Wind power: Even worse than you thought
But your 'leccy bill will keep going up to buy more of it
A new analysis of wind energy supplied to the UK National Grid in recent years has shown that wind farms produce significantly less electricity than had been thought, and that they cause more problems for the Grid than had been believed.
The report (28-page PDF/944 KB) was commissioned by conservation charity the John Muir Trust and carried out by consulting engineer Stuart Young. It measured electricity actually metered as being delivered to the National Grid.
In general it tends to be assumed that a wind farm will generate an average of 30 per cent of its maximum capacity over time. However the new study shows that this is actually untrue, with the turbines measured by the Grid turning in performances which were significantly worse:
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.
In general, then, one should assume that a wind farm will generate no more than 25 per cent of maximum capacity over time (and indeed this seems set to get worse as new super-large turbines come into service). Even over a year this will be up or down by a few per cent, making planning more difficult.
It gets worse, too, as wind power frequently drops to almost nothing. It tends to do this quite often just when demand is at its early-evening peak:
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.
And unfortunately the average capacity over time is pulled up significantly by brief windy periods. Wind output is actually below 20 per cent of maximum most of the time; it is below 10 per cent fully one-third of the time. Wind power needs a lot of thermal backup running most of the time to keep the lights on, but it also needs that backup to go away rapidly whenever the wind blows hard, or it won't deliver even 25 per cent of capacity.
Quite often windy periods come when demand is low, as in the middle of the night. Wind power nonetheless forces its way onto the grid, as wind-farm operators make most of their money not from selling electricity but from selling the renewables obligation certificates (ROCs) which they obtain for putting power onto the grid. Companies supplying power to end users in the UK must obtain a certain amount of ROCs by law or pay a "buy-out" fine: as a result ROCs can be sold for money to end-use suppliers.
Thus when wind farmers have a lot of power they will actually pay to get it onto the grid if necessary in order to obtain the lucrative ROCs which provide most of their revenue, forcing all non-renewable providers out of the market. If the wind is blowing hard and demand is low, there may nonetheless be just too much wind electricity for the grid to use, and this may happen quite often:
The incidence of high wind and low demand can occur at any time of year. As connected wind capacity increases there will come a point when no more thermal plant can be constrained off to accommodate wind power. In the illustrated 30GW connected wind capacity model [as planned for by the UK government at the moment] this scenario occurs 78 times, or three times a month on average. This indicates the requirement for a major reassessment of how much wind capacity can be tolerated by the Grid.
At what point did Lewis Page claim the Fukushima plant's problems are anything *other* than serious? He was highlighting the heroism and commitment of the plant's *workers*. Yes, there was a danger, but this plant had been hit by an earthquake and tsunami *five times greater* than its design allowed for. AND IT SURVIVED. Most of what we've seen since then is footage of plant workers maintaining the *cooling system*. The cores were not only contained, but their automatic emergency shutdown procedures *worked*. Unfortunately, as these plants were designed decades ago, that shutdown procedure takes a long time to complete—days, not minutes—hence all the effort that went into ensuring that cooling continued until the core temperatures were at a safe level. This took time. It also required seawater, rather than their preferred demineralised water, so the side-effects were rather spectacular, but not really all that dangerous for anyone beyond the power plant's fencing.
The point of Page's Fukushima pieces was the *poor reporting*, which blew the whole thing out of proportion.
To put it another way: Nearly *Ten thousand people have died* in a massive earthquake of staggering proportions, as well as its subsequent tsunami. Countless more were injured. Millions are homeless. It's going to be a long, hard, slog to repair the damage. Did the news media give a shit? No: 99% of their coverage boiled down to, "OMFG! NUCLEAR EXPLOSION! CHERNOBYL! WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE!" Totally ignoring the fact that the total death toll (nil) and injuries (minimal) were trivially eclipsed by the far *greater* disaster surrounding it all.
Unlike you, I went to some of the primary sources—i.e. not media reports as they're inherently secondary sources by definition—and discovered that Lewis pretty much nailed it.
The only thing "mental" about Fukushima was the mainstream media's reporting of it. They should be utterly fucking ashamed of themselves. Seriously. It's bad enough when they blether on ignorantly about matters related to the IT industry—and the BBC has yet to redeem itself there—but this? This was just ignorance, FUD and bullshit of the highest order. Thousands died in a massive national tragedy, yet the media's response was to focus on a minor side-story of heroism and turn it into a fucking godawful movie even Michael Bay would have been too embarrassed to commit to film.
The way the politicians have grabbed for this media circus and milked it for all their worth is an even greater embarrassment. Clearly, damned few people in positions of power have the faintest f*cking clue how nuclear power works, nor of the R&D that has gone into the newer designs that will eliminate the problems we've seen at Fukushima—particularly the long shutdown periods.
(And, as someone who has lived and worked in France, Denmark and Italy, not just the UK, I've seen first-hand just how much of a con some of the so-called "alternative" power sources are. Wind is just one of them. The future is a mix of sources, but giant wind farms are an expensive distraction, not a "solution".)
Re I mean, its all going swimmingly there right?
Lester has never suggested that. The reactors have been trashed by the worst natural disaster imaginable, and it will take time to deal with this. Yet nobody has died other than from the tsunami.
It's a ringing endorsement of how safe nuclear power is.
It would seem with fossil fuel reserves running out, this is the only viable option to meet the nation's power demands. Then we get the tricky problem of where do we site the new plants that will be required. In remote coastal areas? Probably not a good idea because they will need all the infrastructure to support the plant building as well.
One thing is certain, green energy is not as green as they think.