Reposting: Solution of the Month – Wind

July 1, 2014

This month’s new Yale Climate Connections video is getting a good response, indicating a longing for more news on climate solutions.
Several years ago I produced this piece on wind energy, something I’ll be revisiting in some detail in future videos.

9 Responses to “Reposting: Solution of the Month – Wind”

  1. In your video, the chart at 2:37:

    Fossil fuel plants downtime: 44 days per year
    Nuclear plants downtime: 36 days per year, refuel every 17 months–39 days
    Wind (“failure rate”): 1 to 2% per year

    Wow, what a deliberate distortion – comparing oranges and apples to make wind look good. Wind average downtime is something like 75% (varying wildly by location, weather, time of year, and so on). Averaging that out over a year, works out to around downtime of 273 days per year.

    • When you consider the output across an array of wind turbines, there is almost never any down time. When spread out across an area, the average output is very consistent and predictable.

    • Who is distorting now? CF does not mean there is no output. Downtime is a technical term. So is CF. Wind and nuclear are apples and oranges. CF and downtime are two ways to assess nuclear and wind. But if we really want to illuminate and destroy myths, try this:
      “In their least cost 100% renewable system, the majority of “back up” power comes from conventional hydro and biogas, and only a modest amount from the stored energy in reverse pumped hydro. 99.9%+ Power Availability is achieved with dispatchable capacity that is roughly 60% of peak power demand. When they assume the higher cost of renewable power sources, which would include the higher cost estimate for power storage, it emerges that it is more cost effective to over-supply wind power to increase the wind power during “slower” periods, even at the cost spilling 12% of that power.”

  2. Decided to go look up the figures. If Wikipedia can be considered reliable, then:

    Typical capacity factors[edit]
    According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), in 2009 the capacity factors were as follows:

    Natural Gas Plant–42.5%
    Other renewables (Wind/Solar/Biomass)–33.9%
    However they do tend to vary.
    Wind farms 20-40%.
    Photovoltaic solar in Massachusetts 13-15%.
    Photovoltaic solar in Arizona 19%.
    CSP solar in California 33%.
    CSP solar with storage and Natural Gas backup in Spain 63%.
    Hydroelectricity, worldwide average 44%, range of 10% – 99% depending on design (small plant in big river will always have enough water to operate and vice versa), water availability (with or without regulation via storage dam, where a storage dam is designed to store at least enough water to operate the plant at full capacity for around half a year to allow full regulation of the annual flow of the river).
    Nuclear power 70% (1971–2009 average of USA’s plants).
    Nuclear power 88.7% (2006 – 2012 average of US’s plants).

    • Wikipedia from 2009 is outdated.
      Wind Turbine Net Capacity Factor — 50% the New Normal?
      Clean energy haters love to talk about capacity factor because it’s clearly a metric wind, solar, and hydro don’t win at (though, geothermal and biopower actually do very well). However, capacity factor by itself is really not that important. What’s important is the total cost of producing electricity. In the energy field, levelized cost of energy (LCOE) is one of the most important metrics. This is “an estimate of total electricity cost including payback of initial investment and operating costs,” as NREL writes.

      Capacity factor plays a role in LCOE, of course, but so does free fuel (i.e. wind and sunshine). (In a perfect market, LCOE should also include the cost of pollution, which is not the case at all in the US today.)

      Even without the cost of pollution figured in, if you look at NREL’s LCOE tab, onshore wind energy has a median of $0.05/kWh. The only energy source that beats that is hydropower ($0.03).

      So lets compare costs, LCOE.

      Citgroup concluded that it is the age of renewables. Morningstar says new nuclear is dead.

      Wind $0.05/kwhr and falling.
      Nuclear $0.11/kwhr and rising.

      And yes, all factors are included including reserves and all the rest. Citigroup is a group of financial professionals that know how to compute finances.

    • This is a great video, but it begs the question:

      Why did Holland ever turn away from using the wind to grind grain, saw wood, make wood pulp, and everything else?


      Would a return to 17th-century energy sources even be possible at this stage?

  3. Gingerbaker Says:

    Elon Musk et al are using propaganda terms here to sell their corporate enterprise – having homeowners lease their solar panels from Elon Musk. They are using terms like “empowerment’ “monopoly” “distributed power” as being terms that are either fully positive or negative.

    The question is not whether renewables are preferable to fossil fuels. Renewables must replace fossil fuels, and as quickly as possible.

    The question is what is the smartest, most cost-effective, and egalitarian way to get to 100% renewable energy use.

    And I guarantee you that a homeowner leasing solar panels is the least smart, least cost-effective, and least egalitarian way to go forward. And it will not come close to generating all the power we will need.

    Everyone on that video had nothing but bad things to say about energy “monopolies”. But there is nothing at all inherently wrong with a public utility that is a monopoly. I live in Burlington, VT and have been getting my electricity for many decades from our municipal electric department. Ever since it started, it has produced the most reliable and least expensive electricity in the state. It is a monopoly. I love it.

    There are two limiting factors at play when we talk about our global warming future and how we transition to 100% renewables. There is limited money. And there is limited time. We need to minimize the amount of money we spend on a new energy system, and we need to build it quickly.

    If you think that unorganized corporate profit-making solutions at a snail’s pace (Elon Musk projects that solar will only be a “plurality” contributor on a twenty-year time scale) are they way forward in regard to those two factors, Lucy, you got some ‘splainin’ to do.

    No matter how you slice it, we need HUGE amounts of large-scale power plants – wind farms, solar farms, tidal farms in addition to any “distributed” “empowering” “anti monopoly” rooftop solar. And nobody is talking about that.

    • Renewables must replace fossil fuels, and as quickly as possible.

      That’s not quite true.  Greenhouse emissions must be eliminated as fast as possible.  Other resources which are not as scarce as atmospheric dumping capacity for GHGs need not be handled with equal urgency.  That’s good, because it lets us concentrate on the most critical part first.

      However, you beg the question of “what is renewable”.  Anything that needs steel or concrete can be argued to be non-renewable, and that would include practically all current systems for use of solar and wind.  There’s also no question that oceanic uranium is renewable so long as consumption is less than about 32,000 tons per year.

      As a resident of Vermont, one plant generates the bulk of the power used in (if not necessarily billed to) your state, and it does it with negligible GHG emissions.  That plant is the Vermont Yankee boiling-water reactor.  After decades of political discrimination against it, its owner decided to shut it down this fall.  This loss of carbon-free generation is a tragedy for the environment; some warn that even the too-lax Obama carbon cuts cannot be met if existing nuclear plants are shut down prematurely.

      Maybe someday we’ll find a way to turn dirt into energy storage at pennies a kilowatt-hour, and store RE surpluses not just for the night or the week but for future years.  But until that happens, there are exactly 3 ways in widespread use to meet demand when the sun goes down and the wind calms:
      1.  Release water from behind a dam.
      2.  Split heavy atoms.
      3.  Burn something.

      Getting rid of #3 has to be our absolute top priority.  Finding something that works better than #1 so you can replace #2 has to play second fiddle, or we all burn.

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