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Power Density Separates the Wheat from the Chaff

By Kent Hawkins -- February 20, 2013

“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.

Germany: Wind and the Power Pool Savings Myth

By Donald Hertzmark -- September 3, 2010

Germany is a country that has been a leader in many aspects of “clean” energy development during the past decade.  They were among the leaders in establishing pricing mechanisms for wind and solar, phasing out nuclear power and granting incentives to biomass energy producers.  Germany has the highest proportion of wind in its generation mix, now around 20%, but is no longer the absolute installed capacity leader behind the U.S. and China.

With a vast investment in above-market generation resources some in Germany are channeling “Mad Man Muntz” of early US television history – “lose money on every sale but make it up with the volume.”  It did not work for Muntz TV and it will not work for Germany.

A New Fairy Tale, Starring Wind Energy Generators

Lately, a story has gone round with the following general points:

  • Assume that the marginal cost of wind is the lowest of all existing generation plant types;
  • Assume that power pools in NW Europe accept generator bids based strictly on the marginal energy cost (MEC)
  • Assume that wind can be the marginal generation resource during some peak periods
  • Assume further that this MEC sets the price on the pool for those time segments (30 minutes) where wind is the marginal producer, and therefore
  • Wind, by setting the MEC during some peak demand periods, will reduce the price of energy during such periods and save consumers money.

Wind Integration vs. Air Emission Reductions: A Primer for Policymakers

By Mary Hutzler -- June 24, 2010

Many claim that wind generation is beneficial because it reduces pollution emissions and does not emit carbon dioxide.  This isn’t necessarily the case. The following article explains a phenomena called cycling where the introduction of wind power into a generation system that uses carbon technologies to back-up the wind  actually reduces the energy efficiency of the carbon technologies. Recent studies  with actual data have estimated the impact of cycling on air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions.

Energy modelers evaluating the impact of legislation such as Senator Bingaman’s American Clean Energy Leadership Act and the American Power Act proposed by Senators Kerry and Lieberman should take note for their models most likely are underestimating the cost of compliance by incorrectly modeling the integration of wind power into the electricity grid.

Wind is not a new technology.…

Wind Integration: Incremental Emissions from Back-Up Generation Cycling (Part V: Calculator Update)

By Kent Hawkins -- February 12, 2010

Wind Integration: Incremental Emissions from Back-Up Generation Cycling (Part IV – Further Reflections)

By Kent Hawkins -- December 16, 2009

Wind Integration: Incremental Emissions from Back-Up Generation Cycling (Part II)

By Kent Hawkins -- November 16, 2009

Wind Integration: Incremental Emissions from Back-Up Generation Cycling (Part I: A Framework and Calculator)

By Kent Hawkins -- November 13, 2009