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THE UNRELIABILITY FACTOR IN WIND POWER

Updated on August 11, 2010

The Whimsical Side of Wind Power

During an appearance in Hyannis, Massachusetts on August 4 of this year Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick said that we need the Cape Wind project to make our power supply "reliable." The Governor has two Harvard degrees.

What happens to our electric supply when the wind does not blow or blows too hard? Ask Denmark. The small Scandinavian nation of Denmark has become something of a symbol for wind power. There are two reasons for this. First, Denmark generates an amount of electricity equal to 20% of its national load using wind. And, second, the country is home to Vestas, the world's largest wind turbine manufacturer and also to Siemens' World Wide Wind headquarters as well a cluster of smaller wind equipment manufacurers.

Denmark also has one of the worst records for toxic emissions from its smokestacks of the entire industrialized world. It hosts numerous old coal-fired plants that belch CO2 and other toxins into the air, affecting not only Denmark but also other Scandinavian and European countries. One would expect that this little country with a population of five and a half million people would be on the road to energy independence and clean air due to its 20% power generation by wind. Certainly that is the image of Denmark stressed to Amercians when wind power developers are spinning their webs of energy deception. How often we see the truth of renewable energy as completely different from the promise. Denmark virtually invented utility-scale wind power generation and in fact the graceful three blade turbines we always see in idyllic scenes of wind power at work are called Danish model turbines, but Denmark actually uses about one third of its wind generated power domestically. 20% of its total load is generated by wind but only 6% of the energy it consumes is generated by wind. The remaining 16%+ is dumped at bargain prices to neighboring Sweden and Norway. Why this is so should stand as a cautionary tale to those who claim that offshore wind is renewable energy wave of the future.

Here are some facts from Denmark, just enough, we hope, to make a point. In 2008 Denmark consumed 36.4 billion killowatts of electricity, exported 11.6 billion kilowatts and imported 12.8 billion kilowatts. It currently pays over 39 cents per kilowatt (combined rate charges and tariffs) making its electricity among the most expensive in the industrialized world and in spite of being the poster boy for wind power globally it has not closed one of its coal-fired plants. The famous Danish wind farms, on shore and offshore, have not reduced Denmarks air pollution. How is that for reliable?

Worse still Denmark uses less of its domestically generated wind power than it exports. And because it is forced to dump it excess wind power to neighboring countries Denmark bestows on its citizens the privilege of subsidizing electricity used in Sweden and Norway. This is because wind, being intermittent (unreliable) seems to blow at the right speed to power the turbines at times when there is not enough demand to use all the power. This frequently happens at night, for example, when lights and appliances are not in use. Darkness is reliable.

Wind power is not base load power. When utility company's project their power needs for a given future period such as a full year they refer to the power they will need to satisfy anticipated demand as base load power. Wind, because it is by definition intermittent, unreliable, can never be included in base load calculations. This means that when wind is available it may have to be dumped at bargain prices or it will bump another form of generation from the power sold to utility companies. This, of course, means a price increase for the retail electric customer. Wind is also not dispatchable. When demand for electricty increases the grid calls for more power and conventional plants increase generation. Wind cannot do this on demand, cannot dispatch power to the grid when demand calls for more power, unless wind conditions are just right. So, when the Governor of Massachusetts said that we need Cape Wind to make our power supply reliable, what was he talking about?

While Cape Wind's CEO, Jim Gordon tells us that his wind farm will operate at 37% of capacity he is fighting facts. No one in the world operates an offshore wind farm at even 30%, no one. Worse still is the fact that too little wind or too much will either not get the turbines spinning or will cause them to shut down. The best, steadiest and most reliable winds on Nantucket Sound where Cape Wind is supposed to be built occur at night. Remember Denmark? Also, there are predictable times of year, every year, when there is often no wind or wind at speeds far below what Cape Wind will need to operate but when demand for power is at annual peaks; the dog days of mid summer and the depths of winter at its coldest.

Every kilowatt of wind generated power will require back-up generation. This means continued devlopment of fossil fuel plants, perhaps cleaner light distillate (oil) will fuel them, but we will need to build them.

How can anyone tell a crowd of people that wind power will make our power supply reliable? How can intermittent electricity be worth more than twice the price of conventional power? How can the governor of Massachusetts say such laughable things? Why does the Boston Globe refuse to publish the facts about Danish wind power, or for that matter Cape Wind?

COPYRIGHT 2010 By PETER A. KENNEY

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    • profile image

      PAK 

      6 years ago

      Very accurate analysis. My gripe is that the intermittent nature of wind is being minimized all too often by its proponents. Tell me Cape Wind will be more reliable than European offshore projects with their 18% -22% capacity - that's fine - but don't tell me that it will reach a sustained 38% capacity. That is hard to believe and achieved no where else on earth.

    • profile image

      jake 

      6 years ago

      wind is intermittent...that does not mean unreliable.

      denmark has problems because of they have not properly developed their infrastructure to cope with that much of their energy coming from wind, not because wind power is unreliable.

      if you read some other articles youl find that there are many ways to combat the low periods.

      wind power is NOT the sole energy source, therefore using it in conjunction with other renewable energy sources is the way forward.

    • P. A. Kenney profile imageAUTHOR

      P. A. Kenney 

      8 years ago from Cape cod, Massachusetts

      Thank you for the kind words, Brenda. The facts are what they are. Cape Wind is a scam...a very large scam.

      Thanks again,

      PAK

    • profile image

      Brenda Durham 

      8 years ago

      ........

      Now this is an interesting hub!

      All the "green" advocates should read this and weep....or use their oh-so-Harvard heads to come up with one of them thar new ideas to make wind energy viable before they "change" America's energy sources. Oh wait, it took them....how many months?....to cap an oil leak.

      I'm rating this hub UP. Thanks for the info P.A.

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