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Wind: Energy Past, not Energy Future (the intermittency curse then, as now)

The disadvantage of windpower as a primary energy source has been long recognized. This 1838 textbook described the competitive situation of wind as follows:

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 William Stanley Jevons also detailed the problems of windpower in his 1865 classic, The Coal Question,

 

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which was the subject of a previous MasterResource post.

An issue of the Scientific American in 1891 profiled the following experimental wind turbine generating electricity in the northeastern U.S .:

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So beware of the hyperbole about windpower being the next great thing. It is a very old thing that could not, and still cannot, compete with the manifold advantages of hydrocarbon energies.

13 comments

1 TokyoTom { 03.04.09 at 12:09 pm }

Rob, thanks for this; you are right of course about the drawbacks to wind.

Now can I interest you in some very, very old tracts on how dirty coal is, both in mining and combustion, or newer ones about deaths, health costs, damages to property that are still ongoing and uncompensated?
BTW, while you are obviously an advocate for coal, are you also an advocate that coal producers and consumers bear their own costs? Or is shifting those costs to others a right that they have homesteaded?

2 Andrew { 03.04.09 at 6:45 pm }

TTom, the question isn’t “is coal bad?” its “is it better than (essentially) nothing?” It is. Coal, I submit, has save far more lives than it has cost, and has improved quality of life more than damaged it.

3 quanticle { 03.04.09 at 9:21 pm }

The issue with using past as prologue is that it completely ignores technological improvement. Given that there are improvements in battery power and capacitors every year, is it not conceivable that eventually wind power will become cheap and reliable enough to serve as a baseline energy source?

Hydrocarbon energies, for all their manifold benefits, have the huge disadvantage of being finite in quantity. Eventually we will run out of coal. Eventually we will run out of oil. Same for natural gas. Is it then foolhardy to do all we can to investigate new sources of energy so that we can be ready when that day comes?

4 Bob Koss { 03.05.09 at 1:38 am }

Bonneville Power Authority in the northwest had a stretch in January of 11.5 straight days when their wind generation was less than 3% of rated capacity. They also say 23% of the time over the last year they generated at less than 3% of capacity.

Fossil fuel or nuclear baseload will always be required to ensure reliability.

There are many wind generation graphs downloadable from this link. http://www.transmission.bpa.gov/business/operations/Wind/default.aspx

5 TokyoTom { 03.05.09 at 3:58 am }

Andrew, the question is NOT whether “coal is it better than (essentially) nothing?”, just as it is not whether wind or any other energy source is perfect or preferable.

The question is whether those who engage in economic activities are bearing the costs or risks of those activities, or whether those activities appear relatively preferable to the people involved because they are able to shift damages, costs, risks and/or responsibilities for consequences to others.

True libertarians insist that individuals (and firms) bear full responsibility for harms caused to others; some in fact insist that those who are harmed without their consent have the right to use courts to enjoin the damaging activity. Maybe this all seems a little quaint to you?

My point is simply that Rob is ignoring, rather obviously and perhaps deliberately, the human costs of the use of coal.

6 Tom Tanton { 03.05.09 at 9:15 am }

The “human cost of coal” has been extensively studied as have most other energy (nay, all economic) technologies. That study are most often referred to as “externalities”–Guess what? The economic ‘costs’ of coal are mostly, if not completely, offset by the economic benefits. The negative externalities are NOT enough to offset the higher cost premiums of technologies like wind that never quite mature (most likely because of the heavy per unit subsidy they’ve become dependent on after 35+ years.)
Now let’s see about human costs–in countries with coal (or nuclear or any meaningful) baseload power isn’t the average life span about twice that of folks living in countries with no or primitive energy? Aren’t THOSE folks also less educated, and less free? Do they even have 15 minutes a day of “leisure time”?Aren’t those folks also burdened with spending every daylight hour finding a piece of wood (or dung) to cook their measly daily bread and using unsanitary water to boot?
I don’t believe Rob is ignoring the costs of coal. I believe Sir you’re ignoring the economic and human benefits of coal and modern energy.

7 TokyoTom { 03.05.09 at 12:08 pm }

Tom, it seems that you understand little, if anything, about free markets or libertarian principles. Murray Rothbard`s paper on air pollution makes it clear that it was utilitarian arguments like yours – “the damage my pollution does to you is fine because people want to but my products” – that industry used in the 1800s to subvert the common law and run roughshod over property rights, leading to the “pollution is free” philosophy and ruinous competition where the non-polluter went bankrupt. The upshot was the horrible pollution in the 50s, 60s and 70s that led to tremendous citizens` movements to use government to bring pollution under control – with laws signed by Republican presidents.

No externalities? Where were you? What motivated the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, SuperFund?

As for coal vs. wind, please spare me the strawman. I`m not at all suggesting that wind OUGHT to be subsidized. I`m just asking for a little intellectual honesty that will recognize that coal use IS subsidized, by being allowed to shift real and significant costs to others, and that we`d all be better off if those socialized costs were internalized.

Perhaps someday it will occur to those who (correctly) want to bash greens for their stupid proposals that they might be more successful if they were a little more consistent themselves and started exploring common ground. Where`s the post praising the federal court decision forcing TVA to do a better job at cleaning flue gases than required by the CAA in order to limit harm caused in NC, for example? Where`s the post calling for the privatization of the bumbling, polluting TVA, which keeps generating costs for taxpayers and ratepayers?

But that`s not what this blog is all about, is it? You guys are more into making enemies and fighting over government than in truly shifting risks and regulation back to markets and the courts.

As for countries abroad, this is of course unrelated to a discussion local/regional costs and energy alternatives in the US. But since you bring it up, don`t forget that the real reason why these other nations aren`t developed yet is that they`re still kleptocracies that don`t sufficiently protect private property rights and returns on investments. Why are you cheering on poor governance, instead of suggesting that they could become wealthier sooner by accelerating their move up the Kuznets curve (which is an artifact not only of preferences, but of insufficient information and laws that protect the elites over private property of the masses)?

8 Tom Tanton { 03.06.09 at 11:45 am }

“the damage my pollution does to you is fine because people want to but my products” –only I NEVER said that.
wrt to “by being allowed to shift real and significant costs to others, and that we`d all be better off if those socialized costs were internalized. ” yes, but onlyprovided the social benefits are similarly internalized, and that the social costs of e.g. wind also be internalized. Just what value would you propose be asigned the extinction of an endangered species caused by so many wind turbines right in their habitat or flyway? According to the ESA and court decisions, that cost (at least for other technologies) outweighs any and everything. My first post only pointed out that when correctly monetized (not using cost of control but damage functions) most fossil fuel technologies STILL win (i.e. toal social costs) compared to most renewables in most cases. The question of who decides those costs and dealing with the uncertainty of those costs (and benefits) is of course at the crux. It cannot be government. Finally, since you mention it “forget that the real reason why these other nations aren`t developed yet is that they`re still kleptocracies that don`t sufficiently protect private property rights and returns on investments. ” you’re of course right and we do find some common ground there–problem is, though that the US is “de-developing” for exactly the same reason.

9 Bob R Geologist { 03.07.09 at 1:53 am }

I detect science and rationality is beginning to assert itself into the non-problem of AGW but it is still beloved by politicians for its potential for taxing energy. However, western civilization is dependent on cheap energy to thrive and in these economically uncertains times, it would be the height of folly to force us into switching to renewable but unreliable energy sources. We are blessed with at least 100 year supply of carbon based fuels . Some ancient climates are known to have had atmospheres with over 12 times the carbon dioxide we have in our air today with out harm to life. So, lets not rush immature technologies for renewable energy sources until we can do it economically. Besides, we can use more CO2 in our air as it will be good for agriculture and save billions of human lives in poor countries and we can use a warmer climate because technically we are still in a glacial mode.

10 Carbonicus { 03.07.09 at 11:14 am }

TokyoTom – Andrew had it “righter” than you think. The REAL question is not “whether those who engage in economic activities are bearing the costs or risks of those activities, or whether those activities appear relatively preferable to the people involved because they are able to shift damages, costs, risks and/or responsibilities for consequences to others”. The REAL question is whether society WILLINGLY acknowledges and accepts those costs, risks, damages given the quality of life that they directly enable. Yes, there are real pollutant externalities with coal, oil, fossils. But we should regulate and reduce contaminants and pollutants, and have done a pretty good job of doing so, with still room for much improvement.

You might be happy to ignore this, but the facts – hard data – prove this. Look at air quality in the top 10 U.S. cities from the 1960′s to today. Look at contaminant loads to waterways, surface water quality, etc. Look at mortality statistics. As I said, we have a long way to go but we’re improving.

And, while on the subject of pollutants, CO2 is not one, despite what the Supreme Court might leave open to question in Mass. v EPA, or Lisa Jackson and Carol Browner’s soon to come “endangerment” finding. Factually, carbon is one of the essential elements for life on earth, like oxygen, hydrogen, and others. CO2 is plant fertilizer for 97% of the plants that cover the surface of the earth, including crops. So let’s worry about “pollutants” and not elements essential for life on earth.

We accept these externalities because the benefits outweigh the costs. Imposing alternatives before they are able to meet the demand required to meet a certain level of economic output and enable at least the current quality of life guarantees that the costs outweigh the benefits for society. Go research the environmental kuznets curve.

You are simply a watermelon. Green on the outside and red on the inside. And Carbonicus exists you expose you, Gore and your camp for what you really are: eco-socialists.

Not in my country…..

11 Andrew { 03.07.09 at 11:30 am }

TTom, your response to me is so wrong it isn’t even worth explaining it to you.

12 Governor Rick Perry (R-TX), T. Boone Pickens, and the Enron Legacy of Windpower — MasterResource { 04.06.09 at 4:30 am }

[...] T. Boone’s windpower “vision” is about a displaced, obsolete energy of the past, not an energy of the future. Take away the mandates and the the tax subsidies, and windpower will [...]

13 Windpower Is Not an Infant Industry! — MasterResource { 10.13.09 at 7:57 am }

[...] post, “Wind: Energy Past, Not Energy Future,” documented how 19th century economists unmasked wind as an inferior energy. Here is one [...]

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