A couple of New York Times pieces on wind power illustrate some of the obstacles in the way of growth in wind power.
In the United States, one of the areas most suited for wind turbines is the central part of the country, stretching from Texas through the northern Great Plains — far from the coastal population centers that need the most electricity.
In Denmark, which pioneered wind energy in Europe, construction of wind farms has stagnated in recent years. The Danes export much of their wind-generated electricity to Norway and Sweden because it comes in unpredictable surges that often outstrip demand.
In 2003, Ireland put a moratorium on connecting wind farms to its electricity grid because of the strains that power surges were putting on the network; it has since begun connecting them again.
Denmark was able to scale up wind power because it can buy electricity from neighbors when the wind doesn't blow. But if the neighbors do it as well then Denmark will eventually need to build more fossil fuel backup power plants to run when the wind doesn't blow.
The article says that Sweden is better suited for an increase in wind energy because they can use wind electric to pump water up into reservoirs to flow downhill later to generate electricity when the wind doesn't blow. But what's the cost of doing that?
Germany is also hitting limits on wind power.
In Germany, where 20,000 wind turbines generate 5 percent of the electricity, advocates say wind will be critical to meeting the government’s goal of generating at least 20 percent of all power from renewable methods by 2020. But the industry’s growth is slowing for a variety of reasons.
Germany is running out of places to put the turbines because of restrictions on the location and height of the devices. And rising raw material prices are making wind farms more expensive to build.
Germany is responsible for over half the world's photovoltaic demand even though it is so far north and therefore receives lower amounts of sunlight. The Germans are trying very hard to get green with energy. But their country is so densely populated and so far north that they are not well suited for wind and solar as compared to, say, the US great plains for wind or Arizona for sun. The Germans are better candidates for nuclear power than the United States but greenie opposition to nukes there currently has nuclear power on a path to a phase-out there. German Chancellor Angela Merkel might succeed in turning around that phase-out though.
Rising raw materials prices are also making coal plants, nuclear plants, and other electric power plants more expensive to build as well. So it is not clear that wind's relative competitive position is declining due to cost reasons. I suspect in wind's case part of the problem is that manufacturing capacity needs to catch up with the surge in demand.
What I'd like to know: Are more advanced wind turbine designs going to lower wind's cost more rapidly than that of other electric power sources?
The Europeans are putting in wind farms in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Since we are running out of fossil fuels this is the wrong motivation. But fortunately these wind farms will provide needed energy when Russian oil deliveries start declining and later when natural gas deliveries start declining as well.
So on the road from Grand Gorge to Stamford you see the yard signs popping up in front of barns and houses — “Yes to Clean Energy” on some, “No Industrial Wind Turbines” or “Save Our Mountains” on others.
It’s a long way from the hellish fires in Southern California or the scary drought in the Southeast to the Catskills. But for those contemplating the issues of climate change and the roadway to greener energy, it’s not so far away at all. Whatever role climate change may be playing right now, it’s clear that even something so elemental as the wind is as subject to the vagaries of politics, self-interest and community dynamics as anything else.
“I will say this just once: not in my backyard,” Mr. Many said, when asked to characterize the discord. “People in Delaware County think it ought to be in the Adirondacks. People in the Adirondacks think it should be in the ocean off Massachusetts. Teddy Kennedy thinks it should be somewhere else. Everyone wants alternative energy, but no one wants it where they have to look at it.”
I love NIMBYism. In this era of so much faux concern for others it is refreshing to hear such clear selfish declarations. But can't we be more practical in our NIMBYism? Both nuclear and solar have much less esthetic impact. If I was going to get my view of mountains and valleys ruined by a wind farm that covers a wide area I'd argue for a nuclear plant that covers a much smaller area and produces far more power. I'd also argue for an acceleration of research on photovoltaic materials such as thin films and nanotubes.
Of the big four sources of net generation (coal, nuclear, natural gas, and conventional hydroelectric), only hydroelectric generation showed a decrease from August 2006 to August 2007, as it was down by 7.9 percent. According to NOAA, “severe to extreme drought” affected about 29 percent of the contiguous United States and approximately 44 percent of the contiguous United States fell in the “moderate to extreme drought” category. Coal generation in August 2007 was up 0.6 percent from August 2006 and net generation attributable to nuclear sources was up 1.0 percent over the same period. Natural gas-fired generation was up 13.6 percent from its August 2006 level as more peaking generation was needed in the warmer month. Petroleum liquid-fired generation was down 10.9 compared to a year ago, and its overall share of net generation was still quite small compared to coal, nuclear, and natural gas-fired sources. Wind-powered generation was 47.8 percent higher in August 2007 than it was in August 2006.
But a look at wind's contribution in absolute terms yields a different picture. The absolute increase in nuclear generation, at 6.2 million MWh more, was much greater than the absolute increase in wind generation, at 3.6 million MWh more. To put dollar signs on this keep in mind that average retail electricity sells for about 10 cents per kilowatt-hour. So that represents an increase in nuclear power sales of about $620 million and for wind power about $360 million. Maybe cut those numbers in half to get an idea of how much money was paid to the actual generating companies. Anyone have a more accurate way to estimate that?
The biggest absolute increase came from natural gas and the second biggest came from coal. Even the increase from petroleum liquids was greater than that from wind.
Year-to-date, net generation was 1.6 percent higher (43.1 million MWh more) than the same period in 2006, as the economy continued to grow, according to the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis. Net generation attributable to coal-fired plants was up by 1.4 percent (19.0 million MWh more) compared to the same period in 2006, and nuclear net generation was up by 1.2 percent (6.2 million MWh more). Generation from petroleum liquids was 19.8 percent higher (6.3 million MWh higher) while generation from natural gas was 6.9 percent higher (39.0 million MWh higher). Year-to-date, net generation attributable to conventional hydroelectric sources was 13.4 percent lower (down 28.5 million MWh) than it was in 2006 due to the aforementioned drought conditions. Wind-powered generation year-to-date was 21.0 percent higher than in 2006 and contributed over 3.6 million MWh, or 8.4 percent of the increase in net generation year to date. Even with these significant increases, the contribution of wind-powered net generation to the National total year-to-date was only 0.7 percent through August 2007.
At 0.7% wind power is still a very minor electric power contributor. Electricity, in turn, is only one of the ways we use energy. Given all the non-electric use of natural gas, oil, and other fossil fuels wind power's contribution to the total power usage is even smaller.
I find the increase electric generation from petroleum liquids puzzling. Oil is about 3 times more expensive than natural gas per million BTUs. So why the big increase in petroleum liquids for electricity? Anyone know?
We need to shift more uses of energy from oil to electricity. Oil production is near a peak and we are going to need to move away from it by using more electrically powered devices. Cheaper wind (though not in my backyard or on any mountain range I like to look at) is part of the solution. But we really need photovoltaics cost breakthroughs, more nuclear power, and more research into ways to make nuclear power cheaper. I think solar and nuclear power should be our biggest sources of energy in the future with wind in third place.
Update: Another New York Times article discusses the growing anti-wind movement in many countries due mostly to esthetic considerations.
Supporters see modern wind turbines not as Don Quixote’s ferocious giants but as elegant symbols of a clean-energy future. But as the industry expands amid global pressure to cut carbon emissions and fight climate change, an increasingly mobilized anti-wind farm lobby in Europe, North America and elsewhere is decrying the turbines as ugly, noisy and destructive, especially for picturesque locales that rely on tourism. “These are not just one or two turbines spinning majestically in the blue sky and billowing clouds,” said Lisa Linowes, executive director of Industrial Wind Action Group, an international advocacy group based in New Hampshire that opposes wind farms.
Greeks are fighting against wind because 16% of their economy is based on tourism. Englishmen don't want their views of castles and Hadrian's Wall ruined by 100 meter high wind towers with huge blades.
“The eyes are constantly drawn to them,” said John Ferguson, a member of S.O.U.L. (or Save Our Unspoilt Landscape), a group opposing the nine-turbine Barmoor Wind Farm in the lush northeastern English county of Northumberland. Several wind farm developers are considering Northumberland, whose castles and national parks are a big tourist draw.
There's a solution to this problem. It is called nuclear power. SOUL has used Photoshop or a similar program to show what huge wind towers will look like in different locations in English countryside. I've been unenthused about wind power for a long time on aesthetic grounds. I'm happy to hear opposition has become more organized. If you are wondering whether wind towers might get built near you check out maps of wind speed at 80 meters high above the ground.
|Share |||Randall Parker, 2007 November 25 10:41 AM Energy Wind|