Friday, 8 January 2010

In the cold, bleak winter, won't someone remember the windmills?

Remember those windmills that will protect us from the peak oil theory and help remove all those nasty CO2 emitting power stations that are killing our cheeeldren?

Well, what do you notice about winter weather when it's particularly cold?  Yes, that's right: there's no wind and a still breeze an unproductive windmill makes.

From A Problem With Wind, this particularly damning observation often overlooked by those blinded by simplistic green rhetoric is the final twist of the knife into the folly that is wind technology when managing a country's energy demand:

Denmark (population 5.3 million) has over 6,000 turbines that produced electricity equal to 19% of what the country used in 2002.

Yet no conventional power plant has been shut down.

Because of the intermittency and variability of the wind, conventional power plants must be kept running at full capacity to meet the actual demand for electricity. Most cannot simply be turned on and off as the wind dies and rises, and the quick ramping up and down of those that can be would actually increase their output of pollution and carbon dioxide (the primary "greenhouse" gas).

So when the wind is blowing just right for the turbines, the power they generate is usually a surplus and sold to other countries at an extremely discounted price, or the turbines are simply shut off.

So, whenever any eco-nazi starts going on about how windmills will save the cheeeldren, remind them of the above.

If you have time, read the information at the link - there are summaries but for the more technically minded, there are some good pieces about energy management and the distruptions caused by windmill trials, especially in Germany for instance.


  1. To use wind energy more efficiently, a fast back-up system is needed, such as the Welsh pumped storage power station Dinorwig - see
    It can be up to full output in under 16 seconds!
    Combined with wind power, more stations like it would provide the fill-ins for gusty conditions.
    There is also a new storage system under development(but not yet ready for commercialisation), using a chemical state-change in hot fluids. The advantage is greater efficiency than Dinorwig and no limit to the stored energy -you just add more fluid storage vessels!

  2. There is a storage system - underground flywheel storage (magnetic friction free bearing / suspension in a vacuum ) that's been around a while.... (Alcatel, French Telephone exchange backup) but this would infer "distributed power" - not what our masters want at all, no siree, no way Jose

  3. Pumped storage systems, such as Ffestiniog, are very efficient compared with coal fired power stations and use low cost off-peak electric power to run the pumps during low demand cycles. Although net consumers of electricity, they generate revenue by selling power at peak demand.

    However, capital costs of these power stations are very high and the presence of the appropriate geography is vital.

    They will be designed as load balancing rather than base load power plants.

    As these power plants will be running at peak loads (daytime), connecting a windfarm to provide the power to pump the water would be very unreliable as winds tend to be at their best during the day.

    Also the capital costs of contructing the windfarm would offset a significant amount of future revenue gains.

    Again, on a plant by plant basis, these ideas may seem fine, but looking at controlling a country's electricity demand using a matrix of base and load balancing power stations is extremely problematic when you have unreliable load balancing power sources, such as windfarms, however they are used.