Please Note: THIS IS A WORK IN PROGRESS AND UNFINISHED. AS WITH OTHER SUCH ARTICLES THE DATE OF LAST UPDATE WILL BE HERE: 08.03.2012 Other articles in this section (Environmental Issues) link in with topics raised here.
There seem to be a lot of stories in the media these days about wind farms, invariably they are negative in nature. Virtually nothing good is ever said, so why is this? Can they really be as bad as they make out, are they really so inefficient and expensive? Is the power production so unreliable and so hard to store effectively? Do other countries have the same problems or are these problems special to the UK? With such a huge potential for wind power in Britain (the best in Europe) shouldn’t we have solved these problems or at least be on the cutting edge of solving them? How is it that other countries such as Holland, Denmark, Germany and most notably China seem to make a much better job than we are? And how come if we are to have more wind turbines than any other country in Europe that we do not have a single wind turbine manufacturer here in the UK?
Firstly, let us address the notion about wind farms being ‘a waste of time’ ‘totally inefficient’ ‘don’t work’. Well do they? Who is saying they don’t work? It seems we get this information from the media, from all sources, papers and the news and even royals. Let us not forget the media is heavily leaned-on these days to talk the government line. The government line is support oil because oil supports them. Half of all Tory funds come from the oil lobby, after all. Does it not seem strange then that more and more wind turbines are going up all over the world at an ever increasing rate if they did not work? But then people will say this is due to subsidies. However many countries installing them get no subsidies at all. Yet in the USA several states now get 20% of their power from wind, Holland and Denmark and Germany also produce significant amounts of their power from wind, and the amount we produce is increasing, indeed Scotland intends to get all its power from renewables by 2020, and most of this (70%) will come from wind. China, which has little oil of its own is increasing its wind power production to 1000 GW, China of all countries would be the last to invest in something that did not work. India too has installed vast amounts of turbines, second only to China. So how is this possible if ‘they don’t work’? Well, clearly they do work, in that they produce power (a single typical turbine powers 3,200 homes, when turning), and they must do so quite efficiently as the amount of wind turbines the UK has is about to triple at least. Most of these new wind turbines being offshore in waters owned by the royal family, odd since Prince Philip (Crown Estates, offshore) is one of the people saying they don’t work. Well Prince Philip, if they do not work why is Crown Estates going to be involved in building the largest off-shore wind farms in the world?
We should remember no industry comes to market fully formed and we would do well to remember how inefficient the internal combustion engine was at the start, for instance.
Here are the latest installations for the UK, with some being massive projects, strange if the technology didn't work? Via Ecogeek
The first phase of what will be by far the world's largest offshore wind farm, the London Array, has begun construction. The first two 3.6 MW turbines were installed on January 27th and 28th and will be generating electricity by March.
The first phase will have a total of 175 turbines and should be completed by the end of the year. At that point, the London Array will have a capacity of 630 MW. Phase two will begin shortly after, ultimately bringing the wind farm to a 1 GW capacity, capable of powering 750,000 homes.
Wind power capacity is adding up fast in the U.K. The world's current largest offshore wind farm, the Walney project off the coast of Cumbria, just finished opened today. The 100-turbine wind farm has a capacity of 367 MW and will be able to power 320,000 homes.
Next up will be the 133-turbine, 500 MW Greater Gabbard offshore wind farm that should be completed before the end of the year.
O.k. so we know they can produce power and lots of it but what of the costs and are they effective at producing this power in an environmentally friendlier way? Wind turbines are heavily subsidised, but then people who level this accusation seem to forget that ALL power production is subsidised, nuclear, coal and even oil receive hundreds if not thousands of times more in subsidies than wind or any renewable ever has. Yet even with less subsidies than oil, companies are clamouring to put up new wind farms, why? Because they are profitable. The fossil fuel supported and supporting government has therefore recently suggest cutting wind power subsidies because they are too expensive, just as they tried to with solar power, odd for a government which claimed it was going to be the greenest ever, and still needs to meet legally binding CO2 emission cuts! Shouldn’t we start by cutting fossil fuel subsidies first? Or at least taxing carbon dioxide pollution so that the true price of fossil fuels is charged.
The problem that some people are highlighting when they say ‘wind farms don’t work’ often is to do with their unpredictable power supply and the difficulty of storing excess energy when produced. These arguments are twaddle when we remember that conventional power production from fossil fuels routinely wastes over 6% of all power produced. How? Because of distribution through an inefficient grid and conventional power production plants, such as coal, cannot store or step down power production between day and night, so the excess simply gets earthed, sent in the ground and wasted. No attempt is made to store it in salt batteries or in any other way, they get paid for the power either way (they still get the subsidies).
“The transmission and distribution or “T&D” system losses amounted to 239 million MWh, or 6.1% of net generation. Multiplying that number by the national average retail price of electricity for 2005, we can estimate those losses came at a cost to the US economy of just under $19.5 billion. Congestion charges (the inability of capacitors to be flexible) represent another”. Here's the link:
Couldn't that power be instead used to produce cheap hydrogen to power hydrogen vehicles, or something?
But what of the green credentials of wind farms, isn’t the energy difficult to store? Of course it is! But energy is energy, however it is produced and the storage productions of excess power are universal to the power industry from any source, as we have just seen. Storing or regulating the power is not a problem unique to wind farms and excess power production off peak isn’t either, this is a universal problem to the whole power industry and cannot be used as an argument solely against wind farms.
Of course the real solution to both these problems would be an entirely new Smart Grid, which is highly flexible to fluctuations in power use and demand and can store and distribute energy very efficiently. This is slowly becoming a reality in parts, but more legislation is needed to speed the process along. There also need to been financial and legislative incentives for power companies to both cut energy inefficiency and to save energy in storage.
Is the wind power production green? Well here we do have problems. Each wind farm base is made of hundreds of tonnes of concrete. Concrete releases huge amounts of co2 in production and since a wind farm may only last between 15 and 25 years, the carbon it saves may never offset the amount produced by the concrete construction.
There are several ways to tackle this problem. One is that some types of concrete are now produced that actually sequester co2 from the atmosphere when produced, instead of releasing co2 into it. This concrete actually costs no more than conventional concrete and is widely available. It is sad that it is not more widely adopted. Another problem with this criticism is that yes, the turbines may only last around 15 to 25 years (as any turbine would of similar size in any type of power plant), but the base and stems can last much longer, probably 100 years or more. So the turbine can be replaced at a fraction of the cost of a whole new turbine and with no additional release of co2. Every bit of power produced from then on will be very green. Also, offshore deep water wind turbines now require no concrete, as they can be made to float like a fishing float, swinging with the wind but never toppling. The efficiency of offshore wind turbines can be further increased by several types of wave or ocean swell turbines attached to their bases.
There is then the argument that wind turbines take so long to turn a profit, due to cost of construction, and this is somewhere in the region of 25 years. Well, this is rubbish, they start making a profit in around 5 years (depending on cost of land and agreements etc). This is mainly due to economies of scale, the mass increase in production has brought unit costs down, and the increased efficiency has meant more power in less years is produced.
Now we should think about efficiency. Are wind turbines hopelessly inefficient? This could have been argued reasonably some years ago, but since then even conventional wind turbines’ efficiency has increased by around 15%. This is mostly through improvements to wing shape and tweaking the turbine gearing. New designs of several types of turbine increase efficiency dramatically, to more than double present conventional designs. Some of these designs include upright spiral blades, and conventional blades surrounded by a circular wheel, in which is housed the coil. Both these new designs however seem prone to much quicker wear of some parts (bearings) and need further development.
But even if all the above is true aren’t they just ugly tall blots on the landscape? Well, that is an aesthetic point of view, at least the visual pollution is the only pollution. Most wind turbines are in fact no higher than electricity pylons (minus blades), that are ubiquitous. They are nowhere near as large or tall as any coal or nuclear plant and don’t produce the pollution and waste that those plants do. And as for them being a threat to birds, they cause no more than any other structure as tall.In fact studies prove that the average single domestic cat kills 100 times more birds than a single wind turbine! So we should not let selfish NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard) stiffle a fantastic green energy source. (Yes, there are some in my back yard, nearest is 1km away.)
So, remember these arguments (check them for yourself on the internet) and be prepared to challenge someone next time they blithely regurgitate verbatim what they have heard on the oil funded media news, that wind turbine don’t work. There are thousands of sensible businesses which prove otherwise.
This article will be expanded and links added when I can find the time.