Saturday, May 30, 2015

Are windmills a smart choice? Let's be reasonable about it...

Right after publishing the "Caldicott Rebuttal" I came across this article and since I was already in the right state of mind so I decided to address it. Wind turbine polemic mode on.

"The first is part of a report released this spring showing how wind power could grow enough to generate 35 percent of U.S. electricity by 2050 — up from 10 percent in 2020 and 20 percent in 2030.

The map, called “Wind Vision,” shows how much wind power generating capacity each state had in 2000, 2010, and 2013, and Department of Energy estimates for each state’s wind capacity in 2020, 2030, and 2050.

The estimated growth is dramatic: The map shows total U.S. wind power capacity growing from about 40 gigawatts — enough power for about 10 million homes — in 2010 to more than 400 gigawatts in 2050. That would be enough to power nearly 100 million homes."

Lets break this down, because it sounds impressive, but it really isn't. Addendum : We will walk through these issues from a world view.

in 2014 177 GW (source : wiki) of solar panel capacity was enough to fuel the energy needs of 1% of the world's electricity needs. This doesn't mean that 99% or 17523 GW of generation capacity had to come from different sources, but it gives you an idea of the scale of things. The thing with capacity is that it shows the maximum output in ideal circumstances AND output is regulated in order to keep the grid stable and to make sure that the demand is met, which means that in days of less energy usage, some of the energy generation will be trimmed down.

I'll settle for the 17500 GW figure, it helps me build the case. I'm going to investigate further, the figures could easily be adjusted but the ratios would remain the same.

Now the figures on the electricity generation per type are somewhat flaky so I'm going to round them down, again figures stolen from wiki, I question if they are true, but they serve as a good general guideline.

  • Coal 40% = 7000 GW
  • Natural Gas 27% = 4725 GW
  • Nuclear 19% = 3325 GW
  • Hydro 11% = 1925 GW
  • Renewables 3% = 525 GW
Putting these figures into perspective, the 405 GW stated in the article isn't that much. It sound really big and it is being presented as really big, but in my 17500 GW picture it still is only a meagre 2,3%.

Now what does 405 GW mean in terms of the numbers? We can make two figures to create a range, we'll take the cheap 2,5 MW wind turbine and the beefier 5 MW wind turbine and give figures for both of them maxed out. The truth  will be somewhere in between no doubt.

If you want to use 2,5 MW wind turbines exclusively, you'll need 162.000 wind turbines to reach the 405 GW figure. In case of the 5 MW figure it will take 81.000 wind turbines.

There are currently somewhere between 225.000 and 250.000 wind turbines in the world. So adding another 405 GW is a drop in the water really, it is even less than we have today.

If you want to make a significant difference in terms of energy production, you would roughly need 3500 GW worth of wind turbines, then you would be supplanting half of the coal production in the world, this would translate into 1.4 million wind turbines around the world... Supplant all of the coal production you'll need 2.8 million wind turbines.

Don't get too excited, according to wind is getting "real big", they are going to add another 162.000 wind turbines over a time period of thirty years. Now the funny thing is that the wind turbines put up today, will have to replaced before this thirty year timespan is over. Isn't that ironic? So the same which has been said today, applies to this story as well. If you're going to install 162.000 wind turbines over a timespan of thirty years, you might as well double that number, since these windmills have a very limited lifespan, due to fatigue issues, maintenance issues, etc.

Just as with all other sources of energy, wind energy isn't free. The [carbon] cost is hidden in mining, purification, materials creation, manufacturing, transportation, installation and maintenance. Also the intermittency remains a significant problem, the wind isn't always present so these windmills will only be producing energy for 15 to 35% of the time. There are people who argue that if you connect windmills and solar panels to smart grids with battery storage, all is fine and well. But they clearly don't see the meek punch these two technologies deliver, and then construct a fairy tale of battery storage to keep the dream going.

Let's have a look at the PER MEGAWATT footprint of "next generation" wind turbines.

  • Steel : 103.000 KG/MW
  • Concrete : 402.000 KG/MW
  • Fibreglass : 6.800 KG/MW
  • Miscellaneous : 9.300 KG/MW
  • Copper : 3.000 KG/MW
  • Cast Iron : 20.000 KG/MW
  • Total : 540.000 KG/MW
Let's see : 405 GW = 405.000 MW
Let's make a nice total tally, shall we?

  • Steel : 41.7 million metric tons
  • Concrete : 162.8 million metric tons
  • Fibreglass : 2.8 million metric tons
  • Miscellaneous : 3.8 million metric tons
  • Copper : 1.2 million metric tons
  • Cast Iron : 8.1 million metric tons
  • Total : 218.7 million metric tons
Source : Wind turbine figures

Once installed, the energy is free! Really??? So much for free energy...
The concrete alone accounts for 146.5 million tons of Carbon Dioxide... The steel for roughly 124 million tons of Carbon Dioxide, the Cast Iron for 16 million tons. So all in all the carbon footprint in construction of these winged terrors amounts to roughly 280 million tons of carbon dioxide.

Source : Concrete production carbon emissions

Now it is true that nuclear power plants for instance use a lot of concrete as well, but it is dwarfed by the sheer magnitude of concrete used to create 81.000 ~162.000 wind turbines at a capacity of 405 GW, 2.3% of the capacity required today.

Building 400 GW worth of heavy steeled and overly concreted contemporary nuclear power plants will account for 120 million tons worth of carbon dioxide emissions, they have double the lifespan and newer generations have a smaller materials footprint than contemporary reactors. Basically this means that equivalent windmill production will be three, almost four times as carbon intensive than nuclear energy...

Source : Carbon Footprint from Nuclear Reactor construction by Tim Jervis

Lets be honest, we are living on a planet with 7 billion individuals. Energy is necessary for clean water, agriculture, manufacturing, transportation and domestic use. We CAN'T run the world on renewable energy, it is a dream that simply isn't going to happen, and this "" article proves that it simply isn't feasible. Once more an article that was supposed to raise a sense of optimism in the environmentalist/renewable camp, it's really a rather self defeating argument.

I am someone who accepts the science behind anthropogenic climate change, I don't see carbon dioxide as pollution, but I do accept that we need to mitigate our emissions, because we're precipitating runaway behaviour in the Arctic, Antarctic and other parts of the world.

The burning of fossil fuels also has other hazardous by products like NOx, SOx and carcinogenic emissions. Mitigating these emissions will only be possible if we become smarter about energy technologies. Weed out the stuff that isn't going to help and invest in the means of power production that pack a decent punch and have the propensity to kick fossil fuels out of the picture.

Wind Turbines are arguably the worst form of energy production, their "non conventional waste streams" consist of sleepless nights and dead birds. If some island nation wants to go all renewable, that's fine but stick to solar panels for the time being, while we, the nukes..., will find solutions in nuclear scalability...

We only have two or three decades to reverse the problematic worldly issues we've catalysed.
If there is a field in which technological answers to our problems can be given, it is in the world of nuclear energy. If you would ask me what needs to be done? It's quite simple!!! Ramp up the nuclear innovation industry, give nuclear physicists and engineers the means to complete the push for fusion and generation IV fission. These are the technologies that pack the required punch and will help us propel humanity into a plentiful future, full of wonder.

To cap it off ends the article with this :

"In other words, come 2050, wind turbines could be almost as much a part of the view above Mississippi’s Natchez Trace Parkway as they are today all across West Texas."

Is that really what we want???

(source : NASA)

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