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Understanding the Limits of Wind Power: Key Industry Terms

By Glenn Schleede -- March 14, 2010

Two characteristics of industrial wind power crucially inform the public policy debate.

First, wind turbines have little or no “capacity value”; i.e., they are unlikely to be producing electricity at the time of peak electricity demand. Therefore, wind turbines cannot substitute for conventional generating capacity responsible for providing reliable electricity to customers.

Second, a kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity from wind has less value than a kWh of electricity from a reliable (“dispatchable”) generating unit; i.e., from a unit that can be called upon to produce electricity whenever the electricity is needed by electric customers.

These issues are important because “wind farm” developers and lobbyists have misled the public, media and government officials by making false claims and by using terms intended to confuse their listeners.

To address this problem, this post explains a few key electric industry terms that are important in understanding the critically important differences between the quality and value of

(i) the high cost, intermittent, volatile and unreliable electricity produced by wind turbines and

(ii) the lower cost, reliable and more valuable electricity produced by generating units that can be called upon to produce electricity whenever it is needed by electric customers.