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Page added on July 25, 2011

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Wind Energy is Expensive

Alternative Energy

Balancing plants accommodate wind energy to the grid and thereby help maintain voltage and frequency at target values, i.e., they ramp down corresponding to an incoming wind energy surge and ramp up

corresponding to a wind energy ebbing.

Each ramp may last, say 5 minutes, or about 12 x 24 = 288 ramps a day, or about 100,000 ramps per year. If 10 minutes per ramp, then about 50,000 ramps. In any case, major wear and tear on the equipment causing increased O&M and shortened useful service life; an economic issue.

Those ramping costs have not been adequately quantified by utilities and are not charged to wind turbine owners as wind energy accommodation fees.

The balancing operations require the balancing plants to operate at a percent of rated output which is inefficient, and simultaneously ramping up and down is even more inefficient; another economic issue.

Note: gas turbines are about 15% less efficient at 50% of rated output than at rated output; ramping up and down further reduces their efficiency.

The balancing operations greatly increase Btu/kWh and CO2 emissions/kWh. Because of the lack of real-time measurements of fuel consumption and CO2 emissions of the balancing plants before and after wind, these variables have not been adequately quantified. From OCGT and CCGT turbine performance curves one can infer a heat rate, Btu/kWh, degradation of about 20%.

The capacity of the balancing plants, MW, needs to be about the same as the wind capacity, MW. The balancing energy for a year is about (1.0-0.30)/0.30 = 2.33 times the wind energy, if the wind facility capacity factor = 0.30. This quantity of energy is produced in an inefficient manner because of balancing; another economic issue.

As wind penetration becomes greater, say 2 to 3 percent, more and more plants on the grid (if capable of quick ramping) are drawn into balancing operations requiring them to operate at a lesser efficiency, i.e., more Btu/kWh and more CO2 emissions/kWh, than if not balancing.

The lack of real-time measurements that would reveal reality is much to the glee of wind proponents enabling them to say: Oh, the extra fuel consumption and extra CO2 emissions are not that much, at most a few percent, etc. That statement has no factual basis supported by real-time measurements of operating parameters without wind energy and with wind energy.

Ignorance, maintained with deceptive PR slogans (“so many households served, so much CO2 reduced, grid parity in a few years, its renewable, energy independence, etc.”) means continued bliss of subsidies and profitability for vendors, project developers and financiers and reelection of proponent legislators, but increased pain of higher electric rates, visual impacts and lower living standards for everyone else.

For example: The UK goal of 33 GW of onshore and offshore wind turbines requires:

– at least 10,000 wind turbines @ 3 MW each, each at least 465-ft tall, at a cost of about $99 billion @ $3,000/kW (average on/offshore cost)

– about 33 GW of quick-ramping CCGTs for balancing at a cost of about $26.4 billion @ 1,250/kW

– reorganization of the grid, including HVDC lines on several thousand towers that are 85 to 135 ft tall from Ireland, Scotland and offshore wind turbine facilities to England, at a cost of at least $25-30 billion

The total cost will be at least $150 billion, a sizable investment that will have a useful service life of about 20-25 years, about the same period it will take to build the wind turbines facilities.

There will be significant adverse impacts on quality on life (noise, visual, psychological and health), property values and the environment.

People living within about 2 miles would be disturbed by an around-the-clock machinery noise and an irregular din of whoosh-type sounds, especially during nighttime. The noise will be similar to 18-wheelers, on top of 280-ft towers, spreadout throughout the countryside, simultaneously and continuously running their engines at a distance, 24/7/365 for 20 or more years; a total madness. See “Increased Energy Efficiency” below.

Having No Wind Energy is More Economical

The 33 GW of gas-fired, 60% efficient CCGT balancing plants would be able to produce all of the wind energy PLUS all of the balancing energy, at a much lower installed cost ($26.4 billion) and at a much lower cost/kWh with only a few percent of additional fuel consumption/kWh and a only a few percent of additional CO2 emissions/kWh, if they were operated at about 60% efficiency, at rated output, in base-loaded mode.

This would be accomplished without adverse impacts on quality on life (noise, visual, psychological and health), property values and the environment.

Please explain to me why anybody is still “doing” wind?

New GE CCGT Plant

GE is marketing a new CCGT plant and has sold a few of them. The new “GE FlexEfficiency 50” plant has a capacity of 510 MW and a 61% efficiency at rated output. Its design is based on a unit that has performed utility-scale power generation for decades. The plant fits on about a 10-acre site.

It is quick-starting: from a cold start, it reaches its rated output in about one hour. Its average efficiency is about 60% from rated output to 87% of rated output (444 MW) and about 58% from 87% to 40% of rated output (204 MW). It can be ramped at 50 MW/minute.

Without wind, the GE unit is designed to efficiently produce electric energy in base-loaded mode and daily-demand-following mode.

With wind, its high ramp rate enables it to also function as a cycling plant to accommodate the variable energy from wind turbine and solar facilities, albeit at reduced efficiency. Below 40% of rated output its efficiency decreases rapidly, as with all gas turbines. This means its economic ramping range is limited.

Two Better Alternatives to Wind Energy

60% Efficient Combined Cycle Gas Turbines

For the same capital cost a new 60% efficient combined cycle gas turbine facility, operated at rated output, in base-loaded mode, would produce about ($157.5 million/$1,250,000/MW) x 1 GW/1000 MW x 8,760 hr/yr x CF 0.90 = 993.4 GWh/yr, or about 993.4/6,000 x 100% = 16.6% of Vermont’s annual consumption, or 16.6/2.94 = 5.63 times the electrical energy per invested dollar. The facility would have a 35 -40 year useful service life.

The levelized energy cost for advanced 60% efficient CCGT would be about $0.0631/kWh, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

Some of the advantages of a gas-fired CCGT facility are:

– No grid modifications would be required

– No inefficient operation of gas-fired wind energy balancing facilities would be required

– Impacts on quality of life (noise, visual, psychological), property values and the environment would be minimal

– The facility would take up only a few acres

– The electrical energy would be low-cost, steady 24/7/365, reliable and dispatchable

– Low CO2 emissions/kWh; about 1/3 the CO2 emissions/kWh of coal plants

– No particulate emissions

Increased Energy Efficiency

The real issue regarding CO2 reduction is energy intensity, Btu/$ of GDP; it must be DECLINING to offset GDP and population growth. To accomplish this energy efficiency needs to be at the top of the list, followed by the most efficient renewables of which hydro power is the best and residential small wind is the worst, in fact, it is atrocious. EE is so good that it should be subsidized before any and all renewables, because it is much more effective per invested dollar.

Effective CO2 emission reduction policy requires that all households eagerly participate. Current subsidies for electric vehicles, residential wind, PV solar and geothermal systems benefit mostly the top 5% of households that pay enough taxes to take advantage of the renewables tax credits, while all other households are required to pay for them by means of fees and taxes or higher electric rates; the net effect is much cynicism and little CO2 reduction. Improved energy efficiency policy will provide much greater opportunities to many more households to significantly reduce their CO2 emissions.

Energy efficiency will have a much bigger role in the near future, as energy system analysts come to realize that tens of trillions of dollars will be required to reduce CO2 from all sources and that energy efficiency will reduce CO2 at a lesser cost and more effectively. Every household, every business can participate.

For example: there is a massive energy source right at our fingertips — but, so far, this resource remains largely untapped. This energy resource is available in every state, every city and every town, does not require mining and drilling and costly power plants, makes no noise, is invisible, does not harm the environment and fauna and flora and creates more jobs than renewables per invested dollar.

The majority of our existing building stock is old and most are inefficient buildings that are destined to be in service at least 25 years or longer. Reducing the energy that is normally wasted in existing buildings offers more potential for cost-effective energy savings and CO2 emission reductions than any renewables strategy.

Energy efficiency projects:

– will make the US more competitive, increase exports and reduce the trade balance.

– usually have simple payback periods of 6 months to 5 years.

– reduce the need for expensive and highly visible transmission and distribution systems.

– reduce two to five times the energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions and create two to three times more jobs than renewables per dollar invested; no studies, research, demonstration and pilot plants will be required.

– have minimal or no pollution, are invisible and quiet, are peaceful; no opposition groups demonstrating against them, something people really like.

– are by far the cleanest energy development anyone can engage in; they often are quick, cheap and easy.

– have a capacity factor = 1.0 and are available 24/7/365.

– use materials, such as for taping, sealing, caulking, insulation, windows, doors, refrigerators, water heaters, furnaces, fans, air conditioners, etc., that are almost entirely made in the US. They represent about 30% of a project cost, the rest is mostly labor. About 70% of the materials cost of expensive renewables, such as PV solar, is imported (panels from China, inverters from Germany), the rest of the materials cost is miscellaneous electrical items and brackets.

– will quickly reduce CO2 at the lowest cost per dollar invested AND make the economy more efficient in many areas which will raise living standards, or prevent them from falling further.

– if done before renewables, will reduce the future capacities and capital costs of renewables.

Motor Vehicles

Before embarking on heavily-subsidized, expensive electric vehicles that would be charged with electricity from CO2-producing fossil-fueled plants, some low-cost and quick measures to reduce CO2 are:

– high-efficiency diesel engines in passenger cars getting 40 mpg are widely used in Europe. This should be implemented in the US before PEVs; a fully mature technology, no-fingers-crossed situation and no subsidies.

– next hybrid/diesel-powered vehicles that get about 50 mpg; again a fully mature technology, no-fingers-crossed situation and no subsidies.

– next plug-in-hybrid/diesel-powered vehicles that have a 40-mile electric range; again a fully mature technology, no-fingers-crossed situation and no subsidies. The benefits are less diesel fuel consumption, but for at least the next 10-20 years more coal-generated power consumption to charge the hybrids, until renewables and natural gas become a greater percentage of US power.

– improving worldwide mpg of future gasoline-powered vehicles. This is an on-going effort that should be accelerated with subsidies. Cars with high mpgs usually are small and low-cost. If tens of millions/yr are sold worldwide, it will have a major impact on reducing CO2.

the energy collective

3 Comments on "Wind Energy is Expensive"

  1. DC on Mon, 25th Jul 2011 8:58 pm 

    Wind is bad, gas is good, build more cars-crisis averted!

  2. jim on Tue, 26th Jul 2011 11:37 pm 

    Let’s have a fracking good time with gas!!!

  3. Kenz300 on Wed, 27th Jul 2011 5:31 am 

    Nuclear energy gave us Fukishima and Chernobyl. Oil gave us BP in the Gulf. Coal gave us the Massey coal mine disaster.
    Wind, solar, wave energy geothermal and second generation biofuels made from algae, cellulose and waste are a bargain compared to poisoning the air, land, water and food we need to survive.

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