Thursday, 23 September 2010

Cold wind on hot air

Considerable coverage everywhere on the new Thanet wind farm. The wind power technology is rated as even better than sliced bread. We in Scotland have seen a considerable growth in wind farms - something to do with valleys channelling wind onto flat places. So, we need to give thought to something that appeared in our news quite recently.

"SCOTLAND'S wind farms have produced only around half the amount of power they were expected to this year, Scotland on Sunday has learned. The government blamed the low generation levels on unusually calm weather, but critics said the figures showed the danger of becoming too dependent on renewable energy." This situation is then amplified "Stuart Young, who runs Caithness Wind Information Forum and opposes wind farms, carried out the research by analysing data from the Balancing Mechanism Reporting System website, which the National Grid uses to monitor generation. The site provides a constant flow of information on output from 1,588 megawatts wind farms in Scotland.
His research also showed that for 80 per cent of the time between February and June Scotland's turbines were operating at less than 30 per cent.

And for almost a third of the time they were operating at less than 5 per cent of their maximum output, meaning they were virtually becalmed. Only nine times between February and June had the wind farms achieved 30 per cent efficiency for a full day at a time. There were long stretches, such as from 16 to 29 May, 9 to 15 April and 6 to 23 February when they failed to reach 30 per cent output"

The industry was defended. Duncan McLaren, chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland who is reported as saying "Generally, the wind is blowing somewhere in the UK and the likelihood of low wind speeds affecting 50 per cent of the country occurs less than 100 hours per year."

It seems that the nuclear power stations will be decommissioned. Periods when there is insufficient wind-powered generation will be met by using the coal-fired power stations as back-up. Just how this might work in practice does not seem to have been released but it must take time to go from stand-by to full steam ahead. That is after someone has decided that wind power is failing. The coal fired resources will need to be kept manned. Even if just turning over they require feeding with non-sustainable fuel. They will generate large amounts of CO2. If we factor in the costs to make the windmills, transport them from their foreign manufacturers, erect, maintain and eventually decommission, there cannot be much of a saving on CO2 from wind farms.

Mention is made of the Danish experience as being supportive of wind power. Ah yes but, there is an element of apples and bears comparisons. "Danish wind turbines near Copenhagen. Wind often flows briskly and smoothly over water since there are no obstructions. The large and slow turning turbines of this offshore wind farm near Copenhagen take advantage of the moderate yet constant breezes at this location. While the wind at this location is not strong it is very consistent, with the turbines generating substantial power over 97 percent of the time." We have read about the vagaries of wind speeds in Scotland. 'Moderate' and 'constant breezes' they are not. I haven't kept a check but I think I have seen seven warnings of gale force winds this month alone.

Maybe our political masters who direct their sheep into the appropriate pens should read "The Wind Farm Scam. Dr Etherington argues that in the case of wind power the drawbacks far outweigh the claimed benefits. Wind turbines cannot generate enough energy to reduce global CO2 levels to a meaningful degree; what's more wind power is by nature intermittent and cannot generate a steady output, necessitating back-up coal and gas power plants that significantly negate the saving of greenhouse gas emissions. In addition to the inefficacy of wind power there are ecological drawbacks, including damage to habitats, wildlife and the far-from-insignificant aesthetic drawback of the assault upon natural beauty and the pristine landscape, which wind turbines entail. Dr Etherington argues that wind power has been, and is being, excessively financed at the cost of consumers who have not been consulted, nor informed that this effective subsidy is being paid from their bills to support an industry that cannot be cost efficient or, ultimately, favour the cause it purports to support"

And who will have to pick up the costs of this enterprise? Once it gets into the National Grid the costs will pass to the energy suppliers. And to whom will they off-load it? Us - the customers.

Welcome to Cameron's Brave New World.

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