A bad case of too much wind

Too much wind in a public place can be a bad thing. But if you try to do something about it, be careful of the repercussions. Dave Wilson tells the story.

‘The moment we begin to fear the opinions of others and hesitate to tell the truth that is in us, and from motives of policy are silent when we should speak, the divine floods of light and life no longer flow into our souls.’ – Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Too much wind in public places can be a bad thing. So when the Friends of the Forest saw that their legally elected representatives on the County Council were giving the thumbs up to the development of large Wind Farms across the county, they decided to take the matter into their own hands.

They felt, you see, that all of these new fangled turbines would not only destroy the look and feel of their green and pleasant neck of the woods, but make life miserable for the wildlife population into the bargain. And, seemingly oblivious to the importance of global warming, they weren’t about to just sit around and let these enormous erections happen in their back yard without putting up a fight.

So one night, in the local pub as I recall, they conjured up a rather ingenious plan to make the Elders of the Council sit up and take note of their objections once and for all. And to put a stop to the proliferation of the wind machines for good.

It was such a simple idea that they surprised themselves that they hadn’t thought of it earlier. First off, they formed a limited company whose goals were to develop and manage an extraordinary number of wind farms. Then, masquerading as wind developers, they applied to the Council to develop a 5000MW wind farm on the county’s most beautiful Site of Specific Scientific Interest, which just happened to be on land owned by a high ranking Member of the Royal Family.

As the application popped through the mailbox of the folks at County Hall, so too did copies of it – this time addressed to members of the local and national news media. And, when the editors got the Spoof proposal, they fell for it. Story after story followed about the potential desecration of the land and the environment. Despite the fact that this particularly impious application would never have succeeded anyway due to the planning constraints that the Council had put in place.

But people have no time to analyse the facts. There’s barely enough time to grab a quick soundbite and munch on it quickly anymore. And so it was that the population at large started to believe in the environmental evil that the wind farms would bring to their beautiful hilly hills, craggy crags and pretty peaks. And at every instance, when a proposal for a new wind farm is now made, the members of the Council are inundated with letters of protest.

But I’ve heard that the Wind Farm developers are planning to get their own back. And their plan is meaner, crueller and more devious than the simplistic scheme dreamt up by the Friends of the Forest.

Their plan is simple too, but it will be effective. They plan to do nothing at all. They will abandon any new schemes to construct Wind Power systems in the area. They will simply let nature take its course. And let global warming, and the floodwaters that inevitably follow, drown out the voices of those who objected to their plans.I usually enjoy Engineering grapevine, but I have to say I find this week alittle off target.

A reader replies

While there is no doubt that more “renewable” energy sources are no bad thing, wind power is a financial scam with no benefit to the environment.

As engineers we all ought to be able to do the simple math that will show that 10,000 wind turbines in the UK will not have any measurable effect on global warming.

Currently 1,125 turbines generate 0.45% of our electricity in the UK.(Source BWEA Website). Assuming the UK achieved it’s target of 10% of electricity from renewable sources i.e. wind (say using about 10,000 turbines)

Power stations emit 30% of the UK’s total CO2 emission, so reduction of the UK total CO2 emission would be 3% (nearly 25% of that generation is CO2 free nuclear and would not be displaced by wind). So 2% of the UK’s CO2 would be displaced at best.

The UK is responsible for about 2.6% of world CO2 emission (UK CO2 emission from UK Energy in Brief (DTI 2003) ratioed against world CO2 emission from Encyclopaedia Britannica).

So the reduction of global CO2 emissions by UK wind power would beconsiderably less than 0.1% (1/1000) (currently global CO2 savings from wind power are about 1/10,000 or 0.01%).

There is no possibility that the saving of CO2 emission by UK wind power could measurably alter WORLD atmospheric CO2 concentration, let alone reduce it by 33% or more, which the climate modellers SAY we need to do, to make a difference.

Further it would be easy to check, that sea levels are not rising globally (the Maldives are still with us). This even got a mention in the Daily Telegraph lately.

It is easy to “discover” that CO2 is a minor greenhouse gas, and as such a reduction in its emission in very unlikely to affect our climate (total human greenhouse gas contributions add up to about 0.28% of the greenhouse effect.)

Click here for more details.

The IPCC conveniently ignore this fact.

The majority of wind farm objectors have realised from their involvement, that wind power is a money making scam, that benefits landowners and wind farm developers (and that only because of subsidy), while have no effect on global warming or climate change, and very probably add a couple of hundred pound a year to all or electricity bills as well, if Denmark’s experience is anything to go by.

We would have a greater effect on climate change (if any at all) by all switching to low energy light bulbs – this would save more electricity nationwide, then would ever be generated by wind.

I will continue to oppose wind power, until I see a reasoned argument with facts and numbers that support its “necessity”, something that curiously is absent from any pro wind statement or rhetoric, which I am sorry to say includes your editorial.

I am more than happy to change my mind should you present a reasoned argument with hard numbers that show me (any many respected scientists) to be completely in error.

Colin Falconer

Another reader couldn’t agree less

Colin Falconer says “CO2 is a minor greenhouse gas, and as such a reduction in its emission in very unlikely to affect our climate”. The web site he refers to in support is, surprise surprise, West Virginia Fuels. I wonder if they might have a vested interest in producing CO2?

He asks for “a reasoned argument with hard numbers”, but does his calculations by comparing the UK’s share in CO2 cuts with the amount that needs to be cut globally. Not a good start. He also says “it would be easy to check that sea levels are not rising globally (the Maldives are still with us)”.

Does he really think we should wait till the Maldives are covered (and not by a tsunami)? How about checking the number of times the Thames barrier has been raised in the last few years, compared with the number of times the planners expected when it was designed? How about asking how many people were killed in Europe last year by unprecedented heat waves?

He mentions increased fuel bills, assuming that relying on fossil fuel alone will not push up the price. Naive, can I suggest. The energy traders would probably like us to rely on fossil fuels alone though.

Yes there is a subsidy for wind power, and when you look at the enormous damage rising CO2 levels will do, it should be higher.

I suspect (Falconer) is one of those people whose real objection to wind turbines is aesthetic, but he prefers to support it by seizing on any (mis)information he can find.

Richard Riggs

Another reader couldn’t agree more

I read Colin Falconer’s reply with interest. He is dead right about the tiny percentage of global CO2 emission represented by any conceivable amount of deployed wind power. I append some recently published figures which totally corroborate his point.

The failing of wind power to save CO2 emission is far worse than would be suggested by the assumption that wind power displaces MW for MW of wind v. fossil fuel generating capacity, and that this is what controls saving of CO2 emission.

Several analyses have recently been made on theoretical grounds. One was by Bass, R.J. and Wilmot, P. (1984) Talking Point: Wind Power may not be the answer. UK Power, Issue 2. They argue that:

“If a 1GW wind farms generates power to the grid during all the periods when wind is sufficiently powerful, it might be expected to deliver approximately 2,630 GWh per year. However, this would cause a short fall against a 1GW base load demand (ie. 8760 GWh) over the same period of approximately 6,100GWh and this has to be generated by fossil fuels…”

“…The data demonstrates that at best a wind turbine farm of 1GW installed capacity would save approximately 0.85m tonnes of carbon dioxide annually if it displaced an efficient CCGT plant. By the year 2010 a number of the current CCGT stations will be more than twenty years old and approaching the de-commissioning phase. If the financial incentives are inadequate (as is the current position) and the base load market is not available to help defray capital and fixed operating costs, they will not be replaced.

The technology of any such new plants will also need to have been developed to handle the transient nature to the demand after the wind farms have produced their volatile output. The supply of natural gas will need to be reliable and economically priced but by this time it will be imported from politically less stable sources.

If the gas fired units are not available, the supply would have to come from either oil or coal fired plant (or even new open cycle gas fired plants). This would cause carbon dioxide emissions to increase above their current best levels.

In the case of oil fired back-up, the increase is some 1.9 m tonnes greater than the current position would be where the whole load is supplied by a gas fired CCGT plant. If the comparison is made with a coal fired plant supplying the make-up, the increase in carbon dioxide would be 4.6m tonnes annually.

And these figures will be eight times greater if the wind turbine installed capacity reaches the government’s target of 8GW.

It is worth noting that the government is committed to reducing the carbon dioxide emissions by 26.5m tonnes annually by 2010. A significant proportion of this reduction is planned to be delivered by wind turbines.

This analysis suggests that the current ‘Dash For Wind’ could actually make the situation worse.” This theoretical analysis by Bass and Wilmot is born-out by the recent E.ON Netz Wind Report 2004, which claims that:

“… the increased use of wind power in Germany has resulted in uncontrollable fluctuations now also occurring on the generation side due to the stochastic [random] character of wind power infeed, thereby increasing the demands placed on control and bringing about rising grid costs……”

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, in places where the grids have now reached their capacity limits through wind power. [Thus 100 MW installed capacity would require 80 MW of “shadow power stations” – ‘spinning spare capacity’.

Last year Germany’s average wind power load factor was just over 14% so the 100 MW would actually yield 14 MW, but need a spinning spare capacity of 80 MW – what this might represent in reduction of CO2 emission is difficult to ascertain – but see the following note on ‘backup’ fuel use in West Denmark].

In 2003 West Denmark generated 4363 GWh of wind electricity (ELTRA data) but was forced to buy “1,500 GWh Balance-Power (total of up and down regulation) due to the need of regulate the wind production”.

This was mainly gas-generated power from ELSAM, and in addition would have been further backed by import/export on the interconnectors to Norway, Sweden and Germany.

Thus almost a third of the wind-saved CO2 was negated by gas fuelled CCGT and CHP used for balancing. Further balance power (unquantified) provided by Norwegian and Swedish hydroelectricity would not have added a further CO2 emission load, but it is salutary to realise that the UK will not have such an option once installed windpower capacity exceeds the import/export capability of the low capacity ‘French connection’ which offers about 4% of average UK generation capacity compared with the W. Danish provision of c. 40% interconnectivity.

Dr. John R Etherington

Appendix – UK windpower and global CO2 The UK’s annual CO2 emission is 551 Mt CO2/y and total global CO2 emission is 24,240 Mt CO2/y. (Greenhouse Gas Inventories for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, 2004 and Oak Ridge: A Compendium of Data on Global Change, 2003).

Electricity generation is responsible for 30% of UK emission (DTI 2004 DUKES), thus it totals 165 Mt CO2/y

To achieve the UK’s target of 10% from renewables by 2010 will require about 8% from wind, which would thus displace 13 Mt CO2 emission per year, at best.

As this 13 Mt CO2 is much less than one thousandth of global CO2 emission, it will not be possible to measure the effect of UK windpower on global atmospheric CO2 concentration, still less to see any climatic effect from it.