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The Sun is the main driver of climate change. Not you. Not carbon dioxide.

Wind- What is it good for?

Contributed by Rob Pearce © 2016

Speaking points on why wind power will not substantially reduce CO2 emissions.

The purpose of this short note is to provide you with a few key points to make the next time you hear some variant of the misconception that “wind power eliminates greenhouse gas emissions by replacing fossil fuel generation”.

The next time your hear this theme, please consider responding with the following simple statements:

  1. Wind power cannot and does not significantly reduce CO2 emissions, since it is highly variable, intermittent and unreliable, so it must be backed up near 100% with reliable and fast-following gas-fired generation; it also causes that back up to run inefficiently, actually increasing the quantity of CO2 which would be otherwise emitted;
  2. Whatever modest CO2 reductions are achieved come dearly, with high socio-economic costs landing largely on the poor, making them a very regressive form of taxation; and
  3. Wind power generates enormous other costs which must be unacceptable to modern societies, including the wholesale and indiscriminate slaughter of birds and bats, including many endangered and ordinarily protected species, and the widespread destruction of natural vistas and habitats.

And it’s not like any of this is new, previously hidden information.  This is all public knowledge which is being deliberately ignored and downplayed by multiple, brand-name NGOs, wind power promoters, politicians and the mainstream media.  Hundreds of analyses, articles, papers, and blogs have variously shone a spotlight on the fundamental flaws and massive negatives of wind power.

Possible Pushback and Counterpoints

Of course, you may well hear the following “yeah buts”, with some suggested rebuttals:

  1. The wind always blows somewhere, so it’s a simple matter of building more wind generation and transmission, not less.
    1. The wind does not always blow, and there are multiple examples of these situations (in multiple jurisdictions), often when the power is most needed, for example during a long, mid-winter cold snap. Besides which, the further the grid extends, and the more load it must carry, the greater the energy waste due to transmission losses (essentially, friction).  It also means that every connected location must have enough generation not just for its own locale, but for the sum of all locations connected to it – imagine the duplication of labour, capital, and costs, along with the wasted power being dumped or curtailed from all that excess generation!
  2. We just need to invest in storage such as batteries to even out the variability.
    1. We do not have the battery technology to achieve mass storage, and cannot expect to achieve it in the future, at least without major breakthroughs (aka miracles) and with significant environmental damage from mining the materials needed.
  3. We have to do something for the planet and future generations!
    1. As many writers have pointed out, current actions, like wasting truly enormous sums on wind power, will make no measurable difference to the global temperature or climate. They will, however, make us all poorer and therefore less able to adapt to change and to protect the environment from real damage.  Recall the classic advice to “stop digging”!

As a concluding point, particularly in reference to pushback point #3, recall the insightful words of Ernest Benn:

“Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedies.”

Wind power is a classic example of a wrong remedy applied to a misdiagnosis.

 

A Few Selected Sources of Further Information

For those interested in finding more backup to the three points above, these papers describe the negatives of wind power in substantial depth.

“The net benefits of low and no-carbon electricity technologies”, Charles R. Frank, Jr., Brookings Institute Working Paper 73, May 2014.  https://docs.wind-watch.org/Net-Benefits-Carbon-Electricity.pdf

“Wind’s effectiveness and CO2 avoidance cost”, Peter Lang, Submission 259 to the Select Committee on Wind Turbines, March 23, 2015.  https://www.wind-watch.org/documents/submission-to-the-senate-select-committee-on-wind-turbines-peter-lang/

“Impacts of bad choices for climate change mitigation”, William K.G. Palmer, Climate Change Technology Conference, May 2013.  https://docs.wind-watch.org/Palmer_Presentation_CCTC2013.pdf

“Overblown”, Jon Boone, blog posting Sept 16, 2010.  https://www.wind-watch.org/documents/overblown/

“This land was your land: A closer look at 80 by 50”, Robert Bryce, Manhattan Institute Report Oct 2016.  http://www.manhattan-institute.org/sites/default/files/R-RB-1016.pdf

“How less became more…wind, power and unintended consequences in the Colorado energy market”, BENTEK Energy LLC, April 16, 2010.  https://docs.wind-watch.org/BENTEK-How-Less-Became-More.pdf

Note that a much longer list of relevant papers and articles may be found at:

https://www.wind-watch.org/documents/category/emissions/?titles=on

 

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12 Comments

  1. Interesting assertion in the face of evidence to the contrary. It is very clear that wind reduces co2 very well. Gas generators show a much lower production of gas electricity when wind is more prevalent.

    Wind power cannot and does not significantly reduce CO2 emissions,

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/blog/2012/sep/26/myth-wind-turbines-carbon-emissions
    The assertion that wind turbines don’t reduce carbon emissions is a myth, according to conclusive statistical data obtained from National Grid and analysed here in the Guardian for the first time. With a new wind generation record of 4,131 megawatts set on 14 September, the question of how far the UK’s wind generation fleet can help in meeting our climate targets is increasingly controversial. Now it can be shown that the sceptics who lobby against wind simply have their facts wrong.

    • Thank you for taking the time to reply Jeffery. However, both you and The Guardian article from four years ago either willfully or naively misunderstands the issue. Yes, when the wind blows, less gas is used (note, not zero gas). The fundamental issue is that the wind does not always blow, and is in fact notoriously variable, and needs quick-acting, gas-fired backup, which means it is generating CO2 regardless. That is just the moment to moment variability issue. Overall, since wind is available on average perhaps 25-30% of the time, and it needs fossil fuel backup even when running, it does not and cannot substantially reduce emissions. And whatever it possibly does, is achieved at very high cost, mostly to the poor.

      • The cost savings of not using fossil fuels is enormous. Plus the poor who are the most adversely effected from fossil fuels would benefit the most. Health cost savings would bring the cost of a healthy society down resulting in large savings.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/100%25_renewable_energy

        In 2015 a study was published in Energy and Environmental Science that describes a pathway to 100% renewable energy in the United States by 2050 without using biomass. Implementation of this roadmap is regarded as both environmentally and economically feasible and reasonable, as by 2050 it would save about $600 Billion Dollars health costs a year due to reduced air pollution and $3.3 Trillion global warming costs. This would translate in yearly cost savings per head of around $8300 compared to a business as usual pathway. According to that study, barriers that could hamper implementation are neither technical nor economic but social and political, as most people didn’t know that benefits from such a transformation far exceeded the costs.[53]

  2. Funny thing about wind, it has no fuel. Giving it an advantage over fossil fuels.

    https://cleantechnica.com/2014/05/07/wind-power/
    http://www.climatechangenews.com/2013/10/21/wind-power-significantly-reduces-co2/

    To summarize the reality of the situation:

    Wind turbines have very low full-lifecycle carbon emissions
    Wind turbines require very little backup
    Fossil fuel plants that provide warm standby for variances in grid electricity demand work efficiently
    Wind farms cause only minor micro-climate effects
    Wind turbines pay back their total environmental debt in months
    And so, on to the underpinnings of each of the realities and their attendant myths.

    • Wind farms have large carbon cycles beginning with their manufacturing and installation https://stopthesethings.com/2014/08/16/how-much-co2-gets-emitted-to-build-a-wind-turbine/ Wind turbines require 100% back-up and expensive grid integration estimated at about $1 million/MW, PLUS billions in transmission lines for very little power by ratio. Wind turbines have a problem with random activity. Here’s what that means for Alberta and the back-up system…and ultimately the emissions. The problem with wind is its randomness, wind is completely uncorrelated with demand. If they add another 5,000 MW in Alberta then the total would be 6,500 MW. Typically this amount of wind would randomly experience 80% or higher ramps one or more times per week. This would be the equivalent of ramping 6.5 Sheppard plants from off to full to off again. These plants are unable to do this over the long term. They may end up having to put in simple cycle units instead which, from a CO2 perspective, would pretty much defeat the purpose of adding wind. But it’s never really been about reducing CO2, it’s all about building wind. And now solar with the new government statement about going 50% solar.

      • I see a big difference between reality and the article published in Friends of Science. It is quite clear you do not need spinning reserves and therefore there is very little cost and pollution to the idle reserves waiting to be used. Plus you have the health benefit, the global warming savings all putting more money into our pockets now and into the future.

        http://www.awea.org/Issues/Content.aspx?ItemNumber=4544

        The fact that changes in wind output are slow and predictable has important implications for the cost and emissions associated with integrating wind. Slower changes can be dealt with through the use of non-spinning reserves – power plants that are not operating but are standing by ready to provide power within 30 minutes or so. Since non-spinning reserves are not operating, there is no fuel use associated with them standing by and available to be placed into operation. As a result, there are little to no emissions impact from having these reserves, and the cost of these non-spinning reserves is typically a few percent of the cost of the fast-response and higher-emitting spinning reserves. Keep in mind that, while a wind turbine is a mechanical device that can also fail abruptly, a single turbine represents only a small (typically <1%) fraction of the power being generated by the whole wind power plant. The probability that any two turbines in a wind plant will unpredictably fail at the same time is quite small.

        • We consult with expert P. Engineers and power generation people. The chart demonstrates that wind output changes are not slow – they are somewhat ‘predictable’ due to a tremendous effort and cost in forecasting equipment.
          The problem with wind is its randomness, wind is completely uncorrelated with demand. If the Alberta government adds another 5,000 MW then the total would be 6,500 MW. Typically this amount of wind would randomly experience 80% or higher ramps one or more times per week. This would be the equivalent of ramping 6.5 Sheppard plants from off to full to off again. These plants are unable to do this over the long term. They may end up having to put in simple cycle units instead which, from a CO2 perspective, would pretty much defeat the purpose of adding wind.

  3. Wind turbines do their job very well. Its fossil fuels that do a poor job of giving us a livable future with climate change.

    https://cleantechnica.com/2014/05/07/wind-power/

    To summarize the reality of the situation:

    Wind turbines have very low full-lifecycle carbon emissions
    Wind turbines require very little backup
    Fossil fuel plants that provide warm standby for variances in grid electricity demand work efficiently
    Wind farms cause only minor micro-climate effects
    Wind turbines pay back their total environmental debt in months

  4. Everybody loves free. So do the poor.

    http://www.ecowatch.com/texas-wind-farms-generate-so-much-power-utilities-are-giving-electrici-1882118444.html

    Texas Wind Farms Generate So Much Power Utilities Are Giving Electricity Away for Free

    • “Free” because it is funded by subsidies from all Americans, whose power bills have gone way up. “Over the past 35 years, wind energy – which supplied just 4.4% of US electricity in 2014 – has received US$30 billion in federal subsidies and grants. These subsidies shield people from the uncomfortable truth of just how much wind power actually costs and transfer money from average taxpayers to wealthy wind farm owners, many of which are units of foreign companies.” http://www.newsweek.com/whats-true-cost-wind-power-321480

      • You have that wrong climatewise. This is on the utility’s own free volition to do so. Free is good. And yet you are arguing with that. This is a utility in Texas. They can still make money during the day and will do so just fine. Save your washing, dishwasher, and air conditioning for at night. Do the best you can not to use electricity during the day.

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