Thursday 27th October 2016

Wind Power

A classic example of the media, the government and the people getting it wrong is the on-going debate about green energy; A simple fact is that we're throwing away a ton of money implementing green energy solutions that do not work simply so that politicians can say that they are spending a ton of money on green energy. That's not to say that all green energy solutions are bad or that trying to make green energy supply systems is a bad idea. Just to make my own feelings known: I think that anything we do to generate readily available energy needs to be sustainable and non-damaging to the planet. I don't think that their is a silver bullet solution to this problem and I haven't seen anything yet that will work well in the UK.

A recent study

The UK is building wind farms. Not the brightest idea as they are fairly rubbish at producing power. In a recent study (cached) wind generation measured over a two year period was:

The report was put together to look at five common assertions made by the wind power industry and government. Here are those assertions and the findings of the report:

1. "Wind turbines will generate on average 30% of their rated capacity over a year."

The real figure is around 24.08% over the 26 month period of analysis.

2. "The wind is always blowing somewhere."

There were 124 separate occasions where the wind was not blowing enough from November 2008 to December 2010.

3. "Periods of widespread low wind are infrequent."

Widespread low wind occurs for about five hours every week.

4. "The probability of very low wind output coinciding with peak electricity demand is slight."

At each of the four highest peak demands of 2010 wind output was low being respectively 4.72%, 5.51%, 2.59% and 2.51% of capacity at peak demand.

5. "Pumped storage hydro can fill the generation gap during prolonged low wind periods."

The entire pumped storage hydro capacity in the UK can provide up to 2788MW for only 5 hours then it drops to 1060MW, and finally runs out of water after 22 hours.

So what to do?

Looking at the findings of the report, our wind power generation is patchy at best, this means we need to have traditional power plants online all the time as a backup to the wind power and wind power tends to either overproduce surplus energy we can't store or it under-performs just when we need it most. Our ideas about using hydro power as a backup system are flawed because we simply don't have enough capacity in the hydro system.

I don't envy the government in this situation; on the one hand, they have the people shouting about saving the planet and, on the other hand they have the real possibility of the lights going out or at least energy prices sky rocketing as we need to import more and more of it which will make the people vote them out for getting it wrong. In addition, the media had a recent frenzy over "evil nuclear power" that may have trashed our one realistic shot at meeting our energy needs without the pollution of burning fossil fuels.

My own opinion in this regard is that we need more research. We simply DO NOT KNOW how to fix this problem right now and we should use our best efforts to clean up what we already have deployed and then go on to figure out what can be done for the future. This may seem like a wait and see suggestion because IT IS! I see no benefit to spending millions on implementing wind power when we know it does not work.

Perhaps we should focus the resources we waste on wind power into making better ZEP fossil fuel power stations in order to solve our immediate problem, or perhaps we should build a better nuclear power plant.

My own thoughts

I'd like to see some research put into energy storage; perhaps sythesizing a simple fuel like methanol that can be burned in a carbon capture capable fossil power plant during high demand to meet peek load. Also, what about a generator that can be brought online very quickly so that it can spend low demand times offline and not polluting.