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  • Installing Windmills Doesn't Make the Wind Blow

    A tweet from the Department of Energy (DOE) gives a link to a DOE webpage highlighting a graph from, and giving a link to, a study by the American Wind Energy Association.

    Skipping the question of how appropriate it is for the DOE to flack for an advocacy organization, we can address the topic: the rapid growth of wind-energy installation.

    For years, wind advocates have been bragging about the growth of installed wind-power capacity, which they compare to other energy sources. What they rarely (if ever) talk about is production.

    Because windmills cannot be turned on at will—in industry jargon, they are not dispatchable—the power they produce depends on how much the wind blows. At 25 percent, the average capacity factor for wind power is well below those of conventional sources. So a better comparison, rather than the theoretical potential of windmills installed, is the growth in actual electricity produced.

    When we compare growth in electric power generation since 2005, we see that the increase in wind power pales in comparison to that of natural-gas-generated electricity. On an annualized basis, natural gas power generation has grown four times as much as wind power—roughly 600 billion kilowatt hours (kW-h) per year for gas versus about 140 billion kW-h per year for wind. Even that comparison is overly kind to wind, because the wind typically blows less when you need it most.

    The pattern of generation in 2012 shows why capacity comparisons are nearly useless. From January to July 2012, total power generation in the U.S. rose 22 percent to match the high demand during the hot summer months. However, because wind power is at the mercy of the weather (remember, it is not dispatchable), wind power generation actually dropped 24 percent between January and July. Over the same period, natural gas power jumped 53 percent, and coal-fired power increased 25 percent.

    We should also note that the phenomenal growth in natural gas production occurred without anything like the production tax credit that subsidizes wind power by an amount equal or greater than 40 percent of the wholesale price of electricity. As we have shown before, an equivalent subsidy for oil would be about $50 per barrel.

    Posted in Energy [slideshow_deploy]

    28 Responses to Installing Windmills Doesn't Make the Wind Blow

    1. Bobbie says:

      and they're real ugly. not worth the land they take up or the health problems they cause. emits more gas manufacturing, shipping, assembling all the parts then what we're told.

      do hurricane winds and tornadoes increase the production or break em' into flying, damaging, deadly debris?

      • questioning says:

        The EWEA estimates that 230 gigawatts (GW) of wind capacity will be installed in Europe by 2020, consisting of 190 GW onshore and 40 GW offshore.
        This would produce 14-17% of the EU's electricity, avoiding 333 million tonnes of CO2 per year and saving Europe €28 billion a year in avoided fuel costs.

        • Brian H says:

          Let's start with the fact that avoiding CO2 output is pointless on 2 grounds: CO2 is harmless, and China will swamp any reductions with growth in coal use.

          And most of those fuel costs will be incurred anyway, as standby gas or oil must be ready to pick up the slack on a moment's notice, 24/7/365.

          • questioner says:

            Below is one example from many easily accessible to someone who genuinely wants the facts.
            Not every scientist agrees with the IPCC, BUT THE VAST MAJORITY DO.
            Science is never done, but shouldn't we say "better safe than sorry"?

            "In 2007, Harris Interactive surveyed 489 randomly selected members of either the American Meteorological Society or the American Geophysical Union for the Statistical Assessment Service (STATS) at George Mason University.
            The survey found 97% agreed that global temperatures have increased during the past 100 years; 84% say they personally believe human-induced warming is occurring, and 74% agree that "currently available scientific evidence" substantiates its occurrence. Only 5% believe that human activity does not contribute to greenhouse warming; and 84% believe global climate change poses a moderate to very great danger."

    2. Guest says:

      Wind doesn't blow for mans use and enjoyment.. I blows because that what wind is for: blowing. Next we'll be hearing the the 'One' will catch it for us. Typical

      • questioning says:

        I think you're exactly right. The earth does not exist for our use and enjoyment. If we start from that premise then we make better decisions and come to better conclusions, like finding ways to create energy that are not destructive and dangerous. Like wind and solar?

        • Bobbie says:

          If the earth didn't exist for humanity, humanity wouldn't exist and there would be no such thing as natural resources for humanity to exist! Wind, no one knows where it starts or where it ends. Solar is unpredictable and more powerful then people are willing to realize. Man made solar causes fire more than the sun left alone!

          • questioning says:

            How does your argument counter "Taking into account safety, humankind's sustainability and pollution, wind and solar are far better to pursue than fossil fuels"?

    3. Inslalling windmills does not make the wind stop blowing either, contrary to the claims made by Global Warming freaks that Hurricane Sandy is the direct result of our use of fossil-fuel powered technology. Winds blow. Rains fall. Sometimes the snow comes in a frenzy. And sometimes you get sunshine. Welcome to Planet Earth.

    4. Oso Politico says:

      The windmills are not there to produce electricity. They exist to serve a political purpose.

    5. Rebecca says:

      If I understood what my son was telling me correctly those wind mills are factored into the grid. Each and every one of them has a diesel generator on board that kicks in to produce the expected power from the thing when the wind isn't blowing. He's an electrical engineer and works for a company that designs and builds power plants.

      • questioner says:

        A wind-diesel hybrid power system combines diesel generators and wind turbines, usually alongside ancillary equipment such as energy storage, power converters, and various control components, to generate electricity. They are designed to increase capacity and reduce the cost and environmental impact of electrical generation in remote communities and facilities that are not linked to a power grid. Wind-diesel hybrid systems reduce reliance on diesel fuel, which creates pollution and is costly to transport.

        • @kmoonjax says:

          That makes a lot more sense. Thanks for the explanation.

        • Bobbie says:

          I agree with Rebecca. Something has to generate motionless turbines that doesn't generate claimed energy, which I've also witnessed standing still. What hypocrites these anti natural resource people are! They use all kinds of what they call "fossil fuel" to manufacture this turbine con, causing more damage to nature with these ugly wind farms killing the flying species of nature, than respecting her nature and resources available.

          • questioner says:

            First, aren't wind and solar are natural resources?
            Also, doesn't everyone call fuels made from fossils "fossil fuel"?
            And, fossil fuels are used to manufacture and transport everything at the moment, but shouldn't the aim be to use less and less as the years go by, and begin to rely more and more on less dangerous and polluting energy sources?

      • @kmoonjax says:

        I'm an electrical engineer also, but I don't work for a power company.

        I've never heard this claim before.

        I've also driven past many large wind farms when the windmills were perfectly still, and have never heard generators running, or seen the clouds of black smoke that would come from them, if they were.

        Lastly, running generators during the considerable time the windmills aren't turning would more than offset any carbon emission reductions caused by using wind power, compared to just burning natural gas.

        • questioner says:

          Looks like they're working on many different alternatives. I guess there are hybrid systems composed of wind-hydrogen, wind-diesel, wind-compressed air, wind-solar, wind-tension springs?? Looks like they're trying to come up with the "least bad" way to turn that blade when the wind's not blowing.

      • KermMil says:

        Sorry but that is absurd. Have you ever seen a windmill being fueled? Seen a fuel line? Windmills are specifically located in places that have almost constant and regular wind. Siting is one of the most important factors taken into consideration during development of a wind farm.

        • questioner says:

          And what about the coasts? Every time I go to the beach in the summer, the huge, beautiful houses are standing against that stiff, steady wind day in and day out without a turbine on the roof? (Just Googled one suited for a cabin for 2k.) If they don't want to offset (or wipe out?) their own electric bills, they can pass on the energy to my house. :)

    6. Hugh Jenney says:

      Wind and solar farms are not viable because of their intermittacy. Follow Germany's lead in making each home and office independent. We have batteries for that use. Read The Third Industrial Revolution by Jeremy Lifkin to get the whole story. hj

    7. Freddie says:

      The people who oppose the use of wind turbines make no alternative proposals as to how to solve climate change/global warming which is being caused by burning fossil fuels. The effect of their criticism is to ignore this huge problem, and concentrate on the supposed weaknesses and problems of wind generation, which pale in comparison.

    8. Freddie says:

      The people who oppose the use of wind turbines make no alternative proposals as to how to solve climate change/global warming which is being caused by burning fossil fuels. Their criticism ignores this huge problem which means their choice is the status quo, which got us into this mess in the first place.

      • Bobbie says:

        Freddie, the problem is the false claim. The activity of people does not make the climate change. Man did not create the earth! Any claim of crisis or fear monger to the populace by saying people change climate activity by following all kinds of mandated behavior according to speculation of people that also had nothing to do in the creation of the earth is a gold mine for those behind this scam above scams. Of course people learn to adapt to the climate as people do. Survival of the fittest. We're in a mess of lies. If we had the land we wouldn't mind our own private wind turbine so we can control our own costs and suffer our own consequences if so, but to rely on government farms of turbines to carry the whole load of energy is impractical, extreme and outrageous and being done for specious reasons only as those in charge refuse to consider the inconsistencies and foreseen crisis!

    9. David Ward says:

      In response to Dr. Kreutzer’s post, there are several points which need to be corrected.

      The United States Department of Energy (DOE) is not advocating, just pointing to our factual information on wind installations. The DOE report is neutral in its stance and facts being reported by an official government source should not be interpreted as anything other than a well-researched report.
      The actual capacity factor of wind is between 30% and 35%, not the 25% that Dr. Kreutzer claims. Wind energy’s capacity factor is higher than that of natural gas (24%) and is comparable to the capacity factor for hydroelectric (38%).

      The growth of American wind energy was an amazing 575% over the 2005-present time period, while natural gas growth is 33%. Wind energy is growing rapidly as costs have come down. As a country, we should be taking all the steps we can to reduce pollution and improve energy security, and wind has proven itself to be an important part of that effort. We don’t want to become overly reliant on any one fuel, particularly one that has shown major price volatility, so wind energy is an important part of having a diverse and secure energy mix.

      Just ask utility system operators in Texas about the reliability of wind. Twice in 2011, Texas faced acute power shortages caused by the unexpected failures of dozens of fossil-fired power plants, while wind energy helped to keep the lights on by producing as expected, earning special accolades from the system operator. Wind energy’s production changes gradually and is predictable, while failures at fossil and nuclear plants occur suddenly and without warning, making wind energy far less costly to integrate.
      The growth in gas generation was facilitated by a number of subsidies, some of which have been in the permanent federal tax code for nearly a century. In contrast, wind energy’s incentives have been short-lived and have lacked the policy certainty of provisions given to fossil fuels and nuclear.

      Let’s be clear on the facts about wind and allow those facts to speak for themselves.

      David Ward, American Wind Energy Association

    10. David Kreutzer, Ph.D. David Kreutzer says:

      @David Ward
      The latest wind capacity factor from the Energy Information Administration is higher than the older one I quoted, but at 28 percent is still less than your 34 percent. However, my point is that capacity is not a measure of production. The low wind capacity factor is driven by the fickleness of wind. Some forms of natural gas power, in particular combustion turbines, have low capacity factors because they are only used to back up less reliable sources (such as wind). A modern, efficient natural-gas-combined-cycle plant can easily be run at a capacity factor of over 80 percent. Wind cannot.

      In any event, actual production is what matters and that is what I’ve compared in the blog.

      You also throw in the red herring of energy security. We have enough conventional fuel in the U.S. to produce all the electricity we need for centuries. We don’t need to import any of it. Wind power does not substitute for petroleum because we generate less than one percent of our electricity with petroleum.

      Finally, if wind is so cheap and reliable and the utilities love it so much, why does wind require both unconscionable subsidies (40 percent or more of the wholesale price) on top of state and regional mandates for it to be viable?

      What gas subsidies are you referring to? The Section 199 deduction for all manufacturers (including manufacturers of windmills)? If so, that deduction is 50 percent more for all other manufacturers than for natural gas. Even then, it is orders of magnitude less per kilowatt-hour than the production tax credit for wind.

      For the EIA data on wind capacity and production, go here: http://www.eia.gov/oiaf/aeo/tablebrowser/#release

      • questioner says:

        Each time you see stats comparing wind energy to fossil fuel energy, don't forget to consider the horrible damage done by fossil fuel energy. Doesn't wind win that part of the debate every time?

    11. roland says:

      I'm not hoping they'll make the wind blow. I'm hoping they'll make the wind STOP blowing. #$)(@#($&* Wind!

    12. roland says:

      More seriously, in addition to the info in Ward's comment, wind projects are currently being built in the Dakotas with the expectation their capacity factors will be in the 40-45% range. (50% capacity factors were achieved at certain several locations in 2011.)

      That said, I'm still not in favor of renewing the tax credits in the form they've existed. I'd like to see some form of incentive, but not nearly so overly generous as the current program. And if it comes down to the existing program or nothing, my choice is nothing.

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