Wind power - briefing document
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Wind power

 

 

 

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Wind power is a sub-document to Fossil fuel replacements, and part of a series of briefing documents on the problems of power consumption, posed by the steady depletion of fossil fuels and most particularly of pumpable oil.
One of a grouping of documents on global concerns at abelard.org.
on energy on global warming
On housing and making living systems ecological
sustainable futures briefing documents
Tectonics: tectonic plates - floating on the surface of a cauldron
Wind power
Index
Introduction
The return of the windmill
Spain
Denmark
Denmark - one of the most frightening and naive reports I’ve seen
On ganging windmills for baseload
More realistic figures for feed-in household wind generation (UK)
Discussion - for and against wind power

the potential of tethered windmills
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Introduction

Near Artajona, Northern Spain: a  mere row of windmills. Image credit: abelard.org
Near Artajona, Northern Spain: a small row of windmills.

David Pimentel reckons that wind power could be expanded in the United States to produce the equivalent of 230 big power stations, which would take up approximately 8 million hectares. My untutored guess is this may well be a considerable under-estimate, as windmills are developed, enlarged in capacity, and may be mounted ever higher in order to reach more powerful winds, or ganged more than one to a pillar, or built out to sea. Whether such development would affect weather conditions, I do not yet know enough to guess.

 

The return of the windmills

the increasing return of the age of the windmill

“Last year, enough wind energy came online in the United States to power roughly a half million homes. Next year, that number is expected to climb by another 100,000.”

“For the past five years, it's grown by about 30 percent a year worldwide. In Denmark, it now accounts for some 15 percent of all energy use.

The figure quoted for Denmark is an error, one commonly made. The figure should read, “15% of electricity production”, which is about 5% of Denmark’s energy inputs.

marker at abelard.org

the wind in spain

“Spain, one of the windiest countries in Europe, currently gains around 3 percent of its electricity from wind power and is the second largest European producer of this form of energy and the third largest in the world.

“It expects its current installed generation capacity of 4,100 megawatts from wind power to increase to 8,900 megawatts by 2010.”

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the advance and advance of wind power in spain

“[...] momentarily wind power contributed 8,375 mega watts to the nation's power consumption of 31,033.

“Nuclear power, the second largest contributor, added 6,797 mega watts, while coal-fired electric generation came third with 5,081, the statement said.

Over the course of last year wind power contributed nine per cent of the nation's requirement while coal-fired power stations put in 24 per cent and nuclear power 22 per cent.”

Here is more on Spanish wind power and photovoltaics. There is also a short film.

marker at abelard.org

Denmark is the most advanced nation in wind power development and manufacture:

“It is true that Denmark has placed itself in a leading position with regard to the utilisation of wind energy, but until now this has certainly occurred at great cost to nature and with considerable public subsidy" (Jyllands Posten, 2004)

“Despite windy conditions, only 20-24% (LF, ie load factor) of the potential annual output of West Danish wind turbines has actually been achieved over the last five years but this is higher than the 15% calculated for Germany over the same period.” In fact, most of the Danish output is being exported. Therefore, the reality is that Denmark is subsidising electricity that it then exports.

“In contrast, its attempts to assimilate large amounts of wind power into the domestic system have so far proved disappointing, with little reduction in carbon emissions because of the need for backup to protect the integrity of its grid (Sandøe, 2003a). The reality is that despite West Denmark's massive carpet of wind turbines, the region's carbon emissions have recently been rising (Bruun, 2005). Most of its large exports of wind power simply displace 'green' hydro electricity produced in Norway and/or Sweden, helping to replenish reservoirs only in dry periods or when power is cheap. This led a former Chairman of Eltra to ask: ["Is it environmentally friendly to produce electricity with wind turbines if there is no-one who can use it? And is it environmentally friendly to burn natural gas in decentralised heat and power plants while dumping the over-production of Danish wind electricity in Norway, where it possibly leads to water being diverted away from the water turbines?"] (Kongstad, 2001). Processes involved in the manufacture, excavation and/or installation of access roads, massive concrete foundations, turbine components, pylons, and associated equipment also militate against the emission-saving benefits claimed for mega wind power.”

However, wind technology is more flexible than other land-use technologies:

“[...] a farmer in Iowa who gives up a tenth of a hectare (a quarter of an acre) of land to a turbine might earn $10,000 a year from it (about 3% of the value of the electricity it produces). Planted with maize, the same land would yield a mere $300-worth of bioethanol.

“Moreover, wind farms can be built piecemeal, unlike most power stations. A half-finished coal-fired or nuclear power plant is a useless waste of money, but a half-finished wind farm is simply a wind farm half the size originally intended - and one that has been providing revenue since the first turbine was completed.”

A supergrid organised with intelligence should drive up the usable wind element in generation.

marker at abelard.org

Wind power FAQs Three and a half  GoldenYak (tm) award



Denmark - one of the most frightening and naive reports I’ve seen

Why? Because thirty-seven years of determined effort by Denmark is showing so little real advance towards fossil fuel independence.

Denmark is a small wealthy community of 5 ½ million. It has done more than most countries to remove the wasteful and dangerous dependence on filthy fossil fuels. Here is the real-world result:

“Still, the Danes’ accomplishments are startling. Remember that in 1973 Denmark was 99% dependent on foreign oil? Today they produce enough energy to cover all their own needs and sell the extra to other countries, the only European nation to do so. And their energy conservation programs have been so successful that over the last 30 years, even with extensive modernization and a 7% increase in population, their annual energy use has remained basically the same.”

In other words, after more than 30 years of seeking independence, Danish dependence on fossil fuels has not changed!

“In 2007 the Danes set further goals for the country: They hope to be able to provide 75% of all their energy consumption from wind farms by 2025 - less than two decades from now [...]”

In fact, Denmark cannot even use the wind power they are presently generating because it is not sufficiently reliable. The Danes are selling the surplus of their (subsidised) wind power to Sweden at below cost.

Here is a list of Danish actions to get free of filthy fossil fuels:

  • Strict energy-efficiency standards were placed on all buildings.
  • Gas and automobiles were heavily taxed (Today new cars are taxed at more than 105% of the cost of the car.)
  • "District heating systems" were implemented throughout the country, reusing normally wasted heat produced by power plants by piping it directly into homes. Today more than 60% of Danish homes are heated this way.
  • The government invested heavily in clean and renewable energy systems, especially wind power. Today 21% of Denmark’s energy production comes from wind farms. On top of that, they lead the world in wind-power technology - another product to export. The industry has created more than 20,000 jobs.
  • Rebate campaigns helped people buy more energy-efficient - and therefore more expensive - home appliances. Today more than 95% of new appliances bought in Denmark have an "A" efficiency rating. ("A" is the best; "G" is the worst.)
  • They started drilling for - and finding - more oil and natural gas within their own waters in the North Sea. (Showing that no plan is perfect, these efforts have long been opposed by environmentalists.)
  • In 2005 the government committed $1 billion to develop and integrate better solar, tidal, and fuel-cell technology.

No, 20% of Danish energy does not come from wind power. Only 5% comes from wind power. It is 20% of electricity production that comes from wind power in Denmark. As usual, the ‘reporters’ are innumerate and easily fooled.

Despite the hype in the article, in the meanwhile, with its small population Denmark has become a net oil producer.

“Since 1997, Denmark has been self-sufficient as regards energy. It is estimated that production exceeded consumption by approx. 45% in 2000. The Danish Energy Agency estimates that Denmark will be self-sufficient in energy until 2005.” [Quoted from mex.dk]

In other words, Danish energy independence is both short-term and dependent on- their home grown oil industry.

[Link via limbic]

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On ganging windmills for baseload

“As one might expect, not all locations make sense for wind farms. Only locations with strong winds are economically competitive. In their study, Archer and Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford, evaluated 19 sites in the Midwestern United States with annual average wind speeds greater than 6.9 meters per second at a height of 80 meters above ground, the hub height of modern wind turbines. Modern turbines are 80 to 100 meters high, approximately the height of a 30-story building, and their blades are 70 meters long or more.

“The researchers used hourly wind data, collected and quality-controlled by the National Weather Service, for the entire year of 2000 from the 19 sites. They found that an average of 33 percent and a maximum of 47 percent of yearly-averaged wind power from interconnected farms can be used as reliable baseload electric power. These percentages would hold true for any array of 10 or more wind farms, provided it met the minimum wind speed and turbine height criteria used in the study.

“Another benefit of connecting multiple wind farms is reducing the total distance that all the power has to travel from the multiple points of origin to the destination point. Interconnecting multiple wind farms to a common point and then connecting that point to a far-away city reduces the cost of transmission.”

“Another type of cost saving also results when the power combines to flow in a single transmission line. Explains Archer: Suppose a power company wanted to bring power from several independent farms - each with a maximum capacity of, say, 1,500 kilowatts (kW) - from the Midwest to California. Each farm would need a short transmission line of 1,500 kW brought to a common point in the Midwest. Then a larger transmission line would be needed between the common point and California - typically with a total capacity of 1,500 kW multiplied by the number of independent farms connected.

“However, with geographically dispersed farms, it is unlikely that they would simultaneously be experiencing strong enough winds to each produce their 1,500 kW maximum output at the same time. Thus, the capacity of the long-distance transmission line could be reduced significantly with only a small loss in overall delivered power.

“ "Due to the high cost of long-distance transmission, a 20 percent reduction in transmission capacity with little delivered-power loss would notably reduce the cost of wind energy," added Archer, who calculated the decrease in delivered power to be only about 1.6 percent.” [Quoted from stanford.edu]

 

More realistic figures for feed-in household wind generation (UK)

“Home wind turbines are significantly underperforming and in the worst cases generating less than the electricity needed to power a single lightbulb, according to the biggest study of its kind carried out in Britain.

“An interim report revealed that homeowners could be being misled by the official figures for wind speeds because they are consistently overestimating how much wind there is - sometimes finding that real speeds are only one third of those forecast. In the worst case scenario, the figures indicate that it would take more than 15 years to generate enough 'clean' energy to compensate for the manufacture of the turbine in the first place.”

“ Encraft, based in Warwickshire, launched the trial in 2006 and is now monitoring speeds and power generation at five rural, eight suburban and 11 urban sites, including six on blocks of flats. Most trial sites only began working last year, but the results of nearly 64,000 operating hours 'reasonably indicate' their performance, said Rhodes.

“Results from 15 sites show only three generated more than 400 watt-hours of electricity a day; two at 875wh and the single site which reached 1,790wh.

“Windspeed indicators confirmed that the official data used to assess how good a site is for a wind turbine are too high: wind speeds were one third to two thirds of what was forecast, said Rhodes.” [Quoted from guardian.co.uk]

 

Discussion - for and against wind power

This link is to a general but rather disorganised site, which discusses some of the problems with wind power. Despite being negative to wind power, the site remains useful. In contrast to the general negativity of that site, I must declare an interest - I think the windmills are utterly beautiful!

There follow some abstracts from one of the many items at that site, with commentary (in green).

I am surprised this technology is not more oriented to producing transportable fuel, for instance ethanol or methanol. I speculate of a time when these wind farms end as transportable fossil fuel producers, akin to the historic great derrick fields of Texas. It is suggested 20MW wind turbines as high as the Eiffel Tower may be a reality by 2015.

 

“The situation would become much worse [pah!] if/when wind power is exploited to produce hydrogen as fuel. [I regard the idea of a hydrogen-fuelled future as nonsense in the present state of knowledge, much more likely is a liquid fuel] Assuming a very optimistic LF [load factor] of 50% for 3MW wind turbines, a recent study (Oswald and Oswald, 2004) estimated that about 96,000 units would be required to run all British transport vehicles on hydrogen. These would occupy a dedicated area greater than that of Wales or, alternatively, a 10 km strip encircling the entire coastline of the British Isles.”

Bring it on!!

“Windmills do not provide reliable background power. They may contribute in due course, but there are several concerns and problems. The bigger the windmills become, the greater the servicing problems. There are potential weather problems with really large scale projects. It requires building thousands of large windmills to replace just one conventional power station. Doing that takes considerable resources.Ttransporting electricity from distant and dispersed sites is not simple.

“There is even considerable concern that wind patterns are shifting with growing global warming.”

 

Artist's impression of a Magenn air rotor. Image: magenn.com

 

the potential of tethered windmills

Using a different technology, there is the possibility of elctricity generation using large rotating blimps, flown like kites, designed to rotate and so generate electricity. This technology is still under development, expected to be available commercially from 2009.

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© abelard, 2008, 8 january
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