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Wind Energy: Unreliable, heavily subsidized

I'd like to share some thoughts on wind energy with you. My problems with wind energy have been the same for 40 years and little has changed to modify any of this. After 40 years of heavy subsidies, dedicated government research programs (wind mills just aren't that complex), wind energy is still a small marginal source of unreliable energy. Even with government mandated Renewable Portfolio Standards (government edicts, not free markets), which force the utilities to buy this costly energy, the problems are more costly and the engineering problems remain.

A writer for the Omaha World Herald paper (http://www.windaction.org/news/18185) recently wrote an article on wind energy activities in the Midwest. It was notable in its promotions of the wind energy spokesmen, as well as a lack of cost and performance details. I wrote the following comments in response to her in the hopes that her readers would gain a better understanding of the problems inherent in all such windmill projects.

I'd like to share some thoughts on wind energy with you. My problems with wind energy have been the same for 40 years and little has changed to modify any of this. After 40 years of heavy subsidies, dedicated government research programs (wind mills just aren't that complex), wind energy is still a small marginal source of unreliable energy.

Even with government mandated Renewable Portfolio Standards (government edicts, not free markets), which force the utilities to buy this costly energy, the problems are more costly and the engineering problems remain.

1. Wind energy is too intermittent, with 50 to 100% daily fluctuations

2. Wind energy is too dilute with very low energy density.

3. Wind energy is too unreliable (a capacity factor of only 30% is... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

A writer for the Omaha World Herald paper (http://www.windaction.org/news/18185) recently wrote an article on wind energy activities in the Midwest. It was notable in its promotions of the wind energy spokesmen, as well as a lack of cost and performance details. I wrote the following comments in response to her in the hopes that her readers would gain a better understanding of the problems inherent in all such windmill projects.

I'd like to share some thoughts on wind energy with you. My problems with wind energy have been the same for 40 years and little has changed to modify any of this. After 40 years of heavy subsidies, dedicated government research programs (wind mills just aren't that complex), wind energy is still a small marginal source of unreliable energy.

Even with government mandated Renewable Portfolio Standards (government edicts, not free markets), which force the utilities to buy this costly energy, the problems are more costly and the engineering problems remain.

1. Wind energy is too intermittent, with 50 to 100% daily fluctuations

2. Wind energy is too dilute with very low energy density.

3. Wind energy is too unreliable (a capacity factor of only 30% is usually assumed. This is the fraction of the rated annual energy output of the windmill.

4. A backup energy system is needed to provide energy to make up that 70% shortfall. The backup system must be able to produce energy quickly to keep system energy levels stable. The backup system must operate:

  1. without wind energy,
  2. without solar energy,
  3. with high reliability,
  4. remain in "spinning reserve" (which is itself inefficient)

This raises the ugly question "If a highly reliable energy system is needed to be "spinning" for backup, why have the windmills at all?"

5. Wind energy is not dispatchable, that is, its energy cannot be depended upon for future deliveries of energy to other utilities on a predictable schedule. Thus a wind-generated kw-hr which may be generated at anytime during a 24 hour period, is not as useful or valuable as a natural gas-fired, coal fired, or nuclear kw-hr, which can be delivered to other utilities at any precise time in the future, whether the wind blows or not.

6. The financial/industrial popularity of windmills is driven by legalized tax evasion; it is not because they are significant sources of electrical energy. A $100,000,000 wind farm can be depreciated in less than 6 yrs, 70% of the original costs can be depreciated in 3 years. This permits the avoidance of millions in tax obligations.

The largest windmill owner in the United States had revenues of $2 billion/yr, but did not pay any taxes at all in 2001 and 2002. The rest of us paid their taxes for them. Al Capone went to prison for evading fewer taxes than this. In the case of wind subsidies, however, it is entirely lawful, and is even encouraged by state and federal governments.

7. In addition the owners also get 1.9 cents/kw-hr tax credit (right off the bottom line tax calculation).

8. The owners also get many additional tax benefits from local taxing authorities, with the final delivered costs exceeding 3 times conventional power rates. Retailers like WalMart are passing these Green Energy costs to their customers in the goods they purchase. There is no free lunch.
Energy Density

The energy from a windmill can be calculated knowing the wind velocity and the area swept out by the windmill blades. This brings in another engineering concept called "energy density". Wind (and solar) both have extremely low energy densities. At full power a 3 MW wind turbine produces about 130 watts per sq meter. In one hour this becomes 130 watt-hrs. (this is at full power, an upper limit for the windmill). Furthermore, since turbulence is introduced at each windmill significant space needed between the windmills.

Similarly a solar PV cell catches about 340 watt-hr /sq meter at latitude of about 47 deg N. This is thermal energy, however, and converting to electrical energy with about 30% efficiency, we can get about 100 watt-hrs electrical energy per hour at high noon on a sunny day. This is a daytime output upper limit for the PV solar cell---and it is zero at night.

By comparison a pound of coal (assume 10,000 Btu/lb) can produce about 1 kw-hr of electrical energy (assume 35% efficiency in the conversion). It has an energy density much larger than the energy densities of both windmills and solar PV.

A tennis ball sized amount of uranium-235, dispersed in the core of a nuclear reactor, has an energy density about 2 million times that of a pound of coal. This is a very high energy density, an efficient source of electricity, and perhaps a future energy source for hydrogen. Put simply, it is just the kind of energy needed by an industrious, productive, prosperous, and freedom loving nation.

High energy density has enormous benefits:

1. Because there is so much energy in a pound of nuclear fuel, the fuel costs for a reactor are small relative to the total operating costs (0.5 cents/kw-hr). By contrast a large coal plant needs up to 10,000 tons of coal per day (100 x 100 ton coal cars), which costs represent as much as 60% of the total operating costs. When burned it produces about 1000 tons of ash per day, and hundreds of tons of sulfur dioxide per day, and nearly as many tons of nitrogen oxides per day.

2. Nuclear generating plants have very small amounts of waste. The French and the Brits convert their nuclear wastes into a form of glass with an annual volume of less than 5 cu yds per year for each 1000 MW(e) plant. A plant this size can produce all of the electrical needs of a city of 500,000 if not more. Currently all of the nuclear waste from the 58 nuclear reactors in France are being stored in one building in Normandy.

3. Not a molecule of CO2 is produced in the operations of these plants. France has some of the best air quality in all of Europe. The waste volumes are truly small, and represent the enormous benefits of supplying France with nearly 80% of all its electricity.

4. Quietly, because of such advantages, nuclear energy is the only current energy source to have declined in busbar costs in recently years. In fact these costs have declined 54% since 2004, the only energy source to do so. It is now about $23 per Mw-hr (2.3 cents/kw-hr), which is even less than some of the Northwest hydroelectric costs.

Finally, I would challenge this statement "According to industry estimates, one megawatt of wind energy generates enough electricity to power 225 to 300 households."

Statements like these are always untrue. Wind mills can produce this amount of energy only when the wind is blowing at full power rating, which means that the energy produced is very random. Random energy supplies are exactly what a family does not need to run a household on a schedule, or a hospital to energize an Intensive Care Unit.

As such a 1MW windmill cannot ever produce all of the energy requirements for 225 to 300 households. Backup non-wind energy will be needed more than 70% of the time.

I am not opposed to individuals owning, building, and operating all of the windmills they like. Just don't ask me, my family, my employer, or our state and federal governments to waste our money in subsidizing them any more. After 40 years of research and demonstrations, we should have learned these lessons.

Michael R. Fox, Ph.D., a science and energy reporter for Hawaii Reporter and a science analyist for the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.


Source: http://www.hawaiireporter.c...

OCT 14 2008
http://www.windaction.org/posts/17480-wind-energy-unreliable-heavily-subsidized
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