Wanted: Wind enthusiasts to reply to wind critic

I got the following e-mail from an academic who is critical of all the hype around wind power production. Here’s an excerpt of his comment. I invite any wind experts out there to reply through this blog and I’ll forward all comments to this individual. Seems like a good way to stimulate some necessary debate.

Here’s the excerpt:

On average, windmills only put out about 25% of their capacity, rarely producing their nameplate rating and, when the wind doesn’t blow, the production is zero. Unless you expect society to adapt to having electrical power only when the wind blows at just the right speed, you have to have a rapid response backup system. The costs for such a backup should be included in the cost associated with the windmills.  As long as these (wind turbines/farms) are a minor component of the grid, normal fluctuations in demand will hide such a requirement. Unless the cost is assigned to the intermittent producer, everyone else has to pay for capacity that will sit idle part of the time and hence will have a higher capital cost component.  (Fast response systems are usually powered by natural gas. If the present plans for tar sands upgraders continue, then Alberta will become a net importer of natural gas.

So, any clever replies out there?

4 thoughts on “Wanted: Wind enthusiasts to reply to wind critic”

  1. Hi Tyler,

    Thanks for contributing great analysis to the CleanTech community. As a marketing strategist my job is to help technology developers create solutions that the market will buy. The market buys solutions for their problems, not individual components. In every sector of CleanTech there are pros and cons to displacing incumbent technologies. Some are economical, some environmental and some are practical. On the wind energy issue I think we have a mix of problems and opportunities that cannot be generalized. Wind energy is not a complete solution, not one that is effective everywhere. I asked a friend of mine in the energy biz what he thought of the academic’s comments. Here is what he had to say.

    He’s right, I’m afraid. Wind power produces energy, not capacity. To have the capacity available to meet load for when the wind doesn’t blow does require standby generation that sits idle or is idled by wind. Those costs have to be borne by all ratepayers. Some folk think that hydro power is a good match for wind as the energy from wind is “stored” in the hydro system for he “capacity” to be recalled at time of need. Unfortunately wind energy costs quite a bit more than off-peak energy that could be bought on wholesale markets so those opportunity costs need to be brought into the equation as well.

    Wind proponents suggest that with enough wind generators spread out over diverse geography, the capacity issue will be solved as it is almost certain that it is blowing somewhere, sufficiently. Since a world-class wind site blows 30% of the time, then one can only assume one would need at least three times the wind generators to have a reasonable assurance that capacity

    would be available when it gets cold or hot. On top of this, if one has to buy or access transmission to get the wind power to market, then transmission costs are also triple the tariffed rate as one must keep the transmission available 100% of the time when it may only blow 30% of the time.

    Now you might conclude from this note that wind then doesn’t make sense to incorporate into a utility’s portfolio of supply. That’s not true. A utility may have enough gas fired generators to meet capacity but is interested in idling the gas generators to save on the variable cost of high priced natural gas. The fixed costs of those gas generators remains and still needs to be allocated across all ratepayers. And one may simply want wind

    regardless of cost because the fuel is free and completely clean.

    The issue at heart is wind proponents rarely address capacity or the issue of idling existing generation or of sub-optimal use of transmission. Wind proponents typically state wind generation costs are less than natural gas fired generation. Sure, if a utility only requires energy and not capacity.

    And then there’s the issue of subsidies – both Canada and the US have huge wind subsidies in place. A subsidy is simply a tax on everyone. As long as one is aware of that fact, for environmental or other reasons, then one has a full and proper understanding of the wind power costs.

    The only point I don’t agree with is his view on the oil sands. Right now natural gas is used to make steam to loosen up the sticky oil in the tar sands. That’s like using gold to make silver. It just isn’t sustainable in the long run as natural gas is a higher value product than crude oil produced from the tar sands. Already the technology exists to use the bitumen itself (specifically petroleum coke, or a by-product of the extraction process) to produce the steam. This will eventually displace natural gas altogether in bitumen extraction, perhaps as soon as 2015.”

    I’ll add that there are other solutions to release the crude oil from tar sands. Carbon is also a proven solution. If you can capture it from smoke stacks and separate it from other GHGs, it can be pumped into the tar sands and sequestered creating another climate benefit. The University of Regina has been demonstrating their carbon separation technology at a site in Saskatchewan.

    I hope this is helpful, even though perhaps not quite what you wanted to hear.


    Lorraine Rieger


  2. Actually, no one realistically expects wind power to be more than a “minor” part of the power pool. Even Denmark, the world leader in wind power, produces only 20% of their power from wind. Here in Alberta, less than 1% of our elecricity demands are met by wind. That being said, there is definitely much more room on the grid for wind, without causing problems.

    The fact is that wind energy is currently the most viable form of clean renewable energy, but it is certainly not the only solution. As a prior commentor noted, matching other forms of generation with wind power is a realistic way to meet our energy needs well into the future.

    As long as wind developers spend the time to properly assess wind assets where they want to build, wind energy can be sustainable, economically and environmentally. I would caution anyone looking to use the official wind resource map… it’s not detailed enough.

    Places to look for more info:



  3. I believe there is a lot of truth to the topic of the inefficiency of turbines and the lack of scalability and cohesiveness with any efficient energy-storing system. That being said, this negativistic attitude toward this technology reflects the apathy of the need to pursue the wind project in terms of a response. It is a response that is needed as an anti-thesis to the destructive path our civilization is being brought down by due to fossil fuel use.

    Wind power is expensive. It is very inefficient. It doesn’t work all the time, and it would need a great deal of work to replace the world’s energy needs.

    But to look at the opposite; to view the ongoing resource wars, the constant and growing famine, the loss of topsoil, the deterioration of our seafood and animal life, the degredation of our rain forest, and the greed that indrectly feeds into every piece of our extravagant resource extracting techniques.

    To view all these deficiencies of current society, and to view them with the knowledge that these things will not help our childrens’ future, wouldn’t it be moral to at least justify wind power as a something that can begin a transition into something better? If not, is the status quo the true alternative, so as to dismiss every single new innovation that might be able to help your children have a better life in the future?

    Wind Power is expensive. Wind Power is inefficient. But isn’t it at least a step up from humankind’s current condition? Is there something better?

  4. People need to realize, that although wind energy sounds great, wind farms require significant subsidies to make them a reality. We are all oblivious as to just how cheap and easy it is to just burn fossil fuels for both mobile and stationary energy needs. The loss of this cheap oil supply to our society, will bring about catastrophic change to our way of life, that it all there is to it, there is no realistic way to replace it. Canadians should think twice about allowing our oilsands reserves to be shipped out of the country. This is the classic Canadian mistake, we allow our valuable resources to just be “dug up” and shipped out without adding any value, thus our economy has never been a “real player” on the world markets. The continued support of phony liberal, socialist minded govt’s that supposedly support the needs of the people has only exacerbated this trend. There is only one way, entrepreneurial spirit, allow small business to thrive, with much much lower taxes, and the rest will take care of itself. We are unaware that our economy is merely that of a bunch of “shopkeepers” and service industries, and of course the natural resources rapers that are now primarily not even Canadian businesses anymore. It’s sad that such a great country, with the quality of education system we have, has allowed itself to go this way. Canadians just don’t get it. Our best people are leaving in droves to the economic magnet to the south. Even with a downturn in the US economy it is still a better option than what we present to scientists, doctors, engineers etc.

Comments are closed.