At least that’s what a growing number of citizen’s feel about industrial wind’s ability to serve as a viable energy source. And now that wind industry spokesman Frank Maisano has confirmed that “no one — except the tried and true opponents — has ever claimed that wind would supplant coal or nuclear,” we’ll spend the next few posts trying to figure out exact what placing hundreds of thousands of poor performing turbines across our landscape will accomplish, other than increasing the bank accounts of Mr. Maisano and his associates, of course. We hope you’ll join the discussion.
So, if wind won’t supplant coal, what value will it add to our energy supply, our environment or, well … anything? After the next few posts, we hope to have you asking the same question.
To set the tone for our inquiry, you might appreciate Jon Boone’s analogy of wind/electricity and gliders/air transport, which he calls “a comparison unflattering to gliders, for at least they have some controllable capacity beyond not taking to the air at all (equivalent to wind curtailment).” Mr. Boone suggests that, “Since wind is wholly dysfunctional in contributing to the entwined goals of reliability, security, and affordability in the production of electricity, why not consider posing this question: Do gliders belong in our current fleet of commercial passenger/freight air transport–particularly gliders that each cost as much or more to make than the most expensive version of a 747? If not, why not?”
As Mr. Boone states, “the analogy should be obvious to wind, which actually has less effective capacity than a glider–for it can’t be dispatched and directed, yet its capital costs are, per unit of production, on a par with nuclear technology.”
Mr. Boone is exactly right. And the suggestion by folks in the wind business that the power industry modify itself at great expense to accommodate the occasional puff of wind is beyond silly, especially when the result is effectively the production equivalent of towing a single seat glider behind a 747 and bragging about additional passenger capacity.
Since Mr. Maisano and the folks at the American Wind Energy Association prefer to draw their promotional narrative from the Department of Energy, I’ll head over there to provide you with some things to think about.
For example, Mr. Maisano says the PJM grid operators are drooling in anticipation of wind energy and they welcome “as much wind as possible into its power pool as a way of improving the emissions profile for the entire grid’s generation resources.” I suggested in my earlier post that perhaps it would be helpful if Mr. Maisano set up a conference call between PJM and Bonneville Power (BPA) to help them out. It seems the Bonneville folks are dumping wind and their customers, and ultimately taxpayers, will pay dearly.
Heck, once Mr. Maisano fixes Bonneville he could head north. JR Wakefield, editor of the excellent Ontario Wind Performance blog tells this horror story “The data is clear, the $800 million paid for wind power by Ontario consumers all went to the US. It was either given away in the form of Zero Cost Power, Low Cost Power, or we paid US customers to take it off our hands when the surplus was too great. Yes, there are times when there is so much surplus power that we actually pay US customers to take the power!
Even the last half of Mr. Maisano’s statement which claims that PJM will utilize wind “as a way of improving the emissions profile” doesn’t seem to play out at Bonneville. BPA spokesperson Deb Malin, when asked if wind power was reducing carbon emissions, answered, “No. They are, in fact, creating emissions.”
So, operators are dumping wind and Bonneville Power is stating that its use of wind is actually increasing emissions and yet PJM is begging for more. Seems to me there’s a serious disconnect. Wouldn’t have anything to do with “green” credits, grants and subsidies, would it?
Here’s what the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Agency (EIA) had to say on the topic in their March 25, 2011 Today in Energy piece.
EIA commentary begins:
Electric power system operators face a challenge as they seek to integrate rising quantities of intermittent generation from wind plants into the system mix. Operators must continuously match electricity generation to electricity demand, a process that becomes more difficult with additional intermittency.
Today in Energy on March 22, 2011 described intermittent generation from wind turbines. In today’s story, we describe how electric power system operators adjust their procedures to deal with increasing wind capacity as the demand for electric power changes over the course of the day. The unpredictability and sudden changes in production from wind generation (see chart above for a real-life example) create real engineering issues for operators.
Each afternoon, operators lay out their unit commitment for the next day, comparing the day-ahead demand forecast to their available generators (in market regions, those that have bid in their capacity). Operators need to commit enough generation to avoid shortages, yet not so much that they unnecessarily raise costs. Many regions are developing or have developed highly detailed near-term wind forecasting tools to give dispatchers advance notice of the projected wind resource.
Wind generators are subject to abrupt changes in wind speed, and their power output is characterized by steep ramps up or down. Power systems handle such moment-to-moment changes in intermittent generation just as they handle small fluctuations in demand: certain generators automatically raise or lower their output in response to imbalances between supply and demand.
As the percentage of intermittent generation on the system increases, it becomes more important to smooth out the fluctuations in wind generation. Spreading out wind generators across a wide geographical area reduces variability. Also, building a more robust transmission network not only connects wind resources to load centers but provides a wider set of resources for combating the effects of intermittent generation.
Late-model wind turbines are better able to control their output by changing the pitch of their blades and “spilling” wind (i.e., letting the wind blow past without extracting its energy, like water spilling over a dam). This allows them to respond to orders to reduce output.
Electric power systems with a large share of intermittent resources may rely more on flexible resources such as gas turbines or hydropower to “firm up” the output of intermittent generators. Demand response and energy storage are also potential approaches, but the deployment of storage—other than pumped hydro—is essentially zero at this time.
EIA commentary ends:
It’s interesting, in light of the EIA suggestion above that power systems will ramp up and down to suit wind’s wildly fluctuating supply, that, in the report I provide below the EIA suggests, “Once committed, nuclear and coal steam plants are not likely to shut-down for brief surges in wind power production.”
The following offering from the Energy Information Agency (embedded for your convenience) discusses “Issues in Wind Resource Supply Data and Modeling.” Comments such as “Wind capacity will result in occasional off-peak curtailment to maintain system balance,” perhaps because “Wind doesn’t always blow when it is most valuable” are not part of Mr. Maisano’s vocabulary. And there’s more … much more!
Again, this post is not to answer questions. The intent is to stimulate a discussion Mr. Maisano and his associates would rather you not have. There’s a lot of information out there which casts serious doubt on the viability of industrial wind. Allegheny Treasures, and the other great resources we link, provide factual commentary from industry experts – information you will not easily find in your local papers. And frankly, it’s not exactly the information Mr. Maisano and his associates in the wind business want you to find.
Soon to follow: 20% by 2030