There is no convincing proof that utility-scale wind plants reduce fossil fuel consumption or CO2 emissions. Although there are are a number of reports claiming gains can be made that will combat climate change, free us from fossil fuel “addiction,” provide energy independence and needed 21st century industrial development, such reports are not substantiated by definitive and comprehensive analyses.
To determine the actual effects will require long-term time series, at intervals significantly less than one hour, of wind production and fuel consumption due to fast ramping of fossil fuel plants to compensate for wind’s volatility in an electricity system where wind represents approximately at least 1-2% of production.
As opposed to wind proponents’ claims, studies based on actual experience with wind integration are emerging that demonstrate the fossil fuel and CO2 emissions gains are not valid. The two reviewed here are examples but are limited by the lack of availability of complete information on operational performance, especially of wind plants. Fortunately, enough information can be gleaned that provides a strong indication of what those who have studied this objectively have long suspected.
Why is more complete information about wind performance and integration not available? Is it because wind proponents, including some policy makers and wind industries, do not want the realities disclosed, or, in the case of many environmentalist organizations, because they would interrupt established agendas? Or is it that these groups believe it unnecessary because they do not understand the realities of utility-scale wind power?
Two New Studies: le Pair/de Groot (Netherlands) and Bentek (Colorado, Texas)
The two studies reviewed were released this year and show increases in fossil fuel or CO2 emissions with the introduction of wind plants. The first is based on the Netherlands experience by C. le Pair and K. de Groot, and the second for Colorado and Texas by Bentek Energy. Their findings will be compared to each other, as well as to results from my fossil fuel and CO2 emissions calculator. The analytical approaches taken by le Pair and de Groot, Bentek and the calculator are different, but the results are very similar. This is therefore a very revealing and instructive exercise.
Le Pair and de Groot take a very analytical path and apply the formulas they derived to published information on the Netherlands system, for which some actual information on fossil fuel inputs for electricity production is available. Bentek uses detailed information on increases in coal-plant cycling since the introduction of wind plants, along with the impact of wind “events” on reported emissions. Because the Public Service Company of Colorado (PSCO) does not publish hourly wind production, Bentek is restricted to a few such events, from which they draw general conclusions for Colorado.
To validate the Colorado findings, Bentek uses the same analysis approach for Texas with information from the Electricity Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which reports wind production at 15 minute intervals. This not only provides validation of the PSCO analysis, but also conveniently adds experience from a third jurisdiction. The calculator is a general model of the interaction between an amount of wind generation in an electricity system and the fossil fuel plants (coal and gas) involved in balancing wind’s volatility.
Summary of Results
This is the first in a four part series that analyzes and compares the findings of these studies with each other and to the calcualtor. Briefly, the results are:
Le Pair and de Groot show that when the entire fossil fuel fleet efficiency is reduced by about 2% due to the presence of wind, the fossil fuel consumption saving is zero. This is the calculated efficiency reduction in the fossil fuel fleet for the Netherlands for a wind penetration of about 3% based on the published fossil fuel input and electricity production information. Their conclusions include the following:
The use of wind energy for electricity generation in combination with the requirement for fossil fuel powered stations to compensate for wind fluctuations can easily lead to loss of the expected saving in fuel use and CO2 emission. In addition, the conventional stations will be subject to accelerated wear and tear.
It is recommended to get an accurate and quantitative insight into these extra effects before society sets out to apply wind energy on a large scale. All producers must be required to publish data on the efficiency effects and fuel use when wind energy is added on.
Colorado and Texas
The study by Bentek Energy, aptly named “How Less Became More: Wind, Power and Unintended Consequences in the Colorado Energy Market,” is a ground-breaking analysis of the effects of the introduction of wind power into electricity systems. The study is based on actual results for the PSCO system in Colorado and ERCOT in Texas and their overarching conclusion is that there are unintended consequences to the implementation of Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS). One of the key findings is:
Contrary to their stated goals, implementation of RPS in Colorado and Texas appear to be adding to the air pollution problem, especially in areas where older plants are cycled more frequently.
The fossil fuel and CO2 emissions calculator was applied to each of the jurisdictions studied and shows similar results. In each case an explanation of the calculator input parameters is provided.
Comparison of Results
The congruence of results from these three different approaches is a convincing confirmation of the questionable value of new alternative energy sources, especially wind, in an electricity system. RPS programs, and similar initiatives to encourage new renewables, should be withheld until such time as objective and comprehensive evaluations can be made in a completely transparent manner about the real benefits.
Part II will provide more details on the Netherlands study and Parts III and IV for the Bentek study on Colorado and Texas respectively.