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Milling the Wind : Revolution by Osmosis

There has been a welter of contentious reporting about Wind Power in the English-speaking world. Honestly, you would have thought there was something wrong with investing in energy infrastructure that starts to pay back within three years, the amount of bad press the poor little aeolian turbines have been getting.

“What happens when the wind stops blowing ?”, people ask with a supercilious sneer, or a grumphy guffaw, as if they know every last thing about the way the wind works all of a sudden.

Yes the wind shifts and moves and dies down in places from time to time. But it doesn’t stop blowing everywhere, all at once, no siree, whatever some wannabe rhubarbs and custards may say in the Daily Telegraph :-—the-other-side-of-the-wind-turbine-argument.html

“When the wind stops – the other side of the wind turbine argument : By William Hyde and John Webley : Published: 23 Jul 2008 : (Kentish Weald Action Group (KWAG) set up to oppose wind turbines in rural Kent)…Despite what one might be led to believe by the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA) and other wind lobbyists there are relatively frequent periods when there is virtually no wind and, therefore, virtually no output from wind turbines, however wide their distribution throughout the UK. These low wind periods are more likely to occur in the winter months (when demand is higher) and the irrefutable fact is that, in order to meet peak demand in these periods, the capacity allocated to wind turbines would have to be provided by other energy sources. At certain times this back-up would have to be almost 100 per cent of that estimated wind turbine capacity.”

Remember the so-called Renewable Energy Foundation (REF) railing against windmills ?

Remember what the British Wind Energy Association had to say about the first REF report ?

And what about those supposedly grassroots and spontaneous combustion groups against wind farms ?

“The Wind Debate : Many well known public figures, environmental and health experts who have studied the impact of wind farms and the claims of the industry have spoken out against the development of wind farms. Here is a selection of their views: “The most respected energy experts agree that as a matter of extreme urgency we must now adopt a new approach to energy conservation and energy production. The industrialisation of our landscapes with wind power stations will not prevent the impending energy crisis. Wind Turbines are Weapons of Mass Distraction. The rollout of thousands of these structures is a cynical attempt by the Government to distract the public and the media from the real issue; the UK’s impending energy crisis”. Noel Edmonds, Chairman of the Renewable Energy Foundation…”the grotesque political push for wind turbines is misguided. The grid will not cope, vast additional infrastructure expenditure is needed, the countryside everywhere will be irreversibly damaged, and all for a pittance of power”. Campbell Dunford, Renewable Energy Foundation. “Wind energy is not green: it destroys the landscapes; it chops up birds; it chops up bats”. Professor David Bellamy, Television Botanist. Above sources taken from Network for Alternative Technology and Technology Assessment journal Renew, issue 152″

But now that we have some decent-sized windfarms up and spinning, the data’s coming in and the truth is now apparent – the models are right – we don’t need to back up Wind Power by 100%.

[ An aside : the REF has had reports written by an ex-employee of Rolls-Royce…Maybe, just maybe, there’s a conflict of interest here, since Rolls-Royce make gas turbines…maybe they want to be given a lot of public money to build gas turbines to back up the wind turbines… ]

2006 Opinion

“…the potential dataset available for actual wind power output in the UK is limited by both geographical extent and the number of years the wind turbines have been installed at the different sites. By utilising the observed wind speed dataset for the UK, a vastly superior geographical representation of wind diversity around the UK is possible compared to the limited geographic distribution of observed measurements. Furthermore, observed wind speed data extends the period of the dataset far beyond that available from wind farm operations, providing greater confidence that the results will include low-frequency, high-magnitude climate events such as extended high or low wind speed events that may not have occurred within the timeframe of wind power operations in the UK.”

“Renewable Resource Characteristics and Network Integration” : Graham Sinden DTi 2006

“Characteristics of the UK wind resource: Long-term patterns and relationship to electricity demand”, Energy Policy, Graham Sinden, Environmental Change Institute, Oxford University Centre for the Environment, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3QY, UK

2007 Opinion
“The Base Load Fallacy”
Mark Diesendorf, EnergyScience Briefing Paper 16, 9/11/2007 : m _dot_ diesendorf _at_ unsw _dot_ edu _dot_ au

“The base-load fallacy…is that renewable energy cannot supply base-load (24-hour) electric power. Base-load alternatives to coal power can be provided by efficient energy use, bioenergy, large-scale wind power, solar thermal electricity with thermal storage, geothermal and gas. Large-scale wind power from geographically distributed sites is not ‘intermittent’. However it may require a little additional low-cost peak-load back-up from gas turbines…Wind power as base-load : To replace the electricity generated by a 1000 megawatt (MW) coal-fired power station, with annual average power output of about 850 MW, a group of wind farms with capacity (rated power) of about 2600 MW, located in windy sites, is required. The higher wind capacity allows for the variations in wind power and is taken into account in the economics of wind power. Although this substitution involves a large number of wind turbines (for example, 1300 turbines, each rated at 2 MW), the area of land actually occupied by the wind turbines and access roads is only 5–20 square km, depending upon wind speed. Farming continues between the wind turbines. For comparison, the coal-fired power station and its opencut coal-mine may occupy over 50 square km. Although a single wind turbine is indeed intermittent, this is not generally true of a system of several wind farms, separated by several hundred kilometres and experiencing different wind regimes. The total output of such a system generally varies smoothly and only rarely experiences a situation where there is no wind at any site. As a result, this system can be made as reliable as a conventional base-load power station by adding a small amount of dedicated peak-load plant (say, gas turbines) that is only operated when required. Computer simulations and modelling show that the integration of wind power into an electricity grid changes the optimal mix of conventional base-load and peak-load power stations. Wind power replaces base-load with the same annual average power output. However, to maintain the reliability of the generating system at the same level as before the substitution, some additional peak-load plant may be needed. This back-up does not have to have the same capacity as the group of wind farms. For widely dispersed wind farms, the back-up capacity only has to be one fifth to one-third of the wind capacity. In the special case when all the wind power is concentrated at a single site, the required back-up is about half the wind capacity (Martin & Diesendorf 1982; Grubb 1988a & b; ILEX 2002; Carbon Trust & DTI 2004; Dale et al. 2004; UKERC 2006). Furthermore, because the back-up is peak-load plant, it does not have to be run continuously while the wind is blowing. Instead the gas turbines can be switched on and off quickly when necessary. Since the gas turbine has low capital cost and low fuel use, it may be considered to be reliability insurance with a small premium.”

“Renewable electricity and the grid” : Godfrey Boyle

2008 Opinion

“Wind power can do it now : Tuesday, 04 November 2008 : By Mark Diesendorf : Wind power is the only electricity supply technology that could make a large additional contribution to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions before 2020. Coal power with carbon capture and storage is a technologically unproven system that could, at best, begin to make a significant contribution in the 2020s. Nuclear power is a very slow technology to implement, especially in a country without the necessary infrastructure, and will become a significant carbon dioxide (CO2) emitter within several decades when high-grade uranium ore is used up and low-grade uranium has to be mined and milled with fossil fuels. Solar power, both photovoltaic and solar thermal, has huge potential, but needs time to lower its costs. Hot rock geothermal power has big potential in Australia, but needs development time. Globally, wind power is booming. Total installed capacity at the end of 2007 was 94 gigawatts (94,000 megawatts) and the annual growth rate over the period 2003–07 was 25 per cent. In order of installed capacity, the leading five wind power countries were: Germany (22.3GW), the US (16.8GW), Spain (15.1GW), India (8GW) and China (6.1GW). In terms of economic value, the global wind energy market in 2007 was worth about US$37 billion in new capacity. …My book and paper cited below refute these fallacies. In brief: wind power from geographically distributed sites is a partially reliable source of electricity. It can be made as reliable as coal by installing a little additional peak-load plant (gas turbine or hydro) into the grid. For 20 per cent wind energy penetration, this back-up is only operated occasionally and adds little to the cost. Thus wind power can be operated as base-load (24-hour per day) power…”

“PRESS RELEASE : 07 June 08 : Wind Power Study Reveals Hidden Cost and Reliability Issues : The publication of a major independent study by James Oswald, Mike Raine and Hezlin Ashraf-Ball in Energy Policy and funded by the Renewable Energy Foundation (REF) has confirmed fears that there are hidden costs and reliability issues from wind power. In the wake of the Government’s issue of the Renewable Energy Strategy last week this study could not be more timely. Because the UK is a large economy in a small land area it has limited access to cheap biomass for heat, and in order to meet the EU assigned target of 15% of Final Energy Consumption the UK would have to rely very heavily on electricity. Government estimates that some 30% of UK electricity would have to be renewable by 2020, but it also assumes very dramatic energy conservation which seems improbable given our rising population. On more realistic
assumptions the level could be as high 45 to 50%. On the basis of its optimistic view Government estimates that some 28 GW of
wind would be necessary, a quantity greater than that modelled in the new study (25 GW).”

2009 Opinion

“Impact of intermittency: How wind variability could change the shape of the British and Irish electricity markets. 01 July 2009: A ground-breaking study by leading global energy analysts Pöyry Energy Consulting has revealed for the first time how the electricity markets will be profoundly affected by the growth of wind energy. The report, called Impact of Intermittency, provides a unique insight into how the electricity sector in the UK and Republic of Ireland could look by 2030. This new study highlights the potential hurdles and opportunities facing operators and investors in the energy sector.”

“Impact of Intermittancy : How Wind Variability Could Change The Shape of the British and Irish Electricity Markets : Summary Report : July 2009 : James Cox, Pöyry Energy Consulting”
“Wind Energy : Keeping the Lights On”
“Managing Variability” by David Milborrow
“Operating the Electricity Transmission Networks in 2020 : Initial Consultation : June 2009 : National Grid Transco”

Even the data from the REF looks good (apart from a couple of lemon wind farms. Bound to happen. New technology. But look at Burradale Windfarm. Efficiencies better than super-critical Coal !) :-

Some will concentrate on the load factors. “Ooo”, they’ll exclaim, “very low efficiency”. Pshaw, say I. When a wind turbine’s not turning, it’s not wasting anything, because the fuel is free, forever free.

“Page last updated at 00:20 GMT, Wednesday, 1 July 2009 01:20 UK : Wind ‘can revolutionise UK power’ : By Roger Harrabin : Environment analyst, BBC News : Wind has the power to revolutionise the UK’s electricity industry, according to a study published on Wednesday. Research from analysts Poyry says that the UK can massively expand wind power by 2030 without suffering power cuts or a melt-down of the National Grid. The cost of electricity would then be determined not by consumer demand, but by how hard the wind is blowing. When it is windy power will be so cheap that other forms of generation will be unable to compete, the report says. If accepted by government, these key findings could strongly influence the UK’s future energy supplies. The study was done for National Grid, Centrica and others. The researchers reviewed 2.5 million hourly weather reports on wind speeds all around the UK. Idle time : If the wind were to drop everywhere round the UK (as happened during the January high pressure cold snap), other generators would make their money by switching on back-up fossil fuel power stations for a very short time, charging extremely high prices, it predicts. Dr Phil Hare from Poyry said these back-up generators might stand idle for years without making a profit – so the government might need to find a new way of ensuring they were funded. The study bases its assumptions on current levels of subsidy. It concludes that, thanks to the wind subsidy through the “Renewable Obligations Certificates” issued by regulator Ofgem, electricity prices would be negative if the wind were blowing hard. “The market will have to evolve to accommodate the wind. The average output of a wind turbine is only about a third of its full capacity. So when the wind is blowing strongly you’ll have to turn some of the wind power off; otherwise it will swamp the system,” Dr Hare said…”

3 replies on “Milling the Wind : Revolution by Osmosis”

Good point about the wind being free and efficiency not being that important. Even in the absolute worst case scenario of needing backup power stations (as many people argue) then the output from wind turbines would mean the conventional power stations can run at reduced power.

I once heard an old lady complain about wind turbines by saying “but what about all the wind those great big fans will cause?” – how are people like that ever going to understand?

wind power is just as good if not better than solar power. wind power also generates more power per unit area compared to solar..;

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