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Category — Wind (also see Windpower: History and Issues)

Fifteen Bad Things with Windpower–and Three Reasons Why

[Note: This article has been updated to Twenty Bad Things about Windpower — go here.]

Trying to pin down the arguments of wind promoters is a bit like trying to grab a greased balloon. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on it, it squirts away. Let’s take a quick highlight review of how things have evolved.

1 – Wind energy was abandoned well over a hundred years ago, as it was totally inconsistent with our burgeoning more modern needs of power, even in the late 1800s. When we throw the switch, we expect that the lights will go on — 100% of the time. It’s not possible for wind energy, by itself, to ever do this, which is one of the main reasons it was relegated to the dust bin of antiquated technologies (along with such other inadequate sources like horse power).

2 – Fast forward to several years ago. With politicians being convinced by lobbyists that Anthropological Global Warming (AGW) was an imminent threat, a campaign was begun to favor all things that would purportedly reduce CO2. Wind energy was thus resurrected, as its marketers pushed the fact that wind turbines did not produce CO2 in their generation of electricity.

3 – Of course, just that by itself is not significant, so the original wind development lobbyists then made the case for a quantum leap: that by adding wind turbines to the grid we could significantly reduce CO2 from fossil fuel electrical sources (especially coal). This argument became the basis for many states’ implementing a Renewable Energy Standard (RES) — which mandated that their utilities use an increased amount of wind energy.

4 – Why was a mandate necessary? Simply because the real world reality of integrating wind energy made it a very expensive option. As such, no utility company would likely do this on their own. They had to be forced to. [Read more →]

September 20, 2010   40 Comments

German Wind Capacity Revisited: High Cost versus Least Cost

My post last week evaluated the claim that wind generation can save money for power pool customers.  It was found that the supposed savings could be realized only if the elephant in the room – the above-market feed-in tariff – was ignored.  In other words, consumer payments for electricity from a power pool was half of the story; the real price had to include the consumer-qua-taxpayer funding of the feed-in-tariff (FIT).

And with this two-part scheme, games are played. Wind generators can bid a low price into the pool only to receive a higher FIT, which gives them an incentive to underbid. This might reduce the pool price but not overall cost to Germans for electricity.

Investing in New Generation: What Makes Sense?

If a generation resource is a good investment for its developers then it must return a profit to them.  In a normal electricity market this profit comes from supplying a segment of the demand (peak, intermediate/cycling, baseload) from a plant that is efficient technically and financially.

For existing plants and determinations of electricity costs in the here and now we can figure out the average cost of supplying electricity by calculating the weighted average cost of supply for each time period in the market every day.  If the addition of one generation source raises this weighted average without improving service quality or reliability, then it is not economical and would generally not be chosen in a well-functioning market.

But what about the future?  Electricity suppliers must invest large sums in new generation plants with the expectation that these plants will meet demand at the least cost.  This cannot be known with certainty, and mistakes are made all the time, especially when government policy and rent-seeking drive investment choices.

Transmission network operators – those in charge of the “natural monopoly” part of the power business – try to reduce the risk attendant to future supply by figuring out the least costly way to supply power and energy to their customers in the future, including the wires to transmit the electricity.  They have to take account of a long list of considerations: investment cost, fuel supply, emissions and licensing regulation, proximity to existing load centers and transmission nodes, transmission congestion – you get the idea.

The transmission system operator also has to pay attention to public policy – renewable energy mandates (“portfolio standards”), federal tax incentives (producer tax credits for wind and solar), feed-in tariffs, powerful politicians who do not want their vistas impaired – in a host of ways that directly impact their views of an optimal future generating system.

What Does the Wise Transmission Operator Do?

A wise investor in generation will first figure out what is economic to build? what are the physical constraints on the system? and finally, what limitations will public policy put on otherwise least cost generation choices?

A Case Study of “Germania”[i]

Let us imagine that we have a rather large and wealthy country to play with, one that currently has about 129 GW of installed generation capacity.  Further, we can imagine that this wealthy country, responding to its powerful environmental movement, has decided to

(i) phase out nuclear power;

(ii) limit future coal power-plant operations;

(iii) build a lot (a lot!) of wind generation plants; and

(iv) bring in most of its gas supply from Russia at prices linked directly to refined oil products and crude (i.e., high and volatile). [Read more →]

September 7, 2010   4 Comments

Case Study on Methods of Industrial-scale Wind Power Analysis (Part I)

Is the introduction of industrial- or utility-scale wind power into our electricity systems good public policy?

This political economy question (wind power is government dependent, or it would only be a market question) hinges to a large degree on operations research, or engineering. And it is here that a hotly contested debate is going on, for it is an open question about how much wind power really displaces fossil fuels–the raison d’etre of wind subsidies in the first place.

This two-part series evaluates some of the latest approaches and considerations in this debate. One important paper published in 2009 by Charles Komanoff sees wind-for-fossil-fuel displacement as robust and is currently being cited by wind proponents in Maine. Another paper in my review is a study by Gross et al, which is relied on by Komanoff.

Part I critically evaluates Komanoff by extending the critique of Milligan et al; Part II focuses on the important consideration of electricity generation capacity value and analyzes some of aspects of the referenced Gross et al paper.

Introduction

The following is a summary of important areas of consideration in assessing documents such as Komanoff’s:

· Treatment of wind volatility

· Use of emotive and pejorative language in referring to those of an opposing opinion. On the other hand, those with the same views are treated with complimentary descriptions. This treatment raises red flags that invite closer analysis.

· Distinction made between very small and larger wind penetrations

· The realities of wind production in Denmark.

· Complete consideration of the impact on overall system capacity requirements, fossil fuel consumption and CO2 emissions in connection with the displacing of some fossil fuel plant production with highly intermittent renewables.

· Evaluation of normal operating reserves as sufficient to act as wind shadowing/backup .

· Assumptions about the fast ramping capability of nuclear and coal-fired plants

· Assessment of wind’s capacity value

· Dependence upon a report by Gross et al, which itself is not convincing.

· Questionable arithmetic and graphical representation approaches

· Claims about the benefits of geographic diversity and the possibility of improved wind forecasting

Wind Volatility

At the beginning Komanoff quotes what he wrote a few years ago: [Read more →]

April 6, 2010   3 Comments

A “Solution” to the “Energy Situation”? (Glenn Schleede Responds to a Critic)

Mr. Schleede:
I’ve read your position on wind farms and their associated problems with a great interest.  Can you tell me when we can expect to receive your solution to the energy situation here in the US?

I look forward to your response. 

Regards, ______________ Fairfax, VA

Dear Ms. _____:

Thanks for your note. You certainly do flatter me with your expectation that I could produce a “solution to the energy situation here in the US.”  (But I suspect that was not your purpose.)

As you may know, U.S. political leaders and government officials at both the federal and state levels — not to mention hundreds of smart people in universities, business and non-profit organizations — have been seeking that solution for at least 35 years.

The U.S. Department of Energy and its predecessors have spent over $150 Billion (2006$) on “energy R&D” and, unfortunately, have little to show for it.  That doesn’t include more billions in federal and state tax credits, credit programs and other subsidies of various kinds (e.g., cash, regulatory, government official lobbying) to promote energy technologies selected by government officials.

Numerous “promising,” government-selected energy technologies have emerged and retreated during the past 35 years.  (You can find references to dozens of them in Presidential messages, the Congressional Record, or in hundreds of press releases.)

Looking back, it’s now quite clear that these “promising” technologies that were selected for government support always

(a) take longer to develop,

(b) face technological hurdles,

(c) have unacceptable environmental impacts, and/or

(d) cost much more than their promoters claimed. [Read more →]

March 24, 2010   8 Comments

Is DOE/Lawrence Berkeley Lab’s Windpower Impacts Study ‘Junk Science’? (Albert R. Wilson challenges the ‘experts’)

[Editor’s note: With the author's permission, MasterResource reprints a probing analysis of a recent study by the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, The Impact of Wind Power Projects on Residential Property Values in the United States. Albert Wilson critically examines a genre of analysis used by wind proponents, including government bodies and environmentalists, that produces a desired result. Comments are invited on this paper as well as on other examples of where methodological tricks are used to justify wind power and other politically dependent energy technologies. (Mr. Wilson's Bio is at the end of the article.)]

WIND FARMS, RESIDENTIAL PROPERTY VALUES, AND RUBBER RULERS©

by Albert R. Wilson

I recently examined a document published by the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory titled “The Impact of Wind Power Projects on Residential Property Values in the United States: A Multi- Site Hedonic Analysis” (hereafter “Report”). I express no opinion concerning the impact of wind power projects on residential property values and instead focus on the underlying methods used in the development of the Report, and the resulting serious questions concerning the credibility of the results.

As stated in the title, the primary bases for the conclusions drawn in the Report are hedonic analyses of residential real estate sales data. A hedonic analysis in turn is based on the assumption that the coefficients of certain explanatory variables in a regression represent accurately the marginal contribution of those variables to the sale price of a property.

While I have other issues with the Report (and again reiterate that I have no opinion on the influence of wind farms on residential sales prices), the concerns I have addressed here lead to the conclusion that the Report should not be given serious consideration for any policy purpose. The underlying analytical methods cannot be shown to be reliable or accurate.

The reasons for the conclusion may be summarized as:

1) Lack of access to the underlying data prevents the independent validation of the data, replication of the analysis, testing of alternative analyses, or testing of the conclusions against the real market.

2) The peer review process used for both the literature and the Report can only determine the acceptability of the papers for publication. It cannot reveal the validity, accuracy or reliability of the work behind the papers.

3) Given the peer review actually conducted, the fact that no published and recognized standards for the development of an accurate and reliable regression on sales price were used render the Report of highly uncertain value for any purpose.

4) The exclusive use of a test of statistical significance only indicates that the coefficients for Distance and View variables are not conclusive. What we do not know is what those coefficients actually represent. Only tests of economic significance would provide an answer, and none has been conducted.

5) Low explanatory power: 13% less than an acceptable minimum for an accurate regression on sales price.

The technical analysis underlying this conclusion follows: [Read more →]

February 20, 2010   4 Comments

Wind Integration: Incremental Emissions from Back-Up Generation Cycling (Part V: Calculator Update)

Why has California expressed concern over the EPA holding up approvals for natural gas-fired power plants?

Answer: because state regulators know that California’s gas plants are crucial for establishing new wind and solar projects. After all, firming intermittent power sources is essential short of employing cost-prohibitive battery packs to continuously match supply to consumption.

But the analysis can go a step further. What if the gas backup actually runs more poorly in its fill-in role than if it existed in place of the wind and/or solar capacity? It does run less efficiently, in fact, creating incremental fuel use and air emissions that cancel out the fuel/emissions “savings” from wind.

Thus California should go a step further than just allowing new natural gas capacity. Regulators should rethink the rational of wind per se and block its new capacity–if only by removing the government subsidies that enable industrial wind power in the first place.

Background

Parts I to IV (links provided at end) introduced an analytic framework and calculator as a working hypothesis to assess the impact of industrial-scale wind on fossil fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. This post, Part V, provides an update to the calculator. The methodological framework has not changed, and the need for confirmation from actual performance data using extensive real-time local dispatch analysis at finely grained time intervals capable of accurately and sufficiently assessing how wind affects all the variables within the electricity system remains. In summary, the calculator:

(1) refines the emissions rates for the fuel plants modeled;

(2) improves the manner in which fossil fuel consumption is calculated, which increases the amounts previously reported; and

(3) adds a coal plant scenario.

This update also includes examples of the use of some of the input parameters to incorporate subtleties not considered in Part I and Part II. [Read more →]

February 12, 2010   23 Comments

PR’ing Industrial Wind: Government and Media versus Common Sense

The New York Times dutifully featured this week two media events primed to gin up public—and Congressional—support for industrial wind technology.

The first was a ”study“ by the Department of Energy and authored primarily by David Corbus of the National Renewable Energy Lab. It claims that, for a startup cost of around $100 billion public dollars, “wind could displace coal and natural gas for 20 to 30 percent of the electricity used in the eastern two-thirds of the United States by 2024.” Corbus acknowledged that such an enterprise would require substantial grid modification but said the $100 billion was “really, really small compared to other costs,” which the Times failed to identify.

A few days later, the paper of record ballyhooed the annual report of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), which touted the growth of wind last year and projected that the country would soon get 2 percent of its electricity from wind energy. The report fretted about the American wind gap with Europe, which AWEA alleged gets 5 percent of its electricity from wind, compared to only about 1 percent in the USA, while stating “Denmark has essentially achieved that goal already, and sometimes produces more wind power than it can use.”

AWEA’s stalking horse for this PR event, energy consultant Tim Stephure, said, “By 2020 wind’s installed capacity could be five times higher than it is today, reaching about 180,000 megawatts.”

To achieve this goal, from its present base of 35,000 wind turbines and an installed capacity of about 35,000 MW, the industry must build, in each of the next ten years, an installed capacity of 14,500 MW.  This is pure speculation and, more accurately, nonsense. [Read more →]

January 30, 2010   9 Comments

Big Wind: How Many Households Served, What Emissions Reduction? (Part 2)

Press reports in the Financial Times and other news outlets describe a wind project in Oregon with 338 machines of 2.5 MW each, giving a total capacity of 845 MW. The project sponsors claim that they will provide enough energy to serve 235,000 households and reduce CO2 output by 1.5 million tonnes annually.

Part I demonstrated that the served-household claims is fanciful. In reality, no more than 49,000 households could be “supplied”, and these with only a minimal degree of assurance. Indeed, the wind project is more costly than a diesel backup scheme that would actually be capable of supplying reliable power to several hundred thousand households. The wind project is also three times more costly than a replacement of just 211 MW of older coal capacity with new technology that would provide a similar reduction in emissions, while supplying firm power to the NW Power Pool’s customers.

Opportunity-cost economics, anyone?

The key to wind’s providing some degree of fuel and emissions savings is its ability to deliver reliable electricity without shadowing or backup by hydrocarbon-using plants. These shadowing/backup requirements in the Northwest (NW) Power Pool may be able to take advantage of existing surplus hydro capacity in that region during off-peak periods (spring and fall), thereby permitting the proposed plant to reduce hydrocarbon consumption and emissions somewhat during those periods. It is not reasonable to expect to achieve the claimed emissions savings, but lower figures, less than half the publicized savings, may be possible.

In particular, the addition of wind generation, with shadowing/ backup provided by reservoir hydro, may be able to reduce overall CO2 emissions in California, the ultimate customer for the electricity produced by the GE project during Oregon’s two surplus seasons. But during the winter and summer peak demand periods, less hydro output is available, peak demand is greater and the shadowing backup will be provided by some combination of gas-fired and coal plants. What it is critical to keep in mind is that maintaining stability in the NW Power Pool requires the pool to shadow/backup not only the proposed new project, but the other 6.4 GW of existing wind as well.

Going further, our analysis shows there are less costly and more effective alternatives readily available that rival or exceed the claimed benefits of this wind project. [Read more →]

January 28, 2010   5 Comments

Big Wind: How Many Households Served, What Emissions Reduction? (A Case Study, Part 1 of 2)

In the midst of a bitter winter in North America and Europe, General Electric has announced a large wind project to be built in Oregon. Press reports in the Financial Times and USA Today describe a project of 338 machines of 2.5 MW each, giving a total capacity of 845 MW.

With power grids strained due to heating demand, increments to generating capacity are to be welcomed. But along with the usual hoopla about homes served and CO2 emissions savings, it is time for some “devil’s advocacy” by asking: – how much energy and capacity will this project really create? How much CO2 will be saved? And when the chips are down will consumers and grid operators be pleased that their funds have gone into wind rather than into some other generating source?

We strongly suspect that neither consumers nor grid operators will benefit greatly from this plant. Our brief analysis of this announcement shows that the claims for houses served and carbon saved are not supported, though some incremental, useful energy supply may be possible under some circumstances. All such claims depend on the system operator’s ability to use the wind farms’ output to offset hydro generation, the key generation resource in the Northwest United States (NW). [Read more →]

January 27, 2010   15 Comments

Peter Lang on Australian Windpower: High Costs, Low Emission Reduction

The higher costs and inferior reliability of government-mandated wind power and solar power are well known to students of the electricity market. Many analyses on wind and solar have documented their real-world problems.

But another negative aspect of wind and solar technologies is their failure to live up to their raison d’être: emissions reduction. As I have explained in a four-part post, firming intermittent electric generation requires very inefficient fossil-fuel generation that creates incremental emissions compared to a situation where there is not wind or solar and fossil-fired generation can run more smoothly. This is a huge insight, a game changer, that could take the renewable energy debate in a new direction entirely.

A number of studies are emerging that quantify both the cost premium of politically-forced renewables and the minimal amounts of emissions reduction (and even notable emissions increase) resulting from their use. Country-specific studies (such as the one under review) present a methodology that is applicable to other jurisdictions (such as the U.S.) to better assess policy options and their consequences for all stakeholders, including taxpayers.

Peter Lang’s important new study, Emissions Cuts Realities – Electricity Generation, analyzes five options for the Australian electricity system for cutting CO2 emissions over the period 2010 to 2050 compared to business-as-usual (BAU) in terms of cost. The range of CO2 emissions reductions by 2050 compared to 2010 is from zero to 80%.

The conclusions that Lang draws include:

  1. The nuclear option provides the largest reduction in CO2 emissions – 80%.
  2. Any CO2 emissions reduction achieved with wind and solar thermal (there are arguably none and even increases) is “achieved” at a very high cost – 250-300% of 2010 costs.

Lang’s analysis is very conservative. The author’s preference seems to be to gain an unassailable beachhead in a very contentious debate. But in reviewing his data, I see confirmation that new wind or solar capacity provide marginal reduction in CO2 emissions at best. I would even argue that there are emission increases because any reductions due to new renewables are dependent upon solar thermal technology development by 2020 providing sufficient thermal storage to allow operation for 8,000 hours per year.

Other conclusions that can be reached are:

  1. The nuclear option provides an effective ‘bridge’ to future generation technologies.
  2. The extraordinarily large funding required for the implementation of new renewables in this period would be better spent on energy efficiency/conservation programs and in research and development for other technologies, such as carbon capture and storage (CCS), nuclear waste management, nuclear fusion and solar.

In summary, Lang’s study and other considerations provide another illustration of the failure of industrial-scale new renewables, particularly wind and in the near future, solar, to meet societies’ goals. They do not provide the impact that is needed in terms of energy independence, avoidance of fossil fuel use and reductions in CO2 emissions that conventional wisdom, with all its inadequacies, dictates.

My summary of Lang’s paper follows. [Read more →]

January 21, 2010   9 Comments