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The mystical problem with wind

Yesterday Complete Colorado headlined a Denver Post story about wind power “Another Bubble Bursting?” The reason for the headline is that in 2012 federal tax credits for wind power are set to expire and, as we revealed several months ago in a post about Xcel Energy’s latest compliance plan, wind power is not economically viable with out those tax credits.

The real problem with wind from the perspective of a physicist is that it is not a viable large scale energy resource — period. Dr. Kelvin Kemm writes:

Wind power paranoia has bypassed science logic and is well and truly in the realm of mysticism.

Let me state categorically that, as a physicist, I am in favour of wind power that is genuinely economically viable. The problem is that large-scale wind power fed into a national grid is just not viable – either economically or practically – from an engineering stand point.

The dream of some enthusiasts that there is some major technological leap just waiting in the wings that will make wind power viable is extremely unlikely to take place. The total energy in any wind stream is measurable, and there is no known quantum leap waiting for a solution that could produce considerably more wind energy than at present.

The extreme language and wild claims concerning the potential glories of wind power are becoming more and more exotic and are rapidly being blown further away from reality by the wind of reason. We really need a wind of change to blow now to bring debate back to sound logical discourse on the real strengths and weaknesses of wind power.

He provides an example:

A spokesperson of the South African Wind Energy Association was quoted in the media as saying: “Contrary to what most believe, a 30 000 MW wind energy plant would have an average daily minimum power output of 7 000 MW and would displace 6 000 MW of conventional coal or nuclear power baseload.”

This statement is significant for a few reasons. Firstly, it is irresponsible fantasy. Secondly, it does admit that a ‘plant’ of 30 000 MW does not produce 30 000 MW but only an ‘average’ of 7 000 MW. Take careful note of the word ‘average’. This word means that, in practice, the ‘plant’ could produce any output from zero to 30 000 MW, depending on if and when the wind blows. On ‘average’, they say, one should get 7 000 MW ‘daily’.

But what does that mean? How can one use the terms ‘average’ and ‘daily’ together. Think about it. The most common error committed unknowingly by the media, and knowingly by the wind proponents, is that a quoted figure for installed capacity for wind power is not the amount you get. Wind power systems are fundamentally designed to produce about 25% of their installed capacity, so one designs to get about 7 000 MW out of 30 000 MW of installed capacity. Frequently, the operating wind systems do not even deliver the designed 25% – at times half of this or less. In contrast, with nuclear power, one would get more than 25 000 MW out of an installed capacity of 30 000 MW and one would get it all the time, not only ‘on average’ when the wind blows.

It does make one wonder why we continue to throw taxpayer money into an energy source that is neither economically nor practically viable.