Friday, August 10, 2012

"Electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket"

Thus spake B. Hussein Obama in January 2008. Boy, it's nice when a politician keeps his promises, wot?

Some interesting developments in the wind turbine racket.  And no, I'm not talking about the noise they make - although as I've mentioned elsewhere, having once stopped for lunch in the middle of a northern Jutland turbine farm, the resemblance to being on the tarmac at Heathrow is uncanny.

But what I was actually talking about was this report:
Among the few wind turbines that can be mounted on a roof, the WT6500 is similar to traditional wind turbines: Any unused energy it generates can be sent or sold to a utility for credit off your power bill. But it's quieter than traditional turbines, and according to the manufacturer WindTronics, starts generating power at lower wind speeds. The company claims the unit starts spinning from winds of a mere 0.5 mph—with electricity generated from only 3 mph. Traditional gearbox wind turbines, said the company, require at least 7.5-mph winds to start generating power.

A tool on Windtronics' website had calculated we'd get 1,155 kWh per year at the 12-mph average it predicted for our area of Yonkers, New York. And the authorized installer, during his initial visit, didn't say the roof of our headquarters might generate any less, but that rating is at a height of 164 feet, not the 33 feet WindTronics requires for rooftop installations.

In the 15 months since the turbine was installed, though, it has delivered less than 4 kWh—enough only to power a 12,000 btu window air conditioner for one afternoon. A company representative in charge of installations worldwide recently visited our offices and confirmed that our test model was correctly installed. What's more, he told us that while the WT6500 should start generating power at about 3 mph, the initial juice goes just to power the system's inverter, which must be running before it supplies any AC power elsewhere. The true wind speed needed to start producing AC while the inverter is on is 6 mph, not far from the 7.5 mph needed by a traditional gearbox wind turbine.

The Honeywell costs $11,000 installed, comes with a five-year warranty and has a 20-year expected product life. But having a thorough site analysis by a manufacturer-authorized installer, backed by your own research on websites such as the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, is vital.

At the rate the WT6500 is delivering power at our test site, it would take several millennia for the product to pay for itself in savings—not the 56 years it would take even with the 1,155 kWh quote we received.
I mentioned this a few months back (See "Are Governments Smarter than a 5th Grader?") when I talked about the importance of cost-benefit analyses when examining alternative energy technologies.  When engaged in such a project a few years ago, all of the gung-ho proponents of wind, solar and tidal power (and hybrid and electric vehicles) blathered endlessly at me about the importance of assessing the "fully-burdened costs" of traditional, especially fossil-fuelled, vehicles and power sources.  They all obsessed about the alleged costs of moving fuel between the point of production and the point of consumption.  But none of them seemed capable of performing even the most rudimentary cost-benefit analysis, especially for payback period, in the context of the unreliable, intermittent and non-storable power produced by "green" energy sources.

To fully appreciate the wind power problem you have to understand the difference between complimentarity and supplementarity. Something is complimentary if it adds something new to an existing capacity; if it only reinforces existing capacity, then it is supplementary.  If you have an infantry battalion in the field and you add a tank squadron, you have added a complimentary capability; but if you add another infantry company, you have added only supplementary capacity.  Wind and solar power can never be complimentary energy sources because they are unpredictable, intermittent and unstorable. The national grid infrastructure - the modern, electricity-based world- - only works because hydroelectric, fossil-fuelled and nuclear generating stations are (a) reliable, and (b) continuous.  Wind and solar power can only ever play an unreliable, intermittent and therefore supplementary role - and this means that they are a technological side-show, an oddity, and a luxury.  An unaffordable luxury, as the folks in the above-cited example learned. And as the folks in Denmark, Spain, Germany and other places where state-sponsored wind farms have sprung up like milkweed over the past decade are learning, to their fiscal sorrow.

I have had people contact me to ask me how to "get off the grid" with a geothermal heat pump for heating and cooling, powered by wind and/or solar power.  It cannot be done for any price that is within the means of any homeowner (or any sane homeowner, anyway - let's face it, the entire wind power industry is proof that just about anything is technologically feasible if you're willing to spend enough money on it, and willing to keep losing money). Al Gore can afford it, but you can't. Most of us can't.  And it doesn't make it any more affordable to try to do it on a massive scale.

The economic and industrial success of the West was built on reliable, cheap energy. If that goes away - perhaps I should say, "if that continues to go away" - then so will the economic and industrial success of the West.

This phenomenon is already underway.  It's called "California" (See also: "Ontario").  And the current chief executive of the United States is trying to extend it to the country as a whole. 

Lest we Canucks feel tempted to gloat too openly, remember whose grid we're connected to.



P.S.  What was I just saying?

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- The U.S. government said it will stop issuing permits for new nuclear power plants and license extensions for existing facilities until it resolves issues around storing radioactive waste.

Well of course!  The few kilos of reactor waste that it takes to generate ten times as much electrical power as a 30-story, 100-ton rusting hulk of steel and concrete is a real pain in the tuckus, isn't it?

Enjoy freezing in the dark, suckers.  On the upside, though, I guess Obama can always point to this as a campaign promise kept.  It'll make a pleasant change over the next few months from the President of the United States accusing his challenger of giving people cancer.
P.P.S.  Good lord, what IS it this morning?  From WUWT:

California ISO Declares Flex-Alert Statewide
With a major heat wave bearing down on California, the ISO is declaring a Flex Alert tomorrow through August 12.

Consumers are urged to reduce their energy use during the afternoon when air conditioners drive consumption. Find Flex Alert tips at
Electricity conservation today, August 9, would also be helpful during the afternoon peak between 11:00 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Today’s Forecast peak demand: 47,125 megawatts
24-Hour Ahead Outlook for Friday, Aug 10: Flex Alert

And why the alert and the plea to consumers to reduce consumption, you ask?

Because California's wind power capacity is producing...yeah, just about nothing.  Turns out that sometimes the wind don't blow.

Those light blue (wind) and yellow (solar) lines are what intermittent power looks like, people.

Just for the sake of reference, on the scale of this graph, the line showing "non-renewable" (i.e. nuclear, hydro, fossil-fuelled) portion of California's generation portfolio would be running roughly 24 feet above the top of your computer monitor.  Just something to think about.

- Don