Werl, gotta larf, aint yer?

New figures published by The Sunday Telegraph show that 2010 was, by one authoritative measure, the least windy year since 1824.

It appears that as we pout up ever more windmills we have ever less wind to power them. This number is well known among those who have been staying awake:

At 5.30pm on December 7, which National Grid says was the moment of the fourth-highest demand ever recorded in British history, wind contributed just 0.4 per cent of the country\’s electricity needs.

And as those figures from a couple of years ago showed, it\’s entirely possible for there to be so little wind on a cold winters\’ day that the wind turbines would actually be a drain on the grid (they require some stand by power apparently).

I have to admit to being terribly, terribly, confused over this whole wind power thing. I can see the published numbers for generation and costs and see that they\’re respectively low and high. I can see the fact that we can\’t store the energy so that we do indeed need back up.

But I\’ve never really been quite able to unpack the costs of such back up, the essential inefficiency of such back up (it needs to be gas turbines, as they are the only things that can crank up sufficiently swiftly. But cranking up such a turbine is itself inefficient, in both money and emissions terms) and what the overall effect is.

I have indeed read the various North/Booker pieces where they claim that the net saving of emissions is zero: or worse is in fact negative. But I have a really, really, hard time getting my head around the idea that the political system has in fact been so overtaken by loons as to be that massively and entirely stupid.

I\’m also entirely aware that all of the various Greenpeace, FoE etc reports that say we can power the country largely by renewables all start with \”first, we reduce demand by 50%\” or some such.

I suspect, and I emphasise suspect, that a very large section of the cheerleaders for such renewables (specifically wind: I\’m a great deal more optimistic about solar PV, but not this generation of it.  But solar PV isn\’t that far away from actually being desirable purely on cost grounds, one or two more iterations of the technology I think) have got as far as \”look, it\’s free, no fuel and no emissions!\” and then cranked all the other figures to suit this thought.

What I\’m really not sure about is how far this attitude has infected those compiling the official figures, the figures which we use to build the cost benefit analyses of what we should actually be installing.

That some official figures are so infected is undoubtedly true: the whole rooftop windmills thing, they\’ll never, in anything close to an urban environment, generate even the energy which is embedded in them by dint of their manufacture.

But what I want to know, and would be very grateful if anyone could point me to an authoritative source, is how badly the larger wind argument, the argument over these larger windmills, has become so infected?

I would be especially grateful if people could point me to debunkings of, from the pro-wind side, such claims that wind doesn\’t work. As a purely personal quirk I\’m much better at spotting errors in an argument against another than I am in judging the veracity of the original. When someone is failing to rebut an argument there\’s usually holes in such a rebuttal that I can see.

16 thoughts on “Ahahahahaha”

  1. Your problem, Tim, is that you confuse the real aims of politicians with their stated aims.

    Green taxation is the Holy Grail for governments because it’s the tax the taxpayer will implore the Government to levy as long as the Gerbil Worming myth can be sustained.

    The eggbeaters may be hopelessly inefficient at generating electricity but as obtrusive, hard to ignore publicity generators they’re very cost effective in conning folk into thinking that’s where their money’s being ‘invested’. There’s all sorts of other way’s you’d get more bang for your buck in creating/saving energy but how many of them are 90ft high?

  2. Oh dear, you ask for facts and you get rants. So it goes.

    David Mackay’s book, “Sustainable Energy – without the hot air” is a good source for stuff (more physics than economics): http://www.withouthotair.com/

    There is a blog, too: http://withouthotair.blogspot.com/

    Tim adds: Thanks for this. A quick flick through shows that we need to do one of two things to balance wind variability. Either huge amounts of hydroelectric storage or the assumption that electric cars will be the storage reservoir (ie, running backwards into the grid in times of shortage). And we still need to cut demand as well.

    Don’t think that any of the three are politically viable: and as he says, none of them are actually economically viable: the only one that is is a large expansion of nuclear.

  3. “I’m also entirely aware that all of the various Greenpeace, FoE etc reports that say we can power the country largely by renewables all start with “first, we reduce demand by 50%” or some such.”

    That’s because that’s their real goal, not cheap and easily-available energy.

  4. Wind power might be very good or very bad for all I know but it strikes me that if it was the latter someone might still rig ’em up just to look, well – busy. “Seriously? Of course we’re taking it seriously: look at our massive spinny things!”

  5. “Oh dear, you ask for facts and you get rants. So it goes.”

    As far as the energy debate is concerned Tim might as well finished his post with:

    “But I have a really, really, hard time getting my head around the idea that the political system has in fact been so overtaken by loons as to be that massively and entirely stupid.”

    Because the rest of it’s irrelevant.

    Withouthotair’s a very interesting site & the figures are fascinating.
    But they’re the wrong figures. Like trying to measure weight in miles per hour.

    Government’s energy policy, like every policy is about keeping fat political arses on seats. If they do any good it’s purely by coincidence. If they had an actual energy policy the UK wouldn’t be looking at the possibility of an electricity shortfall in a few years.

  6. There was a series recently about the National Grid that might answer some of your questions.

    It’s a bit of a no-brainer really when you actually sit and think about it; power supply is not about generation, it is about demand and delivery, and accurately anticipating that demand. The current crop of power stations are all “switch off-and-on-able” and can supply additional power within minutes, all the control room has to do is wait until Corrie or Enders finishes and everyone goes for the kettle.

    The more you move to an unresponsive power generation method, like you typically get with sun, wind or wave, the more you have to anticipate, the more you have to put power into some kind of storage, and this just increases inefficiency, and the longer you have to anticipate usage, which also increases (the risk of) inefficiency.

    Eventually the demand inefficiency of alternatives counterbalance the fossil fuel generation and actually make them more polluting.

    A lot of hydro power actually comes from pumping water into an upper reservoir and letting it out again when needed, thus converting an unreliable source into an “on tap” one (pun intended). Similarly, the only “wave power” considered recently, like the Severn Tidal Power project, are actually the same thing, using the tides as the pump between upper and lower reservoirs.

    The method of generation is not the issue, it is how the power is stored and distributed, which is why the greenies don’t wish to talk about it, because their proposals don’t meet those requirements.

  7. Wind turbines (or indeed PV) to power the generation of hydrogen for fuel cells has always seemed more sensible than hooking them up to the grid.

    Tim adds: Yes, and that’s an industry I’m involved in on a professional basis (to the extent of spending my day job time trying to work out how to get a supply of the metal which would make the fuel cells work). But I do, depserately, try to avoid mixing and matching what I’d like to happen professionally with what analysis says is the best thing to happen in general.

  8. The underlying concept behind ‘reducing demand by 50%’ is reducing the population by 50% (or thereabouts). That’s why the Greenies don’t want to mention it. But it’s the ultimate goal.

    Any environmentalist with kids is a hypocrite.

  9. The reason that wind power will never be any good is that (i) Its energy intensity is too low, because air has a low density, and (ii) Not only does the wind bloweth where it listeth, it bloweth when it listeth too.

    For that reason it was clear in the early 70s, when people started chatting about these things, that wond power was a hopeless idea, and that it would be more sensible to look at tidal power (an old idea whose time comes around cyclically) and wave power – then a new idea (new to most of us, at least) that had much more promise than wind power because (a) dense stuff, water, and (b) the power supply would be steadier, since the waves are a result of the mathematical integration of wind action over millions of square miles of North Atlantic.

    Moreover, the wave power advocates had the honesty to suggest that what was needed was research – not for them the hysterical claim that devices must be built by the thousand, immediately. They even admitted that practical difficulties might prove too difficult or expensive to overcome. For these reasons I have always had a high regard for them. But I’ve still no idea whether their idea will work out. But wind power is just a swindle.

    And congratulations to Ian for his comment above: good stuff.

  10. you could go to this site: (link)http://www.masterresource.org/
    and see what they have wrote about windpower under “categories”

  11. Perhaps it’s a case of cause and effect? All those big, tall, heavy windmills all over the place are acting as a windbreak, reducing windspeeds and the power generated by the windmills shielded by upwind windmills. Eventually, all air will be completely static.

  12. For the facts about wind generation, this site gives the various percentages from which source.


    The source data is that used by the National Grid to balance demand and supply – wholesale prices are also included.

    As has been said, there needs to be a backup generation system to keep the windmills turning – else their parts seize up. There is also the problem of the surge occurring at unspecified and probably unwanted times. No good having a windmill at peak generation at 2 in the morning.

    I understand maintenance costs are extremely high, particularly for offshore systems.

    is quite useful.

    Also http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/energy/windpower/8028328/Britains-offshore-windpower-costs-twice-as-much-as-coal-and-gas-generated-electricity.html

    There is also the hidden cost of the levy on the generating companies which is passed on to consumers but hidden in their tariffs.

    The wind companies and advocacy organisations ignore all the hidden costs – when RNorth quotes figures they will be accurate – and there are also a number of sources of the comparative costs by reputable people/organisations scattered throughout the web.

    Some of the costs are because of the EU and some are because of the Minister and his policies.

    The companies in the industry talk about the rated generating power of their windfarms – actual useful power is about 15% of the rating at most. And if there is too much wind they are taken off line since they tend to break.

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