This is more of a problem than they\’re saying

A blade on a wind turbine in Sheffield has broken in strong winds for the second time in 15 months.

Well, hey, mechanical things break, just what mechanical things do.

A Sheffield University spokeswoman said : \”It is not clear why this happened and an investigation is being carried out by the wind turbine manufacturers.

\”We are clearly concerned and have requested that the wind turbines are not put back into service until the suppliers and independent consultants have carried out their investigations and can confirm the safety of the equipment.\”

But it\’s not really the safety that\’s the problem here. The already very dodgy economics of wind power depend on hte fact that once you\’ve built them the energy is for free. But if you\’ve got huge and continual maintenance bills, then the energy ain\’t for free, making the economics even more absurd than they were.

You out there of course know more collectively than I do on my lonsesome this side of the blog software. So what are the operating cost assumptions in the wind power caluclations and what are the actual operating costs compared to those assumptions?

10 comments on “This is more of a problem than they\’re saying

  1. Even if the damn things don’t fly apart in a stiff breeze, you’ve got the fact that they need power just to idle. Without magnetising the stator you wont get a lick of power out of a turbine even if the wind’s blowing and that is a deadweight load, probably 20% of its nominal capacity, which de-rated by its availability factor makes the things retardedly stupid. Wind as a viable power source for 21st century societies should be put in the same pile as extracting sunbeams from cucumbers. We are going to hell in a handbasket propelled by vain and foolish windmills.

  2. “So what are the operating cost assumptions in the wind power caluclations and what are the actual operating costs compared to those assumptions?”

    Depends what the wind lobby and the government want.

    If they are arguing that wind can provide all our power plentifully and cheaply, in order to justify setting big targets, then figures are presented to show how cheap wind can run (and average outputs or capacities are used to pretend that availability isn’t a problem).

    If they are arguing about the level of support needed to deliver the vast amounts of wind in the targets, then wind is suddenly very expensive.

    You are looking at claims for onshore of between 2.5p/kWh and 10p/kWh (more for small turbines), and of 3p/kWh to 15p/kWh for offshore (this includes recovery of capital costs, but as the numbers are picked to suit the argument, not based on genuine experience, it’s all a bit arbitrary).

    Ernst & Young (and various other consultants who make fortunes from charging the Government and other interest groups to produce reports that provide numbers to justify their pre-determined conclusions) can provide numbers to suit. See here:

    http://www.pickinglosers.com/blog_entry/bruno/20090501/inverse_learning

    for the figures (including operating-cost assumptions) from one of their more recent efforts. This one was targeted at justifying more rent for the offshore rent-seekers, so it offers pretty high figures. Operating costs of around £80,000 per MW per year equate to around £34/MWh at the current load factors of 27% for existing offshore wind farms (see REF reports for load-factor figures). R&M at £50,000/MW/year adds another £21/MWh, so £55/MWh without capital and decommissioning costs and overheads. But you would be able to find other reports where the combined lifetime costs are expected to be in the £30-50/MWh range.

    My guess, like yours, is that reality will lie in the upper range of the spectrum (but varying significantly from site to site). The real challenge for wind is that, in large volume, it will depress the value of electricity when it is running. Some of the VILE companies are suggesting that, with enough capacity to supply 20% of our electricity from wind (on an aggregated basis), the price may be driven to a negative level (i.e. you’d have to pay to put electricity into the grid) when high wind output coincides with low demand, and conversely, prices when the wind isn’t blowing across the country may be very high, because of the need for standby generators to recover their costs in these reduced periods. The wind people are arguing that they reduce the cost of electricity supply, but they do it by drawing a line around the items where their effect is to drive down the price, and then arguing that the higher prices outside that box are nothing to do with them.

  3. I work in this sector – for a large engineering consultancy that performs technical advisory services on behalf of international Banks and investors of large wind farms projects all around the world – offshore and onshore.

    I can assure you that every aspect of O&M costs (operations and maintenance) is assessed in great detail and careful consideration by some very clever people; finance professionals who work in the Infrastructure groups of large banks, lawyers, insurance professionals and engineers. Wind is just another part of the energy industry. We have been doing the same analysis for years on thermal plant, hydro plant, etc, etc. The projects can’t be valued without accurate statistical appreciation of O&M costs. There are no suprises.

  4. Of course he’s waffling. Sounding sure while actually making no commitments at all is the cornerstone of any consultancy.

    Anyone who claims to work on large engineering jobs where there are no surprises is either insanely lucky or being economical with the definition of ‘surprises’

  5. “No surprises” would be the biggest surprise of them all.

    The underlying article started off with just such a “surprise”; I suppose, when the same thing happens again, as it did, it no longer counts as a surprise.

  6. My concern is that wind is subsidised. If they are in fact a viable proposition the subsidy merely increases the profits of those vile energy companies- and if they’re not we don’t want them.

  7. I think he means that there are “no surprises” in a long-term statistical sense rather than “oh, that turbine blade has just broken – let’s see, yes that was in the diary for today”.

    I don’t think that the problem is in the knowledge of the underlying figures, it is in the spin that is put on the carefully selected figures to gain public (or just political) support for the subsidies.

  8. The wind lobby itself claims that they have experienced unpredictable price increases. If not, the Government could not have done an emergency review of the RO within a few months of introducing the banding reforms, and the banding-up to 2 ROCs/MWh could not have been justified.

    To allow Ronald a little leeway, I think the biggest difference in the opinions here is between the cost of an individual wind project, and the hypothetical cost of wind as a technology (subdivided into offshore and onshore, and shortly also to be differentiated according to size). I can believe that most costs of an individual project are estimated fairly accurately, in order to gain funding, although as others have commented, the idea that this can be immune to surprises is absurd, and typical of both engineers and consultants. Still, that’s what insurance is for, so long as the accidents remain occasional. The big problems come when we try to talk about the costs of a technology, or a generalized subset of a technology, as though the projects within that group are broadly homogeneous and of similar costs. This is a necessary fiction to maintain for the modern alliance of interventionist government and mathematical economics to work in the way that it wishes to work, but it is entirely unrelated to reality.

    If Ronald is talking about generalized rather than specific costs, the easy test is for him to tell us what the cost of onshore wind and offshore wind is. Is it the 8-10p/kWh for onshore wind, which presumably the wind industry and the Government must believe it is, in order to justify giving it 1 ROC/MWh on the basis of need? If so, how come the costs have gone up so much since the days of NFFO-4 and -5 (late 90s) when wind was claiming to be able to deliver at around 3p/kWh? And if the costs have risen so dramatically, why are we funding the technology so heavily, when the usual justification for support is that it is necessary to “pump-prime” the market so that learning curves will bring the costs _down_? How long is it reasonable to pump-prime markets for, before you accept that the learning curves are outweighed by contrary factors? It’s getting on for 20 years since NFFO-1 and at least 10 years that prices have been going up.

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