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Category — Hawkins, Kent

Brookings: Wind and Solar Technology Fail

“Even with carbon emissions valued at $50 per metric ton, nuclear, hydro and natural gas combined cycle generation plants have far more net benefits than either wind or solar.”

The recent paper by Charles Frank of the Brookings Institution, “The Net Benefits of Low and No-Carbon Electricity Technologies” provides a reasonably broad, detailed analysis of the lack of value in pursing policies of implementing wind and solar industrial-scale generation plants to reduce carbon emissions. This analysis, however, while on track, misses some very important considerations that strengthen the already negative verdict.

In summary, the paper finds:

  • Even with carbon emissions valued at $50 per metric ton, nuclear, hydro and natural gas combined cycle (combined cycle gas turbine, or CCGT) generation plants have far more net benefits than either wind or solar, because the latter have a very high capacity cost per megawatt (MW), very low capacity factors, and low reliability.
  • In the absence of carbon pricing new “no-carbon” plants will tend to displace low-carbon gas CCGT rather than high-carbon plants.
  • Direct regulation of CO2 emissions for coal-fired plants, as proposed by the EPA can be as effective as carbon pricing.

The rest of the post below extends the analysis. [Read more →]

May 29, 2014   2 Comments

Where Wind Studies Go Wrong: Cullen in AEJ (Part II)

“The level of emissions savings provided by wind plants has never been conclusively determined, taking into account all the factors.”

Part I yesterday questioned the analysis and robustness of Joseph Cullen’s study, “Measuring the Environmental Benefits of Wind-Generated Electricity”. [1] Part II completes the commentary on this paper, covering:

  • Questionable data, which seriously inhibits any analysis of wind performance
  • Interstate trade in electricity, an often overlooked, but important, consideration in understanding impacts on emissions
  • A summary of the acknowledged shortcomings of this paper
  • Questionable opinions/claims made

Questionable Data

The level of emissions savings provided by wind plants has never been conclusively determined, taking into account all the factors. Further, there is no published accurate, minute-by-minute, actual fuel consumption or emissions by individual plant, especially for systems with notable levels of wind present. Note the limitations in the Katzenstein and Apt paper looked to by Cullen for corroboration as discussed in Part I.

In general, government reported emissions are estimates based on calculations using assumptions and relatively simple algorithms. In some cases, actual measurements are taken but are no better than those calculated as reported by the International Energy Agency (see page 35).

“Commercial instrumentation is available for monitoring CO2 concentration and flue gas volume flows. Given the limitations of such instrumentation, the accuracy of directly measured CO2 release is probably no better than that derived by indirect calculation.” (emphasis added)

A report by The Sustainable Energy Authority in Ireland, “Renewable Energy in Ireland”, in Appendix 1 also refreshingly recognizes the limitations to existing reporting methods.

“The assumption underpinning this approach is that the renewable plant is displacing the last plants to be dispatched to meet electricity demand, i.e. the marginal oil and gas plants. There are clear limitations in this analysis but it does provide useful indicative results.” (emphasis added for “indicative”, which is taken to mean “suggestive”)

“The limitations and caveats associated with this methodology include that it ignores any plant used to meet the associated reserve requirements of renewables. These open cycle plants will typically have lower efficiency and generate increased CO2 and NOx emissions compared with CCGT and these emissions should be incorporated into the analysis. The purpose of presenting a simplified analysis here is to provide initial insights into the amount of fossil fuels that are displaced by renewables and the amount of emissions thereby avoided.” (emphasis added)

The issue raised in the last quote speaks to the comments made in the Robustness section in Part I. [Read more →]

February 14, 2014   7 Comments

Where Wind Studies Go Wrong: Cullen in AEJ (Part I)

“The nature of the short-term operation of an electricity system is more like that of a machine than a market.”

A paper published by Joseph Cullen in the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy (November 2013), “Measuring the Environmental Benefits of Wind-Generated Electricity” [1] is important in two regards. First, using Texas data, it shows that even with notable emissions savings attributed to wind, the highly subsidized cost of wind is exceeded only by high estimates of the social costs of pollution.

Secondly and perhaps more importantly, his paper provides an opportunity to illustrate where wind-performance analyses fall short. This is the subject of this two-part post today and tomorrow, and is independent of the issue of carbon dioxide social benefits versus social costs.

Professor Cullen first determines how much electricity production of other generator types is offset by the presence of wind plants in the grid using a reduced form econometric model based on “…observed behavior and current market conditions.” The time frames for production are 15 minute intervals and two hour ahead forecasting by market participants. The market-oriented approach is exemplified by the following quote:

“When low marginal cost wind-generated electricity enters the grid, higher marginal cost fossil fuel generators will reduce their output.” (emphasis added) [Read more →]

February 13, 2014   6 Comments

Power Density Separates the Wheat from the Chaff

“Power density (W/m2) is perhaps the most revealing variable in energetics…”[1]- Vaclav Smil

It may be a bit of an exaggeration to say that understanding power density may be all the average person requires to put our energy sources and needs into perspective, but there is some merit in this argument. Unfortunately, this view of energy matters remains little discussed, probably because it appears rather academic.

This post attempts to overcome this by further illustrating the concepts. It will also demonstrate how industrial-scale wind and solar PV electricity generation plants fail to meet this important, high-level standard of performance for electricity sources required by mankind, particularly in developed societies, but increasingly in developing and even undeveloped societies.

This is even without taking into account:

(1) The persistent erratic (short term – minutes) and unreliable (medium to long term – hours to days) nature of electricity production that wind and solar PV provide; (2) their high costs; and (3) many other considerations described here.

This is not to diminish the importance of these other matters, but the contemplation of them all together is fairly elaborate and perspective is easily lost.

In summary, power density is the “gold standard” as a high-level pass/fail measure of an energy source’s value to humanity. [Read more →]

February 20, 2013   5 Comments

Towards Sound Energy Policy (Part II – Sensible Approaches)

Part I yesterday addressed the drivers and flawed approaches to current energy policy in many developed Western countries. Part II today describes the rational approaches necessary to best position us to withstand all challenges/threats that face us, both known and unknown.

Time frames are an important consideration in assessing the various elements of sensible and feasible energy policy programs. Here are the periods used in this discussion, which are nominal in nature:

  • Short term (Up to about 10 years) – In this time frame, major radical changes in our energy infrastructures are not advisable and should be avoided, because energy is so intrinsically bound up in everything we do. Ill-advised, extensive tinkering with these is dangerous to our well-being. Best use must be made of reliable and powerful energy sources which are consistent with existing energy infrastructures and uses. Sufficient, sound R&D initiatives must be established. This is largely an initiation period.
  • Medium Term (approximately next 30 years) – This period should ensure improvements in: (1) the best practices across the fuel life-cycle; and (2) technologies for existing energy infrastructures. R&D is important to the success of this but should also be at least equally directed to new technologies needed in the longer term. This is a transition period.
  • Long Term (beyond approximately 40 years) – This period is the realistic time frame for new technologies to start to make major, fundamental changes to existing energy infrastructures. It is a period of fulfilment of energy policies and programs put in place starting today.

In general terms, these time frames put activities and developments roughly into the first and second half of the 21st century. It is emphasized that these are not rigid boundaries, but realistic expectations of developments. Pleasant surprises are always possible and could change some aspects. It also best positions our societies to meet unpleasant surprises against which reliable, extensive and powerful energy sources are the best defense. [Read more →]

January 17, 2013   1 Comment

Towards Sound Energy Policy (Part I – Current Flaws)

For well-being, present and future, including overall governance, health and medical care, financial, economic, human rights, equality, peace, security and liberty, etc.,[1] we have to stop playing political games with energy policy in the developed countries in the West and turn to sound approaches.

In particular, Europe must withdraw from its desperate and destructive attempts at regaining some measure of world ‘leadership’, which it deservedly lost in the 20th century as a result of succumbing to dangerous extremist policies in many areas, including political, social, judicial, economic, military and international matters.

Europe’s “leadership” conceit includes questionable, radical energy policies, particularly in electricity systems, to “de-carbonize” the world with “new” (really ancient) renewables. This futility is wasting resources on a grand scale as is now beginning to be realized (here and here).

Unfortunately this may be a case of too little too late unless we act now to get off this lemming-style dash to catastrophe, energy being the master resource. We face more than one such ‘cliff’ today, and any that can be avoided must be.

This cannot be stated too strongly. It is not an argument from a special interest point of view or in support of any specific economic theory, not to say that any of these is necessarily invalid. It is from the perspective of what is best for mankind, and based on the work of internationally respected energy experts.[2] I repeat a disclosure statement which I have stated before.[3]

The case for the current flawed energy policies (primarily focussed on electricity) in the West is based on issues surrounding climate change, 21st century industrial development (jobs), fossil fuel and nuclear concerns, and energy independence/security. The following is a necessarily brief overview of very complex matters, but should serve to provide an instructive, broad context.

Part I today addresses the drivers and flaws of current energy policies in many developed Western countries. Part II tomorrow deals with sensible approaches, which are quite evident, but apparently politically impossible within most Western democracies. [Read more →]

January 16, 2013   3 Comments

Wind Consequences (Part V – Other Considerations and Conclusions)

“The following overview on these issues, and my concluding remarks, should leave little doubt as to the worthlessness and serious consequences of pursuing policies of supporting and implementing wind plants in particular. Will the other side respond in the interest of more informed public policy?”

As shown in Part I (Introduction & Summary), Part II (Analysis Approach & Implementation Costs), Part III (Total Costs), and Part IV  (Subsidies & Emissions), wind fails on the major considerations of cost and emissions. Yet unbelievably, it still enjoys general popularity and significant government support and subsidization. The answer must be in my response to question 1 in Part I: Wind is seen as a silver bullet – environmentally and politically.

On top of this, there are many other problems with wind that can cause serious, and needless, damage to society. I do not typically focus on most of these, and I cannot do justice to them, but they are worthy of attention. So I shall try, but I will only be scratching the surface. References cited for these are my selections only. Readers are invited to supply additional support with comments.

Anyone wishing to know more about these issues can start with the wealth of information that Lisa Linowes at Industrial Wind Action Group has compiled on wind matters. Also included in references below are examples of other excellent sources of general information on wind.

The following overview on these issues, and my concluding remarks, should leave little doubt as to the worthlessness and serious consequences of pursuing policies of supporting and implementing wind plants in particular. Will the other side respond in the interest of more informed public policy? [Read more →]

September 27, 2012   9 Comments

Wind Consequences (Part IV – Subsidies and Emissions)

This post is part of a five-part series on the adverse consequences of imposing industrial-scale wind plants on electricity systems. The series shows that there is no valid reason to pursue the policy of implementing new renewable energy sources in electricity generation, especially wind.

This post provides more information on the subsidies and emissions considerations for the scenarios summarized in Part I. Parts II and III dealt with cost implications. Part V this Thursday will focus on a number of other issues providing a complete picture of wind’s undesirability and unfeasibility in all respects.

Part I also provides links to the rest of the series.


Because subsidy issues are often raised, comparing those for wind and other generation plants, it is appropriate to show their effect on a MWh basis, regardless of the absolute amounts. The subsidy related to producing a useful output is the important consideration, because this is how electricity is generated, used and paid for. Table IV-1 shows this, but at the level that the wind plant owner experiences, not the full costs of wind to society, that is including wind balancing plant and unique-to-wind grid investments. Note the very high wind subsidies, especially relative to this limited view of costs. [Read more →]

September 25, 2012   4 Comments

Wind Consequences (Part III: Total Costs)

This post completes the determination of wind costs, and Part IV covers subsidization and emissions. Part I, Introduction and Summary, contains links to all the posts in this series.

Just about any analysis you see understates wind’s cost. In fact there can be no comparison between the costs for wind and reliable, dispatchable generation plants such as coal, nuclear and gas plants. Reliability is so important in electricity systems, and wind’s persistent erratic behavior is so problematic that any electricity it produces is not usable and is a threat to electricity system reliability.

Add capacity from reliable generation plants flexible enough to balance wind’s erratic output and a steady, reliable electrical energy flow can be provided. However there is a substantial cost associated with this. As shown in Part II, for wind to produce the same amount of useful, reliable electricity over 40 years, wind and associated balancing overnight plant capital costs are almost 3 times that for nuclear, the most expensive conventional generation plants reviewed.

Many of these considerable costs can be “hidden” within a new generation plant program and arguments that the grid must be improved anyway. See Part II for further discussion on the so-called “smart” grid considerations.

As wind penetration increases into high single digits, another approach becomes increasingly necessary. That is to dump wind production in excess of some minimal amount by curtailment, or by selling it to some customers or other jurisdictions at almost no cost, and who are sometimes paid to take it. The real, full costs will be borne by the jurisdiction hosting the wind plants through increased electricity rates or taxes. Further, depending on timing and other circumstances, it may not be possible to find such customers.

In this post we will see: (1) the impact of such measures when wind plants are present, and (2) in the Wind scenario, with wind penetration at 38%, that it is not supportable. [Read more →]

September 20, 2012   4 Comments

Wind Consequences (Part II: Analysis Approach and Implementation Costs)

Part I yesterday provided an introduction and summary of results; this post describes in more detail the analysis approach and implementation costs. Parts III and IV will cover the full costs and other results.

As will be seen, dealing with wind is not as easy as some would suggest.

Analysis Approach

This analysis looks at a 13 year period (years 0-12) in which the demand growth and plant retirement due to obsolescence/age will be each 2% per year compounded. Assuming year 0 is 2012, year 12 is 2025. Table II-1 shows the situation at year 12.

Table II-1 – Year 12 Situation for a Year 0 Demand Level of 1.0 TWh

Using demand of 1 TWh in year 0 allows easy scaling for a particular jurisdiction. For example in 2010 the total US electricity production was about 4,000 TWh.

The profile of the new generation capacity to meet the electricity production gap of 0.48 TWh would normally be a combination of plant types depending on a number of considerations. However in most cases, this analysis shows the effect of using one plant type only to meet the electricity production gap. This is done to illustrate the performance of the energy source involved.

When wind is present, another plant type must also be included to balance wind’s persistent erratic behavior. This is otherwise redundant new capacity, meaning over and above that which would normally be required. There are two “wind” scenarios. One is a combination of wind and natural gas to meet the electricity production gap. Given the belief, by some at least, that more extensive wind implementation is desirable, the second scenario addresses this, allowing wind to provide the full 0.48 TWh, which we will see is not feasible. [Read more →]

September 18, 2012   No Comments