SCALE. Too many windmills need to be built to replace oil.
Worldwide, 32,850 wind turbines with 70 to 100 meter blades generating 1.65 MW built every year for the next 50 years, or 1,642,000 total would be needed to replace the oil we burn in one year at a cost of 3.3 trillion dollars over 4,000 square miles (Cubic mile of oil).
The DOE estimates 18,000 square miles of good wind sites in the USA, which could produce 20% of America’s electricity in total. this would require over 140,000 1.5 MW towers costing at least $300 billion dollars, and innumerable natural gas peaking plants to balance the load when the wind isn’t blowing. Despite all the happy fracking, natural gas is a limited resource, and as it is substituted for coal more and more, roughly around 2018 to 2025 (depending on the economy, how many natural gas burning trucks and cars are created, etc), the fracking boom will end rather abruptly in many areas, and the price of natural gas will skyrocket.
Or consider just the wind power needed to replace offshore oil in the Gulf of Mexico:
At 5.8 MBtu heat value in a barrel of oil and 3412 BTU in a kWh, 1.7 million barrels per day of gulf oil equals 2.9 billion kWh per day, or 1,059 billion kWh a year. Yet the total 2008 wind generation in Texas was 14.23 billion kWh, and 5.42 billion kWh in California. Which means you’d need 195 California’s, or 74 Texas’s of wind, and 20 years to build it (Nelder).
Windmills are useless without The Grid
Just as oil doesn’t do much useful work when not burned within a combustion engine, wind needs a vast, interconnected grid. The larger the grid, the more wind that can be added to it. But we don’t have that infrastructure — indeed, what we do have now is falling apart due to deregulation of utilities, with no monetary rewards for any player to maintain or upgrade the grid.
Most of the really good, strong wind areas are so far from cities that it’s useless because the energy to build a grid extending to these regions would use more energy than the wind would provide.
Sure, oil and natural gas require pipelines too, but they’re already in place, built back when the EROEI of oil was 100:1 — though
The Grid Can’t Handle any more Wind Power
Power struggle: Green energy versus a grid that’s not ready. Minders of a fragile national power grid say the rush to renewable energy might actually make it harder to keep the lights on. Evan Halper, Dec 2, 2013. Los Angeles Times.
The grid is built on an antiquated tangle of market rules, operational formulas and business models. Planners are struggling to plot where and when to deploy solar panels, wind turbines and hydrogen fuel cells without knowing whether regulators will approve the transmission lines to support them.
Energy officials worry a lot these days about the stability of the massive patchwork of wires, substations and algorithms that keeps electricity flowing. They rattle off several scenarios that could lead to a collapse of the power grid — a well-executed cyberattack, a freak storm, sabotage.
But as states race to bring more wind, solar and geothermal power online, those and other forms of alternative energy have become a new source of anxiety. The problem is that renewable energy adds unprecedented levels of stress to a grid designed for the previous century.
Green energy is the least predictable kind. Nobody can say for certain when the wind will blow or the sun will shine. A field of solar panels might be cranking out huge amounts of energy one minute and a tiny amount the next if a thick cloud arrives. In many cases, renewable resources exist where transmission lines don’t.
“The grid was not built for renewables,” said Trieu Mai, senior analyst at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
The role of the grid is to keep the supply of power steady and predictable
Engineers carefully calibrate how much juice to feed into the system. The balancing requires painstaking precision. A momentary overload can crash the system.
The California Public Utilities Commission last month ordered large power companies to invest heavily in efforts to develop storage technologies that could bottle up wind and solar power, allowing the energy to be distributed more evenly over time.
Whether those technologies will ever be economically viable on a large scale is hotly debated.
Windmills are too dependent on oil, from mining and fabrication to delivery and maintenance and fail the test of “can they reproduce themselves with wind power?”
Manufacturing wind turbines is an energy and resource-intensive process. A typical wind turbine contains more than 8,000 different components, many of which are made from steel, cast iron, and concrete, which use so much ghg to create that it is highly unlikely wind saves any carbon dioxide.
On top of that, wind power usually replaces hydropower, which is already carbon dioxide free. When coal or natural gas sources are, these plants are ramped down or switched to standby, and they’re still burning fuel and emitting carbon dioxide in these modes. Ramping up and frequent restarting causes thermal generators to run less efficiently and to emit more carbon dioxide and other toxic materials. It’s hard to tell if wind power saves carbon dioxide or generates extra if you look at the entire life cycle and the need for fossil fuel burning plants to kick in when the wind isn’t blowing.
Oil-based combustion engines are used from start to finish to mine the material to make the windmill, fabricate of the windmill, deliver the windmill components to the installation site, make an enormous amount of concrete and deliver and pour it to on the site where the windmill will be embedded, trenching machines and other equipment to connect windmills to the grid. The maintenance vehicles run on oil, giant road-grading equipment and other oil-based vehicles are used to build and maintain the concrete, asphalt, and dirt roads to windmills and the electric grid, the oil-based cars of windmill employees, and the entire supply chain to deliver over 8,000 windmill components from world-wide parts manufacturers via oil-burning trucks, trains, and ships.
Because wind and solar are intermittent, natural gas peaking plants must be built and fire up quickly when the wind dies down or the sun isn’t shining.
As Nate Hagens, former editor of theoildrum has said, wind turbines are fossil fuel extenders, using huge material and human resources. Building more stuff, when we are about to have less stuff, just digs the hole deeper.
Not only would windmills have to generate enough power to reproduce themselves, but they have to make enough power to run civilization. And how are they going to reproduce themselves? Think of the energy to make the cement and steel of a 300 foot tower with three 150 foot rotor blades sweeping an acre of air at 100 miles per hour. The turbine housing alone weighs over 56 tons, the blade assembly 36 tons, and the whole tower assembly is over 163 tons. Florida Power & Light says a typical turbine site is 42 by 42 foot area with a 30 foot hole filled with tons of steel rebar-reinforced concrete –about 1,250 tons to hold the 300 foot tower in place (Rosenbloom).
Plus you’d have to electrify all transportation — that’s an awfully long electric cord out to Siberia or Outer Mongolia to the mining trucks gathering the ore to make new windmills.
Supply Chain Failure and limited supply of Rare Metals
Rare metals, are, well, RARE. We might run out of them sooner than oil, either geologically or politically, since 95% of them are mined almost totally in China, and they will certainly run out or decrease in extraction as oil supplies continue to decline.
Windmill Turbines depend on neodymium and dysprosium.
Estimates of the exact amount of rare earth minerals in wind turbines vary, but in any case the numbers are staggering. According to the Bulletin of Atomic Sciences, a 2 megawatt (MW) wind turbine contains about 800 pounds of neodymium and 130 pounds of dysprosium. The MIT study cited above estimates that a 2 MW wind turbine contains about 752 pounds of rare earth minerals.
Tremendous environmental damage from mining material for windmills
Mining 1 ton of rare earth minerals produces about 1 ton of radioactive waste, according to the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security. In 2012, the U.S. added a record 13,131 MW of wind generating capacity. That means that between 4.9 million pounds (using MIT’s estimate) and 6.1 million pounds (using the Bulletin of Atomic Science’s estimate) of rare earths were used in wind turbines installed in 2012. It also means that between 4.9 million and 6.1 million pounds of radioactive waste were created to make these wind turbines — more than America’s nuclear industry, which produces between 4.4 million and 5 million pounds of spent nuclear fuel each year.
Yet nuclear energy comprised about one-fifth of America’s electrical generation in 2012, while wind accounted for just 3.5 percent of all electricity generated in the United States.
Not only do rare earths create radioactive waste residue, but according to the Chinese Society for Rare Earths, “one ton of calcined rare earth ore generates 9,600 to 12,000 cubic meters (339,021 to 423,776 cubic feet) of waste gas containing dust concentrate, hydrofluoric acid, sulfur dioxide, and sulfuric acid, [and] approximately 75 cubic meters (2,649 cubic feet) of acidic wastewater.”
Not enough time to scale wind up
Like solar, wind accounts for only a tiny fraction of renewable energy consumption in the United States, about a tenth of one percent, and will be hard to scale up in the short time left. EIA. June 2006. Renewable Energy Annual.
Not enough materials to scale wind up
To build 3 TW of wind power you’d need double the world’s current steel production, half the world’s copper production, 30 times the world’s fiber glass production, and almost half of the world’s coal (Prieto).
To scale wind up to provide 20% of America’s electricity by 2030, you’d need 19,300 square miles of windmills that would use this much raw material:
- 129,000,000 Concrete
- 9,060,000 Steel
- 103,600 Aluminum
- 74,400 Copper
- 574,000 Glass-Reinforced Plastic
Source: Wiley, 2007
On top of that, you’d need to add thousands of Natural Gas Combustion Turbines to kick in when the wind died down, and the electric grid requires an enormous expansion, including 19,000 miles of new high-voltage transmission corridors (NAS 2009).
Most of wind will never be captured
Windmills can only capture a fraction of the wind blowing — not enough or too much and the windmill shuts down.
Most of the really good wind is in remote locations far from the grid, and can’t be connected.
The wind above a windmill can’t be captured, you can’t get the wind from the ground to a mile high.
Proposed windmill “kites” that extract wind from the jet stream, sounds wonderful, just 1% could supply all of our energy. But hey, how do you harvest a hurricane, the winds can blow 125 mph up there, and they’re up there with the jets 7 miles high, surely that can’t be easy to pull off.
Much of the time, over an entire region, there is no wind blowing at all, a huge problem for balancing the electricity on the grid, which has to be kept within a narrow range (about 10% of the electricity on the grid is never delivered to a customer, it’s there to balance the flow so that surges don’t cause blackouts leading to the loss of power for millions of people).
Globally we use about 12 terawatts of energy a year. There’s 85 terawatts of wind, but most of it is over the deep ocean, or the many miles above, which we are unlikely to ever capture. A giant windmill perched on a giant boat has already used more energy in its construction than it will ever generate before this vast amount of energy intensive steel and other material rusts or sinks in violent storms. Plus you need to string cables from the windmill or ship to land.
The maximum extractable energy from high jet stream wind is 200 times less than reported previously, and trying to extract them would profoundly impact the entire climate system of the planet. If we tried to extract the maximum possible 7.5 TW from the jet stream, “the atmosphere would generate 40 times less wind energy than what we would gain from the wind turbines, resulting in drastic changes in temperature and weather” according to Lee Miller, the author of the study (Miller).
Carlos De Castro, a professor of Applied Physics, estimates that at most 1Terawatt is the upper limit of the electrical potential of wind energy. This value is much lower than previous estimates (De Castro).
Betz’s law means you can never harvest more than 59% of the wind, no matter how well you build a windmill.
And another huge part of the wind is above the windmills on land. So you can really only capture a very small part of the wind that’s blowing.
You also have to space the windmills far apart, because on the other side of a windmill that has just “captured” wind, there’s no wind left (Hayden).
For example, if the best possible wind strip along the coast between San Francisco and LA were covered with the maximum possible number of windmills (an area about 300 miles long by one mile deep) you’d get enough wind, when it was blowing, to replace only one of the dozens of power plants in California (Hayden).
A wind farm takes up 30 to 200 times the space of a gas plant (Paul Gipe, Wind Energy Comes of Age, p. 396). A 50 megawatt wind farm can take up anywhere from two to twenty-five square miles (Proceedings of National Avian-Wind Power Planning Meeting, p. 11).
Wind is only strong enough to justify windmills in a few regions
The wind needs to be at least force level 4 (13-18 mph) for as much of the year as possible to make it economically possible. This means that a great deal of land is not practical for the purpose. The land that is most suitable already has windmills, or is too far from the grid to be connected.
A Class 3 windmill farm needs double the number of generators to produce the same amount of energy as windmills in a class 6 field (Prieto).
The 1997 US EIA/DOE study (2002) came to the remarkable conclusion that “…many non-technical wind cost adjustment factors … result in economically viable wind power sites on only 1% of the area which is otherwise technically available…”
The electric grid needs to be much larger than it is now to make wind feasible
Without a vastly expanded grid to balance the unpredictability of wind over a large area, wind can’t provide a significant portion of electrical generation. But expanding the grid to the proper size would not only cost trillions of dollars and years we don’t have, now that we’re at peak, we’d have to ruin many national parks, wilderness areas, and other natural areas to install them.
And then, after the oil was gone, and there was no way to replace or maintain windmills, they’d sit there, our version of Easter Island heads, of absolutely no use to future generations, not even for hanging laundry.
Much of the land in the USA (the areas where there’s lots of wind) is quite far from population centers. And when you hook windmills to the grid, you lose quite a bit of energy over transmission lines, especially since most of the wind is far from cities. It also takes a lot of energy to build and maintain the electric grid infrastructure itself. Remote wind sites often result in construction of additional transmission lines, estimated to cost as much as $300,000-$1 million per mile. (Energy Choices in a Competitive Era, Center for Energy and Economic Development Study, 1995 Study, p. 14). The economics of transmission are poor because while the line must be sized at peak output, wind’s low capacity factor ensures significant under-utilization.
Wind blows the strongest when customer demand is the weakest
In Denmark, where some of the world’s largest wind farms exist, wind blows the hardest when consumer demand is the lowest, so Denmark ends up selling its extra electricity to other countries for pennies, and then when demand is up, buys electricity back at much higher prices. Denmark’s citizens pay some of the highest electricity rates on earth (Castelvecchi).
In Texas and California, wind and solar are too erratic to provide more than 20% of a regions total energy capacity because it’s too difficult to balance supply and demand beyond that amount.
Wind varies greatly depending on the weather. Often it hardly blows at all during some seasons. In California, we need electricity the most in summer when peak loads are reached, but that’s the season the least wind blows. On our hottest days, wind capacity factors drop to as low as .02 at peak electric demand. At a time when the system most needs reliable base load capacity, wind base capacity is unavailable.
Wind is unreliable, requiring expensive natural gas peaking plants (rarely included in EROEI of wind and solar)
According to Eon Netz, one of the 4 grid managers in Germany, for every 10 MW of wind power added to the system, at least 8 MW of back-up power must also be dedicated. So you’re not saving on fossil fuels and often have to ADD fossil fuel plants to make up for the wind power when the wind isn’t blowing!
In other words, wind needs 100% back-up of its maximum output.
The first chart is the “Mona Lisa” of wind unreliability, measured at one of California’s largest wind farms. The second is from the California Independent System Operator, showing how wind power tends to be low when power demand is high (and vice-versa). Wind should play an important role, but unless there is a high-voltage, high-capacity, high-density grid to accompany it (as in Northern Europe), or electricity storage, the variability of wind means that co-located natural gas peaking plants are needed as well. The cost of such natural gas plants are rarely factored into the all-in costs of wind (Cembalest).
Wind surges, dies, stops, starts, so it has to be modulated in order to be usable by power companies, and ultimately, homes and businesses. This modulation means that the power grid can only use a maximum of 10% of its power from wind, or the network becomes too unstable and uncontrollable. Because of this problem, windmills are built to capture wind only at certain speeds, so when the wind is light or too strong, power is not generated.
For example, in 1994, California wind power operated at only 23 percent realized average capacity in 1994 (California Energy Commission, Wind Project Performance: 1994).
No way to store wind energy
We don’t have EROEI-positive batteries, compressed air, or enough pumped water dams to store wind energy and concentrate it enough to do useful work and generate power when the wind isn’t blowing. There are no storage methods that can return the same amount of energy put into them, so having to store energy reduces the amount of energy returned. Compressed air storage is inefficient because “air heats up when it is compressed and gets cold when it is allowed to expand. That means some of the energy that goes into compression is lost as waste heat. And if the air is simply let out, it can get so cold that it freezes everything it touches, including industrial-strength turbines. PowerSouth and E.ON burn natural gas to create a hot gas stream that warms the cold air as it expands into the turbines, reducing overall energy efficiency and releasing carbon dioxide, which undermines some of the benefits of wind power” (Castelvecchi).
Wind Power surges harm industrial customers
Japan’s biggest wind power supplier, may scrap a plan to build turbines on the northern island of Hokkaido after the regional utility cut proposed electricity purchases, blaming unreliable supply. Power surges can be a problem for industrial customers, said Hirotaka Hayashi, a spokesman at Hokkaido Electric. Utilities often need to cut back power generation at other plants to lessen the effect of excess power from wind energy.
“Continental European countries such as Germany and Denmark can transfer excess power from windmills to other countries,” said Arakawa. “The electricity networks of Japan’s 10 utilities aren’t connected like those in Europe. That’s the reason why it’s difficult to install windmills in Japan.”
To ensure steady supply, Tohoku Electric Power Co., Japan’s fourth-biggest generator, in March started requiring owners of new windmills to store energy in batteries before distribution rather than send the electricity direct to the utility, said spokesman Satoshi Arakawa. That requirement has increased wind project installation costs to 300,000 yen ($2,560) per kilowatt, from 200,000 yen, according to Toshiro Ito, vice president of EcoPower Co., Japan’s third-biggest wind power supplier (Takemoto).
Energy returned on Energy Invested is negative
Wind farms require vast amounts of steel and concrete, which in terms of mining, fabrication, and transportation to the site represent a huge amount of fossil fuel energy. The Zond 40-45 megawatt wind farm is composed of 150 wind turbines weighing 35 tons each — over 10 million pounds.
The 5,700 turbines installed in the United States in 2009 used 36,000 miles of steel rebar and 1.7 million cubic yards of concrete (enough to pave a four-foot-wide, 7,630-mile-long sidewalk). The gearbox of a 2-megawatt wind turbine has 800 pounds of neodymium and 130 pounds of dysprosium — rare earth metals that are found in low-grade hard-to-find deposits that are very expensive to make. (American Wind Energy Association).
Materials like carbon fiber that would make them more efficient cost several times more and use up a great deal more fossil fuel energy to fabricate than a fiber glass blade.
From the mining of the metals to make windmills, to their fabrication, delivery, operation, to their Maintenance is very dependent upon fossil fuel energy and fossil fuel driven machinery. Wind energy at best could increase the amount of energy generated while fossil fuels last, but is too dependent on them to outlast the oil age.
After a few years, maintenance costs skyrocket. The larger the windmill, the more complex maintenance is needed, yet the larger the windmill, the more wind can be captured.
Offshore Wind Farms likely to be destroyed by Hurricanes
The U.S. Department of Energy has estimated that if the United States is to generate 20% of its electricity from wind, over 50 GW will be required from shallow offshore turbines. Hurricanes are a potential risk to these turbines. Turbine tower buckling has been observed in typhoons, but no offshore wind turbines have yet been built in the United States. In the most vulnerable areas now being actively considered by developers, nearly half the turbines in a farm are likely to be destroyed in a 20-year period. (Rose).
Source: Rose, S. 2 June 2011. Quantifying the Hurricane Risk to Offshore Wind Turbines. Carnegie Mellon University.
Offshore Windmills have other problems
Offshore windmills are battered by waves and wind, and ice is also a huge problem.
Offshore windmills need to exist in water that’s 60 meters or less. 15 meters or less is ideal economically as well as making the windmills less susceptible to large waves and wind damage. But many states along the west coast don’t have shallow shelves where windmills can be built — California’s best wind, by far, is offshore, but the water is far too deep for windmills, and the best wind is in the northern part of the state, too far away to be connected to the grid.
Offshore windmills are a hazard to navigation of freighters and other ships.
The states that have by far the best wind resources and shallow depths offshore are North Carolina, Louisiana, and Texas, but they have 5 or more times the occurrence of hurricanes.
As climate change leads to rising sea levels over the next thousand years, windmills will be rendered useless.
Offshore windmills could conflict with other uses:
- Ship navigation
- Fisheries and subsistence fishing
- Boating, scuba diving, and surfing
- Sand and gravel extraction
- Oil and gas infrastructure
- Compete with potential wave energy devices
Offshore windparks will affect sediment transport, potentially clogging navigation channels, erosion, depositing of sediment on recreational areas, affect shoreline vegetation, scour sediments leading to loss of habitat for benthic communities, and damage existing seabed infrastructure.
Building windmills offshore can lead to chemical contaminants, smothering, suspended sediments, turbidity, substratum loss, scouring, bird strikes, and noise.
There is a potential for offshore wind farms to interfere with telecommunications, FAA radar systems, and marine communications (VHF [very high frequency] radio and radar).
Land use changes. The windfarm offshore must be connected to the grid onshore, and there need to be roads to set up onshore substations and transmission lines. Plus industrial sites and ports to construct, operate, and decommission the windmillls. Roadways need to be potentially quite large to transport the enormous components of a windmill (Michel)
Operating and Maintenance costs too expensive
Offshore windmills will be subject to a tremendous amount of corrosion from the salt water and air.
Wind mills are battered year round by hail storms, strong winds, blizzards, and temperature extremes from below freezing to hundred degree heat in summer. Corrosion increases over time.
The same windmill can be beaten up variably, with the wind speed at the end of one blade considerably stronger than the wind at the tip of the other. This caused Suzlon blades to crack several years ago.
A windmill is only as weak as it’s weakest component, and the more components a windmill has, the more complex the maintenance. Wind turbines are complex machines. Each has around 7,000 or more components, according to Tom Maves, deputy director for manufacturing and supply chain at the American Wind Energy Association (Galbraith).
Maintenance costs start to rise after 2 years (it’s almost impossible to find out what these costs are from turbine makers). Vibration and corrosion damage the rotating blades, and the bearings, gear boxes, axles, and blades are subjected to high stresses.
Gearboxes can be the Achilles’ heel, costing up to $500,000 to fix due to the high cost of replacement parts, cranes (which can cost $75,000-$100,000), post installation testing, re-commissioning and lost power production.
If the electric grid were to be built up enough to balance the wind energy load better, the windmills breaking down in remote locations would require a huge amount of energy to keep trees cut back and remote roads built and kept up to deliver and maintain the turbine and grid infrastructure.
Large scale wind farms need to “overcome significant barriers”: Costs overall are too high, and windmills in lower wind speed areas need to become more cost effective. Low wind speed areas are 20 times more common than high wind areas, and five times closer to the existing electrical distribution systems. Improvement is needed in integrating fluctuating wind power into the electrical grid with minimal impact on cost and reliability. Offshore wind facilities cost more to install, operate, and maintain than onshore windmills. NREL
Windmills wear out from ice storms, hitting insects, dust and sand abrade the blades and structure, and so on.
We Can’t build large enough windmills
Useful energy increases with the square of the blade length, and there’s more wind the higher up you go, so ideally you’d build very tall wind towers with huge blades. But conventional materials can’t handle these high wind conditions, and new, super-strong materials are too expensive.
As towers get to be 100 meters high and more, and blade length increases, shipping them gets challenging. Trucks carrying big towers and blades must sometimes move with police escorts and avoid certain overpasses or small roads (Galbraith).
Investment takes too long, if ever to pay back
There isn’t already a lot of wind power because investors aren’t willing to wait 20 to 30 years to get their money back when they can invest it in oil and natural gas drilling and get most of their money back in a few years.
Suckers who believe the wind proponent value of EROEI at 20:1 don’t understand the factors left out, such as rare metals, natural gas peaking plants, grid infrastructure, maintenance costs, and so on.
Not In My Back Yard
There’s been a great deal of NIMBYism preventing windmills from being built so far. Some of the objections are visual blight, bird killing, noise, and erosion from service roads.
After 25 years of marriage, I still have to sometimes go downstairs to sleep when my husband snores too loudly, so I can imagine how annoying windmill noise might be. And even more so after someone sent me a document entitled “Confidential issues report draft. Waubra & Other Victorian Wind Farm Noise Impact Assessments” that made the case that windmill noise affects the quality of life, disturbs sleep, and has adverse health effects. I especially liked the descriptions of possible noices: whooshes, rumble-thumps, whining, clunks, and swooshes. Low frequency sounds can penetrate walls and windows and cause vibrations and pressure changes. Many people affected would like to come up with a standard that windmill farms must be at least 2 kilometres away and not exceed a noise level of 35 dB(A) at any time outside neighboring dwellings.
Wind turbines depend on rare earth metals
Such as the neodymium used in turbine magnets. Neodymium prices quadrupled this year, and that’s with wind still making up less than 3% of global electricity generation (Cembalest).
The environmental impact of mining the rare metals required for windmills makes their use questionable. Mongolia has large reserves of rare earth metals, especially neodymium, the element needed to make the magnets in wind turbines. Its extraction has led to a 5-mile wide poisonous tailings lake in northern China. Nearby farmland for miles is now unproductive, and one of China’s key waterways is at risk. “This vast, hissing cauldron of chemicals is the dumping ground for seven million tons a year of mined rare earth after it has been doused in acid and chemicals and processed through red-hot furnaces to extract its components. Rusting pipelines meander for miles from factories processing rare earths in Baotou out to the man-made lake where, mixed with water, the foul-smelling radioactive waste from this industrial process is pumped day after day” (Parry).
Local and Global Weather are affected
Scientists modeled the impact of a hypothetical large-scale wind farm in the Great Plains. Their conclusion in The Journal of Geophysical Research, is that thousands of turbines concentrated in one area can affect local weather, by making warmer drier conditions from the atmospheric mixing in the blades wake. The warming and drying that occur when the upper air mass reaches the surface is a significant change, Dr. Baidya Roy said, and is similar to the kinds of local atmospheric changes that occur with large-scale deforestation (2Nov 2004. Catch the Wind, Change the Weather. New York Times.
“We shouldn’t be surprised that extracting wind energy on a global scale is going to have a noticeable effect. … There is really no such thing as a free lunch,” said David Keith, a professor of energy and the environment at the University of Calgary and lead author of a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Specifically, if wind generation were expanded to the point where it produced 10% of today’s energy, the models say cooling in the Arctic and a warming across the southern parts of North America should happen.
The exact mechanism for this is unclear, but the scientists believe it may have to do with the disruption of the flow of heat from the equator to the poles.
The Sierra club in Maine is asking the Minerals Management Service to look at over a dozen aspects of wind offshore, including possible interference with known upwelling zones and/or important circulatory and current regimes that might influence the distribution or recruitment of marine species.
Wind affects the upwelling of nutrients and may be a key factor in booms and busts of the California sardine fishery and other marine species.
Installing offshore windmills requires excavation of the seafloor to create a level surface, and sinking the 250 to 350 ton foundations into the seabed, which are very expensive to build,since they require scour protection from large stones, erosion control mats, and so on.
Potential Impacts to Currents and Tides
Wind turbine foundations can affect the flow velocity and direction and increase turbulence. These changes to currents can affect sediment transport, resulting in erosion or piles of sediments on nearby shorelines. Modified currents also could change the distribution of salinity, nutrients, effluents, river outflows, and thermal stratification, in turn affecting fish and benthic habitats. Changes to major ocean currents such as the Gulf Stream could affect areas well beyond the continental United States, affecting the climate of North America as well as other continents (Michel).
Lack of a skilled and technical workforce
wind power officials see a much larger obstacle coming in the form of its own work force, a highly specialized group of technicians that combine working knowledge of mechanics, hydraulics, computers and meteorology with the willingness to climb 200 feet in the air in all kinds of weather (Twiddy).
Wind only produces electricity
We need liquid fuels for the immediate crisis at hand.
Wind has a low capacity Factor
In the very best windmill farms, the capacity factor is only 28 to 35%.
Wind turbines generate electrical energy when they are not shut down for maintenance, repair, or tours and the wind is between about 8 and 55 mph. Below a wind speed of around 30 mph, however, the amount of energy generated is very small.
A 100 MW rated wind farm is capable of producing 100 MW only during maximum peak winds. Most of the time it will produce much less, or even no power at all when winds are lighter or not blowing. In reality, 30 MW of power production or less is far more likely. What wind farms actually produce is called the CAPACITY FACTOR.
Quite often you will only hear that a new wind farm will generate 100 MW of power. Ignore that and look for what the capacity factor is.
This makes a difference in how many homes are served. Per Megawatt, a coal plant up 75% of the time provides enough power in the Northeast for 900 homes and a wind plant up 30% of the time power for only 350 homes. The southhas extremely voracious electricity consumers, so the numbers are much lower: 350 and 180 respectively.
Solar generators typically have a 25 percent capacity factor, because the generators do not produce electricity at night or on cloudy days.
Dead bugs and salt reduce wind power generation by 20 to 30%
Over time the build-up of dead insects and/or salt on off-shor turbine blades reduces power by up to 30%.
There are several research groups looking at generating electricity using giant kites up in the jet stream. But it won’t be easy. Jet streams move around and change their location, airplanes need to stay well away, and lightning and thunderstorms might require them to be brought down.
The strongest wind is 6 miles above us, where winds are typically 60 miles per hour. Some scientists think there’s enough wind to generate 100 times current global energy demand.
But Axel Kleidon and Lee Miller of the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry believe that’s a massive overestimate of the amount of energy that could be obtained. If they’re right that jet stream wind results from a lack of friction, then at most 7.5 TW of power could be extracted, and that would have a major effect on climate (Earth System Dynamics, vol 2, p 201).
Wind Power Can’t be scaled up
Denmark is often pointed out as a country that scaled wind up to provide 20% of its power. Yet because wind is so intermitent, no conventional power plants have been shut down because they need to step in when the wind isn’t blowing (enough). The quick ramping up and down of these power plants actually increases greenhouse gas emissions. And when the wind does blow enough, the power is surplus and most is sold to other countries at an extremely cheap price. And often they have to import electricity! The Danish pay the highest electricity prices in Europe. The actual capacity is 20%, not the 30% the BWEA and AWEA claim is possible (Rosenbloom).
According to the American Wind Energy Association, these are the challenges of small windmills: they’re too expensive for most people, there’s insufficient product reliability, lack of consumer protection from unscrupulous suppliers, most local jurisdictions limit the height of structures to 35 feet (wind towers must be at least 60 feet high and higher than objects around them like trees, etc), utilities make it hard and discourage people from connecting to the grid, the inverters that modify the wildly fluctuating wind voltages into 60-cycle AC are too expensive, and they’re too noisy.
Wind turbines can NOT help us avoid blackouts
This is because wind turbines need power from the grid to work. A blackout knocks them out, too.
Castelvecchi, D. March 2012. Gather the Wind. If renewable energy is going to take off, we need good ways of storing it for the times when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. Scientific American.
Cembalest, Michael. 21 Nov 2011. Eye on the Market: The quixotic search for energy solutions. J. P. Morgan.
Cubic Mile of Oil. Wikipedia.
De Castro, C. 2011. Global Wind Power Potential: Physical and technological limits. Energy Policy.
E.ON Netz Corp. Wind Report 2004.Renewable Energy Foundation. E.ON Netz Wind report 2005 shows UK renewables policy is mistaken.
Fisher, T. Oct 23, 2013. Big Wind’s Dirty Little Secret: Toxic Lakes and Radioactive Waste. Institute for Energy Research.
Galbraith, K. 7 Aug 2011. Wind Power Gains as Gear Improves. New York Times
Mason, V. 2005. Wind power in West Denmark. Lessons for the UK.
Michel, J, et al. July 2007. Worldwide Synthesis and Analysis of Existing Information Regarding Environmental Effects of Alternative Energy Uses on the Outer Continental Shelf. U.S. Department of the Interior. Minerals Management Service. OCS STUDY MMS 2007- 038
Miller, L. M. et al. Jet stream wind power as a renewable energy resource: little power, big impacts. Earth System Dynamics, 2011; 2 (2): 201 DOI: 10.5194/esd-2-201-2011
Nelder, C. 31 May 2010. 195 Californias or 74 Texases to Replace Offshore Oil. ASPO Peak Oil Review.
Parry, Simon. 11 Jan 2012. In China, the true cost of Britain’s clean, green wind power experiment: Pollution on a disastrous scale. Dailymail.co.uk
Prieto, P. A. 21 Oct 2008. Solar + Wind in Spain/ World. Closing the growing gap? ASPO International conference.
Rose, S. et. al. 10 Jan 2012. Quantifying the hurricane risk to offshore wind turbines. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Rosenbloom, E. 2006. A Problem With Wind Power. aweo.org
Takemoto, Y. 31 Aug 2006. Eurus Energy May Scrap Wind Power Project in Japan. Bloomberg.
Twiddy, D. 2 Feb 2008. Wind farms need techs to keep running. Associated Press.
Udall, Randy. How many wind turbines to meet the nation’s needs? Energyresources message 2202
More articles on wind problems in various areas (not cited above)
Clover, C. 9 Dec 2006. Wind farms ‘are failing to generate the predicted amount of electricity‘. Telegraph.
Not on the internet anymore:
Blackwell, R. Oct 30, 2005. How much wind power is too much? Globe and Mail.
Wind power has become a key part of Canada’s energy mix, with the number of installed wind turbines growing exponentially in recent months. But the fact the wind doesn’t blow all the time is creating a potential roadblock that could stall growth in the industry.
Alberta and Ontario, the two provinces with the most wind turbines up and whirling, face concerns that there are limits on how much power can be generated from the breeze before their electricity systems are destabilized.
Alberta recently put a temporary cap on wind generation at 900 megawatts — a level it could reach as early as next year — because of the uncertainty. And a report in Ontario released last week says that in some situations more than 5,000 MW of wind power, stable operation of the power grid could be jeopardized.
Warren Frost, vice-president for operations and reliability at the Alberta Electric System Operator, said studies done over the past couple of years showed there can be problems when wind contributes more than about 10 per cent of the province’s electricity — about 900 MW — because of the chance the wind could stop at any time.
Each 100 MW of wind power is enough to supply a city about the size of Lethbridge, Alta.
If the power “disappears on you when the wind dies, then you’ve got to make it up, either through importing from a neighbouring jurisdiction or by ramping up generators,” Mr. Frost said.
But Alberta is limited in its imports, because the provincial power grid has connections only with British Columbia and Saskatchewan. And hydroelectric plants with water reservoirs, which can turn on a dime to start producing power, are limited in the province. Coal-fired plants and most gas-fired plants take time to get up to speed, making them less useful as backups when the wind fails.
There can also be a problem, Mr. Frost noted, when the wind picks up and generates more power than is being demanded — that potential imbalance also has to be accounted for.
There are a number of ways to allow wind power to make up a greater proportion of the electricity supply, but they require more study, Mr. Frost said. First, he said, the province can develop more sophisticated ways of forecasting the wind so the power it generates is more predictable.
The province could also build more plants that can quickly respond if the wind dies down during a peak period, for example. But building new gas-powered plants merely to help handle the variability of wind is certain to raise the ire of environmentalists.
The province could also increase its connections to other jurisdictions, where it would buy surplus power when needed. Alberta is already looking at links with some northwestern U.S. states, including Montana.
Over all, Alberta is committed to “adding as much wind as feasible” Mr. Frost said. “What we’re balancing is the reliability [issue].
Robert Hornung, president of the Canadian Wind Energy Association, which represents companies in the wind business, said he prefers to think of Alberta’s 900 MW limit as a “speed bump” rather than a fixed cap.
“We have every confidence they’ll be able to go further than that,” Mr. Hornung said, particularly if the industry and regulators put some effort into wind forecasting over the next year or so. That’s crucial, he said, because “we have projects of many, many more megawatts than 900 waiting to proceed in Alberta.
In Ontario, the situation is less acute than in Alberta, but the wind study released last week — prepared for the industry and regulators — shows some similar concerns.
While wind power could be handled by the Ontario grid up to 5,000 MW — about 320 MW of wind turbines are currently in operation with another 960 MW in planning stages — the situation changes at higher levels, the study suggests.
Particularly during low demand periods when wind makes up a relatively high proportion of the power mix, “stable operation of the power system could be compromised” if backup systems can’t be ramped up quickly to deal with wind fluctuations, the report said.
But Ontario is in a better position than Alberta because it has far more interconnections with other provinces and states, where it can buy or sell power.
And it also has its wind turbines more geographically dispersed than Alberta, where most wind farms are in the south of the province. That means the chance of the wind failing everywhere at the same time is lower in Ontario.
Don Tench, director of planning and assessments for Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator, said he thinks better wind forecasting is the key to making the new source of power work effectively.
“If we have a few hours notice of a significant wind change, we can make plans to deal with it,” he said.
Mr. Frost, of the Alberta system operator, said European countries such as Denmark and Germany have been able to maintain a high proportion of wind power in their electricity systems mainly because they have multiple connections to other countries’ power grids. That gives them substantial flexibility to import or export power to compensate for wind fluctuation.
Germany, for example, has 39 international interconnections, he said, making variable wind conditions much easier to manage.
Wiley, L. 2007. Utility scale wind turbine manufacturing requirements. Presentation at the National Wind Coordinating Collaborative’s Wind Energy and Economic Development Forum, Lansing, Mich., April 24, 2007.