Sunday, November 30, 2008

Clean Energy from Wind?

Greens rave on and on about how clean wind power is. 
This rosy picture has no basis in reality. As T. Boone Pickens once remarked Wind towers are ugly and degrade the quality of life experienced by people who live in their vecinity. 
On Friday, Rod Adams posted an interesting little essay
questioning the logic of considering industrial scale wind energy as a "soft" or "clean" energy path . . .
Rod pointed to a wind project at Cefn Croes, Wales. This project was from the start so incredibly obnoxious that even the UK Green Party objected to it.  The above picture amply demonstrates the rape of the once beautiful Cambrian Mountain countryside, by this environmentally insensitive wind project.  

Critics of the Cefn Croes project point out numerous examples of environmental damage inflicted on the Welch landscape and environment by this project.  
!. From construction of new access roads. Because of the climb from the A44 to the plateau, the 1.7km of new road has three hairpin bends, and because of the size of the low-loaders (42m long, 5m wide), those bends are enormously wide, resulting in heavy and irreparable landscape scarring, made all the more obvious by wide swathes of clear-felling, and by opportunistic quarrying from the adjacent hillside.
2. From widening of pre-existing forest roads. First there was clear-felling, then banks were ripped up and drainage ditches dug, then roadstone was dumped and levelled. Familiar tracks quickly became unrecognisable, and landmarks were lost.
3. Habitat loss. Not just little mossy banks with heather, lichens, mosses and saplings, but moorland habitat and grassland.
4. Peat disturbance and destruction. Peat is one of the world's rarest habitats. One foot depth of it takes one thousand years to develop; peat sequesters within it many millions of tons of CO2, which is released as it is cut and dumped to dry out.  Adjacent to turbine 37 is a 2m bank of peat; no amount of restoration can reverse damage on this scale.
5. Hydrology disturbance. Streams blocked, polluted and diverted. The run-off from workings drained into previously pristine streams and rivers.
6. Wildlife disturbance. Especially to birds, due to noise and pollution close to nesting sites during the breeding season.
7. Peripheral damage.
Off-site, due to:
Vehicle emissions, pollution, noise, dust and vibration from thousands of HGV movements, bringing in aggregates, site cabins, cranes, and cement; and from enormous low-loaders bringing the turbine components themselves, with police escorts and queues of slow traffic;
Physical damage from passing heavy traffic, to buildings, bridges and drains, road surfaces;
Economic damage through disruption of commercial and tourist traffic, and the communities through which they passed.
It should be noted that many wind projects have the potential to cause similar environmental damage, but thatr supposibly pro-environmental "Greens" are utterly indifferent to the environmental problems created by wind energy projects.

Many of the problems of the Cefn Croes project are common to all upland wind projects, as this Indian report suggests:
To set up a windmill in hilly areas, a minimum of 50-metre long and wide concrete platforms were needed.

The towers, generators and the machines with gearboxes would have to be lifted with the help of trawlers.

To shift this, roads with a width of 10 to 12 metres had to be laid.

The boulders and stones on the way would have to be blasted with dynamite.

Apart from this, a substation building, permanent quarters for staff and guesthouses had to be built.

Trees would have to be felled to draw high-tension wire to transmit 66 kV or 110 kV power.
Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., has recently expressed concerns about the environmental and social impact of large scale wind farming in his state.
“With regard to wind energy, the prospects are that West Virginia will be relegated to something of a colonial status,” he said, “with its resources being exploited by and for the benefit of outsiders, and with West Virginians being left with a legacy of environmental damage.

“If this set of circumstances sounds familiar to West Virginians, that’s readily understandable, because it’s happened here before.

“Up to now, the environmental damage suffered by this state has taken such forms as past, unregulated mountaintop mining and acid mine drainage,” Mollohan said. “This time, the prospect is for destruction of wildlife and scenic views from a proliferation of industrial wind turbines on the state’s mountain ridges.”
where the environmental intrusions of windmills. Burning windmills are not environmentally cool. And wind projects are huge.

Kurt Cobb, who is pro wind calculated 500 MW coal-fired power plant occupied about 300 acres. Only 30 acres. one tenth of the total area is actually used. Kobb referenced 5 MW windmills and calculated that in order to match the 70% capacity factor of the coal fired power plant, with 30% capacity factor windmills, 233 windmills would need to be erected.
The spacing between towers is typically at least five diameters of the rotor. That doesn't sound like much. But for the 5-megawatt towers in this example, the spacing would be 2,065 feet times 232--we don't need to separate the last tower from another tower beyond it. Then we'd add the diameter of the rotors--413 feet times 233--and we get a distance equivalent to about 110 miles.
Cobb adds,
The power density problem for solar energy is no less daunting. . .

When we contemplate renewable energy sources, we rarely contemplate the land area required to deploy them. Just the problems involved in obtaining rights-of-way alone are beyond anything we've ever experienced. And, the enormous scale of manufacturing required to produce the panels and wind towers would dwarf our current energy industries. The coal-fired power plant by comparison seems like a wonder of compact energy generation.

This is not to make a case against renewable energy. We will need it and deploy it because we must--either because of the dangers that burning fossil fuels pose to the climate or because of increasing fossil fuel scarcity, or both. The real case to be made here is against business-as-usual. It is hard to see how a transition to a renewable energy society, however rapid and earnest, will give us all the energy we want at prices we will like.

. . . it is glaringly obvious that the energy sources we rely on now are one to two orders of magnitude smaller by land area per unit of energy produced than the industries and buildings they service are per unit of energy consumed. That means it takes a relatively small land area to service the enormous area devoted to commercial, residential and industrial buildings. Just the opposite will become the case using renewable energy sources. We will be obliged to devote vast tracts of space--far more vast than the buildings they serve--to support the energy use of our current infrastructure.
Cobb's conclusions reflect his personal anti-nuclear fanaticism, but reflect on the burden which he and his fellow renewable advocates will impose on our country.
This may not be impossible, but it will certainly be costly and socially disruptive. And, that brings us back to the windmills now increasingly dotting our landscape. We can certainly look forward to many more of them. But if we choose to oppose them on the grounds that they are "ugly" or "disruptive," then we will essentially be choosing a much lower energy future, far below what we've come to expect from fossil fuels.
Cobb deploys the usual repertory of anti-nuclear arguments, starting with the usual we are running out of uranium ploy.  Cobb does not rely on peer reviews studies for this contention, rather he refers to a study paid for by the by the anti-nuclear German Green Party.   Needless to say, Cobb does not even hint that a case could be made for the opposing view.   Cobb next deploys arguments against breeder reactors.  He demonstrates a typical Green lack of knowledge by ignoring Thorium technology completely, which allows him to dispatch breeder reactors with the nuclear proliferation fallacy.   Next Cobb argues that it would be impossible to build enough nuclear power plants to replace existing fossil fuel power plants.  

Of course with nuclear power we can have our energy cake and eat it too. But Cobb would rather sacrifice the benefits of a high energy civilization that to acknowledge the possibility that nuclear generating facilities can be built at a sufficient rate to replace fossil fuel generating plants.  Astonishingly Cobb maintains
Nuclear plants require vast amounts of fossil fuels to build and then maintain.
 This is, of course, absurd. Nuclear plants require no more fossil fuels in their construction and operation than renewables do. We don't have enough energy to build new nuclear plants Cobb maintains.   Cobb is closer than most Greens to knowing the score on renewables, but he still maintains the party line against nuclear power.  

3 comments:

mdf said...

"Kobb referenced 5 MW windmills and calculated that in order to match the 70% capacity factor of the coal fired power plant, with 30% capacity factor windmills, 233 windmills would need to be erected."

Is this true? It strikes me that 233 is far too low a figure to obtain 70% CF, even with a linear array 110 miles long. The weather just isn't variable enough on that scale.

Soylent said...

"Is this true?"

No. Firstly the two are not comparable; outages at coal plants are mostly planned or plannable(e.g. operating at lower output or as spinning reserve, shutting down for planned maintenance) and there's little correlation between outages at different coal plants. Wind power at 70% capacity factor is strongly correlated over areas the size of Europe.

Assume instead that you use storage to buffer those 1.165 GW of wind power to provide a daily average of 350 MW(500 MW * 70%) of output(generation capacity for pumped storage can be very high, so you may as well put most of this output into providing peak-load, at least until all peak-load has been absorbed by wind+storage and you start displacing base-load generation).

If you want to operate mostly without natural gas or coal you will need a couple of days of storage. The dinorwig pumped storage station provides ~9GWh of storage, that's about a day at 350 MW; even with several of these you will not completely rid yourself of fossil fuel backup because every now and then you'll get week-long lulls(typically seasonal, e.g. winter in Europe, summer in south eastern US).

The dinorwig pumped storage station was built in an abandoned quarry and uses 6 miles of burried cable to avoid despoiling the surrounding landscape too much(The wind people could learn something from this.). 12 million tonnes of rock was excavated from inside the mountain to create 16 km of tunnels and a 51 m tall, 180 m long, and 23 m wide storage area. 1 million tonnes of concrete, 200 000 tonnes of cement and 4500 tonnes of steel was used for Dinorwig.

If you can find enough good places to put wind turbines and enough good places to put pumped storage stations, it will still take much, much too long to shut down any coal plants and you'll still need those coal and gas plants now and then unless you want to build insane amounts of storage; which creates a moral hazzard.

Soylent said...

(That vegetation in the picture is not little bushes or something, that's fully grown spruce trees. Those wind turbines are gargantuan and it's still only the 1.5 MW(peak) model. 7 MW wind turbines are in the pre-production stage; those are truly absurdly huge)

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