Investing in wind energy on a large scale is mistaken

Posted by Wade Allison on 5 May 2022 in Articles

Tagged with: Batteries, LinkedIn, Wind.

Offshore Wind

The following short article was posted on LinkedIn by Wade Allison and received 8000 “reads” and 66 comments in a week. A couple of typical reactions are appended.

Investing in #windenergy on a large scale is mistaken

Wind power as a source of electricity generation is widely seen as freely available. However, its weakness and unreliability are ill matched to the demands of modern society. Wind energy needs to be backed up by a more reliable source or large storage. But most options are neither environmentally acceptable nor safe on the scale required. If fossil fuels are excluded, neither wind nor solar can form the central part of a reliable resilient and safe electricity supply. But nuclear energy fulfils all needs.

Combined power output of offshore windfarms for March 2022

Wind farms with their turbines as tall as the Eiffel Tower are impressively large – but that is because the power of the wind is so weak. But the real problem for wind is its unreliability. Although 10 metres per second is a typical wind speed, it can drop, sometimes for long periods. Worse, the maximum power carried by the wind depends on the cube of the wind speed. So, in falling to 5 metres per second, the power falls to 12.5% at best. The effect is very significant. The total UK offshore electrical wind power output for the past month (March 2022) shows a healthy 10 GW at times, for instance in the week 8-15 March. However, in the period 20-28 March it averaged only 1.5 GW. If the UK depended significantly on wind power for its electricity, there would be a catastrophic cut in output for the whole of that week, countrywide.

Stored energy is dangerous unless carefully controlled, especially as the size of store required is large. In this case, the missing 8.5 GW for a week is 1500 GW-hours of energy. That is 1700 times the energy of the Beirut Bomb that exploded with such devastating effect in August 2020. The popular idea that so much energy can be easily stored in a battery is fraught with dangers that are not widely appreciated – or even acknowledged in the regulations.

Solar, wind farms and batteries require mineral resources that are in short supply and only available in certain countries. With a life of only 20 years their disposal is already a heavy burden on landfill. With the advent of more extreme weather events these large “farms” with their exposed infrastructure are vulnerable to the elements. Nuclear reactors, on the other hand, with a life expectancy of 60-80 years, a small local footprint and well protected from the elements, will come to be seen as the best investment.

Our grandchildren may ask why we messed about with “renewables”, the same sources of energy that were abandoned as fast as possible at the start of the Industrial Revolution. Horse-and-cart technology they will say! How could we excuse our unscientific and environmentally damaging energy policy to them?

An online exchange with an engineer who understood

Thanks for posting, Wade.

The system engineering impact of having an intermittent highly variable electricity source as a major and growing proportion of the grid supply, seems to get little acknowledgement or discussion. Alternative fast response generation or storage of some form will always be needed to compensate for wind variability and no wind conditions which happen regularly. The cost of this backup which is effectively a near full capacity backup on hot standby, is never acknowledged or included in any levelised cost of electricity ranking I have seen for renewables. Surely, it’s time there was a technical rather than ideological discussion on what level of renewables are viable in the grid from an economic, affordability and security perspective.

Replied Yes. Still waiting for the scientifically ignorant to see the light.

Wade, what I don’t understand is why the engineering institutions and academia are not more involved in challenging and planning the way ahead, based on reliable technology and realistic numerical analysis. I enjoyed reading your paper extract. Balanced, comprehensive and realistic.

Replied Answer jobs/grants/contracts/money, all unrelated to scientific truth. More to read!

An online exchange with an engineer who did not understand

Our Grandchildren may ask us why we laid large areas of land to waste from the nuclear accidents that have and are yet to occur. Along with the increase in cancers worldwide. Inflexible Nuclear doesn’t fulfil the needs, nor is it as ‘safe’ as renewable technologies. Worst case the U.K. needs about 2 weeks storage of fossil fuels as a backup to periods of inactivity until such times as long term energy storage becomes financially viable. And we mustn’t forget that the U.K. had this at the Rough storage facility which was closed.

Replied The nuclear accidents laid no land to waste. That was our panic reaction to a danger 1000 more remote than feared. The land should not have been evacuated, as was quickly obvious and later confirmed

Then I find it strange that, pre-war, Chernobyl and its surroundings wasn’t being repopulated. But putting that aside; Inflexible nuclear isn’t the answer short or long term to the U.K. needs. Caroline Lucas MP raised this in response to the government’s half-hearted and wrong response to the U.K. fuel crisis. The path is clear: Insulation, renewables, and storage. And if the U.K. ever actually commits to a spent fuel, long term storage facility (near where you live perhaps? As it’s safe) And few Nuclear Power Stations down south near Oxford, as well.

Replied The wildlife repopulated Chernobyl and are thriving as shown on many TV and video. Nothing inflexible about small nuclear. It’s renewables that are inflexible, like when they do not deliver! Nuclear waste? No problem