Wind shifts

wind turbines in New Zealand

A happy coincidence this week revealed at once the folly of Britain’s growing reliance on wind turbines and the wisdom of the NZ government’s apparent preference for fossil-fuelled power generation.

First, a new study sheds light on the failure of British wind farms to live up to expectations. Second, a leaked report shows the National-led government apparently plans to go all out for oil, coal and mineral wealth, not wind farms. Hurrah.

In James Delingpole’s article “Official: wind farms are totally useless“, we learn the facts of two years of British wind generation. James explains that there are five oft-repeated claims by wind operators and Government representatives that:

“Wind turbines will generate on average 30% of their rated capacity over a year.”
“The wind is always blowing somewhere.”
“Periods of widespread low wind are infrequent.”
“The probability of very low wind output coinciding with peak electricity demand is slight.”
“Pumped storage hydro can fill the generation gap during prolonged low wind periods.”

But statistics from two years of operation, analysed by Stuart Young using publicly available data, reveal alarming discrepancies between these slick promises and the actual performance of the British wind farms:

Average output from wind was 27.18% of metered capacity in 2009, 21.14% in 2010, and 24.08% between November 2008 and December 2010 inclusive.
There were 124 separate occasions from November 2008 till December 2010 when total generation from the windfarms metered by the National Grid was less than 20MW (average capacity over the period was in excess of 1600MW).
The average frequency and duration of a low wind event of 20MW or less between November 2008 and December 2010 was once every 6.38 days for a period of 4.93 hours.
At each of the four highest peak demands of 2010 wind output was low, being respectively 4.72%, 5.51%, 2.59% and 2.51% of capacity at peak demand.
The entire pumped storage hydro capacity in the UK can provide up to 2788MW for only 5 hours then it drops to 1060MW, and finally runs out of water after 22 hours.

The report concludes with an examination of the “volatility” of wind generation.

6. The volatility of wind was underlined in the closing days of March 2011 as this Report was being finalised.

  • At 3.00am on Monday 28th March, the entire output from 3226MW capacity was 9MW.
  • At 11.40am on Thursday 31st March, wind output was 2618MW, the highest recorded to date.
  • The average output from wind in March 2011 was 22.04%.
  • Output from wind in March 2011 was 10% of capacity or less for 30.78% of the time.

Bombshell in the end

This is enlightening, but the report’s final paragraph contains a bombshell. It states plainly that, through sleight of hand and an intention to mislead, Britons have had the wool pulled over their eyes about the benefits of wind power. It says:

The nature of wind output has been obscured by reliance on “average output” figures. Analysis of hard data from National Grid shows that wind behaves in a quite different manner from that suggested by study of average output derived from the Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs) record, or from wind speed records which in themselves are averaged. It is clear from this analysis that wind cannot be relied upon to provide any significant level of generation at any defined time in the future.

Wow! That about does it for Britain’s energy security. But now for the sting in the tail:

There is an urgent need to re-evaluate the implications of reliance on wind for any significant proportion of our energy requirement.

So! The blinkers are off. If you plan to supply a known amount of electrical power to a community, you cannot depend on wind generation to provide it — ever. People who continue to do so are being deliberately blind to the reality of wind farms.

Expressing an “urgent need” to re-examine the effect on Britain’s energy security of a reliance on wind generation reflects the stomach-churning realisation that a miscalculation has been made on a vital national resource.

We cannot plan the wind

The impossibility of capacity planning for wind generation is its most serious limitation, but it’s not surprising that so many turbines have been installed around the world in the face of that limitation, because their construction was made possible by government incentives and subsidies. Subsidies which are now being removed as electorates rebel against huge costs which contribute nothing to energy security.

Few who paid for giant, real-life turbines truly believe in dangerous man-made global warming; they invested in wind power to make a dollar, and only the subsidies made that possible.

Anyway, I repeat what I’ve said for some time: the only sensible purpose for wind power is to dig a large hole you don’t need yet. There is a lot of power in the wind, but the fact that you cannot plan on having the electricity at a particular time is lethal to the whole purpose of generating the stuff.

But if it doesn’t matter that the digging suddenly stops for several hours, then a windmill is for you! If you don’t care when it happens and you just want to come back after six months (or a year and a half, but you’re not particular) to find your hole finally finished, then choose wind! You’ll be happy.

Even an unimportant community

But if you want to supply a community with power for their every need — even an unimportant community containing uninteresting people far from the centres of commerce or influence — then don’t rely on wind turbines alone, or people will die.

There is no reason to expect that New Zealand’s experience with wind turbines will be vastly different from Britain’s. We just heard the NZ government’s thinking on generation strategies and, oddly enough, the British report gives them a powerful endorsement. With wind looking more and more insecure, it makes solid sense to select options that will keep the water pumps and household heaters running.

Already labelled by the blinkered Green Party as “19th Century”, and demonstrating “how backwards-looking this Government is on energy”, the paper Developing Our Energy Potential was released unofficially before consideration by the Cabinet. It carries no authority, except to show current thinking in the corridors of power — which is all the authority it needs to make interesting reading.

Kill off their ancestors

I salute the good sense in opting for dependable sources of power to keep the nation running. The unlikely climate crisis that awaits our descendants in 50 years or more hardly matters if we kill off their ancestors before they have time to breed.

And that’s what will happen if we dump all our energy eggs into the fragile, feel-good wind basket. Babies, the sick and the elderly will not survive the winters without reliable heating. Hospitals cannot compromise on a secure supply. Even radio stations, as we saw in the Christchurch quake, provide a vital community service that simply must not fail.

On those clear, frigid winter days when no wind disturbs either the ice-laden trees or the seized-up wind turbines, wind farms will be seen as the expensive folly that they truly are. Then, the sight and sound of the great emergency diesel generator thumping reliably into life, coughing a cloud of black smoke as it replaces the failed contribution from the wind turbines, will be greeted in every community with shouts of joy.

Who would not join them?

8 Thoughts on “Wind shifts

  1. On the subject of Delingpole, I see he has won his case with the Press Complaints Council, over his remarks on UEA

    http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/jamesdelingpole/100083071/uea-the-sweet-smell-of-napalm-in-the-morning/

  2. great, brought a smile to my face. I liked this:

    “The Commission was satisfied that readers would be aware of the context of the columnist’s robust views – clearly recognisable as his subjective opinion – that the scientists were “untrustworthy, unreliable and entirely unfit to write the kind of reports on which governments around the world make their economic and environmental decisions”, and that their work was “shoddy” and “mendacious”. In the circumstances, it did not consider that there had been a breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code.”

  3. Alexander K on April 10, 2011 at 12:25 am said:

    The article above is generally good news for New Zealand’s energy security and it is very reassuring that the quality of common sense has not totally disappeared from the political class.
    As a (temporary) resident in the UK, I have watched the Labour then the Coalition governments attempt to egg each other on over adopting so-called ‘renewable energy options’, particularly wind energy, both behaving like small boys daring each other to do something both daft and dangerous. Cameron’s statement that ‘This going to be the greenest government ever’ proves that the man is totally away with the fairies when it comes to anything to do with science or reality.
    The mad part of the UK business is that the country sits on top of enormous good-quality coal reserves which, under current energy policies, will largely remain untouched while bigger and bigger wind farms are installed. The cost to a nation coping with straightened circumstances due to the recent financial problems is beyond reason – the only winner is the Royal Estate, which owns the seabeds and charges a healthy ground rent for the offshore monstrsities. Small wonder the eco-loon Prince Chuckles is keen on them, as they are bringing in millions for the family business! The big losers are the poor and elderly; the UK already has the worst figures in the EU for deaths of the elderly due to cold and this is not about to improve as fuel poverty deepens. Many of the rural poor and elderly rely completely on fuel oil for heating and that has risen to almost double in price over the last few months, making oil tanks a target for the large-scale organised crime which flourishes there; as an indicator of this, thefts of Land Rovers Defenders (which can be completely stripped with hand tools and a simple engine hoist in an afternoon) large tractors, quad bikes and other farm equipment has reached epidemic proportions. The old crime of stock rustling is also huge too, with entire herds vanishing into the night!
    But all is not lost here; there is a growing belief in some reasonably astute circles that the country’s rulers are quietly softening up the general public for a massive programme of building new-generation nuclear-powered electricity generators. Just in the last few days there has been a massive outpouring of support for nuclear powered generation from the very groups and prominent individuals that opposed nuclear in any shape or form so vehemently and for so long. The events at Fukushima are currently being exploited as a demonstration of how safe nuclear has proven to be in the face of epic disaster, which is an incredible change in attitude.

    It’s brilliant news that Dellingpole has been cleared of the silly charges that the UEA brought against him. This will rebound back at them in spades, in my view.

  4. Interesting comments, Alexander; as usual, you’re a pleasure to read. I didn’t know the “Royal Estate” could charge rent for the seabed. It’s certainly true that Fukushima has demonstrated a terrific robustness to relatively old designs but surprisingly we haven’t heard anything of that from the mainstream media. Yes, good news about Delingpole. The UEA should have their noses rubbed in those misdeeds. We must keep pushing the ‘forgotten’ climate science controversies, for the science of “global warming” is the reason we have an ETS and we’re talking about replacing coal and oil. If science actually denies a climate problem, it negates any reason for an ETS. As Jo Nova said recently: “This is why I insist: Yes, this IS about the science… While people think a carbon tax is bad, but believe that “carbon is pollution”, we have won a battle but lost the war.”

  5. Australis on April 10, 2011 at 1:48 pm said:

    Alexander, what is the source of the cross-party political drive in UK to lead the world in climate fanaticism?

    There is an enlightening debate at http://standpointmag.co.uk/node/134 between Oliver Letwin, policy chief of the Conservative Party, and Nigel Lawson. Both have first class economics degrees from Oxbridge, and energy backgrounds. Neither relies much on “the science” and the dispute is all about energy security and competitiveness.

    One can understand that UK feels vulnerable with North Sea sources running down, and being at the far end of pipelines from Russia.

    Are the days of coalminers’ strikes too hardwired into British political psyches to consider using the resource which drove the industrial revolution and made Britain a superpower?

    If so, perhaps all the greenspin IS merely a softening-up process to make nuclear acceptable. Or is that too machiavellian?

  6. Peter Fraser on April 10, 2011 at 4:43 pm said:

    Good article and interesting comments. One correction New Zealand does not lie in the trade wind belt which generally can be expected from 30 degrees north to 30 degrees south, NE in the northern hemisphere and SE in the southern. These tradewinds are separated by the doldrums from westerly winds at higher latitudes. New Zealand predominantly lies in the roaring forties. The tradewinds with their reliability and speed seldom above thirty knots would perhaps be a more efficient locale for wind turbines. Unfortunately that is not where the main power demands are.

    Thanks, Peter. Interesting information. The trade winds were confused with the roaring forties in a lightly-informed mind! I’ve altered the comment. – Richard

  7. Alexander K on April 12, 2011 at 4:42 am said:

    Thanks for the compliments, Richard – always nice to know that my scribblings are appreciated!

  8. The windfarms are unpleasant to see as they despoil landscapes and seascapes, and they eat up taxpayers’ money in subsidies. And it feels worse on those relatively few occasions when they are rotating, since then I know they are making almost all of us still poorer thanks to the generous feed-in tariffs they generate for their owners – payments well above what other sources of electricity can earn in the marketplace. The more the wind blows, the poorer we get as this surcharge is paid by putting surcharges into consumer electricity bills.

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