[Note this post is the most popular article ever published on Master Resource. It has been now been significantly updated. Go here to see the current version.]
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, it morphs into a different shape and escapes your grasp. Let’s take a quick highlight review of how things have evolved with wind merchandising.
1 – Wind energy was abandoned well over a hundred years ago, as even in the late 1800s it was totally inconsistent with our burgeoning, more modern needs for power. 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 energy sources as horse and oxen power).
2 – Fast forward to several years ago. With politicians being convinced that Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) was an imminent catastrophic threat, lobbyists launched campaigns to favor anything that would purportedly reduce carbon dioxide. This was the marketing opportunity that the wind energy business needed. Wind energy was resurrected from the dust bin of power sources, as its promoters pushed the fact that wind turbines did not produce CO2 while generating 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 those “dirty” fossil fuel electrical sources (especially coal). This argument became the basis for many states implementing a Renewable Energy Standard (RES) or Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) – which mandated that the state’s utilities use (or purchase) a prescribed amount of wind energy (“renewables”), by a set date.
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 companies would likely do this on their own. They had to be forced to. For more on the cost, please keep reading.
4 – Interestingly, although the stated main goal of these RES/RPS programs was to reduce CO2, not a single state’s RES/RPS requires verification of CO2 reduction from any wind project, either beforehand or after the fact. The politicians simply took the sales peoples’ word that consequential CO2 savings would be realized!
5 – It wasn’t too long before utility companies and independent energy experts calculated that the actual CO2 savings were miniscule (if any). This was due to the inherent nature of wind energy, and the realities of necessarily continuously balancing the grid, on a second-by-second basis, with fossil-fuel-generated electricity. The frequently cited Bentek study (How Less Became More) is a sample independent assessment of this aspect. More importantly, there has been zero scientific empirical proof provided by the wind industry to support their claims of consequential CO2 reduction.
6 – Suspecting that the CO2 deception would soon be exposed, the wind lobbyists took pre-emptive action, and added another rationale to prop up their case: energy diversity. However, since our electricity system already had considerable diversity (and many asked “more diversity at what cost?”) this hype never gained much traction. Back to the drawing board….
7 – The next justification put forward by the wind marketers was energy independence. This cleverly played on the concern most people have about oil and Middle East instability. Many ads were run promoting wind energy as a good way to reduce our “dependence on Middle Eastern oil.”
None of these ads mentioned that only about 1% of our electricity is generated from oil. Or that the US exports more oil than we use for electricity. Or that our main import source for oil is Canada (not the Middle East). Despite the significant omissions and misrepresentations, this claim still resonates with many people, so it continues to be pushed. Whatever works.
8 – Knowing full well that the assertions used to date were specious, wind proponents manufactured still another claim: green jobs. This was carefully selected to coincide with widespread employment concerns. Unfortunately, when independent qualified parties examined the situation more closely, they found that the claims were wildly exaggerated. Big surprise!
Further, as attorney and energy expert Chris Horner has so eloquently stated:
There is nothing – no program, no hobby, no vice, no crime – that does not ‘create jobs.’ Tsunamis, computer viruses and shooting convenience store clerks all ‘create jobs.’ So that claim misses the point. Since it applies to all, it is an argument in favor of none. Instead of making a case on the merits, it is an admission that one has no such arguments.
See a very detailed critique of the jobs situation at PTCFacts.Info. Listed there are TEN major reasons why using jobs as an argument is not appropriate or meaningful. Additionally there is a list of some 45 reports written by independent experts, and they all agree that renewable energy claims are based on numerous fallacies.
9 – Relentlessly moving forward, wind marketers then tried to change the focus from jobs to “economic development.” The marketers typically utilized a computer program called JEDI to make bold economic projections. Unfortunately, JEDI is a totally inadequate model for accurately arriving at such numbers, for a variety of technical reasons. The economic development contentions have also been shown to be inaccurate, as they never take into account economic losses that result from wind energy implementation – for example agricultural losses due to bat killings, and job losses due to higher electricity costs for factories, hospitals and numerous other employers.
Additionally, as with jobs, economic development in-and-of-itself has nothing to do with the merits of wind energy as a power source. Let’s say we have a transportation RES mandating that 20% of a state’s vehicles be replaced by horse power by 2020. There would be a LOT of “economic development” (making horse carriages and buggy whips, building horse barns, growing and shipping hay) that would result from such an edict. But would that be any indication that it is an intelligent, beneficial policy?
10 – Along the way, yet another claim began making the rounds: that wind energy is low cost. This is surprisingly bold, considering that if that were really true, RES/RPS mandates would not be necessary. For some reason, all calculations showing wind to be “low cost” conveniently ignore exorbitant subsidies, augmentation costs, power adjusting (see next item), additional transmission costs, and so on. Independent analyses of levelized costs (e.g. from the EIA) have concluded that (when ALL applicable wind-related costs are accurately calculated) wind energy is MUCH more expensive than any conventional source we have.
11 – A subtle (but significant) difference between wind energy and other conventional sources of electricity is in power quality. This term refers to such technical performance factors as voltage transients, voltage variations, waveform distortion (e.g. harmonics), frequency variations, and so forth. The reality is that wind energy introduces many more of these issues than does a conventional power facility. Additional costs are needed to deal with these wind-caused problems. These are rarely identified in pro-wind economic analyses.
12 – When confronted with the reality that wind energy is considerably more expensive than any conventional source, a common rejoinder is to object to that by saying that once the “externalities” of conventional sources are taken into account, wind is less expensive than those conventional sources.
To gullible sheeple, this might make sense. But consider the following two points. First, externality analyses posited by wind zealots never take into account the true environmental consequences of wind energy (rare earth impacts [see below], human health effects, bird and bat deaths, the CO2 generated from a two million pound concrete base, etc.).
Second, the “externalities” for things like coal are always only the negative part. If these advocates want a true big picture calculation, then they need to also add in the benefits to us from low-cost coal-based electricity. Considering that coal played a major part in our economic success and improved health and living standards over the past century, such a plus factor would be enormous.
[BTW there is some evidence that the negative externalities (e.g. about coal related asthma claims) are exaggerated. What a surprise!]
13 – A key grid ingredient is Firm Capacity. (A layman’s translation is that this is an indication of dependability.) Conventional sources (like nuclear) have a Firm Capacity of nearly 100%. Wind has a Firm Capacity of about 0%. Big difference!
14 – Since this enormous Firm Capacity discrepancy is indisputable, wind energy apologists then decided to adopt the strategy that wind energy isn’t a “capacity resource” after all, but rather an “energy resource.” Surprisingly, this may be the first contention that is actually true! But what does this really mean?
The reality is that saying “wind is an energy source” is a trivial statement, on a par with saying “wind turbines are white.” Lightning is an energy source. So what? The fact is that your cat is an energy source too. In this Alice-in-Wonderland reality, connecting the cat to the grid (after heavily subsidizing it, of course), makes as much sense as does connecting puff power.
15 – Wind marketers then hit on a new tactic: that we should use wind as it is a plentiful resource. This is a strategy based on a part truth: that we should be utilizing energy sources that are abundant, reliable, and low-cost. There are two major deficiences in this thinking.
First, abundant sources that are not reliable and that are not low-cost (i.e. wind energy), are a net detriment to our economy. Second, if they are really saying that abundance should be our primary focus, then they should be promoting nuclear power and geothermal energy. Both of these sources have something like a million times the available energy that wind does. Both of those are orders of magnitude more reliable than wind is. Both are lower cost when comparing the actual levelized cost of wind energy (e.g. Wind+ Gas).
16 – One of the latest buzz-words is sustainability. One has to give these marketeers credit for being persistently imaginative. The truth about sustainability is:
a) It is totally hypocritical to have wind advocates attacking fossil fuels as unsustainable, when the wind business has an ENORMOUS dependency on fossil fuels for their construction, delivery, maintenance and operation. This article explains some of it.
b) Nothing is sustainable, as this piece accurately explains.
c) Wind energy is our LEAST sustainable option!
17 – A related pitch is that our adoption of wind energy will help us break “our fossil fuel dependence.” Guess what? The reality is that wind actually guarantees our perpetual dependence on fossil fuels! In addition to wind turbines’ dependence on fossil fuels for manufacture, delivery and maintenance, the only way wind energy can quasi-function on the grid is to have it continuously augmented by a fast responding power source – which for a variety of technical and economic reasons is usually gas.
It’s rather amusing that the same environmental organizations that support wind energy are also against shale gas. That’s like saying that you love Italian food but hate tomato sauce. The two are paired together like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
Realizing that their best defense is a good offense, some of these hucksters are now contending the inverse: that wind actually augments gas! So wind that generates electricity 25±% of the time is “augmenting” gas, which has to supply the 75±%! This immediately brings to mind the British army band playing “The World Turned Upside Down.”
18 – The claim that wind energy is “green” or “environmentally friendly” is laugh-out-loud hilarious – except for the fact that the reality is not funny at all. Consider just one part of a turbine, the generator, which uses considerable rare earth elements (2000± pounds per MW).
The mining and processing of these metals has horrific environmental consequences that are unacknowledged and ignored by the wind industry and its environmental surrogates. For instance, just the rare earths of a typical 100 MW wind project would generate approximately:
a) 20,000 square meters of destroyed vegetation,
b) 1.2 million pounds of CO2,
c) 6 million cubic meters of toxic air pollution,
d) 29 million gallons of poisoned water,
e) 600 million pounds of highly contaminated tailing sands, and
f) 280,000 pounds of radioactive waste. (See this, and this, and this.)
19 – Modern civilization is based on our ability to produce electrical POWER. Our modern sense of power is inextricably related to controlled performance expectations: when we turn the knob, we expect the stove to go on 100% of the time – not just on those wildly intermittent occasions when the wind is blowing within a certain speed range.
Underlying a lot of the wind lobbyists’ claims is a carefully crafted, implied message that there is some kind of wind energy “equivalency” to conventional sources. This assumption is the basis for such assertions that XYZ wind project will power 1,000 homes. Such claims are totally false. They are dishonest from several perspectives: the most obvious error being that XYZ wind project will NEVER provide power to any 1000 homes 24/7. It might not provide power for even one home 24/7/365.
Yet we see this same “equivalency” message conveyed even more subtly on EIA tables for levelized costs. Wind and conventional sources should not be on the same table, but they were (defended only by a small footnote). One useful analogy is to consider the cost, speed, reliability and load capacity of a single eighteen-wheeler truck in making daily interstate deliveries of furniture, heavy equipment or other large products. This semi-truck is equivalent to a nuclear plant.
In energy generation terms, the wind turbine equivalent is to attempt to replace the single truck with golf carts. How many golf carts would it take to equal the cost, speed, reliability and load capacity of a single eighteen-wheeler in making daily interstate deliveries? This is a trick question, as the answer is that there is no number that would work: not ten, not a hundred, not ten thousand, not a million. Exactly the same situation exists in the electricity sector: no number of turbines will ever equal the cost, reliability and output of one conventional electricity plant.
20 – A close cousin of the prior illegitimate contention is that “The wind is always blowing somewhere, so spreading wind projects out will result in a combination that has a dependable output.” Like essentially all the wind industry mis-infomercials do, this bald assertion has a soothing, reassuring ring. But this marketing claim is unsupported by any empirical, real world evidence. For instance, in southeastern Australia about 20 wind projects are spread out over a single 1000± mile long grid. Yet the combined result in no way even approximates the consistent dependable performance of our primary conventional sources.
Again, our modern society is based on abundant, reliable, affordable electric power. All these specious claims for wind energy are simply part of a long line of snake oil sales spiels – intended to fool the public and enable politicians to justify favoring special interests by enriching various rent-seekers (which will then return the favor via campaign contributions and other reelection support).
They get away with this primarily for three basic reasons.
1 – Wind proponents are not asked to independently PROVE the merits of their claims before (or after) their product is forced on the public.
2 – There is no penalty for making bogus assertions or dishonest claims about their product’s “benefits,” so each successive contention is more grandiose than the last.
3 – Promoting wind is a political agenda that is divorced from real science. A true scientific assessment is a comprehensive, objective evaluation with transparent real world data – not on carefully massaged computer models and slick advertising campaigns, which are the mainstay of anti-science evangelists promoting political agendas.
So, in effect, we have come around full circle. A hundred-plus years ago, wind energy was recognized as an antiquated, unreliable and expensive source of energy – and now, after hundreds of billions of wasted tax and consumer dollars, we find that (surprise!) it still is an antiquated, unreliable and expensive source of energy. This is what happens when science is relegated to a back-of-the-bus status.
Paraphrasing Dr. Jon Boone:
Let’s see the real world evidence for the lobbyists’ case. I’m weary of these relentless projections, uncontaminated as they are by reality. In a nutshell, what these profiteers are seeking to do, through methodological legerdemain, is to make wind appear to be what it is not. This is a plot lifted out of Cinderella and her step-sisters, or the Emperor’s New Clothes. It’s really a story of class aspirations, but one that is bizarrely twisted: giving wind a makeover to make her seem fetching and comely when in fact she’s really a frog.
When you hear that wind opposition is all about NIMBYs, think about the above points, and then reflect on what NIMBY really means: The Next Idiot Might Be You.
But consider the sources. When a major turbine manufacturer calls a catastrophic failure like a blade falling off component liberation, we know we are in for an adventurous ride in a theme park divorced from reality.
See WiseEnergy.org and EnergyPresentation.Info for more detailed explanations, including charts, photographs, entertaining graphics, and numerous references.
John Droz, Jr., a physicist & environmental advocate, can be reached at “aaprjohn at northnet dot org”.
I appreciate this list, I really do. And I have been on the hunt for research demonstrating CO2 emissions reductions from wind. Recently the Guardian reported that the supposed “extra” emissions from wind because of cycling of back-up power do not actually materialize, but I can’t find evidence that wind has allowed fossil fuel plants to close, for example.
But I suspect I am missing something. Opponents simply dismiss the Bentek study as being in a small area in favorable conditions to such a finding, but what, really, else is out there?
What a surprise: wind proponents dismiss some evidence that their product is defective!
The fact is that the ENTIRE obligation to prove claims rests on the shoulders of the proponents. Scientific proof of the CO2 savings would consist of a comprehensive, objective, transparent assessment of appropriate empirical data.
No such scientific assessment has EVER been done — therefore that claim (with all the others) should be treated as specious sales ballyhoo not worthy of serious consideration.
[…] John Droz, Jr — Master Resource — October 24, 2012 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, it morphs into a different shape and escapes your grasp. Let’s take a quick highlight review of how things have evolved with wind merchandising. […]
Mr. Droz, applying the principles of science, which he points out has been the driving force to advanced civilization and living standards, simply reveals the weakness of wind and how it contributes to lowering living standards.
[…] See on http://www.masterresource.org […]
Great update on the original post. Thanks. I would add only that pairing natural gas generation with wind is akin to pairing Fred Astaire with Fred Flintstone: the former does all the important work while also trying to finesse the limitations of the latter. As a cartoon character, however, Flintstone has a lot in common with wind technology. Flintstone isn’t real and wind can only generate pretentious modern power.
“The wind is always blowing somewhere, so spreading wind projects out will result in a combination that has a dependable output.”
I call that claim a blatant lie. The wind blows randomly so electricity generation by windpower is a random process. Anybody who has taken a statistics course knows that the sum of random processes is still a random process. The electrical output doesn’t even out and become constant no matter how many windpower generators you put on line.
[…] Green News Source- Click to read full article […]
[…] http://www.masterresource.org/2012/10/20-bad-things-wind-3-reasons-why/ […]
All of the facts stated by John Droz make sense
The whole wind energy drive is a farce with no cost benefit analysis been done for that sector
Wind is just part of the green mantra and which politicians use as a vote catching scam
The same nonsence is happening in Europe with the EU pushing through illegal and dysfunctional policies which have bypassed proper and legally required techncial, economic and environmental assessments . The landscape is already badly scared by thousands of of wind turbines and people suffereing health impacts from turbine noise / whine. So much for the Aarhus Convention !
Great piece, John. On wind’s dismal power quality, I also recommend economist Jonathan Lesser’s exposé of the production tax credit (PTC) as a “high cost subsidy for low value power” (http://www.continentalecon.com/publications/cebp/Lesser_PTC_Report_Final_October-2012.pdf). Based on nearly four years of data from the three interconnection regions with the most installed wind infrastructure, Lesser finds that the wind blows least when power is needed most.
This Summer’s heat wave provides a stunning example: “July 6, 2012, when the demand for electricity in northern Illinois and Chicago averaged 22,000 MW, the average amount of wind power available during the day [versus the roughly 2,700 MW installed] was a virtually nonexistent 4 MW.”
Lesser concludes: “The PTC forces taxpayers to spend billions of dollars for a generating resource that produces the least amount of electricity when it is most valuable and most needed. That is like asking someone to pay for a taxi that does not show up when it’s raining.”
Or, as I paraphrased in a blog post on Lesser’s study (http://www.globalwarming.org/2012/10/29/production-tax-credit-high-cost-subsidy-for-low-value-power/#more-15309), “An electric power station that fails to produce during a heat wave is like metro service that’s available except when you need to get to work. Neither is of much value, regardless of how ’competitive’ the rates may seem.”
Nice comments, Marlo.
I enjoyed reading Dr. Lesser’s paper, particularly because of the section ingenuously exposing how wind output does not “suppress” the overall “price” of electricity. As he points out, there’s a front end of this Trojan horse–and a back end.
I wish he would reconsider using the term “intermittency,” however, as it applies to wind performance. Truth is, intermittence is a condition of all electricity generation, occasioned by a number of understandable factors. The intermittence of conventional generation is overwhelmingly predictable and controllable, though; if it weren’t, the problematic unit(s) would be summarily withdrawn from the grid.
If wind output were merely intermittent, even unpredictably intermittent, it might actually do some good as a “fuel saver,” which is what most wind engineers ultimately state as the ultimate rationale for their “technology.” Controllable intermittence would certainly not impose nearly as much inefficiency on wind following generation as the real wind problem does. Most vehicles today have intermittent windshield wipers that nicely complement a safe driving experience, for example.
The real wind problem, the one that turns wind machines into the lemons they are, is the relentless fluctuating volatility of its output. It is wind’s continuous, second by second variability caused by performance at the cube of the wind speed that perverts its integration into a grid system, subverting fuel savings and increasing costs, including, as he states, costs for new, virtually dedicated transmission lines and voltage regulation. Moreover, wind projects don’t require “back up” akin to the way conventional units are sometimes replaced by other conventional units, mostly on a temporary basis. Rather, wind output must be entangled by conventional generation at all times throughout the entire range of its installed capacity.
So why not replace the word intermittence (an actual word) with the word variable? Or, perhaps better, with the phrase “unpredictable and highly variable?” And why not desist using the term back up when in fact he means to convey the idea of comprehensive prosthetic support for its variability?
Although I appreciate the way he documented wind’s capacity credit with ERCOT, MISO, and the PJM, this is rather old news. Or rather, it is consistence with wind performance virtually everywhere. It is a general truism that wind, in the best wind areas, produces an annual average capacity factor of 30%. However, around 60% of the time, it produces less than this. And about 10% of the time, it produces virtually nothing, often at times of peak demand. Conversely, wind projects typically produce most when demand for their output is least. Whatever wind does produce is continuously changing, minute-by-minute–which has substantial implications for any wind-induced fossil fuel savings or overall reductions in CO2 emissions.
Perhaps he would consider building upon my own work in looking at wind in Texas and Colorado, investigating whether there is evidence for any overall reductions in coal or natural gas production CAUSED by wind performance. In looking at year to year fuel use over the last decade, and accounting for imports/exports, level of demand, and changes in other fuel generation, I can’t even find a correlation, let alone a causal link, between wind output in MWh and the output of coal or gas in MWh. Wind of course must replace existing generation essentially 1:1 as it enters the grid; however, as it bounces around on the back end of its performance, it imposes such substantial inefficiencies on mainly thermal plants that any “savings” evidently disappear over time. This seems the most plausible explanation for why the historic generation mix doesn’t seem affected by wind.
Pretending to do credible levelized cost comparisons between variable unfirm wind capacity and firm conventional generation is an exercise that should embarrass good economists. And although I understand the use of low value as a literary balance with high cost, the phrase does a real disservice, implying that wind has some benefit. When in fact, at so many levels of consideration, it is only dysfunctional.
Wind turbines are a futile symbolic gesture, a self flagelation of mankind, imposed on us by governments due to the guilt of the greeny vote- middleclass self righteoussness and brainwashed kids. The hard core greens wont be satisfied until humans are rounded up and banished to the cities where we are stacked upon high in recycled cardbourd boxes crouched around the light shed by a candle made from human fat!
point 15 and 16 are so upsidedown. have these people lost their mind?
Wow, I could leave an epic on this topic. Just to say the wind turbines are evil will be enough.
[…] http://www.masterresource.org/2012/10/20-bad-things-wind-3-reasons-why/ […]
this website give me a whole bunch of good information. Thank you for making this website.
20 reasons? I could only pull a few out of the random enumeration. There are valid points, but there are also some I’d like to rebut.
Here’s what I understand from Mr. Droz:
1) Wind power was abandoned in the 1800’s, so we shouldn’t use them now.
RESPONSE: Those machines were drag based, like a wind mill on a farm. The science of aerodynamics had yet to be developed. Efficiency rates for lift machines a much higher. Also, advances in materials, like plastics and composite reinforced polymers, allow for modern turbines to greatly exceed the performance of their predecessors.
I find it odd that Mr. Droz decided to lead with this argument, since it really holds no water in the engineering community. Was the first car better or more reliable than the horse and buggy at the time? Was the first airplane more effective form of transportation than the locomotive? Of course not. These things develop over time. Obviously, wind energy has evolved and is now contributing to global energy production.
2) Wind Energy is has not been proven to reduce CO2 emissions or be better for the environment.
RESPONSE: A spinning turbine does not generate any emissions. There is not any chemical reaction occurring during power production. Thus, this must be a comment on the wind turbine supply chain and manufacturing process.
This is definitely a concern, but issues are being addressed. One that I know of is the use of thermo-setting plastics. These include epoxy, which is the main matrix used for the fiberglass in turbines. The problem with thermo-setting plastics is that they are not recyclable. So, when the turbine’s life is over, the blades would then head to a land fill. In order to avoid this issue, research is being done on using thermoplastic polymers, which can be melted down and recycled after use.
The rare earth magnets is a great point. I hadn’t thought about that. I don’t have much experience on the generator aspect of wind turbines, so I can’t comment there.
I skimmed through the sources, but didn’t see where the radioactive waste factored in. The only place I could see that factoring in, is if nuclear power is used in the manufacturing process.
Any form of energy will have development costs and downsides. Wind, solar, gas, coal, nuclear, and all other forms of power production will require material and energy input.
3) Wind is not reliable
RESPONSE: This is a great point. Since wind speeds fluctuate and can’t be controlled by anyone other than mother nature, there must be some sort of energy storage system and grid alteration before wind can become the primary power source of our nation. This also applies to solar.
I’ve heard electrolysis, hydrogen storage, and fuel cell usage proposed as a way to deal with this problem. I’m sure there are other solutions being worked on.
Overall, I disagree that wind energy is not a viable energy source and that it should be removed from the energy picture. I can understand the frustration that it is being marketed as a silver bullet environment saver by politicians and the associated industry, but I think that having GWh of emission free energy from each turbine is generally a positive.
Thank you for your thoughts.
It’s interesting that you came to different conclusions from essentially everyone else. Evidently you have some exceptions energy expertise that the others are missing — so please share that info with us.
My first point was about the laws of physics, which have not changed since the 1800s. No amount of carbon fiber or clever engineering changes some fundamental facts that make wind energy an extremely poor performer.
Re the CO2 this is primarily due to the fact that wind energy must continually be augmented — by a fossil fuel source.
Re REEs, a significant amount of radioactive waste is a necessary byproduct of processing the 4000± pounds of REEs per turbine. Check it out.
I’d recommend that you carefully study EnergyPresentation.Info. It will make the whole matter much clearer.
john droz, jr.
To Alex and John Droz,
The shift from wind energy to burning fuels, while the path was messy at times, was due to the energy density and the resulting production efficiency that the thermal sources offered. Early on, engineers realized how impractical drag turbines would be in meeting future energy predictions. Sure, there have been tremendous advancements in technology, and any new turbine is much more efficient than in the 1800s. However, systematically, they are still much less efficient at producing electricity than other options. There are theoretical limits (Betz’ Law – see Wikipedia for a fair summary) on how much wind energy exists in any given turbine swept area. Add to that the new discovery and theory from Harvard’s David Keith ( http://tinyurl.com/b7uboqe ), and the reality is there are physical interactions in wind farms that reduce theoretical (or estimated) efficiency significantly. The point: there is still a lot of development needed for wind systems to meet modern, optimistic projections, which still put them well below thermal systems in efficiency, both areal (space needed for equivalent wattage) and economic.
There are also numerous studies of existing electricity networks with various levels of wind penetration. Common to all is the fact that overall reduction in pollutants within the network is much lower than projected, and in some cases zero. Beyond just CO2, other fuel-source related pollutants are surprisingly high because of the nature of the backup plants, or reserves, needed to meet the load when wind cannot provide enough. They are operating at points of high thermodynamic inefficiency – sort of like how your car pollutes more when you press the throttle versus when it is just cruising at speed. The more wind capacity there is installed, the more significant this becomes. In simple terms, consider the output can vary from 100% to nearly 0% based on environmental conditions – mother nature. Almost always the wind output is fully purchased when it is available (as it is a zero fuel cost supplier to the grid – and theoretically cheap – and actually cheap due to regulation). So, any reduction is balanced by buying more from a thermal plant – usually plants designed for that purpose (‘peaker plants’). The lower the output from wind farms, the more that must be immediately provided/purchased. So, if wind generators are a greater portion of a network’s demand, then a greater portion of thermal generators are needed as backup. There may be periods where the backup isn’t run much when wind output is low because of low demand, but the thermal capacity still needs to exist for the worst case scenario.
Storage doesn’t necessarily solve all the capacity problems. It is a potential solution for short term fluctuation (minutes and hours?), but not longer term needs. In one multiple year study of the British and Irish electricity networks at their given amounts of wind penetration at the time (10% or less? I forget), there were periods of days where the wind output was unusually low and demand somewhat high (warm days). And the amount of storage that would have been required was completely unfeasible, both for economic reasons and for the amount of land required. So, with the conditions which included a mix of offshore (with theoretically higher winds on average) and onshore wind farms, at less than 10% of the total, there were still periods where storage was impractical and nearly all of the wind output HAD to be provided by other sources (coal mostly in the UK at that time). This isn’t unique.
From my experience, there are improvements made beyond technology and individual efficiency. Better measurement and predictions of wind availability have led to better site choices and some better overall output from those locations, for example. But there is no current solution to the fundamental issues of being able to count on wind output when you need it (called ‘firm capacity’). As a result, frequently very little if any of the wind system’s capacity is included in the planning phases (short and long) by a utility. That is a reason why there is also more attention put into the other side of the coin than before – what is called ‘demand management’. Since all of the supply side problems cannot be eliminated, you look to alter those who use the electricity at any given time. It has it’s own set of details and complexities, but in short the effort started a long time ago when utilities needed contingencies for unexpected power plant outages. It, of course, is expanded to ways to apply it more frequently to the wind/solar situations I describe. And it is most important at peak periods, where wind/solar are below capacity (perhaps by a lot) and the reserves may not be enough. These are real situations even if they may not occur often within the 8760 hours in a year. Even if just one hour, we all still expect to have electricity for that period
John: I really like the concise and informative nature of your article.
One thing that seriously worries me about the developing ‘feeding frenzy’ for wind energy is the inefficient use of finite material resources in the manufacture of wind turbines, particularly copper. Apart from the extra use of the metal in lightning conductors, grounding rings and rods, and interconnections to adjacent machines, the generator must also be oversized to cope with the few times when nameplate capacity is reached. For on-shore wind turbines with a 25+-% capacity factor, this must result in a generator that is 4 times the capacity of a gas or coal driven one, for the same electrical output. Also its ancillary converters, transformers, chokes and grid connection cables, must be oversized accordingly.
Because both Chinese and Indian requirements for copper are beginning to burgeon, as their populations seek to acquire similar standards of living as their brethren in the west, their demand for copper grows at an alarming rate. Refrigerators, automobiles, wind turbines, heat pumps and electric cars are all now finding a place on their shopping lists. While there is still a lot of copper distributed throughout the earth’s crust, nevertheless the cost and energy requirements to mine and refine it, are set to increase by several orders of magnitude, due to lowering percentages of copper in future deposits. Some western countries do have large stocks of scrap that can be recycled, but I don’t think that China and India are in this position.
Will there be enough reasonably priced copper available to support further developing ‘green’ technologies, such as hybrid and full electric cars, heat pumps etc.?
Does anyone have the figures for tonnes of copper/MWh produced, for both wind and conventionally driven turbines.
I would say that this is a very nice article describing some negative aspects of wind energy but to my mind, being critical about a subject is very easy.. However, I did not see any suggestions concerning the global energy problem.
What I am trying to say is that of course there are hidden agendas, as in every matter that includes money and power.. But what happens when the conventional power sources are depleted, I think is a subject that concerns us all..
If our major problem is the impact on our electricity bills and the living standards, we should think for a moment that half of earth’s population does not have an electricity bill or living below those standards..
Personally, I believe that unless we discover a magical energy source that solves all our problems we should examine every available option even if it is as bad as you describe.. Surely is better than just fossil fuel consumption..
Twenty Bad Things About Wind Energy, and Three Reasons Why — MasterResource
You could certainly see your enthusiasm within the work you write.
The world hopes for more passionate writers like you
who aren’t afraid to say how they believe. Always follow your heart.
[…] which are the mainstay of anti-science evangelists promoting political agendas. – See more at: http://www.masterresource.org/2012/1….Agt0POl2.dpuf Yes Wind Spin! Suggesting "Wind should be part of the mix" Arguing that "Wind […]
I apologise for the simplistic reasoning I have, but a huge windmill that costs $4.5 million to erect and AT BEST can only produce $50,000 worth of electricity (if it runs at optimal speed for 24 hours a day for 365 days, not adding maintenance and repair costs), then can pay back it’s initial cost in only 90 years. Too bad the machines are only rated to have a useable life span of less than 20 years. Nuclear power is the way to generate our needed energy for the next 500 years, as we slowly wean ourselves off of fossil fuels. Was that not the reason the Department of Energy was created? And they have the worst results, failing horribly as they recommend AGAINST nuclear power. Even Bill Gates has recently promoted the value of a nuclear waste disposal plant, so USA could safely destroy it’s waste and receive huge fees for destroying the waste of other country’s nuclear plants. About a wheelbarrow full per year is generated by each nuclear power plant. Thanks!
Supporters/proponents of any field do not advertise the negative aspects of said field. The fossil fuel industry never talks about the negative environmental affects it has, and neither does the nuclear industry. The nuclear industry tries to tell people that it is a clean energy source, but does not talk about what they do or will do with the radioactive waste that is a by product or the poisons that nuclear power stations do give off such as high levels of mercury. What about when there are disasters such as Chernobyl, Fukushima or Three Mile Island, and the list of other incidents that you really have to research to find out about (because of course the nuclear industry does not advertise it and tries to cover it up when they can). I do agree that wind energy might not be the most efficient, but I do not agree that wind and shale gas are paired together. As for green jobs I do agree that the wind energy does produce green jobs, because if the industry did not exist then the people hired in it, and the industries that supply the wind energy industry would not have a job at all green or otherwise. As this article is written by someone who is clearly anti wind it’s not surprising that they try and list any advantages of fossil fuels (as he says supporters and proponents of the wind energy industry do for theirs), none of the many disadvantages of that industry, and none of the advantages of wind energy. I agree that wind energy does need work, but lets work on it rather than just shelving it. Maybe all the energy producing industries should put all their cards on the table, not hide a single thing or try and sweep things under the carpet and lets see how they all stack up in efficiency, sustainability, and how healthy they are both for the planet and the people living on it. Then we can make a proper informed decision on something that is so crucial to our survival/existence.
Well stated, Digby. The article definitely appears to be from someone with a bias toward the fossil fuel industry. Should get a lot of support — both verbally and financially — from that currently well-healed industry. I have a friend who constantly reminds me to “Follow the money.” So at the present time the money — or impending threat to the money — is with the fossil fuel industry. I agree, lets not “shelve” something when we know that in the not to distant history of this country there were things that persistence using technology were able to improve. If the medical field approached obstacles in this fashion we would abandon cancer research as well as many other challenges which appear impossible or too costly at the outset.
I also agree with Nick: “I don’t know if you work for the fossil fuel giants but it definitely seems like it. Your preferred method of energy is to continue digging up a limited resource until what? Until it runs out? Because it will. Then all you will have is your precious money that isn’t worth the hair on my liberal bearded face.” We are releasing millions of years of carbon into the atmosphere/earth over a period slightly longer than a century. Surely something has to come to an end — either the burning of fossil fuels or homo-sapiens on this planet. Two books I recommend: “The Sixth Extinction” and “Countdown”. Both are well-documented and provide the foresight needed in these times. I think of them like the seminal “The Population Bomb” of many years ago, “Future Shock” and others that tried to warn us of what was coming. Even “1984”, although off by a number of decades, was prescient in its fantasy projections of what we would be facing in a top-down future.
I’m always amazed at government officials who advocate that government should be run like a business. If that’s the case then, when someone in business faces obstacles, s/he re-doubles his/her efforts until all options are exhausted. It’s called persistence and is the primary quality of character I’ve found in those successful entrepreneurs I’ve met in the course of this life. (Keep in mind, even Bill Gates family scoffed when he predicted the day would come when every home would have a personal computer. Would someone else have picked up where he would have left off had he simply quit in the face of the challenge/s?) Alternate energy, according to all climate scientists is not a choice, but a dire necessity if humans are going to… Sure hate being a prophet of doom, but I heard years ago that the way you train a mule is with a two-by-four; smack him between the eyes with that board and then begin the training. So in this case the two-by-four must be fear of the end of civilization as we have known it. If that doesn’t get humanity’s attention then let’s just keep heading for the cliff.
The point of my comments is to put some balance into the incessant and inaccurate claims by the wind industry.
Our basic position is that we should actively investigate alternative energy sources. However the only ones that should be allowed on the grid are those that are a NET societal benefit. No scientific evidence exists that wind energy is a net societal benefit.
[…] http://www.masterresource.org/grassroots-opposition/20-bad-things-wind-3-reasons-why/ […]
Great information. But it is time to stop analyzing “alternative” energy “solutions” in regard to their reduction in CO2. That accepts the lie that CO2 drives Climate Change. Why enter a debate by conceding the opponent’s most vital (and false) claim?
Thank you for taking the time to comment on that popular posting.
My point for all 20 was that each and every one of them was a false claim.
So it is with the CO2 claim as well.
john droz, jr.
The fact is that we have been inundated by supposed wind energy benefits by developers, environmental organizations, manufacturers that profit from them (e.g. GE), etc.
The point of this article is to put some BALANCE into the picture.
[…] Source: Twenty Bad Things About Wind Energy, and Three Reasons Why – Master Resource […]
I don’t know if you work for the fossil fuel giants but it definitely seems like it. Your preferred method of energy is to continue digging up a limited resource until what? Until it runs out? Because it will. Then all you will have is your precious money that isn’t worth the hair on my liberal bearded face. Half of the points you try to make against wind power also directly apply to fossil fuel power and therefor they really aren’t “reasons why wind power is a bad idea” your just trying to shoot down arguments for why it’s a good idea and that makes you sir, a negative nancy.
This is a great website
A brilliant article
Problem. The situation is even worse than this article presents
I did not pick up on harmonics in the article
The electricity systems are generally 50/60Hz
Wind turbines produce every harmonic except 50/60 and are therefore illegal
Smart meters read these illegal harmonics and illegally sell them to the consumer
3 resons why so your telling me 20 bad things and 3 resons wow you are not that smart is what your telling me
Ordinarily I delete SPAM, but this one is priceless!
Although you present some incredibly valid arguments about the validity of long-term and immediate wind farm applications, I ask that you consider the long-term effects of using fossil fuels as the sole energy source. As a forward thinking problem solver, would it not be in mankind’s best interest to invest in progressing “green” energies?
I condone your exemplary display of political spearheading that has pushed wind power directly back onto the doorstep of every country globally. It is not news to most folks that the political sector needs to shove off and let technology and science do its work.
The concern I have with this article and the rampant support for your clear disgust with the concept of wind energy is that there fewer people speaking about improvements and more about abolishment. Wind power can be of some help to areas that are far from power factories much like many areas of Africa. The design of the modern wind turbine is aged and should undergo a complete overhaul as you are correct, it is inefficient and costs more than it is worth.
To say there is no future for wind energy in our grid is the same as claiming humanity will have an endless supply of coal.
Small steps need to be made to progress a backup for the supply we all know is going to become sparse some day 80 years in the future.
Again, I do not disagree that modern wind technology is highly over publicized and truly needs a scientific overhaul. There is a future for wind generated power within the global grid and I implore you to see the benefits in that.
Personally speaking, I am still holding my elongated breath for nuclear fusion to be successful. The incredible possibilities of such a discovery would revolutionize the world through another age of humanity.
Thank you for your thoughtful comments on this article.
My answer to your quandary is that we do NOT have a binary choice: wind energy or coal. That is the impression falsely being fostered by some mainstream environmental groups, but it is technically inaccurate and dishonest.
There is so much to cover, that I can not do justice to it in an email. Briefly:
1 – Wind never replaces coal anyway.
2 – Fossil fuels (in general) have been a NET societal benefit.
3 – Wind requires gas to be an auxiliary source, so wind mandates a continued dependency on fossil fuels.
4 – The choice is which is better: “Wind+Gas” or “Gas”?
5 – The answer is that “Gas” is less expensive and can produce less CO2!
6 – There are several other good energy options available — e.g. geothermal.
7 – Fusion is unlikely to be commercially available in our lifetime.
8 – SMRs and Thorium nuclear are clear winners.
john droz, jr.
Mentioning back to paragraph 5 and the fact that we have fossil fuels. I’m in the ninth grade, and even I know that we are very limited on those since they are non-renewable. We may have enough to get us through our life time, but what about future life? they can take up to thousands of years just to decompose one body or organism. So my point is we should make use of all available energy sources we can get, even if it is wind generated.
[…] Bad things About Wind Energy and Three Reasons Why,” which was an update of “Twenty Bad things About Wind Energy and Three Reasons Why,” which was an update of “Wind Spin: Misdirection and Fluff by a Taxpayer-enabled Industry,” […]
My bipolar disorder will not allow me to read the entirety of your above comments, so let me just ask why it is that the 3000 scientists out of 3000 scientists that we hear about are wrong when they say that we are in deep shit with our man made damage to the environment and that the result is going to be catastrophic if major changes are not enacted? Again, I do have a political view on this, but I do not wish to enter it into my question. Boy, does it bring pain to see Australia burn up so. Thank you.
Wow, I have heard the warnings about wind towers from some reliable sources but nothing hits a person like money out of your pocket. I drive the 10 mile stretch near the wind towers by Wayne Ne. and I can tell you from a personal experience, if you drive the roads near a construction site of the wind towers you can plan on repairing and replacing your windshields. I have had rocks hit me and damaged the windshield 4 different times so far and I drive the road 1 time per week. I have been driving for 45 years and have had 2 repairs before this in all that time. The wind tower people just ignore you and will claim no responsibility for the rocks their trucks leave on the road. Just another consideration if you think you want one in your area.