“Wind does not belong in any modern energy supply portfolio. Grids do substantial work to integrate wind volatility … Retrofitting modern technology to meet the needs of ancient wind flutter is monumentally backwards, a sure sign that pundits and politicians, not scientists, are now in charge.”
Except for hydro, renewable energy sources are inimical to any rational idea of maintaining access to energy with highly secure power capacity. Restated, wind and solar cannot produce modern power without being wholly entangled with modern power producers.
This article will focus on wind power, but similar problems affect solar.
Any chemist should know enough to understand the implications of the formula governing the way wind energy must be converted into electricity: w=1/2 rAv3, where w is power; r, air density; A, rotor density; and v is wind speed.
The main driver in the equation is the v3, which dictates that any output must be a function of the cube of the wind speed at each wind speed interval throughout the windplant’s rated capacity, from 0 to ~33 mph. (Most windplants don’t begin generating anything until the wind speed reaches ~8 mph and max out when the wind speed hits 33 mph).
Such a narrow wind speed range ensures substantial minute-by-minute volatility, as the wind gusts around at higher altitudes. This volatility imposes relentless inefficiencies on wind-balancing thermal plants. And the greater number of continuously skittering windplants, the higher the risk to grid security.
Those who want to verify the extent of minute-by-minute wind flux should visit the Bonneville Power Authority website. Here, one can also note occasional very wide swings of wind generation in short time periods, which greatly threaten security of supply.
The justification for wind energy, which constitutes about 90% of the world’s “renewable” energy portfolio outside of impounded hydro, is that it must save on the amount of conventional fuel (fossil fuels—coal, gas, or oil—and even nuclear and hydro) used to generate electricity so as to reduce CO2 emissions. Many writers, like Meredith Angwin in Shorting the Grid: The Hidden Fragility of Our Electric Grid, simply assume this is the case, although a slog through her book shows that she thinks such an enterprise is not worth the economic costs.
This is true. But what Angwin doesn’t think, evidently, is that the energy source is also utterly dysfunctional in terms of what people generally expect from it.
Wind does not belong in any modern energy supply portfolio. Grids do substantial work to integrate wind volatility—just to stay in place. This has always been an arduous task in the best of circumstances, even without renewables flux, because of any modern grid’s prime directive: matching supply precisely with demand on a quicker than second-by-second basis.
Yes, engineers can make-work by adding wind flux to the system. They can lead a horse to water; but they can’t make it drink. By its nature, wind will require lots of inefficient whips and whistles, even at small levels of penetration, in ways that will negate the very reason for its being.
This is why people quickly switched to steam 200 years ago. Retrofitting modern technology to meet the needs of ancient wind flutter is monumentally backwards, a sure sign that pundits and politicians, not scientists, are now in charge.
All things considered, the more wind, the more need for—uh—coal and natural gas. There is no evidence, anywhere, that wind production has caused/causes any overall reductions in fossil fuel-fired generation in the production of electricity.
Comparing the value of wind and solar, the renewables du jour, with that of firm capacity conventional generation is a task designed by and for simpletons. Capacity-less wind and grid-scaled solar cannot compete with Uncle Sugar (taxpayers) backstopping any losses.
Jon Boone is a retired academic administrator from the University of Maryland who seeks the better idea. His interests include the history and methods of science; the artist, Johannes Vermeer; natural history; and energy policy, among many others. He has been a formal intervenor in two PSC wind regulatory hearings, and thereafter wrote a number of researched essays about the limitations of wind technology. Recently, he wrote about his research findings regarding SarsCov-2.