Now if wind power did indeed turn out to be both low carbon and economic then I\’d cheer: the things is though, will it ever be so?
Wind power ticks more good boxes than almost any other option. It is clean, nearly silent, emits no CO2, pays its way, and is "home made" – no small matter as Europe\’s reliance on imported gas jumps from 54pc to 80pc over the next 15 years.
Unfortunately, there\’s two errors in that (at least). Wind does not emit no CO2. Over the lifecycle it emits around and about the same as nuclear, about the same as large scale hydro. It\’s low CO2 as compared to coal and soon, for sure, but we still use cement to stick the things into the ground….
Secondly, it doesn\’t actually pay its way:
E.On is coy about profit margins. The European operations are flirting with break-even cost, but the company\’s huge 10-mile wind farms in the Texas outback have reached the magical level of €50 per megawatt hour (with US government subsidies), far below natural gas at the current market price.
How much is that subsidy? It doesn\’t actually pay its way until it is competitive without subsidy now, does it? We can of course at this point go off and argue about whether the externality of gas\’ CO2 emissions are a subsidy, one slowly being addressed by the cap and trade (or cabon tax) proposals, but it\’s amuch more complex calculation than just saying that wind is competitive now.
And finally, we\’ve got the great big bugbear of wind energy. What happens when the wind is too weak or too strong:
Yet the International Energy Agency says 3.5pc is more realistic. A report from the UK\’s Royal Academy of Engineering concluded that wind power still costs two to three times more than nuclear energy, even after decommissioning. The dispute centres on the back-up needs when the wind is not blowing.
This is something I\’ve still not seen explained in a manner simple enough for me to grasp. Yes, there\’s those who point out that we only get the energy from the mills 30% of the time and that we\’ve got to have other sources to back them up. I get that.
What puzzles me is that I\’ve never seen an attempted refutation of that point. Why? Is it because no refutation is possible? Or because there\’s something in that argument that means it doesn\’t need refuting?
Anyone actually able to guide me to a discussion of both sides of this?
Here’s an excellent site which provides a good overview of just how windpower works:
The short story: ‘wind’-generated electricity does not ‘replace’ conventional generation. The supposition that it does is the basis for claims of ‘CO2 reduction’.
Unfortunately, ‘wind’ cannot supply baseload electricity, and because it is unpredictable, it cannot supply ‘on-demand’ reserves either.
This means that the usual conventional generation must continue regardless. The coal, gas, or nuke-fired turbines spin whether the windmills turn; it’s just that they’re idling in the background (and consuming just about as much fuel as usual).
This is akin to ‘going green’ by riding a bike to work; but it’s a bike that only functions 20% of the time, and thus you have a chauffeur-driven car coming along just behind you at all times.
I might add that your ‘backup car’ is also gearing up and down constantly to keep pace with your bike, and hence its engine is running more inefficiently. Much the same behavior has been noticed–INCREASED CO2 emissions–when conventional backup has to cycle its output up and down rapidly in a manner for which such plants were never designed.
In short, ‘wind energy’ is a swindle of monumental proportions.
about wind power still entailing C02 emissions during manufacture & install etc. OK it’s a bit irking that its supporters skirt over this, but since it’s true of all feasible power generation technologies, it’s isn’t really that interesting.
the base load problem is much more important, although Big Jake, I’m sure future baseload generation could be designed to complement wind power, should wind power prove to be economic.
I always get worried when I see initiatives like wind power and biofuels being propped up by government subsidies. If it isn’t economically viable, is it really worth distorting the energy market?
We know what happens when the wind stops blowing in Texas, because it happened earlier this year. You can read a report on it here:-
Big Jake even if your bicycle works 100% of the time you still need the chauffeured car following. Ask David Cameron.
David Cameron doesn’t cycle to save CO2 emissions. He cycles because he enjoys cycling.
Only the preachy anti-4×4-but-have-an-Aga-at-home types cycle to save CO2.
Don’t forget cycling may not save CO2 – you have to eat more which requires CO2 to produce…it’s hard being green.
“What happens when the wind is too weak or too strong”: the way to avoid needing to keep turbines hot and spinning is to turn up hydro generation when the wind lets you down. That might appeal in NZ, or BC or…. actually, it probably appeals hardly anywhere because if you had heaps of hydro you’d be bonkers to waste money on windmills.
On top of which, you’re exhaling more CO2 than usual; possibly more than a car would emit.
Oh, and a question about “nuclear energy, even after decommissioning”: as of 20 years or so ago, the government based calculations of the dangers of radioactivity on the strange premise that a bit of radioactivity was much deadlier in a nuclear power station than the identical bit in an NHS hospital. That obviously increased decommissioning costs (or took horrible risks with patients’ lives) – does anyone know if this rubbish is still hewn to?
“Don’t forget cycling may not save CO2 – you have to eat more which requires CO2 to produce…”
I did some calculations. Food comes with a fossil fuel CO2 footprint and roughly speaking there’s about 9 calories of fossil fuel burnt to make each calorie of food energy, assuming a Western diet. If you then run the numbers through, cycling is somewhere around 150mpg gasoline equivalent.
“it’s hard being green.”
It’s not. It’s very simple: ignore everything everyone tells you and simply do what’s cheapest. There’s a better correlation between cheapness and greenness than what politicians/Greenpeace say and greenness.
Turn out the lights when you leave the room, don’t buy an Aga, insulate your house: all save money and energy.
Turn off the TV rather than use standby, set your browser to using Google with a different coloured background, piss and whine about plastic bags: all save pipsqueak amounts of money and energy, not to mention waste vast quantities of ink and paper in the Guardian.
And what does he mean by “nearly silent”? These thinks are bloody noisy. Just go and stand within a couple of hundre yards of one.
Agreed, Kay Tie.
Yet if we tried to encourage people to do what saved them money then that would be encouraging self-interest and we all know that that’s what got us in this debacle* in the first place.
Better by far that we squander our finite energies on campaigns and scaremongering so as to usher in a more benign and collectivist age.
* Debacle = startlingly wealthy, healthy and environmentally concious compared with almost all previous states of humanity
“Better by far that we squander our finite energies on campaigns and scaremongering so as to usher in a more benign and collectivist age.”
I’m starting to become a class warrior: I despise the white, rich, middle class people who are ridden with guilt but expect me to assuage it. If they feel guilty, then they should flagellate themselves and not make me wear their sackcloth.
I had a good laugh at this one. I was born and raised here in Texas and have yet to see any “outback.” The tourism slogan is “Texas: It’s like a whole other country” as opposed to “Texas: It’s like a whole other Australia.”