Friday, October 3, 2008

On The Cost of Wind Reliability

Wind advocates point to a study by CRISTINA L. ARCHER AND MARK Z. JACOBSON
Supplying Baseload Power and Reducing Transmission Requirements by Interconnecting Wind Farms”.

This study shows, wind advocates claim that systems of windmills, given proper grid interconnection, can supply base power. I will not dispute this conclusion, however, I do wish to point to some aspects of the Archer and Jacobson study that wind advocates often ignore, and which demonstrated that base wind power has undesirable features.

Archer and Jacobson based their model on wind data for the southwest. They chose 19 sites in Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas. They calculated that the average capacity factor for each site was around 0.45. Thus given the installation of a standard 1.5 MW windmill, the average output per windmill would be around 670 KWs. They were able to calculate that 79% of the time windmills from the combined sites would be able to produce at least 312 KWs, or 47% of the average output. Thus the base wind production from the 19 facility system would be .45 X .47 of the rated outputs of the 19 wind facilities or a little over 21% of rated capacity. Producing electrical energy 79% is about as good as your average coal fired steam plant. So this puts wind into the base capacity ball park. But consider how much this is going to cost.

Yesterday I used the figure of $2.5 Million per megawatt for wind costs. We would have to tack on the cost of the interconnecting grid, but we can ignore that for right now. How much would our wind base power cost? Well, if base power is 21% of rated capacity, we can get the figure by deviding the cost of rated capacity, by .21. At $2.5 million per MW, with a 1.5 MW system our wind mills will cost $3.75 million a pop. So how much is our base power going to cost us. Well $3.75 divided by .21 = $17.86 per base MW. Wow, now that is expensive!

Now Google wants to have 380 GWs of wind generators by 2030, how much of that if going to count as wind basic? The answer is 380 x .21 - 79.8 GWs. That seems like a very credible addition to our wind generations system until we realize that there is a serious performance fly in the ointment.

The capacity factor of wind generators drop on hot days. Really drop, and the hotter the day, the bigger the drop. This is a problem because it is hotter during the summer than during the winter. To make matter’s worse, electrical demand goes up during the summer. How bad does it get? In Texas and California on the hottest days, wind capacity factors drop to as low as .02 during periods of peak electrical demand. Thus when the system needs reliable base load capacity the most, wind base capacity is unavailable. If the .02 capacity factor for very hot days held for the entire Google 380 GW national wind system, the combined electrical output of the entire system during the hottest hours of the day would be 7.6 GWs. About the amount of electricity produced by 4 very large nuclear plants.

In order to have its desired wind generation system by 2030 we will have to build 360 Billion GWs of windmill generating capacity. This will cost about $900 billion. The same amount of money will buy 112 reactors. And those reactors will have a .9 capacity factor. Instead of the average output of 79.8 GWs of base power, you will get an average output of 101 GWs of base power from the reactors. But instead of only 7.6 GWs output during the summer peak demand periods, the reactors will and average of 109.76 GWs of output at any given time during the period of summer peak demand.

Summer wind power will never be able to compete with nuclear power as a reliable source of electricity, and any money spent on windmills would buy far more reliable power if spent on nuclear power.



Charles you amaze me. Where do you get the time to do all this work?

I came to similar conclusions and submitted a review comment to the journal containing arguments and calculations like yours in February. The process is quite lengthy.

1 review initial correspondence
2 send correspondence to author
3 review authors comment
4 send authors comment to initial correspondence author
5 review revised correspondence
6 send revised correspondence to author
7 review revised author comment
8 publish correspondence and author comment

We are now at step 6.

One interesting thing I learned is that authors are allowed to recommend their own reviewers. It certainly takes the shine off of peer review. Peer review or not, the quality of a document depends on the quality of the author.

Keep up the good work, I’ll keep you posted.

Charles Barton said...

Blogging lets you get your peer reviews directly. And I do! I am what is called, "overly educated". Which means I have learned a lot of tricks.

Jason Ribeiro said...


Wind power's material requirements, low capacity factor, land intrusion, bird killing, transmission requirements, and so on make it a target rich environment of energy ridicule. Why it gets almost a free pass without scrutiny is beyond me.

It's almost too easy to show off the multitude of problems of any substantially costly wind proposal. Yet, it's the darling of the environmentalist movement and they will vehemently defend every obvious fault it has. While they would probably characterize the pro-nuke crowd the same way, they consistently divert the argument away from the basic performance data. I even had one wind advocate tell me "I don't care how much it costs, I will accept nothing else but renewable energy." To me, this borderlines on a sort of pathological perfectionism.

I've tried to give myself and others a perspective on the land impact of wind with some drawings.

Google responded to one poster that the 300GW would only take 61,000 sq. km or .07 of the US land area. When I looked into this, it's more like 75K, which is about the size of West Virginia.

I am very surprised at Google. Say for example McDonald's had come out with a national energy plan, how would their shareholders and the public respond?

Charles Barton said...

Jason, and I was sure that the reason why I saw these mistakes when no one else does is because I am a genius! After all Amorey Lovins got a prize for being a genius, and you only get a genius prize if you are smarter than every one else. and I have demonstrated over and over again that Lovins makes mistakes that only I and a few other geniuses seem to be able to see. So I must be a whole lot smarter than all of those people who don't see Lovin's mistakes, and keep repeating over and over, the same sort of really dumb thing that Lovins always says.

I must be a genius, because only a genius can see how a genius like Lovins can be wrong and can say all of those really dumb things that Lovins says, things that I have been able to demonstrate are wrong and dumb, but only because I am a genius. Right?

Anyway if you start telling people that the mistakes of people like wind advocates are so dumb and obvious that any fool can point them out, you are going to damage my reputation for being a genius. So keep quiet about how dumb renewables advocates really are, so I can keep my reputation for being a genius in tact.

Warren Heath said...

My opinion is Armory Lovins was "declared a genius" and Google is campaigning for Wind because the Fossil Fuel Interests funnel cash into them, as the most cheap and effective form of advertisement. Hiring Lobbyists to influence politicians is a similar initiative. And since they can sell Oil at $100-$140 per barrel that costs about $4 per barrel to pump out of the ground, they have trillions in surplus cash to distribute to their "friends". And also avoids paying taxes on the surplus cash.

Wind Energy is just the latest Scam that Fossil Fuel interests are promoting, to divert effort and interest away from effective, realistic alternatives, such as Nuclear, Electrification of Transport, and use of Methanol/DME in extreme efficiency Hybrid Drivetrains. Classic cases of a Bait-and-Switch strategy that the fossil fuel people have become masters at, and the press, politicians and the population are still falling into this sucker trap.

And you don't have to be a Genius, to figure out that Charles is selflessly giving of his time, to educate people truthfully on Energy, a Billion lives of the next generation depend on such efforts.

Jason Ribeiro said...

Warren, you speak the truth! And Charles has a great sense of humor too :)

Jim Baerg said...

RE: "accept nothing else but renewable energy"

In a sense there is no such thing as 'renewable' energy. After all the hydrogen in the center of the sun is being irreversably used up.

I think the term 'sustainable for a a time scale of X' would be more honest. With X being decades, centuries, millenia, millions or billions of years.

Nuclear with some sort of breeding of Th232 or U238 into fissionable material would be sustainable for billions of years.

Jason Ribeiro said...

I agree, we and the rest of the universe are headed for "the big rip" someday. I also would like people to say "cleaner energy" instead of "clean energy" as there is no perfect non-polluting energy technology. Wind turbines, solar panels produce a good amount of carbon before they leave the factory.

Warren Heath said...

I call wind & solar - the prime "renewables" - THE UNSUSTAINABLES. That is because their capital investment in raw materials mainly steel, copper, rare earth magnets, aluminum, oil based fiberglass, steel and concrete, and also labour are so huge that the necessary supply chain, could not be maintained, without the input of cheap fossil fuel energy.

If we really had to build wind & solar power facilities with materials that use wind & solar energy as inputs, the resulting positive feedback loop would cause price escalations to the point that our entire economy would collapse. Don't forget that the U.S. energy intensity is $0.40 per kwh - total GDP per kwh of energy consumed. Canada is $0.34 per kwh. You can't run an economy when half your GDP goes to producing energy. Solar & Wind require a huge up front materials and labour input. With wind these inputs are 15 to 40 times nuclear (depending on type, LFTR is lowest) and 30 to 80 times if nuclear CHP is used.

donb said...

Jason Ribeiro said:
Wind power's material requirements, low capacity factor, land intrusion, bird killing, transmission requirements, and so on make it a target rich environment of energy ridicule. Why it gets almost a free pass without scrutiny is beyond me.

The answer to this is not too difficult, I think. Most journalists and most of the public "can't read the fine print".

By this I mean going into the details that can show the problems with wind power. The first level of information presented by wind proponents is often a video of the wind turbines spinning and their the nameplate capacity, often quoted as being able to power "X" many homes. Most people can comprehend this. The next level presented, though seldom at the same time, may be the amount of energy generated in MWHr per year. Probably only a few percent of the population will take the energy generated and divide by the nameplate rating times the number of hours in a year to come up with capacity factor. Too much "fine print". Getting even deeper, probably less than 1% of the population knows about wind's generation being next to nothing on hot days when the electrical demand meter is pegged at maximum.

Setting transmission capacity concerns aside for the moment, the argument of available wind generation even on hot days from widely dispersed sources sounds plausible. I just wish I could find some peer reviewed studies (with data!) that prove (or disprove) this plausible statement.


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