Among the issues most commonly discussed are individuality, the rights of the individual, the limits of legitimate government, morality, history, economics, government policy, science, business, education, health care, energy, and man-made global warming evaluations. My posts are aimed at thinking, intelligent individuals, whose comments are very welcome.

"No matter how vast your knowledge or how modest, it is your own mind that has to acquire it." Ayn Rand

31 August 2010

Politicians Are More Reliable Wind Blowers than Nature Is

The United States has more wind power generation capacity than any nation on earth.  The 21 - 28 August 2010 issue of The Economist provides this graph of national wind power generation capacity in gigawatts (a 1,000 megawatts) of power and as a percent of the worldwide total:


What do we get for all this wind power generation capacity?  Well, it turns out that a recent event in the state of Texas is illustrative.  Texas has a big commitment to wind power with a 9.7 GW capacity, or 28% of the entire U.S. wind power capacity and just a bit less than the complete wind power capacity of India.  Nonetheless, on 4 August 2010 at about 5 PM, electricity demand in Texas established a new record of 63.594 gigawatts.  So, with a wind power capacity of 9.7 GW, wind power might have been contributing 15% of the state of Texas' need at that time.  But, according to the Texas electric grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), wind power contributed only 0.5 GW at that time.  This was less than 0.8% of that peak electric demand and only 5% of the wind generation capacity of Texas! 

Perhaps 4 August was a once in a blue moon anomaly?  Well no.  Sadly no.  ERCOT noted in 2007 and repeated the claim in 2009 that only 8.7% of the installed wind generation capacity can be counted on as dependable capacity during a peak demand period.  That number was more generous than the case of 4 August, but it is still a very small fraction of the installed wind generation capacity.  For this, the people of Texas are paying an extra $4 more per month on their electric bills to fund 2,300 miles of new electric transmission lines to carry wind generated electricity from rural areas to the cities of Texas.  They and all other American taxpayers are also contributing to the $0.022 per KW-hr production tax credit which provides the wind-energy industry with a subsidy of $6.44 per million BTUs of energy produced.  The Energy Information Administration (EIA) of the Dept. of Energy says the subsidy for the oil and gas industry is $0.03 per million BTUs of energy, so the wind-energy subsidy is 215 times larger than that for the oil and gas industry.

The problem of wind power unreliability is not unique to Texas either.  The Daily Telegraph reported in January that during their extremely frigid period last winter, wind power provided only 0.2% of their power need, despite an installed capacity of 5%.  In other words, only 4% of the installed wind power capacity produced when it was most needed.

Yet in the face of this insane expense for wind power generation which is rarely available when it is needed, more than 30 states are mandating very large increases in renewable electricity production.  California, that unusually insane state, is requiring that 33% of its electricity be generated from renewable energy sources by 2020!  Maryland, Connecticut, Minnesota, and Hawaii are among many other states requiring huge renewable electric energy increases.  Solar power and geothermal will not be able to meet the requirements for such sharp increases in production, so wind power is expected to have to provide most of the increase.

Why are our politicians shoving these very expensive mandates for renewable electricity down the People's throats?  They usually claim it is to reduce man-made emissions of carbon dioxide so that catastrophic global warming will not occur.  As regular readers of this blog will know, the claim that carbon dioxide increases will cause any such catastrophe is total nonsense based on incredibly bad science and a religious commitment to ignore good science.  Any likely CO2 increases are simply additions to a very good plant fertilizer, from which an ever-growing world population would benefit.

Still, our politicians and the old media largely push for expensive renewable energy sources for our electricity.  Interestingly, the reductions of CO2 are actually much less than claimed or even non-existent!  The reason comes right back to the amazing unreliability of wind power.  Basically, a coal-fired or gas-fired electric generating power plant has to be kept on board cycling electricity to be instantly available when the wind stops blowing.  If only nature blew as reliably as politicians do.  Now, this idling power plant is much less efficient than a power plant operating at its optimal capacity.  In other words, the power plant is generating much more CO2 per kilowatt of electricity than it normally would when in this idling mode of operation, not to mention that it is costing a lot of money as well.  Additionally, it is usually a gas-powered power plant which is operating in idle mode, not a coal-fired plant.  This is because the gas-fired power plants generally produce more expensive electricity than do the coal-fired power plants.  From the standpoint of the claim that the whole point of renewable energy electricity is to reduce CO2, this is very bad, because gas-fired power plants produce about half the amount of CO2 compared to coal-fired power plants when each is operating optimally.

Bentek Energy released a study in April based on power plants in Colorado and Texas and concluded that wind power plants had almost no impact on the amount of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere.  The repeated cycling of Colorado coal-fired power plants in 2009 caused at least 94,000 pounds of CO2 to be generated than would have been without cycling.  In Texas, the net reduction of CO2 in 2008 was 600 tons, but in 2009, there was an actual increase in carbon by about 1,000 tons due to the cycling of power plants.

A study prepared by EnerNex Corp. for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in January 2010 looked at wind generated electricity and the Eastern U.S., which uses about two-thirds of U.S. electricity.  If wind energy were to provide 20% of the eastern U.S. electricity in 2024, the savings in CO2 emissions would only be 200 million tons per year.  A commitment of $140 to 175 billion per year in capital expenses and power generation operational costs until 2024 is necessary to provide this savings, where the higher costs come with more offshore wind power generation.  This prices a saved ton of carbon at between $700 and $875!  It is insane to pay so much for carbon emission reduction!

The EIA estimated the CO2 emissions reduction due to a 25% national renewable electricity generation goal, as in the Waxman - Markey cap and trade bill that passed the House of Representatives, might save 306 million tons of carbon by 2030.  This is only 4.9% of the total 6.2 trillion tons of carbon emissions expected in 2030 and a paltry fraction of the 80% cut in carbon emissions the Obama administration is promising by 2050.  Somehow, I do not think Obama expects to be held accountable in 2050 for the failure to meet his announced goal.

In conclusion, if wind power generation were as dependable as the babbling winds that flow from the mouths of our political class, wind power generation would be more viable an option for power generation.  In reality, it cannot provide the announced carbon reductions and neither can solar or geothermal power.  Of course, it is still more important, as I have argued here, to note that there is no scientific reason to believe it is important to reduce man's CO2 emissions in any case.  But the grandiose plans for renewable energy use are the basis for subsidizing huge new industries at a horrible cost in higher energy costs, lower energy reliability, huge private sector job losses, and some combination of increased national debt, taxes, and inflation.  The political class is not just wrong, it is some combination of evil and insane.  It is also constantly trying to force the American People to join them in their evil and insane delusions while cursing them for being such dolts who do not see the world as the political class does.  But reality is even more stubbornly present and existent and many more rational Americans are taking some note of that.  Catastrophic anthropogenic global warming and renewable energy are both tied together and they appear to be drowning together in the minds of more and more Americans.  Eventually, bad science and bad engineering must become apparent as they are put to operational tests.  The goals justifying renewable energy are and will continue to prove to be unrealistic.

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