The Danish Experience - Problems With Wind Power And The Truth About Turbines
by Ian R Thorpe
3 December 2011
The great USP of wind power was that it appeared to promise a clean, sustainable and free source of electricity that would reduce dependence on imported fossil fuels and the output of pollutants and greenhouse gases gases. Many governments have therefore tailored their energy and environment policies to promote the construction of vast wind "farms," by offering generous subsidies and easing of construction regulations for the building of these installations and further subsidies in the form of premiums on the price of this so called "clean" power as it is fed into the distribution grid.This had the effect of encouraging private operators to pile in and "fill their boots" with taxpayers money because the subsidies were paid not on the actual electricity generated but on the notional capacity of each installation based on optimum output for 75% of the time. Along with regulatory support, requiring utility companies to buy green electricity, and setting up markets for the trade of "green credits" in addition to actual energy western governments granted anyone who could find a bit of land to put a windmill on a licence to print money. In Britain this resulted in a 10% "stealth tax" being levied via fuel bills for which taxpayers actually got a small amount of grossly overpriced electricity. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) aims to see 5% of electricity produced by wind turbine in 2010 no mater what the cost. Energy companies are eagerly investing in wind power, finding the arrangement very attractive.
Spend a bit of time researching the performance of wind power however and you soon find the technology does not measure up to claims made by its advocates, that its impact on the environment and people's lives is far from benign, and that with such a poor record and little to suggest that the pipe dream of its fans, that technological progress will soon bring us a wind turbine the size of a pack of cigarettes that will be capable of generating gigawatts of electricity is anything but a fantasy, the money spent on covering the most beautiful and ecologically sensitive landscapes with giant turbines (each of which must stand on a huge raft of concrete) could be invested much more effectively in order to achieve the greatest good of the greatest number.
In 1998, the government of Norway commissioned a study of wind power in Denmark and concluded that it has "serious environmental effects, insufficient production, and high production costs." The Norwegians decided to give wind power a swerve and meet their nation's electricity needs by other means. Luckily Norway's is a nation with a small population, high mountains and fast flowing rivers.
On the other hand Norway's Scandinavian neighbour, Denmark (population 5.3 million), a flat, low lying land, committed itself to green power and installed over 6,000 turbines that produced electricity equal to 19% of what the country used in 2002. Climate scientists, weirdie beardies, tree huggers and save-the-two-toed-toad activists proclaimed the dawn of a new era of clean green power and the rapid death of the coal and oil industries. As of now no conventional power plant in Denmark has been shut down. Because of the intermittence and variability of the wind, conventional power plants must be kept running at full capacity to meet the actual demand for electricity. Coal, oil, nuclear (especially nuclear) and even gas cannot simply be started up by turning a key and pushing a button, they cannot be switched on and off as the wind speed varies. Ironically, if we were to build power plants that could be brought up to working conditions in a matter of hours it would increase their output of pollution and carbon dioxide (the primary "greenhouse" gas according to warmageddonists). Just as a car engine pollutes much more when it is cold or when the driver accelerates hard, so it is with a power station. Thus when the wind is blowing just right (more on that later) for wind turbines, conventional power plants must be kept running and using costly fuel.
David J. White's article, "Danish Wind: Too Good To Be True?," (July 2004 The Utilities Journal PDF) found that if we take the output of conventional power stations which have to run as the primary source of electricity, 84% of western Denmark's wind-generated electricity was exported (at a revenue loss) in 2003, i.e., Denmark's glut of wind towers provided only 3.3% of the nation's electricity. In other words the Warmageddonist lobby can only make a case for wind power being cost effective if they pretend that when the wind is blowing strongly enough for the windmills to generate, conventional sources simply disappear into another dimension.
According to The Wall Street Journal's European edition, the Copenhagen newspaper Politiken reported that wind actually met only 1.7% of Denmark's total demand in 1999. (Besides the amount exported, this low figure may also reflect the actual net contribution. The large amount of electricity used by the turbines themselves is typically not accounted for in the usually cited output figures. (Click here for information about electricity use in wind turbines.) In Weekendavisen (Nov. 4, 2005), Frede Vestergaard reported that Denmark as a whole exported 70.3% of its wind production in 2004.
Denmark is so dependent on wind power that when the wind is not blowing right (75% of the time according to independent engineers) they must import electricity. In 2000 they imported more electricity than they exported. And added to the Danish electric bill are the subsidies that support the private companies building the wind towersand the premiums paid to operators of ind farms. Danish electricity costs to domestic consumers are the highest in Europe. [Click here for a detailed and well referenced analysis.]
Now being British I find information relating to the UK and its partners in the European Union much more readily accessible but about half my readers are in the USA and Canada so what does all this mean to them?
The head of Xcel Energy in the U.S., Wayne Brunetti, is on record as having said, "We're a big supporter of wind power, but at the time when customers have the greatest needs, it's typically not available." Throughout Europe, wind turbines produced on average less than 20% of their theoretical (or rated) capacity (which is cited as typical rather than theoretical output by Warmageddonists - another fraud). Both the British and the American Wind Energy Associations (BWEA and AWEA) are urging governments to plan for wind power supplying 30% of the theoretical capacity. The actual figure in Denmark was 16.8% in 2002 and 19% in 2003 (in February 2003, the output of the more than 6,000 turbines in Denmark was 0!). On-shore turbines in the U.K. produced at 24.1% of their capacity in 2003. The average in Germany for 1998-2003 was 14.7%. In the U.S., usable output (representing wind power's contribution to consumption, according to the Energy Information Agency) in 2002 was 12.7% of capacity (using the average between the AWEA's figures for installed capacity at the end of 2001 and 2002). In California, the average is 20%. The Searsburg plant in Vermont averages 21%, declining every year. This percentage is called the load factor or capacity factor. The rated generating capacity only occurs during 100% ideal conditions, typically a sustained wind speed over 30 mph. As the wind slows, electricity output falls off exponentially. [Click here for more about the technicalities of wind as a power source, as well as energy consumption data. Click here for conversions between and explanations of energy units.] Also if windspeed is uneven (as it usually is being driven by natural forces) wind turbines to not perform well.
It is worth noting that in high winds, ironically, the turbines must be stopped because they are easily damaged. Build-up of dead insects on the vanes has been shown to halve the maximum power generated by a wind turbine, reducing the average power generated by 25% and more. Build-up of salt on off-shore turbine blades similarly has been shown to reduce the power generated by 20%-30%. And when turbines get cold, in the kind of weather that leads to highest demand, wind turbines have to heated (using a hefty chunk of the electricity they produce) to keep them at operating temperature.
Eon Netz a distribution company that manages the grid for the German provinces of Schleswig Holstein and Lower Saxony, have published a technical report on the problems of connecting large numbers of wind turbines to the grid (also available in PDF) : Electricity generation from wind fluctuates greatly, requiring additional reserves of "conventional" capacity to compensate; high-demand periods of cold and heat correspond to periods of low wind; only limited forecasting is possible for wind power; wind power needs a corresponding expansion of the high-voltage and extra-high-voltage grid infrastructure; and expansion of wind power makes the grid more unstable. Follow this link for a good explanation of why wind-generated power can not usefully contribute to the grid and only causes greater problems, including the need use more "conventional" fuel in order to keep a reliable backup online.
Here is a short extract from the report that states briefly the nature of the problems:
For technical reasons, the intensive use of wind power in Germany is associated with significant operational challenges:
Only limited wind power is available. In order to cover electricity demands, traditional power station capacities must be maintained as so-called "shadow power stations" at a total level of more than 80% of the installed wind energy capacity, so that the electricity consumption is also covered during economically difficult periods.
Only limited forecasting is possible for wind power infeed. If the wind power forecast differs from the actual infeed, the transmission system operator must cover the difference by utilising reserve capacity. This requires reserve capacities amounting to 50-60% of the installed wind power capacity.
Wind power requires a corresponding grid infrastructure. The windy coastal regions of Schleswig-Holstein and Lower Saxony are precisely the places where the grids have now reached their capacity limits through wind power. At present, just under 300 km of new high-voltage and extra-high voltage lines are being planned there in order to create the transmission capacities required for transporting the wind power.
Despite being cited as the benchmark of what can be accomplished with wind power, the Danish government cancelled plans for three offshore wind farms planned for construction in 2008 and has scheduled the withdrawal of subsidies from existing sites. The building of new onshore wind plants in Denmark has effectively stopped. Because Danish companies dominate the wind industry, however, the government is under pressure to continue their support. Spain likewise, having committed heavily to sustainable (solar and wind power) has also been pulling back from sustainables for several years. These things are not widely reported in mainstream media, in fact the BBC, responsible or television and radio news in the UK is still pushing the line in it's news bulletins that wind and solar are trouble free, zero cost energy sources and the only way forward, the line still backed by the government.
Germany reduced the tax breaks to wind power, and drastically cut back on construction of wind farms in 2004. Switzerland also is cutting subsidies because they are too expensive for the lack of significant benefit. The Netherlands decommissioned 90 turbines in 2004 and has now become the first developed nation to end subsidies for wind power. Many Japanese utilities companies severely limit the amount of wind-generated power they buy, because of the instability the supply causes cause. For the same reason, Ireland in December 2003 halted all new wind-power connections to the national grid. In early 2005, they were considering ending state support. In 2005, Spanish utilities began refusing new wind power connections. In 2006, the Spanish government ended -- by emergency decree -- its subsidies and price supports for big wind. In 2004, Australia reduced the level of renewable energy that utilities are required to buy, dramatically slowing wind-project applications. On August 31, 2004, Bloomberg News reported that "the unstable flow of wind power in their networks" has forced German utilities to buy more expensive energy, requiring them to raise prices for the consumer.
A German Energy Agency study released in February 2005 after some delay due to political wrangling stated that to increase the amount of wind power would increase consumer costs 3.7 times more than otherwise and that the theoretical reduction of greenhouse gas emissions could be achieved much more cheaply by simply installing filters on existing fossil-fuel plants. A similar conclusion was made by the Irish grid manager in a study released in February 2004: "The cost of CO2 abatement arising from using large levels of wind energy penetration appears high relative to other alternatives."
Here you have read a brief analysis of just some of the technical problems and shortcomings associated with wind power. Little about these has ever been written in mainstream media and governments have habitually obfuscated when specific requests for information have been made by independent engineers. It should be remembered that professional engineers, like good lawyers and senior consultants in any business never publicly ask a question to which they do not already know the answer. Apart from mainstream media commentators and politicians whom nobody trusts anyway, the academic lobby are deeply involved in this push to foist wind power on us. Observe the way witch hunts are conducted against scientists and engineers who do question the bland assurances that wind power is reliable. Below is a list of links to other articles in this and associated domains that demolish the case for wind and solar power and highlight the involvement of vested interests in the whole climate change scam and how global corporations with the collusion of government plan to pick the pockets of taxpayers.
Watch out for more posts in this series, by the time I have finished you will wonder why we ever bothered with wind and solar power as they are both complete non starters when we look for alternative energy sources. And kep following because I will be looking at some realistic ways of supplying our energy needs as fossil fuel resources are depleted.
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