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Is Windpower the Ethanol of Electricity? (Part II: Environmental Issues)

Part I examined the true costs of ethanol and windpower to find that both were highly uneconomic compared to their alternatives. Both government-dependent fuels are also inferior products, making a straight comparative cost comparison misleading.

The environmental characteristics of both ethanol and windpower are also problematic compared to their more energy-dense, consumer-preferred alternatives.

Is Ethanol Green?

Given the high cost of the ethanol mandate, the putative benefits – energy independence, green jobs creation, environmental improvement – come at a steep price. But costs aside, there are other reasons to doubt whether these benefits are real. The gulf between hype and reality is perhaps greatest when it comes to environmental performance.

The negative environmental externalities associated with petroleum-derived fuels – particularly oil spills, air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions – have long been a major focus of the environmental movement and federal regulators. Thus, many simply assumed that ethanol, by supplanting some of the gasoline supply, would be an improvement. Unfortunately, the mandate is teaching us, the hard way, that ethanol has plenty of its own environmental negatives.

Environmental organizations have raised concerns about the increased inputs of energy, pesticides, and fertilizer to grow the additional corn now needed to meet fuel as well as food demand. The same is true for the stress on water supplies, especially now that corn production has been expanded into locales where rainfall is insufficient and irrigation is needed. Land previously in its natural state has been converted to cropland. The facilities that distill the corn into ethanol also require significant energy and water inputs and produce industrial emissions.

The use of ethanol in motor fuel has had a mixed impact on air quality. It lowers some types of pollutants, such as carbon monoxide, but increases others, such as the evaporative emissions that contribute to smog. In fact, certain high-volatility components of gasoline must be removed before adding ethanol in order to prevent the overall blend from violating Clean Air Act requirements in high smog areas.

The biggest environmental disappointment with ethanol has been its impact on greenhouse gas emissions. Proponents of the mandate insisted that ethanol would be responsible for significantly lower carbon dioxide emissions than the gasoline displaced, but researchers have challenged this assertion and found the emissions reductions fairly modest. Other studies conclude that ethanol and other biofuels actually increase emissions, once the impacts of turning carbon-storing forests and grasslands into additional cropland are taken into account.

Even giving ethanol the benefit of the doubt regarding carbon dioxide emissions reductions, the Environmental Protection Agency draft regulatory impact analysis estimates the impact on future temperatures from the mandate at less than 0.01 degrees C by 2100, essentially meaningless. The Congressional Budget Office puts the cost to taxpayers of each ton of carbon dioxide reduced at $750 per ton, making it one of the most expensive ways of reducing emissions.

It is worth noting that many of the same reasons why ethanol is a bad deal for consumers – especially the corn and other resource inputs that make large-scale ethanol production uneconomic absent federal assistance – also undercut the supposed environmental benefits.

Is Wind Power Green?

Like ethanol, increased use of wind would also fall well short of the environmental hype, and for similar reasons.

An RES would require vast expanses of land to be dotted with wind turbines, and the environmental impacts (not to mention the effects on nearby residents) are far from trivial. The same is true of the many new transmission line routes that would be needed. Though most environmental organizations still support an RES in principle, several are already active trying to block many if not most proposed wind farms and new transmission lines, based on environmental concerns.

As with ethanol, the primary green selling point with wind has been the promise of greenhouse gas emissions reductions. And, as with ethanol, the reality should be a major letdown for anyone seriously worried about global warming.

The simplistic notion that the addition of wind means the subtraction of carbon dioxide-emitting coal and natural gas generation has failed to take into account wind’s limitations. As discussed above, in order to integrate wind the rest of the system must be operated in an inefficient – and thus higher-emitting – manner to compensate for the on-again off-again nature of wind. This is particularly problematic for coal-fired generation, which is ill-suited to be cycled, but also to an extent for natural gas.

Such system-wide accommodations for wind not only add to the cost of an RES, but also undercut or eliminate the promised carbon dioxide emissions reductions (as well as NOx and SOx emissions that contribute to air pollution). This is proving to be the case in pro-wind nations like Denmark, where increased emissions from coal negate any savings from wind. And in Colorado and Texas, state-mandated renewable standards more aggressive than in Denmark have led to an overall increase in carbon emissions as coal and natural gas plants are inefficiently cycled to accommodate wind. This suggests that emissions increases will only get worse with a national mandate.

Thus, as with ethanol, the very problems that make wind more expensive also make it less environmentally beneficial than proponents claimed. The fact that wind needs a mandate in the first place should be a sign of both economic and environmental disappointment should it be given one.

Conclusion

The only good news with the current ethanol policy is that it has proven to be so problematic that it has garnered a broad base of opposition. It is worth noting that the current debate over extending the ethanol tax credits – in past years a slam dunk given the power of the corn lobby and big ethanol producers like Archer Daniels Midland –has bogged down in Congress. Likewise, EPA’s proposal to allow up to 15 percent ethanol in fuel has also proven to be contentious.

Corn growers may love the current policy, but it has split the agricultural community – livestock and poultry producers who purchase corn as feed face higher prices thanks to the mandate. The food industry has gotten involved. Millions of boat and motorcycle owners and others worried about fuel quality issues have also become active. Many environmental activists, including some who once supported expanded ethanol use, have changed their position and are becoming vocal about it.

And the American public – who has gotten a bad deal at the pump, the supermarket, and as taxpayers – are no longer solidly behind Washington’s ethanol largesse. The ethanol lobby is still very powerful, but the battle has been joined.

The same should be true of wind. Perhaps this time the opposition can come together in time to prevent another regrettable mandate.

Ben Lieberman is an associate fellow in Environmental Policy with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, in Washington, DC.

24 comments

1 Clothcap { 09.29.10 at 8:27 am }

Thanks Mr Lieberman for the article. I’ve been spitting into the wind bitching about the harmfulness of biofuels for years. Be unsurprised if you get totally ignored.
Land conversion to soy crops creates a “carbon debt” that takes up to 400 years to repay.
With subsidies, biofuel volume is ~same price as fosfuel. Except it produces ~a third less energy per unit.
Corn ethanol is worsening the Gulf dead zone.
http://news.mongabay.com/2008/0310-ethanol.html
Biofuels’ list of negatives is long. I listed as many as I could find here: Fraud 5. Biofuel Boondoggle
http://clothcap.livejournal.com/13332.html
In Canada Free press (July)
Major Newspapers Urge an End to Ethanol Subsidy
http://www.canadafreepress.com/index.php/article/25803
There is no justification for ethanol, no matter whether it is produced from corn or cellulose. The same goes for biodiesel fuel.

Not to be forgotten is the death toll and starvation count attributable to the price forcing due to corn to biofuel.
Looking at the media response to the opening of Thanet sea wind farm, it seems the truth about WE is slowly getting through. All pain no gain.

2 Jon Boone { 09.29.10 at 10:08 am }

A beautifully written and argued piece, which deserves to be distributed widely to all energy policy wonks and the various media.

Perhaps CEI and Heritage might consider ratcheting up their scrutiny of wind to better explain its political popularity. If wind were only a creature of blockheaded environmental organizations like Audubon and The Sierra Club, it still would function mainly as tourist traps in The Netherlands. That it is now deeply cradled in the mangers of GE, the FPL Group, BP, AES, Siemens, Goldman Sachs, and Areva is a story waiting to be told–as an Enronesque cautionary tale, a tale of derivative bundling of a fraudulent power source in order to produce income through tax avoidance and other rent seeking measures.

Last year, GE paid no federal income tax, largely because of its wind “investments.” In past years, the FPL Group boasted of substantial earnings because of its wind operations, while also not paying any federal income taxes. And nuclear, despite the cheerleading by Areva, needs wind much less than a fish needs a bicycle; it is a relationship that can only be explained by economic opportunism where the public be damned.

As is the case with ethanol, wind must be seen as the spawn of powerful economic interests within the energy industry itself, cynically using wind to enrich themselves while capturing government to make sure they get even richer.

The success of PR spinners in creating a meaningless modern day melodrama, where wind technology is somehow transformed from a little shepherd boy into a fossil fuel slaying hero as the hook to sell, well, more fossil fuel, is the real story here. This cozy fable plays nicely on NPR. But it should be exposed for the grizzly corporate/government sleaze it really is, saving rate and taxpayers a bundle while restoring a modicum of intellectual integrity to the media.

3 TK Thompson { 09.30.10 at 9:09 am }

Did you even read the Bentek article you site? I quote from the conclusion (p77 3a):
“Immediately reduce generation at Cherokee and Valmont to levels that eliminate the need to cycle by replacing the generation with power produced by the numerous under-utilized gas-fired combine cycle and combustion turbines that are part of the current IRP resource mix.” and (4) “Adding more combined-cycle plants to the generation stack will provide a cushion that will obviate PSCO’s need to cycle its coal facilities in all but the most extreme situations…”

Read: the current problems with wind are soluable given a better resource mix that will reduce the need to inefficiently cycle coal. Strange that you should fail to highlight that positive takeaway.
Who pays your salary?

4 Jon Boone { 09.30.10 at 10:03 am }

I read the Bentek report, and, as I wrote in a long piece last week, Bentek had indeed recommended replacing the coal units with natural gas. But, as I also wrote… what Bentek did not report was that even an ideal mix of open and combined cycle gas units with wind would do only marginally better at abating CO2 than they could with NO WIND AT ALL, without the need for wind’s incredibly expensive and environmentally treacherous physical plant. Do read Peter Lang and Kent Hawkins about this, which one can find here on Master Resource.

Wind volatility, all other things being equal, is a mechanism for increased use of fossil fuels, surely something that the natural gas interests in Colorado well know–as well as the smart guys in the rooms at GE, BP, AES, FPL, Siemens, Goldman Sachs, etc, doubtless learned at their stint with Enron.

5 Just another Mike { 09.30.10 at 10:54 am }

Interesting view on wind, though overall I disagree with the conclusions.

According to the Bentek article the cause of increased emissions is from coal plants being cycled to allow wind energy to enter the grid. As TK Thompson pointed out Bentek’s suggested solution is to phase out coal in place of natural gas combined cycles. The problem isn’t wind, but the power system in general. It is somewhat of a legacy system, built up when large thermal plants were all that was needed. the system was very much a command-and-control set up with utilities planning out their own little corner of the country with little regard for the larger system. Some degree of regional integration did develop (Northeast Grid, NERC etc.), but these were still focused on a regional level and oriented towards large themal units.

The situation today is a bit different. We have a better understanding about the limits and costs of fossil fuel generation (resource availability, emissions, etc). We also have the ability to offset some of these risks through cleaner technologies: wind, solar, high efficiency gas plants. But the system, as it is, is not capable of absorbing these changes. There is no national grid to transport renewable power to load heavy regions from rich renewable energy areas. There is still a lot of work to be done with modeling wind and solar resource for integration into the grid. Transmission bottlenecks that force intemittent energy to stay with in one region (such as ERCOT) causing the emission problems Bentek examined.

What we need is to reinvest in the energy infrastructure of the country (not to mention a lot of other infrastructure). America has a huge amount of renewable energy potential that remains untapped. By integrating the country regions which were once heavily dependent on one resource type will have more options to diversify and the system overall will become more efficient. Regions will be able to more properly manage their thermal units will allowing intermitent energy flow to areas with the best ability to absorb them.

There is, to a degree, a chicken and egg problem. Without transmission these areas will not be developed; without development there will not be transmission built. Government can step in an offer incentive and invest in infrastructure to break this logjam. The government has the advantage of low financing costs and being able to view a much longer term when assessing the value of a plan. Instead of making X% return in a few years the government can take into account the social benefits of long term energy investments (lower power costs, job creation, more domestic energy production).

At the end of the day the problem isn’t wind, the problem is that we are at the beginning of a transition into a different kind of energy system. A system the recognizes the flaws and faults with the previous way of doing business and is migrating to a more integrated, cleaner and more efficient system. Like any other transition there are bound to be added initial costs (such as the computerization of the U.S. workforce in the 1980′s and 1990′s). But to say that the problems we are seeing as a result of the transition are reason enough to stop the transition is short-sighted. If we do not prepare for the future we risk even bigger problems down the line.

6 Vince { 09.30.10 at 12:30 pm }

“wind’s incredibly expensive and environmentally treacherous physical plant”

No, you’re not biased at all.

At low penetration the variability in generation is no different variability in demand and handled the same way by the electricity grid system operator. And of course in all areas the variability is handled by dirty coal plants right? More bias. How about all the CC gas and hydro around the world. Furthermore, you don’t plan long term changes to generation based on today’s world, but rather what is expected during the lifetime of the generation plant. Within a decade or two there will be significant changes that enable electrical energy storage, either large scale on grid, or distributed systems such as V2G. There are many other works in progress that will be very synergistic with renewable generation systems. The change will not happen overnight, but just because we don’t have the perfect system today doesn’t mean we shouldn’t start making changes. Otherwise we will be waiting for that magical perfect solution that will never come.

BTW, I also support nuclear, but don’t think we should use any one single generation method. Otherwise we may learn of unexpected problems down the road, and be too dependent on that one technology to make an easy switch. Just like we now know that using too much petroleum as an energy source was not the best idea. Don’t make your implementation choices for today just based on what is cheapest today.

7 Jim Goodman { 09.30.10 at 1:26 pm }

Not believing much in global warming science (yes the globe is warming a bit, but the science around what it means is questionable) I find wind power a wonderful way to stretch the dwindling resources we have.

8 Charles { 09.30.10 at 6:15 pm }

It seems a few commenters on this article have not quite got their heads around the shortcomings of wind energy.

In the first instance, there is not one kw of wind generated energy that does not require an equal amount of generating capacity usually suppplied by a fossil fuelled generator (gas or coal). There are some locations around the world where wind is offset by hydro, but these are fairly limited.

To balance the supply of energy from wind turbines not only requires lots of expensive new transmission lines, but also requires a variable and fluctuating supply from the aforementioned fossil fuelled (or on rare occasions hydro) generators.

When operating a fossil fuelled generator in a variable or fluctuating manner, operational efficiency is the first victim. Consequently when this occurs, more CO2 is produced than necessary and also than if you ran it at one operating level for a protracted period of time.

Therfore, claims that ‘wind can extend energy supplies’ or ‘support existing generation capacity’ are examples of wishful thinking only and have no place in reality, and are actually policies doing significant damage to our economy as well as human well-being.

9 Jon Boone { 09.30.10 at 7:12 pm }

No question, Charles. Well said.

And Jim, Mike, and Vince. Absolutely. I’m biased against wind, since it’s one of the silliest modern power ideas imaginable, particularly since it is incapable of producing modern power. I’m also biased against the idea of phlogiston and Muslim commandos on the far side of the moon. Those who think thousands of skyscraper-sized machines, with rotors longer than half a football field and moving nearly 200 miles at their tips present no environmental hazard have little concept of either environmental history or habitat preservation. Let alone viewshed protection, long considered an important environmental precept before cognitive dissonance took such hold of groups like The Sierra Club. John Muir must be spinning in his grave about wind depredations.

Producing supply that destabilizes the match between demand and supply accentuates the problem of demand flux. Sure, engineers can put a cork in the problem, in the same way they handle demand flux. But this cork is in addition to what is done to balance demand. Which adds additional costs AND additional, more inefficient thermal activity. Which leads to increased greenhouse gas emissions, as Bentek shows.

Marrying wind with more flexible open cycle natural gas units generates as much or more CO2 emissions than can be achieved with a natural gas system alone.

Spending trillions to establish a smart grid to enable silly technologies like wind is truly dumb, particularly given so many better ways to decrease our carbon footprint. This is not hyperbole, given what must be done to retool an entire electricity network nationwide.

For those like Jim who think wind is a “wonderful way” to stretch our dwindling resources (by which I’m assuming he means coal, natural gas, wood, and the wetlands hosting large impoundments of hydro), yes, let’s return to those thrilling days of yesteryear without electricity on demand (or any electricity at all), commercial sailing vessels, and windmills used to pump water and grind the grain to make the beer. Lets have wind “power” our gas pumps, and watch the bedlam that ensues. And, hey, with some faith and trust, along with the whims of wind, all we’ll need to make it happen is–a little pixie dust. Everyone clap their hands to bring this idea back from its life and death struggle against unbelief.

10 Justin { 10.01.10 at 6:10 am }

I’ll believe this Ben Lieberman propoganda when he tells us what his personal investment portfolio is in coal, oil and natural gas companies. Same for the rest of the prinicpals on this blog.

11 Vince { 10.01.10 at 8:23 am }

“Spending trillions to establish a smart grid to enable silly technologies like wind is truly dumb, particularly given so many better ways to decrease our carbon footprint. This is not hyperbole, given what must be done to retool an entire electricity network nationwide.”

Better ways to reduce our carbon footprint like what? The two main sources are electricity generation and transportation. Since you are against corn based ethanol (which I agree with), I assume you know that no other biofuel has any hope either. That leaves EVs. Do you think EVs will be synergistic or antagonistic to intermittent generation from renewable sources? (only one correct answer here)

The electricity grid needs upgrading regardless of what is done on the generation side. I would surely rather spend trillions upgrading the grid than the trillions that have been spent on the military.

I assume you are also completely against all solar, since it is even more intermittent than wind? Come on, show us where your true bias lies.

12 Vince { 10.01.10 at 8:43 am }

“In the first instance, there is not one kw of wind generated energy that does not require an equal amount of generating capacity usually suppplied by a fossil fuelled generator (gas or coal). There are some locations around the world where wind is offset by hydro, but these are fairly limited.”

So I guess since it can’t be implemented perfectly everywhere then it should not be implemented anywhere? I’ll wager anybody that in less than 20 years intermittency will be a non-issue. What is idiocy is our current method of generation and transmission, constantly varying source generation to meet demand. It is extremely inefficient. Just because we have done something a certain way for a long time doesn’t make it the right way. It more often means it is the wrong way, because it hasn’t adapted with the times.

13 Jon Boone { 10.01.10 at 9:53 am }

I have no interest whatsoever in any energy business. I’m a long time environmentalist, a retired academic, who seeks honest power policy, maintaining the electricity goals of high reliability, affordability, and security–since these standards of electricity have greatly improved human productivity and quality of life. Wind is an ancient, largely discarded technology wholly inimical to such goals; it was resurrected by Enron in the US to sell tax sheltering, and is sustained by multinational energy corporations using the Enron model.

As an environmentalist, I believe we must be better custodians of land and water. In terms of economic efficiency and improved ecosystems, producing the most power in the smallest space at a scale affordable by all is what present and future enterprise should ensure.

Given its sprawling footprint (and dysfunctional production), wind is also inimical to rational goals for the environment. Battery storage for its volatile production is not an anyone’s near horizon–and hasn’t been for a century. Erecting hundreds of thousands of wind turbines, at great cost in dollars, and to the grid and environment, in the misplaced hope such storage will emerge, is not acceptable.
Building a smart grid so that variables like wind can be a player seems ghastly. The transportation equivalent would be building a smarter highway system to accommodate a huge number of drunk drivers, giving them their own highways and a dedicated ambulance service.

Wind belongs in no one’s power portfolio, since it provides no modern power quality. It will, among other things, make its companion generation much more inefficient. Nuclear needs wind much less than a fish needs a bicycle; such a pairing is ridiculous, for nuclear could provide electricity for all needs without producing virtually any greenhouse gas emissions. Wind would only make it more inefficient–but with a capital cost equivalent to nuclear’s.

Solar is a terrible idea at industrial scale, for many of the same reasons as wind; its fuel is far too dilute to be converted into modern power quality. It can be used at local levels to achieve some good. Future solar technologies will become standard, I think, for residential and commercial housing, highway signalment and other transportation appurtenances, and a range of lighting applications.

Humanity continues to decarbonize its power production. We’re much better at this than we were 150 years ago, when burning wood was our ace in the hole. The world will depend upon coal for many decades, using natural gas as a bridge until we come to our senses about nuclear. Meanwhile, we should ban most forms of mountaintop removal coal extraction and insist upon cleaning up existing coal farms. Doing the latter would do more good by itself than covering the landscape with wind turbines. With over over 35,000 windscrapers extant in North American, there is not a shred of empirical evidence that we use less fossil fuels or emit less CO2 as a consequence.

14 Jon Boone { 10.01.10 at 10:11 am }

And, yes, let’s end that inefficient on again, off again source generation that allows people to turn their machines off and on as and when they choose–and return to the “better model” of making demand responsive to unvarying supply. That was the model we used in 1890. It would be much cheaper and would save a lot of greenhouse gasses.

It’s not the intermittence of wind that is the problem. It’s the variability, which will be a problem 1000 years from now. One hopes that in 20 years, it won’t be problem because wind will have withered away, replaced by a genuine capacity resource.

15 Vince { 10.01.10 at 12:08 pm }

It is no surprise that you keep sidestepping my point about the future of electrical energy production and transmission and how it meshes with the future of electric transportation. The same solution will transform both industries – energy storage. And no, I’m not talking about 18th century chemical battery technology. Up to this point there has been no significant need to develop new storage technology, that’s why there have been no significant advancements. Fossil fuels (stored solar energy) have been so cheap that other storage has not been developed. Now there are billions being invested in this area to support both the transportation and electrical utility industry. That’s why generation has to be planned taking these changes into account.

Only idiots that think putting all our eggs in one basket would rely on a single generation technology. The most common one that is put up on a pedestal is nuclear, and I support this technology but not on its own.

The amount of solar, wind and other sustainable energy that is available on the planet far exceeds the total energy consumed. HVDC transmission, smart grids, grid storage, distributed storage (V2G), and distributed generation are all part of the future. We don’t need a system that can generate energy on demand, we need a system that can provide energy on demand. The former is the old way of thinking, and the latter is the future.

And since you are going to list off your credentials, I’ll list mine: I am a chemical engineer (PhD) who has worked in the oil and gas, petrochemical, and electricity (coal and nuclear) generation industries. I know a thing or two about energy issues and have true expertise in these technologies, not knowledge gained on the side of some other area of interest.

I came to this article from another site and now realize I have wandered into a site that seems to be only interested in its own propaganda. Have fun agreeing with each other. Adieus.

16 Jon Boone { 10.01.10 at 12:55 pm }

Well, that explains the bias toward battery storage, Vince. When you develop such a system, and perfect it, then let’s talk about introducing all that variable technology across the landscape. But not until then.

And yes, there’s a superabundance of solar energy, since we’re all star stuff, and its spawn, the wind. The trick is to convert that abundant but extremely diffuse energy into modern power. Which is why wind disappeared as a machine for motive power well over a century. Wind and battery storage, even the kind you envision, seems an environmental nightmare to me. Dystopia. But, yes, continue to do research, and, if you get a winner in the lifespans of people reading this thread, do let us know. But I won’t be holding my breath. Cheers!

17 Michael Goggin, AWEA { 10.01.10 at 3:08 pm }

Ben, your claims about increased carbon emissions in Denmark, Colorado, and Texas are patently false. The Department of Energy data showing major emissions reductions as wind was added in Colorado and Texas are summarized here and here:
http://www.awea.org/newsroom/pdf/04_05_2010_Colorado_emissions_response.pdf
http://www.awea.org/newsroom/pdf/08-27-10-Wind_and_emissions_response.pdf

Your claim that carbon emissions have gone up in Denmark is even more laughable. Denmark’s reduced its electric sector carbon emissions by nearly 50% over the last two decades. The DOE data is here: http://tonto.eia.doe.gov/country/country_energy_data.cfm?fips=DA

As you can see, electricity consumption increased by 24% from 1991 to 2007, so we know that demand-side energy efficiency was not responsible for the decline in emissions over that time period. So, the solution must have come on the electricity supply side.

Wind energy output increased from 0.7 billion kWh in 1991 to 6.58 billion kWh in 2008, a nearly ten-fold increase of 6 billion kWh. Fossil fuel generation declined from 33 billion kWh in 1991 to 24 billion kWh in 2008, a decline of 9 billion kWh. Biomass power increased from .3 billion kWh to 3.67 billion kWh, accounting for the other 3 billion kWh of decrease in fossil generation. As a result of this increase in renewable energy output (2/3 wind, 1/3 biomass), coal consumption decreased from 15 million tons in 1991 to 7.8 million tons in 2008, a decline of nearly 50%, which explains why electric sector CO2 emissions also fell by nearly 50% over that period.

Given that you work for a lobby firm that is heavily funded by the fossil fuel industry, I understand your bias against wind energy. But please, have enough respect for the intelligence of the readers here to not make claims that anyone who bothers to look at the relevant DOE data can see are blatantly false.

Michael Goggin,
American Wind Energy Association

18 Clothcap { 10.01.10 at 3:26 pm }

In its 2005 report Eon Netz – “Wind energy is only able to replace traditional power stations to a limited extent. Their dependence on the prevailing wind conditions means that wind power has a limited load factor even when technically available. It is not possible to guarantee its use for the continual cover of electricity consumption. Consequently, traditional power stations with capacities equal to 90% of the installed wind power
capacity must be permanently online in order to guarantee power supply at all times.”
What gets me and I suspect most average Joes, if you have to build conventional energy plant regardless, what is the point in the enormous expense of WE? Especially as their CO2 reductions are irrelevant as for fosfuel.
On P9 of the report: “As wind power capacity rises, the lower availability of the wind farms determines the reliability of the system as a whole to an ever increasing extent. Consequently the greater reliability of traditional power stations becomes increasingly eclipsed. As a result, the relative contribution of wind power to the guaranteed capacity of our supply system up to the year 2020 will fall continuously to around 4% (FIGURE 7).
In concrete terms, this means that in 2020, with a forecast wind power capacity of over 48,000MW (Source: dena grid study), 2,000MW of traditional power production can be replaced by
these wind farms. ”
Now that shale gas recovery is economic, the US and Europe have bountiful reserves sufficient, I believe to see in the the advent of reliable non fos fuel energy sources, fusion being one, if remote possibility but safe fission and waste disposal certainly, wind is even less relevant (was it ever?) to energy security.

19 Jon Boone { 10.01.10 at 6:18 pm }

Regarding Michael Goggins, his pot has some nerve calling Ben Lieberman’s kettle any color, let alone black. His statements about Denmark are the wind trade organization’s usual disinformation. The reality about greenhouse gas and fossil fuel reductions in that tiny country has much more to do with reductions in demand because of the economic downtown, the highest electricity prices in Europe that dampen routine demand, the installation of newer, more efficient thermal plants, and increased importation of hydro–than it does with wind. AWEA’s blush on this situation is only the latest in How to Lie with Statistics. The only way Denmark can have that much wind is to be situated in an area that dumps most of it outside the country much of the time into a hydro sink. Otherwise, the joint would be awash in CO2 emissions.

And having electricity on tap, like beer and the water supply, will be great one day, once storage for variables becomes reality, always in 20 years, or right around the corner with the light at the end of the tunnel… if only we get enough research dollars to make it happen. Is that bride in Brooklyn still for sale?

20 Jon Boone { 10.02.10 at 11:44 am }

Vince’s commentary here should be instructive. He invokes his credential as a chemical engineer as authority for his position, much in the way of secular priests. His position seems to be that, although variable technologies like wind and solar today provide no power quality or capacity (in the case of wind), they nonetheless should be part of a broad based portfolio of supply resources–because one day, not less than 20 years, new storage technology will transform them into high capacity power quality that will, in the context of a better transmission/voltage regulation delivery system, enable electricity to flow like water. Moreover, people who aren’t industry insiders are stuck defending an outmoded, old fashioned gerryrigged system that is inefficient and costly–because they don’t know enough to know better.

This kind of thinking seems to exemplify why our energy policies have become so ludicrous. Vince’s “build it and they will come” pitch gives his ilk a basis for justifying a funding stream, typically with large sums of public dollars, on behalf of a technology that DOES NOT EXIST–and may never exist. Providing billions of dollars of public monies for wind technology, which even Vince must admit is dysfunctional without storage, in the hope that utility-scale storage will one day soon become reality, seems to me just plain nuts. Aside from the incivility of putting tens of thousands of gargantuan wind machines around the countryside, each with not much more than a ten year life expectancy, increasing wind energy penetration would cause enormous integration problems on the existing grid. As such, “expert ideas” like those advanced by Vince, who cheerlead for this kind of cart before the horse innovation–using vast sums of public monies–are to me contemptible. And parasitic.

Even a PhD in history can understand that the Holy Grail for wind is utility scale storage. However, there has been more than a hundred year history of continuous slips between that cup and the lips of reality. And a lot of con men. Why not proffer a perpetual motion machine? And pray that those who know the limitations imposed by the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics will be silenced by their employer, the National Renewable Energy Lab. Such a device would provide a lot of make work jobs for chemical engineers….

I have no doubt that future technologies will one day provide the capacity to do just as Vince suggests. However, I think it extremely unlikely that variable technologies, particularly such a diffuse and random energy source as wind, will play any role in this–not least because such Rube Goldberg devices are so inelegant and land abusing.

Although I agree that a diversified power portfolio makes sense for electricity, at least until nuclear gets a foothold and nuclear modular units can be designed for load balancing as well as baseload, that diversity should be represented by a range of capacity resources–not energy resources per se.

If Vince and his cohort of experts ever develop, test, and perfect their storage idea for enabling wind, then, AND ONLY THEN, should they be touting wind technology. Otherwise, their rarified knowledge will be employed, as it is today, in service to one of the great energy bunco schemes of our era.

21 Tom Stacy { 10.03.10 at 2:32 pm }

Talk about being paid to prop up your favorite electricity source! That’s Mike Goggin from the “AMERICAN WIND ENERGY ASSOCIATION” telling us how to interpret the Bentek study!

Unfortunately for Mr. Goggin and his merry band of rent seekers, (led by former natural gas lobby figurehead, Denise Bode) the burden of measured proof still weighs heavily on the wind camp’s foremost experts – if they have any. Or at least it would if US Senators had an ounce of respect for their constituents and the scientific method, that is.

I am utterly disgusted that we could be considering a measure designed to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and “stabilize electricity rates” because the wind fuel is “free”, but which in practice makes us even more heavily dependent on natural gas than we already are – a fuel with a history of price volatility.

Perhaps the best course of advocacy for natural gas proponents is the one Ms. Bode took after leaving the Clean Skies Coalition; leading the wind energy masquerade – whose clean image masks a hefty hydrocarbon habit of its own.

One part wind means two to three additional parts natural gas burning inefficiently for as long as the wind turbine fields stand? There must be a better recipe for success.

22 Kent Hawkins { 10.03.10 at 3:39 pm }

Michael Goggin
I urge you to stop citing the totally incorrect information that Denmark has reduced carbon emissions in electricity generation by 50% over the last two decades. I presume you are talking about CO2 emissions and not carbon emissions. In preference to DOE information, I recommend using the official Denmark source the Danish Energy Agency (DEA) at http://www.ens.dk/en-US/Info/FactsAndFigures/Energy_statistics_and_indicators/Annual%20Statistics/Sider/Forside.aspx .
Returning to your 50% reduction claim, it certainly looks like the site you reference is providing the total CO2 information for all industry sectors, which shows 54.37 million tons CO2 in 2008. Here are the DEA numbers for all sectors: 1990 – 52.7 million tonnes, 2008- 49.6 million tonnes. This is a reduction of about 6%. There is another number using “adjusted” CO2 emissions showing a 15% reduction, but this is not actual emissions. As the DEA points out in their latest report, the adjusted numbers should not be used for actual emissions, for example their commitments under the Kyoto Protocol.
Within the electricity sector, the reductions in 2008 compared to 1990 were 15.3% (not 50%) but these vary considerably from year-to-year and no single year should be used to show overall performance. Here are some relevant statistics for CO2 emissions within the electricity sector: 1990 – 20.7 million tonnes, 2005 – 16.7, 2006 – 24.4, 2007 – 19.7, 2008 – 17.6.
What is causing the CO2 emissions in any year? It is neither wind production nor fossil fuel production alone but a combination of many factors, including the fuel mix (ie more gas and less coal for example), imports and exports (which are quite large for Denmark), weather conditions, plant availability for maintenance reasons, and specific dispatch of plant types over the year. This explains the almost random pattern as indicated above.
By the way, and for the record, in response to another comment on this post, I am not nor ever have been associated with the fossil fuel industry in any way, nor do I hold any investment in such. Personally I prefer gold. Ad hominem arguments may have their place in some forums, but in general are so unworthy and unproductive here.

23 Ambulance Wind Spinner { 10.15.10 at 10:31 pm }

[...] Is Windpower the Ethanol of Electricity? (Part II: Environmental … The success of PR spinners in creating a meaningless modern day melodrama, where wind technology is somehow transformed from a little shepherd boy into a fossil fuel slaying hero as the hook to sell, well, more fossil fuel, is the real story here. The transportation equivalent would be building a smarter highway system to accommodate a huge number of drunk drivers, giving them their own highways and a dedicated ambulance service. Wind belongs in no one's power . [...]

24 Andy { 10.22.10 at 11:58 am }

I was reading about the use of ethanol in SOFC’s for electrical generation in Greece and the production of ethanol from timber byproducts from companies like Bluefire ethanol. Doesn’t that change your findings a bit?

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