Wind Performance Over Time

March 14, 2013


So there’s a group in the UK called “The Renewable Energy Foundation”, right? You’d be forgiven if you thought that was a group that supported renewable energy, but you’d be wrong. It is, of course, another fake “grass roots” group dedicated to poisoning dialogue and feeding the right wing echo chamber with bad information.  I hear some of their most recent nonsense from otherwise intelligent people, and some of that has made its way into comments here, so it seems reasonable to post a response from Tom Gray of the American Wind Energy Association.

Power of Wind:

There was quite a bit of ballyhoo around the anti-wind network a few weeks ago concerning a study funded by the misnamed Renewable Energy Foundation (a British anti-wind group). The study suggested there was an issue with wind turbine performance over time that would have a negative impact on wind energy’s economics. We cross-posted the European Wind Energy Association’s response, which described the wind turbine life span study as “propaganda,” here. (see below)
Now a new analysis from energy economics and technical expert David Milborrow, a longtime contributor to the publication Windpower Monthly, has found that the output of older wind farms in Denmark, where some of the first wind farms in Europe (both land-based and offshore) were built, has remained strong.  Quoting Mr. Milborrow’s conclusion:
“REF’s report suggests that the capacity factor of Danish onshore wind farms falls off by four percentage points over 15 years, whereas an analysis of the capacity factor of 20-year-old turbines suggests that the degradation only amounts to about 0.7 percentage points over 20 years. REF says performance of offshore wind turbines falls by 30 percentage points over ten years, from 40% to 10% approximately, whereas an analysis of the data from the longest-running Danish offshore wind farms reveals that two of them have increased in performance, and the third has only recorded a 1.5 percentage-point drop in capacity factor, extrapolated to 20 years. It is not clear what accounts for the discrepancy between the analysis laid out above and the REF work.”

Concerning the Renewable Energy Foundation, EWEA’s previous response noted, “The Renewable Energy Foundation claims to be ‘a registered charity promoting sustainable development for the benefit of the public by means of energy conservation and the use of renewable energy’ although [its] website is made up almost exclusively of criticism of wind energy.”

European Wind Energy Association:

The anti-wind energy Renewable Energy Foundation yesterday published an “anonymously peer reviewed”  study by wind energy critic Professor Gordon Hughes (author of ‘The myth of green jobs’ and ‘Why wind energy is so expensive’) claiming that the economic life of wind turbines is 10-15 years rather than the 20-25 years stated by the wind industry.

Given that the author and publisher have a history of attacking wind energy and the fact that they do not say who peer-reviewed the study, perhaps one should not take the study too seriously. But that does not stop it being reported in the British media.

But at least some papers showed some scepticism. The Financial Times reported that the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change rejected Prof Hughes’ findings. “Our expectations of wind turbine lifetimes are based on rigorous analysis and evidence,” the department said. “Britain’s oldest commercial turbines at Delabole in Cornwall have only recently been replaced after 20 years of operation, and the technology has come on in leaps and bounds since that project started generating in 1991.”

The Financial Times also quotes Dale Vince, the founder of Ecotricity, one of the UK’s oldest renewable energy companies, saying the study was “just more anti-wind propaganda”.

“Today’s turbines have been designed and built to last 25 years,” he said. “In fact Ecotricity’s first turbine was built 16 years ago using old technology and is performing better than ever and will still be around for its 25th birthday.”

RenewableUK’s Director of Policy Dr Gordon Edge also rejected the study saying  “it’s absurd to focus purely on the past as this report does, and pretend that that’s the way things are going to be in the future.”

“If what REF is claiming were true, then the industry simply wouldn’t be able to raise money – the fact that investors have remained confident in the wind energy sector demonstrates their confidence in the technology.”

In Scotland The Herald quotes Jenny Hogan, director of policy for Scottish Renewables,  saying “Let’s also remember that Gordon Hughes’s previous research on wind energy has been described by the UK Energy Research Council’s Dr Robert Gross and others at Imperial College, London, as ‘economically irrational, a nonsense scenario’ and ‘economically absurd, spurious and misleading’.”

The Renewable Energy Foundation claims to be “a registered charity promoting sustainable development for the benefit of the public by means of energy conservation and the use of renewable energy” although their website is made up almost exclusively of criticism of wind energy.


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21 Responses to “Wind Performance Over Time”

  1. Jason Says:

    The thing I find interesting with Hughes ~ who authored the dodgy dossier ~ is that he’s a semi fully paid up working academic.

    He knows the philosophicals of why you publish in the proper literature. He knows the standards expected. He even knows the right journals to approach to publish research into the economics of wind turbines.

    So what does he do? He publishes his ‘research’ via Noel Edmonds’ hobby anti-wind lobby group.

    It’s a Direct-to-VHS-Wacky Website release.

  2. daveburton Says:

    Nuclear capacity factors are typically around 90%, but the German nation-wide average wind capacity factor for 2012 was apparently just under 17.5%. I.e., actual generated power was 17.5% of nameplate capacity, despite the fact that a lot of their windmills are pretty new, and electricity prices there are so extraordinarily high there (thanks to the “green” politics) that there’s a strong incentive to keep the turbines well-maintained and running. Where electricity prices are lower, that incentive fades.

    I expect wind to blow, but that really sucks.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      Based on your boneheaded cartoon from a bogus anti science blog, we’ll look for the imminent demise of the German economy,

    • mrsircharles Says:

      Yeah. WUWT sucks. Right.

      French nuclear has a capacity factor of about 70%. They had to buy German electricity during several heatwaves because they had to shut down some overheated reactors. When a nuke shuts down you’re losing gigawatts within a finger snap. Meanwhile wind is only gradually intermittent and can be forecast for many hours in advance.

      • ontspan Says:

        And the Germans help keep the French grid alive during cold spells too, because the power consumption of the poorly isolated French buildings which they heat using a lot of resistance heating rises dramatically for every degree the temperature drops. This increase often cannot be met by the nuclear reactors who make up for 80% of French electricity production.

        When the American nukes came online in the 70s and 80s the average capacity factor of these nukes hovered around 58%. When visiting a nuke on a random day, four out of the ten times you would not be able to see a running reactor. Only through many years of learning to operate those nukes have utilities been able to increase their reliability.

    • SciAm blocks posts containing 4chan and Watts links. If you post Watts you are tattooing “stoopid” to your forehead.

    • MorinMoss Says:

      See the link below for a rebuttal of the oft-touted story about renewables making electricity in Germany expensive.

    • MorinMoss Says:

      Hotter summers are going to have an impact on nuke plants as they need lots of cool water.
      It’ll happen a lot sooner in the US than France due to geography but it’s only a matter of time.

      Newer wind farms have much better capacity and availability factors because of better design, layout and siting.
      It won’t ever get to 90%, which took decades for nukes, but some are already in the high 30s to low 40s.

      • greenman3610 Says:

        - and, with price from wind continuing to drop due to better technology and mass production.
        Hot summer days can be poor for wind in some areas as well. Fortunately, photovoltaic solar just about perfectly fills that gap, and PV is coming on like gangbusters.

  3. skeptictmac57 Says:

    This reminds me of the AVN or Australian (Anti) Vaccination Network,whose ostensible mission is to educate people about vaccines,but was wholly about pushing anti-vaccine propaganda.

  4. [...] So there's a group in the UK called "The Renewable Energy Foundation", right? You'd be forgiven if you thought that was a group that supported renewable energy, but you'd be wrong. It is, of course…  [...]

  5. Wind turbine lifetimes are easily provable. Many wind farms started in the early 90s are still running today, not just most of the turbines, but all of them. They are extraordinarily reliable.

    The whole argument about capacity factor is completely bogus. Which gets the highest electric rates, peaking gas, or night time base load? Daytime electricity is much higher value than night time. So low capacity factor peaking is more valuable. Turns out, so are wind and solar which can follow the load and peak naturally when the load peaks. A lower capacity factor energy source that follows load is worth more, not less, than a high capacity factor source that cannot follow load.

  6. [...] Wind Performance Over Time. Wind haters (aka windbags) makin’ stuff up; wind industry responding. [...]

  7. [...] 2013/03/14: PSinclair: Wind Performance Over Time [...]

  8. MorinMoss Says:

    Peter, thanks for posting this story, which is related to a discussion in the comments of the “Georgia Nuke Boondoggle” story between kap55 and myself.

    It was kap55 who posted the link to that garbage study by Hughes and I’m grateful to ontspan for pointing out that the raw data didn’t support the conclusions and inspired me to take a closer look at the Danish farms output and stats.

    My opinion of the REF group is that they’re Heartland-lite, selling doubt but not nearly as nefarious.
    But they’re still very much a bunch of windbaggers.

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