What is the true carbon footprint of wind turbines?

There has been a great deal of taxpayer’s money pumped into subsidising wind turbines and a great deal of electricity consumers’ money spent on the same source of renewable energy. Generally, most environmentalists who think that climate change is a serious threat are in favour of wind turbines but many environmentalists oppose them on aesthetic grounds. Beauty is often in the eye of the beholder and we have many structures around us that are uglier than wind turbines. However on their carbon footprint most climate changers believe that wind turbines reduce the emissions and therefore help prevent greenhouse gas emissions. After all, if you produce electricity from wind, instead of coal, oil or gas there are fewer emissions, they argue, but things are not what they may seem at first sight.

When it comes to producing low emission electricity you have to look at the whole picture, not just at the electricity produced by a source at its source. It is quite clear that the carbon footprint of say nuclear energy is not zero; you have to take into account the uranium mining, transportation, building of massive power plants, and building of massive long term nuclear waste storage facilities. You must also take into account the transmission losses. The further you send electricity the more power you lose due to heat losses as the electricty goes through the power lines. The transmission loss is probably around 10% per 200 miles so measure the electricty at the point of consumnption, not at the point of creation.

Energy losses are directly proportional to the square of the current. The average US energy loss in large scale distribution is 6.5%, and there are other losses from sub-stations to consumers.

When you look at fossil fuel produced electricity you must, in order to gate an accurate view of the emissions produced, take into account the emissions produced over the whole electricity production from mining to consumption, and so it is the same with wind produced electricity, but with wind produced electricity there is another factor that you must take into account – the fossil fuel consumption that arises from using wind turbines.

Wind everywhere (or virtually everywhere) is intermittent. You cannot always predict when the wind blows. You cannot easily and cost effectively store electricity and you cannot store it at all in an environmentally friendly way. That means that you must have a system of backing up the intermittency of wind produced electricity,

You cannot use nuclear power to back up wind power. Nuclear power stations cannot be quickly turned on and off – the process takes weeks – nor can they be stepped up and down easily without wasting vast amounts of electricity by converting it into heat. The nuclear power is a base load power system, not one that can respond to millions of lights being switched on and kettles being boiled as soon as a popular television programme ends.

The fossil fuel power stations are the ones that can respond most quickly to the surges in demand of electricity consumption. They are the source that is used to back up wind power, and they are turned up and down in response to the intermittent wind power.

Turning a power station on and off is an expensive business, and produces more emissions than keeping it running at at steady rate. It is a similar process as when you drive your car. Accelerate or brake harshly and you consumer more fuel (and thus create more emissions) than if you kept the car going at a steady rate.

The additional emissions created by the variability of wind must be very significant. These additional emissions probably offsets many of the emissions savings that wind energy creates, although I cannot say to what extent. I am unaware of any study which demonstrates the additional power station emissions caused by wind power’s variability. The Renewable Energy Foundation as done a lot of work on the variability of wind power but the REF is a small charity, and one would have expected that this work would have been done before billions of taxpayer’s money was committed to the wind turbine industry.

3 Responses

  1. Wind is a waste, on the two times of year when its needed most, in the depth of wimter and the height of summer the wind as anyone knows vey rarely blows.

    GE or geneal Electric hold over 100 patents on the closed loope technologywhich they are holding onto, but the chinese are now snaping at the techno heels of the oil cartels who are obviously staring to get worried.

    Read link below

    http://m.inhabitat.com/china-finds-way-to-reuse-nuclear-fuel-60-times-longer/

    There is plenty of information on the nuclear issue that the greens are taking advantage of, if one cares to look for it, on how nuclear is being demonised and de- elecrified.

    Ask the father of global warming and he Gaia theory James Lovelock what he knows about nuclear and you might be quite supprised what you hear.

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