Windpower sucks at almost everything

A recent article at The Telegraph is going to seriously annoy tree-huggers everywhere, particularly because it slays many of the myths about windpower:

Wind power could actually produce more CO2 than gas and increase domestic fuel bills because of the need for “back up” power stations, a think tank has warned.

A study in the Netherlands found that turning back-up gas power stations on and off to cover spells when there is little wind actually produces more carbon than a steady supply of energy from an efficient modern gas station.

The research is cited in a new report by the Civitas think tank which warns that Britain is in danger of producing more carbon dioxide (CO2) than necessary if the grid relies too much on wind.

Wind turbines only produce energy around 30 per cent of the time. When the wind is not blowing – or even blowing too fast as in the recent storms – other sources of electricity have to be used, mostly gas and coal.

However it takes a surge of electricity to power up the fossil fuel stations every time they are needed, meaning more carbon emissions are released.

“You keep having to switch these gas fired power stations on and off, whereas if you just have highly efficient modern gas turbines and let it run all the time, it will use less gas,” said Ruth Lea, an economic adviser to Arbuthnot Banking Group and the author of the Civitas report.


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  • Anonymous

    In the New Zealand context, the ‘backup’ need for wind generators is met by existing hydro stations which are a convenient storage buffer. Transpower had had to plan some grid enhancement works to handle this generation juggling but this is no big deal. There is a limit to how many wind turbines can be built without ‘saturating’ the hydro stations, but NZ is a long way from that at present. I would see NZ’s long term electricity plans as wind followed by nuclear. By that time the present concerns about nuclear because of the Japanese earthquake will have abated sufficiently to permit a NZ nuclear station to be built.

  • It depends on the source of the replacement power when the wind is not blowing.

    I imagine that in NZ some of this would be hydro rather than gas. 

    I recall hearing that if the UK wanted to get all it’s energy from re-newable sources either it would have to cover half the nation in wind turbines or build 300 nuclear power plants.

    • Anonymous

      If the wind is not blowing, Instantaneous power demand comes from hydro, although I admit that ‘lost’ energy (when wind farms are ‘down’) would come from coal/gas. However it can be ‘made up’ as convenient and would generally come from efficient combined cycle plant rather than inefficient and expensive to run backup plant (generally gas turbine).

  • Solution for constant wind supply is easy
    Hook one turbine up to the Debating Chamber at Parliament, fill it with MP’s, remove the Speaker and let rip
    The amount of Hot Air that Chamber would produce would even outstrip the biggest Nuclear Power Plant and make Parliament more errr “productive” ;)

  • Guest

    Nowhere near as efficient or as cheap or as capable of being applied at a micro level as solar power.

    I understand one of the power companies, Vector I think, has done some comparative tests on photovoltaic solar, solar-water and wind. Photovoltaic solar ticks all the buttons:

    Crashing in price meaning affordable for consumers in the medium term (3-5 years)
    not mechanical, so less to wear out and break
    Easy to apply to peoples homes, no resource consents needed
    Does the best job of reducing power supply from the grid, so power companies don’t need to engage in huge CAPEX.
    Batteries getting cheaper too

    • Anonymous

      Batteries remain a pain in the arse. They last only five years or so and old batteries are environmentally unfriendly to dispose of (just mention ‘Exide’ to the people of Petone). There has not been any breakthroughs in battery development for storing significant amounts of energy in the last 100 years+. Unfortunately, batteries, unlike solid state electronics, have not followed Moores law.

  • Tristanb

    I hate “think tanks”. What an arrogant term, they’re a bunch of group-masturbating douchebags.

  • Anonymous

    Wind power. Right. Greenies like the idea of wind power until you want to build a wind farm in their back yard. Then an environmentalist like Anton Oliver campaigns against it.

  • nasska

    Nuclear power has similar limitations in that although it produces cheap power consistently it is not flexible enough to be ramped up to cover consumption peaks.  Apparently in Austria hydro generation from mountain lakes is used to cover high morning & early evening demand.

    What is strange is that excess power from nuclear plants is used to pump the water back up into the lakes during the low demand night hours.

  • Jamo

    Thank goodness for tail water depressed reserve hydro in a country with 75% hydro!