A Dying Breeze
Submitted by Doug L. Hoffman on Sun, 12/12/2010 - 16:00
The Alpha Ventus Wind Park is the first of its kind: a deep water wind farm in the stormy North Sea. It is composed of 12 turbines that together will generate 60MW of electrical power. When fully operational, the farm will be able to power 50,000 households. But barely two months after the ceremony opening Germany’s first deep water wind farm, six of the newly installed wind turbines were idle. This was not due to a lack of wind but because of gearbox damage: two turbines had to be replaced entirely, the other four repaired on site. Problems with Alpha Ventus highlight a series of poor decisions—a precipitous move to shut down working nuclear plants, rampant installation of solar cells, and a headlong rush into offshore wind generation among them—that could well have Germany facing blackouts in the not too distant future.
The six turbines that have been operating since August 2009 have supplied about 13 million kWh of energy to the grid. This is in contrast with the 262.8 million kWh of electricity that would have been generated if the turbines had operated at their rated capacity for a year. Even when located in the windy North Sea, wind turbines simply do not produce at anywhere near their rated output. Alpha Ventus generates only 1/20th its rated capacity—enough energy for 2,500 homes, not 50,000.
The problems with Alpha Ventus helps demonstrate the folly of forced installation of green power. In this case, each turbine costs $5,200 (€4,000) per kilowatt in upfront investment. This comes to a hefty $26 million (€20 million) for each 5MW turbine. Because such heavy investment in an unreliable and intermittent power source is not attractive to power companies, the German government decreed that turbine operators be given 20 cents in incentives for every kWh generated on the high seas.
One of the Alpha Ventus wind turbines being towed to its installation site.
As a result, Germany's energy consumers must pay 20 cents per kWh generated, plus an additional 5 cents per kWh for transmission costs. They must pay this regardless of whether the electricity is needed at the moment or not. Indeed, due to the intermittent and highly variable nature of the wind, a kWh of wind electricity is worth less than 3 cents on the Leipzig Power Exchange. Only a government bureaucrat would think this sound policy.
This ill-advised foray into wind comes as a complement to Germany's breakneck installation of solar cells, a move that was criticized for driving up world solar panel prices and thereby preventing their installation in sunnier, developing nations where they would do the most good. The sad truth is that Germany is poorly situated for solar power. Located in higher latitudes with a cloudy climate, a solar cell in Germany will only produce 40-50% of the energy that it would if located in North Africa or other sunny equatorial location. As we stated in the first chapter of The Energy Gap:
As for wind power, the German Energy Agency (Deutsche Energie-Agentur, or DENA) was projecting an additional 20.4 GW of wind power by 2020, but that forecast has been reduced to just 10 GW and even that estimate may be optimistic.
According to Eduard Sala de Vedruna, a senior analyst tracking wind energy for the consultancy Emerging Energy Research: “These 10 gigawatts are not going to be installed by 2020. That’s a fact.” He puts the figure at 8.4 GW. All the proposed turbines running full out would deliver less than a quarter of the 149 billion kWh currently generated by Germany’s nuclear reactors each year.
Last year, DENA determined that cancellation of coal projects and shutting down existing nuclear plants could leave Germany without sufficient conventional generating capacity to back up its wind and solar power. According to DENA’s CEO, Stephan Kohler, the generation shortfall could reach 12 GW by 2020—Germany has a looming energy gap.
We are not alone in issuing such warnings, According to an article by Edgar Gaertner, “Germany’s Offshore Wind: Wasted Resources, Environmental Blight,” Germans should prepare for significantly higher electricity bills and more frequent blackouts.
“If all German wind power projects are realized as planned, the country will incur economic losses well over 100 billion Euros by 2030,” says Thomas Heinzow, an environmental economist at the University of Hamburg. “The only word that describes this ‘world improvement’ strategy is suicidal.”
The Alpha Ventus wind farm in the North Sea.
Moreover, most of Europe, the US, Japan, China, India and all other developed or rapidly developing countries are facing the same uncertain energy future. Everywhere, politicians, urged on by environmentalists and vested interests in the green energy business, are backing rapid expansion of wind energy. Even though it is not economically viable, it has the dubious distinction of being the most affordable alternative energy choice. And economic problems are not the only drawbacks of wind power.
As reported on The Resilient Earth website, wind power reaps a deadly harvest of birds and bats wherever they operate. Please refer to “Fighting CO2 Endangers Raptors” and “Wind Power: Green and Deadly ” for more of the grisly details.
What can be done to stop this senseless rush to expand wind power? Become knowledgeable about the problem and then take political action. Physicist and environmental advocate John Droz Jr., who publishes an excellent energy oriented news letter, has collected the facts about wind power. His mission statement is: “We believe that we have environmental and energy issues, and we believe that these matters should be resolved by applying the Scientific Method.” According to Droz:
In my thirty plus years of working on environmental issues, I’ve learned a few things. One is that our “representatives” are often anything but. Another is that government bureaucrats have little interest in taking initiative, no matter how much sense it might make.
To help prepare people to face their own politicians and the environmentalist opposition, Droze has put out a pair of short, animated talking point videos. In the first we meet Dick and Jane, who are having a discussion of wind power and a proposed local wind farm project:
In the second, Jane speaks with her town representative:
OK, they are not Avatar, but the information they contain is much less biased than the “hidden” environmentalism of James Cameron's latest cinematic confection. For more information, including tips on how to avoid unproductive arguments and becoming bogged down in technical details, see this PDF. John also has a slide show available on line at Electrical Energy: Sound Scientific Solutions. These items are not the only information available on the web but they are a good place to start if you are ready to become politically active in your community.
If there was ever an object lesson supporting the need for responsible citizens to become politically active regarding energy and environmental matters just look at the deal making going on the the US Congress over the tax cut renewal bill. In order to secure enough votes for the bill, a renewal of tax credits for green energy, including ethanol and wind power, have been tacked on.
This is a blatant payoff for special interests who know how the Washington game is played. In Congress this is called “compromise,” any place else it would be called bribery. If you are a US citizen contact your representative and senators!
Be safe, enjoy the interglacial and stay skeptical.