Sunday, October 10, 2010

Spinning offshore wind: science and renewables propaganda

Advocates of offshore wind are confronted with significant difficulties. The levelized cost of electricity from offshore wind is simply not competitive with nuclear power. Any objective observer, and scientists are certainly suppose to be objective observers, would conclude that the case against off shore wind is extremely powerful.

A review of a recent report from The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), "Large-Scale Offshore Wind Power in the United States: ASSESSMENT OF OPPORTUNITIES AND BARRIERS," suggests a willingness on the part of the NREL to cross a line between science and propaganda, in support of renewable energy enterprises.

The report acknowledges,
Currently, capital costs for offshore projects are nearly double those for land-based wind projects. These higher costs accrue from, for example, the offshore turbine support structures, offshore electrical infrastructure construction, the high cost of building at sea, O&M warranty risk adjustments, turbine cost premiums for marinization, and a decommissioning contingency. These costs can be partially offset by increased energy production. In comparison with land- based wind, however, offshore wind is also immature and its costs are higher because less deployment and experience has not allowed for full realization of the learning curve, by which product costs in new industries are known to decline as a function of production quantity. Further cost uncertainty and upward cost pressure may be introduced because of U.S. dollar/euro exchange rates. High cost is one of the primary deterrents for would-be developers of offshore wind. Current projects in the United States depend on policy incentives to offset some of the high costs, but there are no guarantees that the necessary incentives will be available when a project is approved and permitted.
Although the report holds out the hope for lower future offshore wind costs, it also acknowledges,
Capital costs for offshore wind plants are analyzed using data from European deployments and projected costs for potential U.S. projects. The costs have been trending up over time, as have the costs for land-based installations. Although water depth is expected to have a significant effect on capital cost, and larger wind plant sizes should lead to lower overall capital costs, these effects have been overshadowed in the data by recent jumps in the cost of energy from all sources and other energy market dynamics. The wind turbine itself contributes approximately 44% of the total capital cost. Capital cost trends are presented for year of installation, water depth, distance from shore, and project size. Year of installation is the most significant variable in the capital cost, with a sharp rise in price (56%) indicated between 2006 and 2008. Other trends such as decreasing cost with project size may show some correlation, but consistent data are not yet available to quantify this trend.

The LCOE of offshore wind plants is about double that of comparable land-based plants using 2009 market prices. This increase in the cost of energy can be attributed to higher O&M costs as well as the previously described higher capital costs. O&M costs can account for as much as 30% of the total life-cycle cost for an offshore wind plant. Three offshore wind projects in the United States have now signed PPAs (see Table 6-3). The reader is cautioned about making direct comparisons between these PPAs because the terms are complicated and several factors may not be obvious under a casual analysis.
Thus the report tells us that offshore wind is very expensive and appears to be getting even more expensive, quite rapidly. Indeed the cost of the heavily subsidized Cape Wind Project, not discussed in this report, would appear to be significantly higher that the reports highest offshore wind estimates. Any attempt to objectively compare nuclear power costs, with offshore wind costs, would conclude that in most and perhaps all instances the cost of nuclear power would be significantly lower than the cost of onshore wind generated electricity.

The recommendation to policy makers then would be that nuclear power is the lower cost option, and should be preferred to offshore wind. Needless to say the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, is not interested in science, objectivity or low energy costs. Thus rather than acknowledge the dismal realities confronted by offshore wind developers, "Large-Scale Offshore Wind" attempts to spin the facts in order to justify huge government subsidies to the offshore wind industry. Electricity from the offshore Cape Wind project, despite large Federal and State subsidies, and additional subsidies from Federal stimulus programs, will still cost,
18.7 per kilowatt hour in its first year of operation, 2013
"Large-Scale Offshore Wind," which manages to avoid a discussion of the real cost of Cape Wind electricity, no where suggests a cost comparison between the cost of offshore wind and nuclear power. So rather than focusing on questions related to the economic viability of wind, "Large-Scale Offshore Wind," focuses on potential wind supply, as if the relative cost of tapping that supply was inconsequential.

Renewable propagandists often focus on the decontextualized nuclear cost estimates, while disguising the fact that renewable energy sources cost more. But there are limits to the ability of propagandists to spine adverse facts, and in a report that acknowledges to some measure the cost problems of offshore wind attempting to suggest that nuclear costs more without a direct comparison, would be a bit to much in addition to being very overtly dishonest. So the NREL spin doctors are forced to ignore the cost issue. Instead they focus on risk. Paradoxically their risk spin ends up being almost as dishonest as a cost spin would be.

Among the risks which offshore wind generators face, non is more violent than major storms.
In many sites, the 50-year storms will be category 4 and 5 hurricanes that can have gusts greater than 80 m/s. Even though it is possible to develop structurally adequate designs using the existing standards, the process may require a more integrated design approach in cooperation with the turbine manufacturers or a Class S turbine (hurricane resilient) that exceeds the Class 1 requirements. It is possible to implement turbine design modifications for existing turbine designs that would resist or reduce the extreme loads resulting from these conditions. Such modifications could involve changes to blades and towers. Some of these changes may require compromises that might diminish the energy capture potential for a wind turbine installed at those sites to ensure survivability. For example, although the extreme winds are higher, hurricane sites have typically lower annual average wind speeds that would normally warrant a larger rotor. At hurricane sites, larger rotors may be prohibitive due to requirements for resisting extreme hurricane gusts. This may dictate a new design strategy. . . .

Understanding of extreme loads on wind turbines generated by hurricanes is important for reducing the uncertainty about survivability of the primary structure. The methodology for determining the probability of a hurricane at a particular site and the magnitude of its winds is not fully established. . . . .

In shallow water, hurricane-generated breaking waves may also create an extreme load case that has not yet been properly evaluated, especially in the Atlantic . . .

Hurricanes present unique external conditions that could require turbine design modifications. The turbine’s protection system may need specific upgrades to withstand hurricane conditions. This could include not only extreme winds that could impose high instantaneous loads, but also sustained wind speeds, high wind/wave frequency, rapid direction changes, impulsive gust loading, breaking and slamming wave loads, and multidirectional wind/wave spectra.
A second serious problem would involve a collusion between a ship or an aircraft and a Wind generator tower. "Large-Scale Offshore Wind" acknowledges this possibility but then discounts it.
Measures will need to be taken to prevent collisions (e.g., navigation exclusion zones, distance requirements for routes, mapping on navigation charts, and warning lights) or to respond rapidly to them (e.g., emergency response and rescue). . . .

Overall, collision risks are generally well understood and are unlikely to present a significant obstacle to offshore wind energy, provided these interactions and risks are considered carefully in the siting process and reasonable precautionary measures are taken to avoid the perceptions or realities of national security risks
In a discussion of socioeconomic risks, "Large-Scale Offshore Wind" observed a supposed benefit,
• Improved electric price stability
In fact rate payers can expect a significant electrical price increase as a partial payment for the Cape Wind Project.

"Large-Scale Offshore Wind" concludes its discussion of risks
A new paradigm is needed for thinking about the range of environmental and social risks of offshore wind developments, and it will need to be embodied in forward-looking state and federal energy policies. A diverse portfolio approach to energy development will include both land-based and offshore wind energy as important components in the energy mix. This new analytical paradigm is framed in the context of comparative sector risks with other energy technologies and is not limited to sector-by-sector risk analyses.

An integrated and comparative risk framework can serve as a comprehensive assessment of the costs and benefits of deploying an offshore wind farm as opposed to proceeding with some other energy choice. Rather than the sector-by-sector approach, an integrated risk framework begins to give federal, state, and local decision makers and their stakeholders a common ground for analyzing and managing risks and devising public policies and effective siting strategies . . .
So far so good, but then we learn,
Comparisons with other energy sources (such as fossil fuels and nuclear) indicate that the overall risks of offshore wind are relatively benign and not catastrophic (such as breached coal ash ponds, nuclear waste impacts).
We are also told
the life cycle of nuclear power production, albeit not generating carbon emissions during operation, involves long-term, large-scale, known impacts associated with extraction, transportation, heating and cooling, and disposal of nuclear wastes, notwithstanding the potential for catastrophic risks from accidents and terrorism. Offshore wind has a different and likely a more benign set of impacts. The reduced impacts of offshore wind should be weighed against these more significant potential life-cycle effects.
Spin away, Spin, spin, spin! We are also told,
Comparisons with other energy sources (such as fossil fuels and nuclear) indicate that the overall risks of offshore wind are relatively benign and not catastrophic (such as breached coal ash ponds, nuclear waste impacts).
It should be first noted that there has never been a casualty producing reactor accident in an American civilian NPP. There have been casualty producing accidents directly related to the operation of wind generation facilities. If history is the key to the future, the prospect of a catastrophic casualty producing accident is higher at offshore wind facilities than at Nuclear Power Plants. The worst case accident for a wind facility is pretty horrific. A collision between an oil tanker and a wind tower could produce a large oil spill with a very large environmental damage. The risk of a catastrophic accident involving a large oil spill and an offshore wind facility is probably far higher that the risk of a major accident involving nuclear waste. If large numbers of wend generators are deployed at sea, how long would it take before oil tankers would start running into them.

As we have seen large Category IV and Category V hurricanes pose serious threats to wind generators. A hurricane of that magnitude would not simply take out one generator, it might take out whole offshore wind farms, which represent billions of dollars worth of investment.
the overall risks of offshore wind are relatively benign and not catastrophic
Where dies that come from? Certainly not the discussion of offshore wind risks in "Large-Scale Offshore Wind." Once again we see the National Renewable Energy Laboratory playing propagandist for the renewable energy industry at the expense of objectivity, at the expense of science.

Finally, he risks of post carbon renewable energy include risks related to cost. The Cape Wind Project demonstrates that even with huge federal and state subsidies, electricity produced by offshore wind generators will not be cost competitive with conventional nuclear power, and still less cost competitive with Generation IV molten salt nuclear technology. When is the National Renewables Energy Laboratory going to face this unpleasant reality? When is the NREL going to stop spinning the truth about renewable energy?


Frank Kandrnal said...

Is there any cost analysis for offshore wind farm protection against terrorists? It does not take much plastic explosive to send the whole multi billion dollar installation to ocean bottom.
How do wind proponents suggest to protect the installation against fanatical attacks? Will there be anti submarine nets, minefields, sensitive sensor network, permanent coast guard patrol or other bullet proof security means to prevent destruction of such fragile soft target? The weather itself pose extreme risk to offshore wind power generating installations, however, the human factor cannot be ignored. Terrorists will soon realize the fact that knocking out easy to get power generating capacity will do far more economic damage than any other direct attack.
Nuclear power opponents are so fanatical about their overpriced unworkable renewable energy solutions that they completely overlook other important factors in real cost and national security.

LarryD said...

Frank, it's going to depend on the design of the turbine support, some of them would take a lot of explosives to sink, and even the vulnerable sort wouldn't be sunk fast, because they're big.

An offshore wind farm would have one of its major flaws turned into an advantage from a resistance-to-sabotage perspective, each turbine contributes only a small amount of power to the farms total capacity, so taking out just one turbine won't have a major effect.

The transmission lines are the choke point, terrorists are more likely to go after them. If the turbine supports are of a moored variety, the moorings could be a target. Imagine cutting a couple of floating turbines loose and casting them adrift.

But really, wind farms are so cost ineffective as power sources, their target value is pretty much symbolic.

jagdish said...

Wind and solar have value as niche projects, not connected to grid but with storage. Concept of solar energy stored in salt may or may not be feasible with solar but is useful for coal or nuclear energy. I had suggested storage of wind energy as compressed air but apparently large volumes are required making it difficult.
Therefore, I thought of reducing the volumes. A gas like ammonia or sulfur dioxide can either be compressed to liquid at high pressure or dissolved in water at lower pressures. When spare power is available, it can be stored as liquid at high pressure and could run a turbine when energy is required discharging the exhaust gas to dissolve in the water. It could also run pneumatic tools with the pressure difference.
I think the idea is worth investigating as energy storage in whatever form for peak use at static installations.

Charles Barton said...

Jadgish, there are several problems with Renewables + storage schemes, but the most serious is that even without strage, renewables are more expensive than nuclear, so even if the cost of storage is relatively modest, the cost of renewables + storage is not going to be competitive with nuclear power. A further problem is that the renewables reliability gap is sufficient to require a large amount of storage in order to increase reliability. Thus te cost of renewables with nuclear competitive reliability is far higher than nuclear power.

seth said...

More than a million Americans died and hundreds of millions sicked as a result of Bradford and his fellow traveller's at the NRC maliciously shutting down nuke power in the US and replacing it with coal. 30K Americans die ever year coal plants keep working. I've never heard of him or his likes explaining why he thinks that was a good thing.


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