It’s an ill wind.
This is a guest post by one of our regular commenters, Graeme No.3
Electricity is available to many people at the touch of a button, so more people live in greater comfort and security than ever before in mankind’s time on earth. Without electricity life is very basic, and then your life resembles that of a medieval peasant. Despite this boon, people have started to yearn for ‘the simple life of the past’.
This nostalgia is played on by self-appointed “prophets”, some of whom may be sane, making various doomsday predictions and impossible demands. Decarbonize the Earth! Renewable energy! Sustainable buildings! Local food supplies! Many of these phrases are incapable of definition, yet the response is Pavlovian, although drooling is optional.
These self-appointed prophets claim that sunlight and the wind can generate “clean, green and sustainable” energy. The methods that have worked to make electricity for over 100 years are unacceptable. Coal and oil-fired plants emit carbon dioxide, and while nuclear and hydroelectric don’t, they get ruled out because they’re too cheap and affordable.
The basis on which these dreams depend is wind power. Used in Denmark, Spain, Germany and increasingly in the UK. A number of claims are made about cheapness, reliability etc. designed to mislead the gullible and the unwary.
Wind power is claimed to be the cheapest method to build, usually with figures showing the same capacity of wind as a coal-fired power station is cheaper. The trick is in the word, or as Humpty Dumpty put it, “it means whatever I want it to mean”. A coal-fired power station can run at 100% capacity, as and when wanted, whereas wind turbines deliver only 20-25% of their claimed capacity on average. So you need 4 or 5 thousand to ‘replace’ a conventional power station, yet you still won’t get that power when you want it.
Why is their output so low? Firstly, they don’t operate all the time, as can easily be seen if there is a wind farm within view. Turbines don’t work in soft winds, nor in high winds, when they are shut down, if not blown down. They only make a noticeable amount of electricity about 35% of the time. To counter this, the advocates claim we just have to add more wind farms, because the wind will be blowing somewhere. Study after study has refuted this, although none with the wind farms spaced more than 1500km. apart. So assume the UK will have a smooth supply once it is connected to Mongolia.
Then there is the claim that wind doesn’t use fuel, so must be cheap. This relies on people not knowing that coal is only 10-12% of the costs of a normal power station. Elementary economics says that those turbines have to pay for themselves, and their very high maintenance costs, by the amount of electricity generated. If the cost to build a wind farm is 4 times that of similar output in a conventional plant, then free fuel makes little difference. The real cost of wind power is 3-4 times that from coal, as can be seen by the rise in electricity prices as it is introduced.
Every so often some zealot rises to his hind feet and claims that wind is cheaper than coal or gas. Does it mean that subsidies for wind are no longer needed? Apparently the zealot, like St. Augustine, would prefer the divine gift to be delayed. Spain has discovered that when the subsidies are higher than the cost of diesel fuel, solar cells will generate electricity at midnight. Another renewable miracle!
Consumers are starting to realize that the more wind farms, the more their power bill rises. Denmark led the race to the highest prices in the world, and Germany, which used to have cheap electricity from coal, now has wind and equally expensive power.
Then there is the no CO2 emissions claim, but this too is a “Humpty Dumpty”. The problems of varying supply are all loaded onto the conventional generators. When wind isn’t working (most of the time) conventional plants have to supply. When wind is working some of them have to be shut down rapidly to avoid oversupply and blackouts. The usual way of responding to changes in the wind output is Open Cycle Gas Turbines which are fast enough to come ‘on line’ as the wind drops, and quick enough to stop when the wind blows, so maintaining a smooth supply. They are cheap to build, expensive to run, and give off lots of CO2. Since they cover for the 75% that wind farms don’t supply, their emissions should be, but aren’t counted as caused by wind. If by some impossibility, the UK relied exclusively on wind farms and OCGT, there would be very little cut in CO2 emissions. 12,000 wind turbines haven’t enabled Germany to close one coal-fired power station, rather they are building more.
The Danish wind farms can only operate because they are connected to Norway, Sweden and Germany. Surplus electricity can be exported and shortages covered with imports, like hydro, or nuclear from Sweden or coal-fired and nuclear from Germany, so claims that Denmark is “nuclear free” are nonsense. The CO2 emissions from those imports aren’t counted, yet despite its large wind industry Denmark has one of the highest emission rates per head in Europe. The Danes are facing difficulties; the increasing number of wind farms is straining the system, so at times some wind farm operators (with older turbines) have to pay to have their electricity used. Newer turbines come with a shut down feature to prevent that destabilization happening.
The trouble with renewable sources is that they are variable and unpredictable. You don’t know what they will deliver at some future time. How much electricity will all the wind farms in the UK deliver on, say, January 12TH or February 5TH 2014? Very little, if the last 5 years in the UK are any guide. Anyway, wind farms can’t do without the grid; they must be connected at all times or they stop working. The turbines need a small supply of electricity to act as a standard reference, and use electricity to rotate the nacelles into the wind. In light conditions wind farms can actually use more electricity than they generate.
Renewables are an addition not a substitute. To ensure continuous supply means that there has to be enough capacity in conventional generation to supply demand if the wind isn’t blowing. So why build wind farms if all they do is push up the cost, and make the system unstable? In the UK wind farm companies are paid for NOT making electricity, a measure of how much a sudden surplus of wind power can destabilize the system.
A little bit of wind power is bearable, if expensive. More, and the grid becomes unstable and blackouts occur ‘in the blink of an eye’. Few consumers like their heater, TV, lights and computer not working for 3 days or so, yet some morons has come up with a “solution” for too much wind – deliberate blackouts using ‘smart meters’. When that day comes, they should be connected to the terminals, wondering when the power will come back on.
That and the higher cost affects the less well-off; hundreds of thousands of germans have had their power cut off because they can’t afford it. In the UK the grim statistic was 4,000 excess deaths in March among those who couldn’t afford to keep their home warm. When General Pinochet was in charge in Chile the official death toll was 3,090. Pinochet was excoriated by the Left. Will there be the same outrage from the Left about these deaths?
Will the architects of this murderous policy, Ed Millibrand or Chris Huhne, be called “many times worse than Pinochet”? Both are wealthy and obviously care not for “the little people”. Will there even be an official Inquiry? Put in place by another millionaire M.P. like David Cameron? The answer is blowing in the wind.
Those who are nostalgic for the past, should learn rather from Charles Mackay in 1841.
“Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.”
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