Wind Power for the People and Fossil Fuel for Gold Mines and Hospitals

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 1st, 2013

Week in Review

Energy firm RWE just backed out of a £4 billion ($6.6 billion) offshore wind farm.  The Atlantic Array project in the Bristol Channel.  Because of higher than expected costs.  And lower than expected government subsidies.  Meanwhile a new power plant was delivered in the Dominican Republic this year.  A nation that shares an island with Haiti surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.  With a lot of sea wind to spin wind turbines.  Just as they filled the sails of the colonial powers’ ships centuries ago.  But they didn’t build a wind farm (see Quisqueya I & II, Dominican Republic posted on Wärtsilä).

Sometimes, one plus one does not equal two. The 25,000 inhabitants of Quisqueya, a small town close to San Pedro de Macorís, in the Dominican Republic, know so.

In September 2011, Barrick Gold Corporation acquired a majority share in a soon-to-be-opened gold mine, some 100 kilometres away from the Dominican capital, Santo Domingo. As soon as the mining company understood the needs of their new power-hungry mine, they decided to place an order for a state-of-the-art Wärtsilä power plant. The way in which Barrick, its host country and Wärtsilä would cooperate for the greater good came to exceed the initial expectations of any of the three involved parties and strike gold in an unforeseen way.

The Quisqueya project is a rare combination of two power plants. Due to clever project design it satisfies not only the gold mine’s power needs, but also those of the local population, who often deals with blackouts and an unstable power grid. The dual function came to be as the largest utility in the country, EGE Haina, decided to jump on the boat of efficient and  reliable power generation, turning the initial project to a synergetic effort where the total value exceeds the sum of its parts.

While Quisqueya I is owned and used by Barrick Gold, its twin sister Quisqueya II is run by EGE Haina. Although ordered by different parties, the plants are being built on the same site and together form the largest power plant complex in the world ever delivered by Wärtsilä at the time of the order, setting a new standard for the 21st century power plants. As an outsider, you cannot clearly draw a line between the power supplied to the mine and that supplied to the local community, nor between the corporate profit and the social one. Quisqueya I & II is a beautiful example of how a sensible and responsible utilization of natural resources can directly improve a community’s way of life.

Both Quisqueya plants will feature Wärtsilä Flexicycle™ combined cycle technology and operate on 12 Wärtsilä 50DF dual-fuel engines each. The primary fuel is to be natural gas with liquid fuel as back-up, and the combined output from the two plants will be 430 MW. Wärtsilä’s scope of supply for the Quisqueya power plant includes full engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC). The power plant will have a net efficiencyof 48 %, which is an astonishingly high figure in tropical conditions, with soaring humidity and temperatures above 35°C.

Lucky are the people living near this power-hungry gold mine.  Because it gets top of the line electric power.  That furnished by fossil fuels.  Which can burn no matter what the winds are doing.  Keeping this gold mine in operation.  And giving the people around it reliable electric power.  And if the winds stop blowing these people will still have their power.  And if a hurricane blows through it may down some power lines.  Which can be replaced to restore electric power.  Whereas if a hurricane takes out an offshore wind farm power will be out a lot longer.  Either until they rebuild those very expensive wind turbines (probably requiring huge green tariffs to cover the costs of building this wind farm twice).  Or until they build a new power plant that uses a fossil fuel.

Interesting when a power plant is to power a million homes like the Atlantic Array project in the Bristol Channel a government looks to spend $6.6 billion for unreliable power.  But when a power plant is furnishing something that produces revenue and economic output they don’t build a wind farm power plant.  No, when they need to count on that electric power to be there they turn to fossil fuels.  For the same reason hospitals don’t put wind turbines on their roof for backup electric power during a blackout.  They use backup generators that burn a fossil fuel.  Because they need to count on that electric power to be there.

Fossil fuel is reliable.  While wind power is not.  Which is why governments use fossil fuels for gold mines and hospitals.  And wind power for the people.  Because governments can screw the people to meet silly green power targets with little blowback.  Because, hey, it’s for the environment.


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Environmentalists hate American Bald Eagles and Urge the Building of Eagle Killing Machines

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 23rd, 2013

Week in Review

We have spent billions building wind farms all over the world.  To fight the rise of manmade global warming.  By replacing dirty, filthy, polluting, carbon-producing, global-warming-generating coal-fired power plants.  Which haven’t replaced many if any coal-fired power plants.  Because we still need those coal-fired power plants to provide electric power when the wind doesn’t blow.  Or blows too strong.  Making the whole wind power industry a costly joke.  Well, a costly sad joke.  As those great spinning killing machines are killing some of our most precious natural resources.  American Bald Eagles (see Energy company to pay out $1m over eagle deaths at wind farms by AP posted 11/23/2013 on The Telegraph).

The U.S. government for the first time has enforced environmental laws protecting birds against wind energy facilities, winning a $1 million settlement from a power company that pleaded guilty to killing 14 eagles and 149 other birds at two wind farms in the western state of Wyoming.

The Obama administration has championed pollution-free wind power and used the same law against oil companies and power companies for drowning and electrocuting birds. The case against Duke Energy Corp. and its renewable energy arm was the first prosecuted under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act against a wind energy company…

An investigation by The Associated Press in May revealed dozens of eagle deaths from wind energy facilities, including at Duke’s Top of the World farm outside Casper, Wyoming, the deadliest for eagles of 15 such facilities that Duke operates nationwide. The other wind farm included in the settlement is in nearby Campbell Hill…

A study in September by federal biologists found that wind turbines had killed at least 67 bald and golden eagles since 2008. That did not include deaths at Altamont Pass, an area in northern California where wind farms kill an estimated 60 eagles a year.

Until Friday’s announcement, not a single wind energy company had been prosecuted for a death of an eagle or other protected bird – even though each death is a violation of federal law…

Wind farms are clusters of turbines as tall as 30-story buildings, with spinning rotors as wide as a passenger jet’s wingspan. Though the blades appear to move slowly, they can reach speeds up to 170mph at the tips, creating tornado-like vortexes.

Flying eagles behave like drivers texting on their cellphones; they don’t look up. As they scan for food, they don’t notice the industrial turbine blades until it’s too late…

Once a wind farm is built, there is little a company can do to stop the deaths. Some firms have tried using radar to detect birds and to shut down the turbines when they get too close. Others have used human spotters to warn when birds are flying too close to the blades. Another tactic has been to remove vegetation to reduce the prey the birds like to eat.

As part of the agreement, Duke will continue to use field biologists to identify eagles and shut down turbines when they get too close. It will install new radar technology, similar to what is used in Afghanistan to track missiles. And it will continue to voluntarily report all eagle and bird deaths to the government.

Here’s a thought.  Instead of spending billions to build wind turbines.  And additional God knows how much more for radar technology and human bird spotters to shut down the wind turbines when birds are near.  Or razing the earth to kill the ecosystem for the wildlife that eagles feed on.  Instead of doing these things why not just use coal-fired power plants?  After all, what do you think will provide our electric power when radar or those human spotters shut down those wind turbines?  That’s right.  Coal-fired power plants.

Of course the environmentalists hate the modern industrial world.  And using energy to raise our standard of living.  They’d like to go back to a time when we grew our own food.  And spun our own clothing.  For them the modern world is an obscene abomination to them.  With America being the worst.  As we are the most advanced nation in the world.

It’s bad enough the environmentalists are raising the cost of electric power with their renewable energy nonsense.  But they’re also killing American Bald Eagles.  Sure, the glorious American Bald Eagle may not be as important to them as a forest rodent (preventing the cutting of firebreaks in forests to prevent the spread of forest fires) or delta smelt (shutting down the irrigation pumps in California’s Central Valley that provides much of our food), but they are a living creature, too.  And should be allowed to live freely in their habitat.  Then again, perhaps they don’t care about the American Bald Eagle.  As it is America’s national bird.  And they just hate America so much that they hate our national bird, too.


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A Renewable Boom means more Expensive and Less Reliable Electric Power

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 20th, 2013

Week in Review

The news on our green energy initiatives sounds good.  We’re importing less oil.  And adding more and more wind power.  If you’re a proponent of green energy you no doubt are pleased by this news.  But if you understand energy and economics it’s a different story.  You’ll think the country is moving in the wrong direction.  Ultimately raising our energy costs.  Without making much of an impact on carbon emissions.  And just because we are exporting gasoline doesn’t mean we’re on the road to being energy self-sufficient (see The Renewable Boom by Bryan Walsh posted 10/11/2013 on Time).

Earlier this year, the U.S. became a net exporter of oil distillates, and the International Energy Agency projects that the U.S. could be almost energy self-sufficient in net terms by 2035.

This is not necessarily a good thing.  Being a net exporter of oil distillates.  It means that US supply exceeds US demand at the current market price.  That’s an important point.  The current market price.  The US has been in an anemic economic recovery—though some would say we’re still in a recession—since President Obama assumed office.  During bad economic times people lose their jobs.  Those who haven’t are worried about losing theirs.  And they worry about the uncertainty, too, about the cost of Obamacare.  So people are driving less.  And they are spending less.  Because they have less.  And worry about how much money they’ll need under Obamacare.  So they’re not taking the family on a cross-country vacation.  Some are even spending their vacation in the backyard.  The so called ‘staycation’.  No doubt the 10 million or so who disappeared from the labor force since President Obama assumed office aren’t driving much these days.  So because of this US demand for gasoline is down.  And, hence, prices.   Even though gasoline prices are still high and consuming an ever larger part of our reduced median family income (also down since President assumed office), gasoline prices are higher elsewhere.  Which is why refineries are exporting their oil distillates.  To meet that higher demand that has raised the market price.

But the biggest source of new electricity in the U.S. last year wasn’t a fossil fuel. It was the humble wind. More than 13 gigawatts of new wind potential were added to the grid in 2012, accounting for 43% of all new generation capacity. Total wind-power capacity exceeded 60 gigawatts by the end of 2012—enough to power 15 million homes when the breeze is blowing.

These numbers do sound big for wind.  Like it’s easy sailing for wind power to replace coal.  But is it?  Let’s look at the big picture.  In 2011 the total nameplate capacity of all electric power generation was 1,153.149 gigawatts.  So that 13 gigawatts though sounding like a lot of power it is only 1.127% of the total nameplate capacity.  Small enough to be rounding error.  In other words, that 13 gigawatts is such a small amount of power that it won’t even be seen by the electric grid.  But it gets even worse.

We used the term ‘nameplate capacity’ for a reason.  This is the amount of power that this unit is capable of producing.  Not what it actually produces.  In fact, we have a measure comparing the power generation possible to the ‘actual’ power generation.  The capacity factor.  Which measures power production over a period of time and divides it by the total amount of power that the unit could have produced (i.e., its nameplate value).  Coal has a higher capacity factor than wind because coal can produce electric power in all wind conditions.  While wind power cannot.  If the winds are too strong the wind turbines lock down to protect themselves.  If the wind is blowing too slowly they won’t produce any electric power.

The typical capacity factor for coal is 62.3%.  Meaning that over half of the installed capacity is generating power.  Some generators may be down for maintenance.  Or a generator may be shut down due to weak demand.  The typical capacity factor for wind power is 30%.  Meaning that the installed capacity produces no power 70% of the time.  And it’s not because turbines are down for maintenance.  It’s because of the intermittent wind.

So coal has twice the capacity that wind has.  Does this mean we need twice the installed capacity of wind to match coal?  No.  Because if you tripled the number of wind turbines in a wind farm they will still produce no power if the wind isn’t blowing.  In this respect you can say coal has a capacity factor of 100%.  For if they want more power from a coal-fired power plant they can bring another generator on line.  Even if the wind isn’t blowing.

You could say wind power is like parsley on a plate in a restaurant.  It’s just a garnishment.  It makes our electric power production look more environmentally friendly but it just adds cost and often times we just throw it away.  For if coal provides all our power needs when the wind isn’t blowing and the wind then starts blowing you have a surplus of power that you can’t sell.  You can’t shut down the coal-fired power plant because the wind turbines don’t produce enough to replace it.  You can’t shut down the wind turbines because it defeats the purpose of having them.  So you just throw away the surplus power.  And charge people more for their electric power to cover this waste.  Like a restaurant charges more for its menu items to cover the cost of the parsley the people throw away.


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Japan Turning to Wind Power after the Fukushima Nuclear Power Accident in 2012

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 19th, 2013

Week in Review

Japan suffered a close call in 2012.  The nuclear power plant at Fukushima survived the massive earthquake.  But the resulting tsunami led to electric problems in the backup power systems.  Which led to the core meltdown.  Something that never happened before.  And is not likely to happen again.  Because they saw what that tsunami did.  And now can prepare these plants to handle future tsunamis.  Still, the Japanese are turning their back on nuclear power.  After it served them so well all these many years (see Japan to build world’s largest offshore wind farm by Rob Gilhooly posted 1/16/2013 on New Scientist).

By 2020, the plan is to build a total of 143 wind turbines on platforms 16 kilometres off the coast of Fukushima, home to the stricken Daiichi nuclear reactor that hit the headlines in March 2011 when it was damaged by an earthquake and tsunami.

The wind farm, which will generate 1 gigawatt of power once completed, is part of a national plan to increase renewable energy resources following the post-tsunami shutdown of the nation’s 54 nuclear reactors. Only two have since come back online…

The first stage of the Fukushima project will be the construction of a 2-megawatt turbine, a substation and undersea cable installation. The turbine will stand 200 metres high. If successful, further turbines will be built subject to the availability of funding.

To get around the cost of anchoring the turbines to the sea bed, they will be built on buoyant steel frames which will be stabilised with ballast and anchored to the 200-metre-deep continental shelf that surrounds the Japanese coast via mooring lines…

Another contentious issue is the facility’s impact on the fishing industry, which has already been rocked by the nuclear accident. Ishihara insists it is possible to turn the farm into a “marine pasture” that would attract fish.

The earthquake didn’t hurt the Daiichi nuclear reactor.  It was the tsunami.  Which flooded the electrical gear in the basement that powered the cooling pumps.  That same tidal wave that swept whole buildings out to sea.  Which it will probably do the same to those buoyant steel frames.  Which means instead of replacing downed power lines after another tsunami they will be replacing windmills.  Making the resulting power outage longer.  And more costly.

The wind farm will not generate 1 gigawatt.  It may have the potential to generate 1 gigawatt.  But that will be only when the winds cooperate.  They have to blow hard enough to spin the windmills fast enough to produce electric power.  But not too fast that they damage the windmills.  Which typically lock down in high winds.  Providing a narrow band of winds for power generation.

Buoyant windmills and underwater power cabling in fishing waters?  Sure, that shouldn’t be a problem.  What are the odds that a boat will run into a windmill?  Or snag an underwater power cable?  The odds of that happening are probably greater than another Fukushima-like accident.  And yet they’re shutting down their nuclear power.  To use floating windmills.

Incidentally, 143 windmills at 2 megawatt each only comes to 286 megawatts.  Not 1 gigawatt.  No, to get 1 gigawatt you’ll need 500 windmills.  Three and half times more than the 143 they’re planning to build.  If the one they start with works.  And they have the money for more windmills after they install the first one.

India has more wind and solar power than anyone else.  Yet they’re adding nuclear capacity because their wind and solar just can’t meet their power needs.  The Japanese should probably reconsider their position on nuclear power.  For even though wind power is green power and it will provide a lot of jobs it will result in massive debt.  And unreliable power.  That money would probably be better spent making improvements to their nuclear power.  Such as getting electric gear out of basements.  And providing a more failsafe power source for their cooling pumps.  For their nuclear plants can survive earthquakes.  And with these improvements they’ll be able to survive a tsunami.  All while providing reliable electric power.  Something windmills just can’t do.


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Texas turns to Gas-Fired Power Plants to meet Peak Electric Demand their Wind Power cannot Meet

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 30th, 2012

Week in Review

Texas has more wind-generated electricity than any other state in the country.  According to the American Wind Energy Association’s U.S. Wind Industry Fourth Quarter 2011 Market Report Texas has a total installed nameplate capacity of 10,377 Mega Watts (MW).  Meaning these wind turbines can produce 10, 377 MW under ideal wind conditions.  But as wind conditions are rarely ideal these Texas wind farms will struggle to produce half of that nameplate capacity.

Wind power has a capacity factor of about 20-40%.  Wind turbines will only produce electricity for a range of winds.  They have to spin fast enough to produce electric power at 60 cycles per second so they can connect this power to the electric grid.  But not so fast that they could damage the turbines.  For that range of winds variable pitch blades on the ‘propeller’ adjust their angle of attack to produce 60 cycles per second in that wind range.  The ‘propellers’ won’t spin that fast.  But a gear box will gear up that constant rotational motion to spin an electric generator (or alternator) at 60 cycles per second.  Thus creating electric power that we can connect to the grid.

So, of that 10,377 Mega Watts Texas nameplate capacity it will provide at most 4,151 MW (40% capacity factor) of power to add to the electric grid.  Which explains why the state with the greatest amount of wind-generated electric power is turning to coal and natural gas to meet peak electric loads (see Texas prepares for soaring power demand, urges conservation by Eileen O’Grady and Scott DiSavino posted 6/25/2012 on Reuters).

Power demand reached 65,047 megawatts in the hour between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. CDT (2200 GMT), surpassing the June record of 63,102 MW set last year, according to preliminary grid data…

ERCOT [Electric Reliability Council of Texas] said demand may top 66,000 MW on Tuesday. The state’s all-time peak use of 68,379 MW was set in August of last summer during a protracted heat wave and drought…

ERCOT warned that rolling outages could occur this summer given the state’s limited amount of surplus generation…

Several idled power plants have been returned to service to bolster the summer supply after a new coal-fired plant expected to be operational was delayed.

NRG Energy (NRG.N), the state’s second-largest power company, has more generation available this summer than last, after restarting a half dozen older, natural gas-fired units totaling 1,100 MW that were previously in mothball status.

The one thing conspicuous by its absence in the entire Reuter’s article is the mention of all that wind power in Texas.

Texas is the number one wind-power state.  Still, the useable power from all those windmills (about 4,000 turbines in total) is only 6.38% of that peak demand.  Some 4,000 wind turbines to produce about 4,151 MW.  The same amount of electric power some 23 older, moth-balled, gas-fired power plants can produce.  Which is probably why they’re talking about rolling outages.  Because they’ve been building wind farms instead of useful power generation plants.  Fueled by natural gas.  And coal. 

Incidentally the capacity factor for a coal-fired plant is about 90%.  Where the only thing limiting its output is maintenance or low demand.  A nuclear power plant can have a capacity factor exceeding 100%.  For these reasons coal and nuclear power provide a large percentage of reliable power.  During peak demands natural gas-fired ‘peaker plants’ come on line quickly to provide for the extra demand when people come home from work and turn up their air conditioners.  While wind and sun add into the mix as more a novelty than a reliable power source.  With the capacity factor of solar power coming in on average around 12-15%.  In the south they may attain as high a capacity factor as 20%.  Like wind.  Making both of these a poor choice to provide additional power during peak demand.  Which is why Texas is firing up gas-fired ‘peaker plants’ to meet that peak demand.  Because they can.  While they have no way to make the wind blow or the sun shine on demand.


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The Wind Turbine Industry about to go the Way of Solar Panel Manufacturers like Solyndra

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 7th, 2012

Week in Review

Solyndra failed because of the Chinese.  Solyndra was working on a tubular technology to avoid using a silicon-based flat panel design.  At the time of product launch silicon was a costly commodity giving Solyndra a cost advantage.  And that cost advantage lasted until the Chinese brought so much silicon to market that the price for silicon imploded.  As did the price of flat-panel solar panels.  Which the Chinese also flooded the market with.  Good for people wanting to install solar panels.  Bad for people wanting to manufacture solar panels.  And now it’s happening with wind turbines (see Wind power market to lose puff this year by Liu Yiyu posted 4/5/2012 on China Daily USA).

China’s wind market bubble will deflate as the industry enters the worst year in its history, said the Spanish wind turbine maker Gamesa.

“The first half of 2012 is the worst time in the last four years, triggering a faster industry consolidation,” said Jorge Calvet, chairman of the company…

China’s wind industry has excessive capacity, going from 10 to 12 manufacturers in 2005 to more than 85 in 2011, according to Calvet.

Jobs of the future?  I think not.  Installing them, perhaps.  But this technology won’t do a thing for our manufacturing base.  What President Obama was going to revitalize with the technology of the future.  Green technology.  Smart technology.  Instead of those high-paying jobs of the past in the oil industry.  Which, incidentally, is something the Chinese can’t take away from us.  Only our president can.  By pursuing his jobs of the future.  Those manufacturing jobs the Chinese are taking away from us left and right.

Perhaps it would be better to pursue those jobs of the past.  There is a demand for fossil fuels.  We have fossil fuels buried within our American borders.  Which means only Americans can bring these fossil fuels to market.  And build and maintain the infrastructure that bring these fossil fuels to market.  All of those good, high-paying, benefit-laden jobs of the past.  In other words, the jobs people want.  The kind that don’t disappear when the Chinese ramp up protection.  The kind that will improve the employment picture.  Bring the cost of gasoline down.  And make America more energy independent.  All good things for the American people.  And things we should do for the American people.  Especially when it’s your job to look out for the American people.


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People don’t want Costly, Inefficient and Noisy Wind-Generated Power forced on them in Ontario

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 22nd, 2012

Week in Review

Ontario is putting up wind farms in rural communities.  And the people in those communities are very unhappy about it (see Ontario farm group urges halt to wind power development by Richard Blackwell posted 1/20/2012 on The Globe and Mail).

Ontario’s largest farm organization has called for a moratorium on wind power development in the province, saying there are too many unanswered questions about its value, and that the debate over turbines is polarizing rural communities.

The Ontario Federation of Agriculture, which represents more than 38,000 farmers in the province, said Friday that no more wind turbines should be built until a number of issues are dealt with.

First, some of the planning for wind farms should be returned to municipalities, the OFA said. Under the province’s Green Energy Act, municipalities have very little say in the decisions where turbines will be built.

Health and noise complaints also need to be addressed, the OFA said, and more study has to be done to ensure that the current minimum 550 metre “setback” from houses is sufficient.

People living close to these turbines complain about the noise and vibrations.  Can’t sleep.  Some even getting sick.  And when they sell their houses they have to disclose these health problems lest they be sued by the new owners.  When they can sell, that is.  It’s so good to be green.  People feel good about going green.  That they’re doing their part for the environment.  As long as they do their part in someone else’s backyard.  Because the people who are unlucky enough to live by these turbines are seeing their property values plummet.  Because people don’t want to live by these windmills.  Because they’re big and noisy.  And won’t let you sleep.

There needs to be more work done to allow the electricity generated from turbines to be stored, the federation said, because the power is currently often sold at a loss on export markets when it is not being generated at times of peak usage…

Ontario has installed about 2,000 megawatts of wind power capacity, by far the most of any Canadian province. Development has been accelerated by the Green Energy Act, under which the province pays premium rates for electricity produced by renewable power projects.

And if the health problems and declining property values weren’t enough these windmills are also inefficient.  Producing electricity during off-peak times.  So to make them efficient will require a massive investment in energy storage facilities.  Consisting of electrical rectifiers, batteries and inverters.  To convert the AC generated power to DC so it can be stored in batteries.  And then converted back into AC when sold on the grid during peak demand.

It sure is a lot of trouble for some 2,000 megawatts of wind-generated electricity.  But the wind doesn’t blow all of the time.  And it isn’t constant when it does blow.  Which is why we rate wind-generation with a capacity factor.  A percentage of the nameplate value.  These factors range from 20-40%.  Which means this 2,000 megawatts of wind-generated electricity is more like 400-800 megawatts.  Not a lot, is it?  By contrast the Nanticoke Generating Station in southern Ontario has a rated capacity of 3,964 MW.  And all you need to get that capacity is to turn the plant on and feed it fossil fuels.

The Nanticoke Generating Station is one facility.  Where it can be managed.  And its emissions can be scrubbed.  Wind turbines, on the other hand, come in small sizes.  They can’t be too big because they sit on top of a pole.  The turbines at the 181.5 MW Enbridge Ontario Wind Farm in Bruce County, Ontario, have a nameplate rating of 1,650 kilowatts each.  Which is why they need 110 of them for that 181.5 MW rating.  Which is more like 36-73 megawatts when factoring in the capacity factor.  Again, not a lot for all of the trouble they cause.  Which begs the question are they worth it?  From an economic standpoint the answer couldn’t be more ‘no’.  They’re very bad economics.  And people hate living by them.  So are they worth it?  It sure doesn’t look like it.


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Electric Cars and Wind-Generated Power – A Giant leap backward for Mankind

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 31st, 2011

Electric Cars don’t Like the Cold and Snow

There have been some big snow storms hammering the U.S. and the U.K.  Huge snow falls have snarled traffic this past Wednesday in the Washington area.  Not exactly Nome Alaska or Fargo North Dakota.  But it still turned rush hour traffic commutes into parking lots.  Cold parking lots.  Unless you had an internal combustion engine, that is.  And most people did as it turns out.  Lucky for them.  For if they had electric cars, they would have been waiting outside for a tow home.  Or walking home.  Because batteries don’t work well in the cold weather (see Cold truths about electric cars’ cold-weather shortcomings by Charles Lane posted 1/28/2011 on The Washington Post).

It is a basic fact of physical science that batteries run down more quickly in cold weather than they do in warm weather, and the batteries employed by vehicles such as the Nissan Leaf or the Chevy Volt are no exception.

The exact loss of power these cars would suffer is a matter of debate, partly because no one has much real-world experience to draw on. But there would be some loss. Running the heater to stay warm, or the car radio to stay informed, would drain the battery further.

If you want to understand some of the science, here’s some of that science:

“All batteries deliver their power via a chemical reaction inside the battery that releases electrons. When the temperature drops the chemical reactions happen more slowly and the battery cannot produce the same current that it can at room temperature. A change of ten degrees can sap 50% of a battery’s output. In some situations the chemical reactions will happen so slowly and give so little power that the battery will appear to be dead when in fact if it is warmed up it will go right back to normal output.

So think of this the next time your wife is about to start her commute home during the next snow storm.  And then imagine this.  She gets home okay.  Barely.  But you’ve lost your electrical power.  So you can’t plug in your car to recharge.

And many electric-car drivers who did manage to limp home Wednesday would have been out of options the next day: You can’t recharge if you don’t have electricity, and hundreds of thousands of customers were blacked out Thursday from the snow. The Post reports that this will be the case for many of them for days.

An internal combustion engine, though, could start up the next morning.  Because cold weather doesn’t affect them as much as they do batteries.  So if you had to go out for groceries or medicines, your internal combustion engine could get you where you had to go.  Even to a gas station if you needed to fill your tank to give you the range to drive somewhere that had electrical power and open stores.

Wind can be Fickle when it comes to Generating Power

Yeah, but, come on, what are the odds of this happening?  For the most part, batteries are reliable.  Electrical power is reliable.  The chance of losing power after ‘going green’ is so rare that it is statistically insignificant.

All right, let’s forget about driving a car in rush hour traffic in a snowstorm with the heater and your lights on.  Because that rarely ever happens.  Let’s look at wind-generated electrical power.  Like in the U.K.  They’ve added quite a few wind farms.  And they’re providing a rising percentage of their total electrical generation.  And, in a recent cold snap, the wind stopped blowing.  And the windmills stopped turning (see Customers face huge bill for wind farms that don’t work in the cold by Tom McGhie posted 1/9/2011 on the Daily Mail).

In the last quarter ending December 23, wind turbines produced on average 8.6 per cent of our electricity, but the moment the latest bad weather arrived with snow and freezing temperatures, this figure fell to as low as 1.8 per cent.

The slack was immediately taken up by efficient, but dirty, coal-fired power stations and oil-fired plants.

That dirty, filthy, nasty coal and oil no doubt meant the difference between life and death for some.  Why?  Because they’re reliable.  The wind doesn’t have to blow and the sun doesn’t have to shine.  They will always be there.  And this is why they serve as backup to wind generated power.  Because coal and oil are more reliable than wind.

So little energy was generated then that the National Grid, which is responsible for balancing supply and demand of energy in the UK, was forced to ask its biggest users – industry – to ration supplies.

So you may not be able to turn on your lights when you get home.  Cook.  Or run your heat.  But you’ll be saving the planet.  Sure, you may kill yourself in the process, but at least you’ll feel good.  For saving the planet.  By being so green.  As you turn blue.

Only Fossil Fuels can Walk it like they Talk It

There will be some sacrifice going green.  Some could even die (if their electric car battery dies during a blizzard before they get home from Grandma’s).  Or you may have found Grandma shivering in the cold because the wind wasn’t blowing that day.  Muttering to herself about the good old days when we burned coal.  And stayed warm.

When it comes down to it, fossil fuels are life.  Renewable energy sources might give us a brief respite from fossil fuels.  But when anything happens with those renewable energy sources, guess who we go running back to?  That’s right.  Fossil fuels.  And it’s time we stop demonizing the great life-giver of civilization.


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