms really do is to increase the cost of electricity, render uncompetitive the countries that build them, and therefore destroy jobs. Several studies have shown that green jobs created by way of subsidies are actually destroying jobs in other sectors of the economy. Here is what we read in one of them:
“for every green job, we can be highly confident that 2.2 jobs are destroyed elsewhere in the economy, to which we have to add those jobs that the non-subsidized investment would have created”.
Study of the Effects on Employment of Public Aid to Renewable Energy Sources - Gabriel Calzada Álvarez PhD – University of King Juan Carlos, Spain
A study along the same lines was performed in Italy. Here is what was found:
“one green job costs on average as much 4.8 jobs in the entire economy, or 6.9 jobs in the industrial sector. The same amount of subsidies that have already been given or committed could produce nearly five times as many jobs if allowed to be spent by the private sector elsewhere in the economy”
Carlo Stagnaro and Luciano Lavecchia, researchers with the Instituto Bruno Leoni
Another aspect of this wasteful spending are the inflated prices and resulting inflated profits for the rent-seekers of the subsidised wind farm business, and the total absence of accountability when it comes to meeting performance standards:
“With green energy policies now promoted as economic opportunity and jobs programs, governmental incentives have shifted the bulk of project risks onto rate and taxpayers. Sixty-five percent or more of a project´s monetary costs and risks are presently met through governmental subsidies, including cash grants, DOE loan guarantees, and premiums on energy prices. Whether intended or not, the American public has become the largest buyer/developer/investor of renewable energy while the profits remain privatized. This has created an environment where the likes of PG&E, Iberdrola, turbine suppliers and all other parties involved in a project´s construction and O&M are free to inflate prices but share limited, or even no responsibility for meeting performance standards.”
There are more things to say about the waste of taxpayers’ money into this ineffective technology that will make Western economies less competitive world-wide. But suffice to say at this stage that the premise upon which are based our governments´energy policies is flawed: windfarms are neither a mature technology, nor are they competitive. They are maintained alive by enormously expensive subsidies that are hurting the economy and creating more unemployment.
March 8th, 2011
Note: the date shown below is incorrect, resulting from a faulty computer programming.
>> Autor: Mark Duchamp (22/02/2011)
>> Fuente: Mark Duchamp
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