American Elephants

Beware the Snake Oil Salesmen! by The Elephant's Child

This post was originally written on March 8, 2011.

It’s hard to visualize just how big these things are.  In Europe, and I don’t know the location, adventurous souls are climbing turbines and jumping off with parachutes (parafoils?).

When those who are pushing for more wind farms talk about “capacity” they are talking about the amount of energy that could be produced if the wind was blowing at a constant speed of about 30 mph.

The problem with wind is not the turbines, the problem is the nature of wind. It is intermittent. It blows in puffs and gusts, in gales, zephyrs, breezes, squalls or not at all, and there may be no wind for days. In a gale, the turbines may have to shut down to avoid damage.  Each turbine requires 24/7  backup for the times when the wind does not blow, or does not blow strongly enough, or too strongly.  The usual backup power plant is fired with natural gas, but power plants are not meant to cycle on and off so frequently to compensate for intermittent wind. You can build bigger and better turbines, but it won’t solve the problem of intermittent and unpredictable wind.

Europe has been far ahead of us in falling for the promise of wind energy. They fell for the global warming fraud with a greater degree of panic, and for the promise of “green energy” and “green jobs.” That did not work out well.  Britain, however, had long-standing power plants that needed replacement and were required to be shut down at a certain point. Enthusiasm for green energy and EU imposed greenhouse gas targets have created enormous problems for the British people.

“Electricity consumers in the United Kingdom will need to get used to flicking the switch and finding the power unavailable” according to Steve Holliday, CEO of National Grid, the country’s grid operator. “The grid is going to be a very different system in 2020, 2030.  We keep thinking that we want it to be there and provide power when we need it.  It’s going to be much smarter than that.”

“We are going to change our own behavior and consume it when it is available and available cheaply.”

Holliday says that blackouts may be a feature of power systems that replace reliable coal plants with wind turbines to meet greenhouse gas targets.  Have to do it, but it will mean lifestyle changes.  Maybe they should get the EU to bag the “greenhouse” nonsense, instead.  Britain had a higher number of deaths from the cold this year and more energy poverty.

Under the so-called “smart grid” that the UK is developing, the government-regulated utility will be able to decide when and where power should be delivered, to ensure that it meets the highest social purpose.

The government might decide that the needs of some industries take precedence over others, or that the needs of industry might trump that of residential consumers. Government would also be able to price power prohibitively if it is used for non-essential purposes.  Smart grids are being developed by utilities worldwide to allow the government to control electricity use in the home, down to the individual appliance, and be capable of turning them off if the power is needed elsewhere.

So Britain’s wind farms aren’t having back-up power plants?  I can think of a few objections.  You cannot predict when the wind will blow.  Mr. Dalrymple requires a 3 hour surgery for some major repairs — how do you schedule the operation?  A manufacturing plant has machines that must run all day — processes can’t simply be suddenly halted. Long periods without wind often come during especially cold periods.  It doesn’t matter how “smart” your grid might be if whether or not power is produced at all is completely unpredictable.

We must take Britain seriously. Their long romance with the welfare state provides us with vast evidence of what not to do.  Their National Health Service is a growing disaster, and they are trying to save it with major reform that returns authority to doctors and patients. Their welfare state has created a permanent underclass. And their belief in the fraud of global warming is leading them to another disaster. We must pay attention to the evidence.


Misconceptions About Wind: Basic Arithmetic by The Elephant's Child

Here’s the headline from an article in the Spectator, dated May 13: “Wind turbines are neither clean nor green and they provide zero global energy” with the subhead “We urgently need to stop the ecological posturing and invest in gas and nuclear.” The post is from Matt Ridley.

The Global Wind Energy Council recently released its latest report, excitedly boasting that ‘the proliferation of wind energy into the global power market continues at a furious pace, after it was revealed that more than 54 gigawatts of clean renewable wind power was installed across the global market last year’.

You may have got the impression from announcements like that, and from the obligatory pictures of wind turbines in any BBC story or airport advert about energy, that wind power is making a big contribution to world energy today. You would be wrong. Its contribution is still, after decades — nay centuries — of development, trivial to the point of irrelevance.

Here’s a quiz; no conferring. To the nearest whole number, what percentage of the world’s energy consumption was supplied by wind power in 2014, the last year for which there are reliable figures? Was it 20 per cent, 10 per cent or 5 per cent? None of the above: it was 0 per cent. That is to say, to the nearest whole number, there is still no wind power on Earth.

Basic math. World energy demand has been growing about two percent a year for nearly 40 years. Between 2012 and 2014 it grew, according to International Energy agency data, just under 2,000 terawatt-hours. If all that had to be supplied by wind turbines—just that and no more—how many new turbines would have to be built? Nearly 350,000. A two-megawatt turbine can produce about 0.005 terawatt-hours per annum. That’s 1½ times as many as have been built in the world since governments first started subsidizing them with taxpayer money.

Wind farms typically have a density of about 50 acres per megawatt, at that density, that many turbines would need a land area larger than the entire British Isles. In 50 years, if we kept this up, we would have covered a land area the size of Russia. But there’s more, hidden pollution, rare earths, the materials required, how turbines are made. Do read the whole article.  Matt Ridley is always worth our attention.

It just turns out to be that wind and solar are essentially very costly and extremely useless pursuits. Aside from the intermittency problem, the arithmetic just doesn’t work. Lot of people  have made some big money on the subsidies though.

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