Sunday, August 24, 2008

Wind in the Willows?

Wind-generated energy is presented as one of most environmentally beneficial sources of renewable energy. Germany remains the world leader in wind power capacity, with almost 24 percent of the global total (22,247 megawatts), but it experienced a lackluster year in 2007. Still, renewable energy resources now generate more than 14 percent of Germany’s electricity needs, with about half of this coming from wind.

Spain led Europe in new installations in 2007, now ranking third worldwide in total wind capacity (15,145 megawatts). France, Italy, Portugal, and the United Kingdom all experienced significant growth last year as well. In all, EU wind power capacity rose 18 percent in 2007, and the region is home to 60 percent of global installed capacity.

China was the biggest surprise in 2007. Barely in the wind business three years ago, China trailed only the United States and Spain in new wind installations in 2007, and ranked fifth in total installed capacity (6,050 megawatts). However, an estimated one-fourth of this capacity remains unconnected to the grid due to planning problems.

The global wind market was worth an estimated $36 billion in 2007, accounting for almost half of all investment in new renewable electric and heating capacity. Such strong demand is creating these industry trends:

Competition among wind turbine OEMs is rapidly intensifying as growth extends to new regions, encouraging start-ups of new manufacturers while pushing leading suppliers to expand their sales and production globally.

Turbine prices, and the costs of installation, have trended upward over the last four years after nearly a decade of cost reductions per megawatt of nameplate capacity. The global market’s boom in demand has clearly shifted the industry from a buyer’s to a seller’s market in the past three years, with corresponding price increases.

Multiple players moving on 2 MW and above segment: Vestas and Enercon— pioneers in 2 MW and larger turbines—are aiming to protect their share of this market. However, multiple proven machines from Gamesa, Siemens, Suzlon/REpower, Alstom/Ecotecnia and others are providing buyers more options.

Component suppliers face new challenges to keep pace with turbine demand, calling for major production capacity investments in the multi-megawatt segment, as well as a focus on local supply in booming new markets while keeping costs competitive.

Installed capacity in Canada (as of January 2008) was app. 1.856 megawatts, with at least another 700 MW of capacity expected to come online by the end of the year. Wind energy currently accounts for 0.8% of Canada's domestic electricity supply. Alberta currently has the largest installed capacity of any Province in Canada with 523 MW (28% of Canada’s installed capacity).

The development of renewable capacity is strongly supported by the Canadian public. In an Angus Reid Strategies report in October 2007, 89 per cent of respondents said that using renewable energy sources like wind or solar power was positive for Canada, because these sources were better for the environment. Only 4 per cent considered using renewable sources as negative since they can be unreliable and expensive.
However, according to the Heartland Institute, the costs of wind-powered energy far outweigh the benefits.

At the risk of stating the obvious, wind power is only available when the wind is blowing; when it stops, so does the power. So as to compensate for unreliability, stand by conventional power has to be available to “kick in” when the wind drops. This results in CO2 emissions without balancing energy outputs and a more unreliable grid – as both Germany and Denmark report.

Installed capacity is one measure. The more important one is energy utilization. The average output of a wind turbine is app. One quarter of its capacity. In Denmark, where wind power represents 20% of installed capacity, wind turbines generate just 6% of the power Denmark consumed in 2004. What is more, not all of this power could be used in Denmark – it had to export it to Norway at a loss. Also, since the wind blew at times different from peak demand, Denmark also found itself importing electricity from other jurisdictions at premium prices.

The trick, yet to be found, is storing power from wind turbines so that it can be available when needed and we can reduce the need for “firming” wind based systems with conventional power production. We do not yet have effective storage systems for the kind of capacity wind turbines can produce when they are functioning well – when this storage technology arrives, much more economies of scale may be possible. However, this will require additional investments to upgrade currently installed capacity and new investment models for all new wind farm construction.

To produce the same amount of energy as a conventional power plant, wind farms need 85 times more land area.

Wind farms produce both noise pollution and sight pollution, emitting blinding strobe-light sensations at dawn and dusk, and nearly constant noise pollution.

Wind power costs twice as much as electricity produced by traditional fossil fuels. A 2004 study in the UK showed that wind power (including the cost of stand by generation) cost 5.4 pence (10 cents Canadian app.) per kw hour versus 2.2 (4 cents) from natural gas, 2.5p from coal and 2.3p from nuclear. Offshore wind power cost 7.2pp. A lot of these real costs are masked by deep Government subsidies. This translates into significant costs - £90 per MW hour versus £45 for “normal” power sources.

Government subsidies for wind power are the only mechanism to ensure viability . In the UK, each turbine earns its owners £400,000 (app $800,000 Canadian) of which £200,000 comes from power sold to the grid and £200,000 from subsidies. In some jurisdictions, subsidies are worth more to the owner than the revenue from power sold to the grid.

Also, critics ask, where is the environmentalist lobby's well-known concern for animal life? The US Department of Energy plans to build 132,000 new wind turbines by 2020. By conservative estimates, the new turbines would kill between 12 million and 15 million birds.

Environmentalists ignore the clear and certain costs of wind-powered energy: higher cost and lost efficiency, increased land development, noise and light pollution and bird deaths. They are also not keen to systematically look at the economics of wind power or the CO2 output from stand-by firming power generators which use gas or coal.

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