Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Wind Power is not Green?

The situation with green power production is getting very Orwellian in my opinion. There are arguments out there that wind power is the least green power source of power possible - well "industrial scale" wind is the worst. The use of industrial scale is a nice touch.

So the argument I am getting from people opposed to wind power is that it is not green at all because wind power needs to be backed up by other sources of electrical power to deal with the times when the wind is not blowing or there is a change in the wind. They are arguing that wind power does not in the end reduce CO2 emissions at all because of this.

What they are saying is that to be certain of the power supply, there needs to be a back up to the wind turbines. In Ontario this would be a coal fired power plant running at 60% to make sure that a drop in production from the turbines can be replaced if needed. So this would mean no reduction in CO2 emissions according to them. The final step in their argument seems to be missing a step of logic - I can not work out how they apply CO2 emissions to a KWh or wind produced power.

Let us say you need to run some other plant at 60% to back up the turbines, that still means 40% less CO2 emissions. The power from the coal fired plants would still be used to provide power to the grid. Even a 40% reduction in coal fired power 50% of the time would make a huge difference to the CO2 emissions in North America, something in the order of 400 000 000 tonnes of CO2 per year. But this supposes there is no option but to have this full back of wind as needs to be done at the moment.

On a small scale I can see full scale back up as being needed over a small geographic area such as Denmark. If the wind stops blowing in one place in Denmark, it stops everywhere. Denmark is smaller than Nova Scotia, it is smaller than some parks in BC. It is also very flat so either they have wind or they do not. This problem disappears if one looks at the bigger scale, with enough geographic variation the winds will be varied over the whole region.

On a bigger scale there would be wind turbines over a wide a range, wide enough that there is realistically going to be wind at some of the locations. I see it like a distributed network. In Canada the back up for wind eventually could be hydro, they are well matched for this. Large scale hydro is very easy to turn on and off as needed and as wind takes on a share of the baseload, hydro can be turned down and up as needed.

The Danes suffer from the fact that they are a very small country with the same weather everywhere - there is no real variation to allow for some areas to have wind and others not. Europe needs to be a single integrated grid so that when the wind blows in Denmark they can produce all the power they can and when it is not blowing they can get power for some location in Europe where it is blowing.

As you bring more and more wind online and have a consistent underlying base load from the turbines, you can start shutting down the coal plants. You need to think on a large enough scale on the continent to see that it does work.

In North America with have several north-south integrated grids, all of them are large enough that wind be a good addition to the mix and provide, over the whole grid, a consistent source of electricity. Each KWh of wind still remains a KWh of power that does not need to be produced from coal.

At the end of the day, each KWh of wind is still one that is produced without CO2 emissions.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

No....your argument would be right if the coal plants operated at 100%capacity all of the time...they never do. Perhaps 75% sometimes. The wind isn't displacing it by 40%..not at all. In fact if you look at the entire grid, it is barely displacing anything. You can't seem to get your head around how the grid works. You are making wrong assumptions in your argument.

http://www.spiegel.de/international/business/0,1518,606763,00.html

Bernard von Schulmann said...

If the wind power is not produced, then the power has to come from another source. If that source is coal fired power, then there are increased CO2 emissions.

I will admit I do not know the average level a coal fired plant operates at, there are times they are operating at 100% and times when they operate less.

So let us say the average is 75% at the moment and wind could reduce that to 60% nationwide for 75% of the time. That is still a savings of 10% of the CO2 emissions that happen at the moment.

The article in Der Spiegel shows that the cap and trade system is the problem. A carbon tax would be a better approach. The problem is not with the wind turbines but with the certificates issued for CO2 emissions.

Anonymous said...

Logic, Sir, logic.

Picture this...the wind is not blowing so a coal plant is running at 75% capacity and the output is put onto the grid. La dee da dee da.

Then the wind picks up and the wind turbines start turning. The power from them is put onto the grid (if needed, otherwise it is wasted). The coal plant cannot immediately just SHUT DOWN and START UP on a dime....so it continues running it's turbines, burning fuel into the atmosphere but not producing electricity.

Are you with me so far?

OK, the wind dies down suddenly. Good thing that fossil fuel plant is running and ready to go because with the grid MUST remain steady and at full power at all times or else you will have rolling blackouts.

You think the more turbines you have the less fossil fuel plants you need? No, just the opposite. When these shift happen the effect will be even more dramatic with more turbines. You will need more backup power available at all times, not less. As for saturating the countryside with turbines. The more the better...Do you know how much energy is lost when the source is far away from the user? You cannot depend on the wind blowing way up north when it is needed south...it is simply not feasible.

Why don't you admit that this isn't about providing electricity to our society, Bernard...this is about simple politics with you.

No matter what facts I put in front of you...you try to squirm away. Your arguments simply do not hold up. You cannot admit to yourself any problems with your ideology and therefore refuse to learn anything new. Good luck with that.