Wind Turbines and the foolishness of subsidising them

About ten miles north of Ramsgate, in the middle of the Thames Estuary some 175 offshore wind turbines have been installed and are now operating, as wind turbines operate, in their own misunderstood fashion. If it is windy, and not too windy, the turbines generate electricity. The publicity claims that the wind turbines will generate enough electricity for 470,000 homes but the publicity is imprecise. There are only 22.5 million homes in the United Kingdom and to power them all will need another 50 arrays of similar turbines but unfortunately it is not as simple as that.

The wind turbines produce electricity intermittently; when the wind does not blow, not a single home will be powered by this array. When the wind blows too strongly – more than about 20 metres per second, the turbines will shut down. When there is no demand for electricity the turbines will have to dump the electricity somewhere. It may be exported or it may simply be wasted as we have not developed a way of efficiently storing electricity in an environmentally friendly and cost effective way.

Because of this intermittency every wind array needs a backup source of energy. The backup must be in the form of a permanent “spinning reserve” which of course is fossil fuel based and inevitably emits greenhouse gases. So if we had 50 arrays of 175 offshore wind turbines we would need a spinning reserve of the fossil fuel electricity capacity for about 20 million homes.

This may seem to make wind power a rather foolish enterprise on a large national or international scale. Nevertheless you cannot expect governments to behave logically when it comes to renewable energy and the UK government spends about £1 billion a year in making wind farms profitable for their owners. That scale of foolishness is only dwarfed by the UK government subsidising fossil fuel energy mainly by charging Value added tax at the lowest rate of 5%, instead of the usual rate of 20%.

The solution is that renewable energy must be subsidised but not in a way that defeats the rationale of renewable energy. The best subsidy should be reserved for renewable technology which can store the energy generated, such as solar water heating, which needs no spinning reserve but merely the kind of back up that very home already has.

34 Responses

  1. All ice core peer reviewed data shows that it was considerably warmer here in the Uk during the bronze age through to the Roman occupation, medieval warming period. This opened vast tracks of land from the grips of the cold, more food wws available, the peat bogs also show the periods of warming and cooling from bog pine timbers, yet certain models are permanently en-vouge at the cost of all the other records.

    The money being spent on climate change is staggering, soon the carbon credits needed for manufacturing any alternative will zero out any benefits that are made.

    Seriously though, paying to pollute or pay for those bases who are pollitically immune, or carbon leppars creating the carbon footprint model will not change the end results.

    To be fair to those in the minority, the costs must be pointed to the corporations who are physically creating the conditions of the carbon conundrum. Carbon credits locked away in bank bonds and vaults will becone the devils in disguise.

    Of the warming of the planets surface to enable more available land will outweigh that warming, humans will adapt and move, like they did during the last ice age, nature does’nt do credits, and will survive.

    Wind, solar could provide 99.9% of ALL POWER by 2030

    Even better: It could do so at the same cost as fossil fuels
    By Rik Myslewski in San Francisco • Get more from this author

    Posted in Science, 15th December 2012 01:51 GMT
    Free whitepaper – A Vision for the Data Centre
    A group of researchers has released a study that claims to shoot down the common perception that clean, renewable energy from wind and solar sources is all well and good, eco-wise, but that it’s too uncertain, sporadic, and pricey for widespread use.

    “These results break the conventional wisdom that renewable energy is too unreliable and expensive,” said professor Willett Kempton of the University of Delaware in a statement. “The key is to get the right combination of electricity sources and storage – which we did by an exhaustive search – and to calculate costs correctly.”

    This good news is detailed in a paper available online now and scheduled to be published in the March 2013 issue of the scholarly Journal of Power Sources, straightforwardly entitled “Cost-minimized combinations of wind power, solar power and electrochemical storage, powering the grid up to 99.9% of the time”.

    When Kempton referred to an exhaustive effort, he wasn’t merely whistling the proverbial Dixie. The six authors of the paper used computer modeling to study 28 billion – that’s with a “B” – combinations of energy sources and storage techniques. Each of those 28 beeeelion combos were tested against four years of actual hourly weather data, along with electricity-demand data from PJM Interconnection, a power grid that serve 13 states from New Jersey to South Carolina to Illinois – about one-fifth of the US grid.

    Big enough sample for ya?

    As a result of this intensive modeling effort, the researchers say they’ve discovered that a carefully designed combination of renewable sources – wind and solar – with batteries and fuel-cell electricity-storage systems could by 2030 supply enough power to keep a large electrical grid fired up 99.9 per cent of the time, and do so at a cost comparable to today’s not-so-renewable energy grid.

    Four years of historical data applied to a mega-sized renewables, storage, and fossil-fuel grid model
    Cost was central to the team’s work. With this in mind, one of the things that they discovered is that it’s cheaper to crank out more juice than needed during hours of average need – as much as three times as much – than it is to store all the extra energy for later use. Those batteries and fuel cells ain’t cheap.

    One of the key elements in their plan would be to have a widespread geographical distribution of such intermittent sources as wind farms and photovoltaic installations – when it’s windy and sunny in one location on the grid, it could be calm and overcast in another and all parts of the grid would have enough power.

    Another aspect of their plan is to use some of that extra renewable capacity, when it’s available and when storage capacity is full, to substitute for natural gas for home and business heating.

    Fossil-fuel sources wouldn’t be abandoned entirely. There would likely be times when neither wind nor solar could provide enough juice, and when storage had been depleted. When that happens, they say, it’d be time to fire up the ol’ CO2 spewers and spin their turbines. Doing that, however, would be a last resort, and not the first, as is true in much of the US’s power grid today.

    While the idea of a large, geographically diverse renewable-energy grid might seem heinously expensive, the paper’s authors contend that if current estimates are correct that by 2030 wind and solar capital costs will be about half of what they are today, by that date a renewable system would be as cost effective as a fossil fuel system, and all without government subsidies.

    There is one cost sweetener in their calculations, however: their cost estimates for that comparison includes the costs related to the human health effects of fossil fuel–caused air polution.

    Those are costs, of course, that are not borne by the electric power industry. Yet. ®

    Free whitepaper – A Vision for the Data Centre

    • This study which might be published in March is not a study of how wind turbines which are grid fed work now, but a “vision” of how they might work at some indeterminate future date. We are subsidising wind turbines now, today, based upon what they have to offer now, not upon some propsect of a vision which might never materialise.


    • This is how any business functions. You take the best data available today, and project forward with reasonable assumptions, and compare with other alternatives. This study, to be published in a peer reviewed journal, shows what it shows, that it is worth investing now to get there.

    • and here is another peer reviewed study, produced by proper scientists. It is necessary to have subsidies now to get to this low carbon low fossil fuel future.

      Click to access JDEnPolicyPt1.pdf

      Subsidies are necessary because fossil is cheap, but it damages the environment and therefore has to be replaced.

    • These numbers destroy your uninformed claims about the costs of balancing

  3. How can a any serious environmental web site publish material approvingly from the REF? This so called think tank, is paid for by climate change denier Lawson, and is not a proper scientific body. As far as I know, none of its output has been published in peer reviewed scientific journals. It is mere propaganda for the fossil industry.

    • The REF is funded by various people in varying degrees, but they are a serious body who have some clear thinkers, like Dr John Constable. They commission papers from “proper” scientists, and it was to such a paper that I referred.


    • none of them have been peer reviewed and published. A recent on, purporting to show that wind turbines do not save co2 was written by an expert on water regulation, and has been widely discredited.

  4. Germany has 21new state of the art coal fired power stations in the pipeline, the Uk has new nuclear stations on their minds.
    The Uk and Europe still have several hundred years of the best mother load under their feet, they will be using it very soon nothings more sure, where there is a demand and muck, there is money, from the black stuff and its by products.

  5. Dear Renewable Energy Delusionsts, please read this report from the widely respected scientific establishment, not some jumped up psuedo scientifc outfit, like the REF and the Lawson so-called “think tank” paid for by the fossil lobby, and see that all renewables are on target for parity with conventional sources, and on shore wind is the cheapest.

    Click to access study-levelized-cost-of-electricity-renewable-energies.pdf

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