Monday, March 3, 2008

Jerome a Paris describes himself as an:
"Energy banker based, yes, in Paris, France. Writing about energy, economics, international geopolitics, European and French stuff, and whatever else catches my attention. Very strongly pro-European. Liberal in the US, libéral in France and proud of both."

I suspect if I knew Jerome, I would like him. He sounds like a high, fair and open minded person and a gentleman. Yet I have a serious disagreement with him about the utility of wind generation pf electricity. Yesterday Jerome posted a why can't we all love together essay on Oil Drum:Europe, and while I appreciate his attempt to be amicable, I still think that windmills will never be a part of the solution to the global CO2 problem. Here are my comments:

My quarrel with Jerome has to do with two questions: What are our goals? And how do we best accomplish those goals? If our goal is to lower carbon emission in the generation of electricity, then wind has a place. Wind is a useful tool in lowering CO2 emissions. If, however, our goal is the elimination of CO2 emissions from the generation of electricity, wind becomes more of an obstacle than a help in meeting the goal.

I believe that the latter goal is far more desirable. If our over all goal is a 80% cut in global CO2 emissions by 2050, then the goal for the electrical generation sector should be zero emissions world wide. (I argue this because CO2 is easier to cut from electrical generation than from other economic sectors.) At the moment there are two candidate technologies for complete replacement of fossil fuel electrical generation. They are solar thermal and nuclear. Wind in not a candidate to replace fossil fuel generation, because it produces power too irregularly to serve as a basis for the power generating system, and for many electrical systems it becomes most unreliable during periods of peak demand.

A couple of years ago the staff or the Electrical Reliability Counsel of Texas argued that only two percent of the name plate generating capacity of Texas windmills should be counted as peak demand power. The reason was simple, during the periods when electrical demand will be at its absolute highest, that is during July and August daylight hours, when everyone in Texas is running their air conditioners full blast, the wind stops blowing all over Texas.

This means in practical terms that if the ERCOT system is going to meet 100% of the electrical demand at 2:00 PM on August 6th, it can rely on only virtually no electricity coming from wind powered sources. In a post carbon world only solar and nuclear generating sources can be relied on to produce electrical energy at two PM on August 6th in Texas.

The problem of summer wind reliability is by no means confined to Texas. It appears to be nation wide.

Therefore wind energy will start us down the road to to carbon free electricity, but it won't get us to the end of the road. If the post carbon electrical generating system is requires to generate virtually 100% of its peak electrical needs without wind, why have wind at all? The case for wind in the post carbon generating system is the weakest of all of the renewables.

I know that Jerome a Paris does not like to hear this, but investments in wind do not help us reach the post carbon world. Are they worth while as a temporary stopgap to lower CO2 emissions? I do not have an answer to that question, but if we have doubts about our ability to pay for a post carbon electrical system, why pay for the redundant and unreliable generating capacity of windmills, when more reliable post carbon generating systems are at hand?

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