back to article Research: Wind power pricier, emits more CO2 than thought

Fresh contenders have entered the UK wind power debate, as a turbines expert funded by the Renewable Energy Foundation publishes an investigation into a hotly-disputed subject - the variability in output to be expected of a large UK windfarm base. In a just-released article for the journal Energy Policy, titled Will British …

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No one ever mentions the OTHER source of energy

When the wind is calm, then harness the other renewable source of energy

Humans!!

Remember "Conan the Barbarian"?

With the "God given right to breed" + the "I can't get a job" mentality

We can kill 2 birds with one stone.

Clear up the chavs and inbreed morons, creating a constant source of energy at the same time

Actually 3 birds, we may actually reduce the amount of half wits being born as the new “Turbine Operatives” will be too knackered to mate.

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Anyone know how much CO2 goes into building a wind turbine?

Interesting article. Thanks.

It would be interesting to know how much energy, raw materials and CO2 emissions go into creating, shipping and installing a wind turbine before it is switched on. Land and sea varieties. Then the relevant bits could be mapped on to energy generated and CO2 emissions saved in operation.

Someone must know.

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Tim
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Isn't he missing the blindingly obvious?

Gas turbines are used to quickly produce energy when demand is needed, because they take minutes to start versus hours for other methods.

Given that we can forecast the winds DAYS in advance, then we dont need a gas turbine solution for the calm days, as we will know about them well in advance. Just use the regular but slower plants. I know it doesnt mean CO2-free production, but it isnt the panic station this fella is bangin' on about.

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what about gas prices?

Things carry on the way they are in Russia and an expensive gas plan that reduces the amount of gas burnt might start to look very attractive indeed.

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Pirate

FIGHT

Pro Wind Theologists VS Nuclear Fundamentalist

FIGHT!

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Stop

Not sure I get it.....

Not sure I get it, I dont recall anybody ever saying that Wind power would be the only source.

If it allows other power sources, more expensive money wise or Co2 polluting to be put in standby or whatever then what is the problem?

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Anonymous Coward

Que

Que folk who like to think they know more then Engineers and Physicists and like to babbel pseudo science.

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RE: Isn't he missing the blindingly obvious?

Yes, he is. However, you don't get a chance to rubbish the opposition if you think about how the problem could go away.

So it's blindingly obvious that he needs to ignore the blindingly obvious. This is what passes for "debate" nowadays.

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Anonymous Coward

<no title>

Given that any form of non-renewable energy is inevitably limited, and we need to find something before too long, it is disconcerting to discover just about any suggested source of renewable energy seems to have flaws. Yeah ok I know, they're just challenges to be overcome :-p~

And there's a nearby star just slinging it off into the void like it was going out of fashion.

Maybe the only answer is to limit demand, by realising how many folk, living a decent modern lifestyle, can be supported indefinitely on the planet.

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Tom
Boffin

Dinorwig is in north Wales

Not in Scotland, although the Scots have their fair share of hydro power. Incidentally, nuclear power also goes mad for these pumped storage schemes, for precisely the opposite reason - they run at base load and cannot cope with the massive swings in power demand over the day.

As with all of these things, a mixture of power sources is the answer, and writing off wind power because it doesn't quite fit the bill is very un-engineering-like. And by 2020, we'll all have mandated smart appliances, or smart plugs for them at least, so that some of the curve is removed. In a world of less "peaky" production capabilities, you'll have to be less "peaky" in your demand.

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Bronze badge

Not Quite the Answer

"It would be interesting to know how much energy, raw materials and CO2 emissions go into creating, shipping and installing a wind turbine before it is switched on."

Not quite the number you're looking for but absent the emissions from the back up plants (as discussed in this paper) the CO2 output over the whole cycle from wind power is roughly equal to that from nuclear or hydro and somewhere between 1/3 and 2/5 of solar PV.

It's low carbon but not no carbon.

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> Given that we can forecast the wind days in advance...

Better talk to the folk who really understand wind behaviour - the sailors.

You can't. Wind bahaviour is highly variable, and even at the scale of these things local weather and geography has a big impact. Gradient wind versus themal win (sea breeze) land heating effects all the rest of it. Its enormously complicated.

The original writer is right on the money about the calm periods. A high over Europe is all of Europe... The last three years have been unusually windy as it happens, and if you go back over the records you get windy decades and calm decades.

Wind power is an ecological problem (think shredded birds) and comically unreliable. Water power only scales if you're prepared to commit ecological vandalism on a positively soviet/chinese scale - and how can people even consider being without the Severn bore for instance...

CO2 into building a wind turbine is horrendous, and its hoghly dependant on oil. We aren't talking about trees here the things are about 100% oil derivatives.

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Anonymous Coward

Peaks

These traditional peaks are likely to change, however.

People are now living a more 24/7 shift-based lifestyle so it's not a case of 5:30pm then the kettles across the nation go on to make the tea at home.

It's also not going to be the case that 7:30pm (or whatever time it is) the TV goes on for Corrie and then 7:45 the kettle goes on as it's the commercials.

With on-demand television then people will watch these shows when they want and the electricity demand will be levelled out somewhat.

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Silver badge

The day the Earth stood still

What I'd like to see is a study of what the consequences are of taking all this energy out of atmosphere. Will this have a knock on effect on weather patterns? And the big question I can't figure out is that once all the wind has been stopped will the Earth stop spinning because there's no wind to push it or go into overdrive because there's no wind to drag it?

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Tom
Boffin

@ Anyone know how much CO2 goes into building a wind turbine?

The energy payback period is what you're after. For a wind turbine, the energy payback is 80-100 times the initial energy cost, over the 20-25 year lifespan. For solar panels it is 2-4, over the same period. To work out how long it takes to pay that back, use a calculator. To work out how much CO2 is produced, use excel.

Fossil and nuclear fuelled power plants never technically pay back the energy put into them, because you're always putting fuel into them.

Isn't perspective wonderful?

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@Tim

I don't get what you are sugesting. Coal fired plants take days, not hours to start up, and nuclear takes weeks.

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Boffin

@Tim

He doesn't miss the "blindingly obvious".

Wind power would still require sufficient (mainly gas turbine) backup capacity to accommodate low wind conditions.

- modern turbines are not designed for the stress of constant runup/shutdown cycles therefore failure rates are likely to increase

- most of the time the turbines would be idle -> not earning revenue -> not getting the return required to pay for them -> forcing energy companies to buy cheaper, less reliable ,less efficient generators in the first place.

- Startup only "takes minutes" (which I doubt) only if you assume the supporting infrastructure (gas pipelines) are in place and can cope with the demand surges.

I'm not sure what you mean by "slower" plants... nasty, dirty coal maybe - even worse for the green argument. And thats if you accept that weather forecasting is accurate enough to bet the UK's power stability on... yeah right!!

The blindingly obvious is that wind power is nothing more than a greenies wet dream and totally impractical for substantial, reliable power generation.

K.

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Alien

Why not just convert the electrical energy into hydrogen?

To even it out just take the electrical energy during the peak production times, make hydrogen and burn it when needed. Surely better?

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Coat

Look on the bright side

After a few cold miserable gloomy days in winter you'll be protected from motorway pile-ups in the fog since your car battery will be flat.

Mine's the nuclear powered one thanks.

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Paris Hilton

The Wheel of Pain

"Remember "Conan the Barbarian"?"

Your plan has one big flaw - it would run the risk of creating a kind of Conan-esque Super-Chav warrior king. This person would hunt you down, because you would be his Thulsa Doom. And then you'd be run through with a sword. Nasty.

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Why not just convert the electrical energy into hydrogen?

My thoughts exactly:

see http://www.physorg.com/news87494382.html

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Tom
Alert

@everyone

Wind power is one of the many tools to relieve dependence on fossil fuels. It will not cure cancer. It will not make you better in bed. It will displace some of the coal and gas burnt in power stations today.

The last decade has seen greater steps forward in quality of life for everyone in the UK, but Blair was a social policy man, not a power production specialist. And Brown is just a money man, bless his little cotton socks. This is a critical time in determining the energy mix of the next 100 years in the UK. Stop bickering and go and do something, before they use rolling brownouts to force your total obedience.

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Thumb Up

Excellent Article!

Its good to see some of the problems our Electricity Generators are going to face in detail.

Personally I think that a trough of power due to a somewhat predictable lull in wind is likely to change the wholesale energy market which will provide solutions. These solutions are likely to include novel ways of storing energy when its cheap(like the Danes car battery), but also Industries whose model could be based on using the incredibly cheap energy at peak-production and shutting down at peak-demand/lull. I believe that the Fair Isle uses its Dump-Electricity to heat the local homes, and generates 85% of its winter and 50% of its summer energy needs through wind.

All this really says is that the Market may have to adapt to a new way of thinking, markets are good at this.

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Anonymous Coward

Burn Hydrogen?

Surely burning large volumes of hydrogen would surely produce lots of water vapour? Water vapour is as eny fule kno a greenhouse gas which admittedly doesn't hange around in the atmosphere for long like CO2, but can play merry hell with the weather in leaving the atmosphere. When it comes to energy production nothing is simple.

The whole argument over our "carbon footprint" massively over simplifies the issues invloved. Which is just the way politicians and the media like things. Firstly neither of those fine bodies of people can be bothered to look into things properly. They like everything lowering to a level that they can understand, even if that makes it completely meaningless (the BBC's report last night on the economy being a crossword puzzle, total nonesense but it makes for a simpel report). Politicians are even more keen on the "carbon footprint" because they can keep bringing the argument back to carbon emissions and so pretend that no other issues matter as far as the environment is concerned (mercury in low energy lightbulbs?).

Then there are the safety issues regarding windfarms. Lets wait until an oil tanker hits an offshore windfarm or a blade falls from an onshore windfarm and kills somebody and see how the media and public opinion swings shall we?

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Car Battery Storage

I don't get this idea. It appears to imply all these batteries will have a large over-capacity with respect to normal daily operation. We you really be able to use your car for 10 days without charging? Even 2 days sounds optimistic.

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Anonymous Coward

Researcher misses the point

If you create a cheap fossil free energy source that happens to be intermittent, companies and people will find uses for that don't care that it's intermittent.

You don't *need* to make a big backup gas turbine source for all the wind power and try to use it in the same way as coal fired station, that would be dumb. There are plenty of industrial users that buy intermittent power already and there will be plenty of new uses for this energy that don't care that it is intermittent.

But I also just don't believe him, since wind power generates no CO2, even if you ran your gas turbines at full even when the wind turbines were running it would generate no more CO2 than the gas turbines alone. So if gas turbines are so inefficient as starting up and slowing down why do you turn them off? I would suggest you either:

a) Run them at tickover always

b) Make better turbines that aren't so inefficient to start and stop.

c) Keep the running at full and sell the excess power as cheap intermittant power

d) Use the power for storage station (e.g. pump water up a mountain so it can be used to cover spikes).

Sure wind won't replace the base constant load but so what, it doesn't mean it won't reduce co2 or provide a useful energy source.

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Coat

Energy storage

Part of the problem is energy storage, rather than wind. Indeed, it's a problem now which is why you can get cheaper rate electricity at night (when the power stations are still running but there isn't much load) just for this reason.

There was an article in Wired a couple of months back - http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/news/2008/01/S2P - where basically engineers are working on a way of sequestrating CO2 using solar power and turning it back into a liquid fuel, which can then be easily stored. There are other types of CO2 sequestration being worked on too. You could theoretically turn CO2 into anthracite, for example.

So, perhaps the long term answer is not to use the power from renewables directly, but to look into ways of storing energy and/or using them to sequester to CO2 from the atmosphere instead.

I'll pick up my MBE on the way out, thanks.

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Bronze badge
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When the wind doesn't blow ...

Nothing new here I think. This is typical 'big power thinking'. It is locked to large power stations trying to deliver electricity on variable demand across the national grid. That's what power stations do.

Unsurprisingly wind turbiines are different. You match supply & demand in a different way. Two ways:

* STORAGE - the problem with hydro is that it runs out of water, not suddenly, but over a season or two. Opportunistic wind balanced with hydro gives effective storage. The water is saved on windy days and is there to deliver immediate electricity at a few moments notice when it is needed (yes, you need to change the generator/capacity ratio but this need no be expensive). It also means we could further expand our hydro option. Hydro accounts for more power than wind atm so this choice is significant. In the future electric cars charging overnight or whenever can use opportunistic wind and provide a pool of stored electricity and more balanced base load.

* DEMAND - In the domestic market we only have the crude 7hr White Meter option to offset demand. Using variable power sources (tidal as well as wind) has to be balanced with managing demand more efficiently. Fridges don't need power during TV commercial breaks. We already have a way to signal power devices to turn off/on if they don't need a continuous supply like fridges. Its the AC frequency which moves down when supply is limited and up when not. There is work going on in this area but the key is to find a way to discount this type of interrupable supply agains the non-interruptable (like the light ALWAYS comes on when you click the switch).

Frankly if we could manage supply/demand better in this way now - our emissions would be much lower without building a single turbine (but even lower if we do).

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Silver badge
Coat

Thats nothing!!

"The energy payback period is what you're after. For a wind turbine, the energy payback is 80-100 times the initial energy cost, over the 20-25 year lifespan. For solar panels it is 2-4, over the same period"

Why is the 'energy payback period' what you are after? That's a made-up figure which measures how the energy balance between paying in and getting out works for 'free energy' generation, and has no relationship to the practicalities of useful power.

I built a small toy waterwheel on the stream at the bottom of our garden to show the kids how to generate electricity. It puts out about 1w, and the cost of the parts was about 20p. I don't know how much energy went into building it, probably none, so that payback period would be zero. And during a 25 year life, it would generate over 100 times its initial cost in electricity at todays prices.

WOW!!!

But I wouldn't propose to run the UK on waterwheels in streams......

(my coat is white, cos I'm a scientist - not green for treehuggers..)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Why not just convert the electrical energy into hydrogen?

Hydrogen is notoriously difficult to store compactly and for any length of time. Pumped-storage is probably still the best way to store left-over power, and still falls far short of what is required, unless we make Scotland into a pair of lakes (you take the High lake, and ...)

Of course, then there'd be no-one there to complain about the ugly turbines on all the mountains :)

Maybe we should go for individual pumped-storage. Windmill in garden, water tanks at top and bottom. Wind pumps the water up, water feeds generator on the way down. On the calm days you go out and pedal to fill the upper tank, so we can all lose weight and solve the UK heart disease crisis as well. No, I can't be bothered to do the math to see how impractical that would be.

The fundamental problem is that this planet isn't big enough for all of us, so barring a way to go elsewhere we need to limit the population who eat, create waste, and burn energy. So far only the Chinese have got that message, while western politicos seem to be falling over themselves to encourage people to (over)breed.

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Joke

@keith

"most of the time the turbines would be idle"...

what you on about man? 5 to 10 days a year is not "most of the time" lol

"The blindingly obvious is that wind power is nothing more than a greenies wet dream and totally impractical for substantial, reliable power generation"

Did you know that commercial windfarms already exist?? They seem to be surviving quite nicely... just because the uk government is probably going to make a balls of their wind-energy plans doesn't make wind energy "totally impractical" - by that means of comparison, computer systems are utterly worthless...

Wind power isn't the only solution, but it's certainly one of several options and is by no means a "wet dream".

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Gold badge

"one little ray of light"

Recharging electric cars is certainly a big deal. Transport accounts for about 40% of our current CO2 emissions and whether you wean the country onto hydrogen or some sort of batteries, there's a huge demand there in the medium term, which very largely *can* be switched on and off at short notice.

So, not today, but in a few years we will have a very powerful load-balancing infrastructure at our disposal.

On the other hand, it is the nuclear lobby who are *really* looking for that.

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Anonymous Coward

Pumped storage ain't the only solution

Pumped storage is not the only possibility for industrial scale storage of electricity - a few years ago a pilot plant relying on fuel-cell type technologies was mothballed before it got as far as full trials due to funding issues. Google "Regenesys energy warehouse" for more info.

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Anonymous Coward

Tidal?

If you are after predictable renewable power given the variance in wind and sun then surely tidal is the way to go?

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Boffin

@how much CO2 goes into building a wind turbine

...Irrelevent compared to the continuously operating mining and refining industries which support Nuclear power. Not to mention the nuclear waste reprocessing and storage industry.

Anyway - how come we're always talking about a 1-horse race? There are other possible technologies available (Which desperately need funding and development to get them off the ground into the realms of feasibility).

Renewable energy is by its nature governed by various cycles in the planetary systems and therefore only makes sense when considered as a combination of solutions.

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what's really annoying

is that they've had literally decades to think of something to do when the oil, gas & coal run out.. the problem is that they've buried their heads in the sand thinking a solution will come up... this problem should have been addressed 20 years ago when they had the time do do something... but as usual, they've procrastinated...

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Alert

Everythings Rubbish no

Wind is too unreliable

Solar is too expensive

Demand management is too much like hard work

Nuclear is too risky

and so on ...

No renewable solution is perfect, and chances are we wont be able to live exactly how we do now, but, even if global warming Isn't happening, we WILL run out of coal/oil/etc at some point and we ought to be doing something about it.

I sometimes wonder when people will stop slating the current crop of renewable ideas and either help improve them or design their successors.

Wind is the best we have at the moment, so building wind is a good idea. When someone comes along with a better idea, we'll talk about it.

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Flame

An expensive figleaf

Anyone who believes that there is a role for a few windmills in the UKs energy strategy other than as a government figleaf is bonkers!

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Anonymous Coward

@AC hydrogen production

I think you'll find commercial hydrogen production is mainly done by steam reforming. So, we can turn methane into H2 & CO2, great! We could "store" that CO2 in the "atmosphere" and import the methane to make the H2...

Electrolysis is very inefficient apparently, you'd be better storing energy in potential form rather than produce H2 (~25% eff.) then burn it to do mechanical work (~30%?) for a total of ~10% efficiency. e.g. push water up a hill instead...

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Happy

Tee hee.

@ Chris W.

The earth doesn't spin because the wind pushes it. Neither is it flat, the moon made of cheese etc. Very cute.

The Earth has been spinning since accretion formed it. It would take quite a few propellors being wafted around to counteract the spin, especially as their rotating mass is *slightly* insignificant compared to that of the planet itself. Note also that their blades aren't being driven directly by the fabric of space-time itself, rather the gas that is spinning along with the planet.

Look at it this way - the only thing that has *any effect at all* on the Earth's spin is the moon, and if the gravitational pull of an object weighing it at 7.3477×1022 kg which is "only" 300,000ish kilometres away has little effect, then the counter-rotating mass of a few whirlygigs will do sod all.

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Boffin

Something you should know

Gas turbines are so called because their blades are turned by hot exhaust gas (as opposed to steam). They don't run on gas, they run on kerosene...

WRT capacity, surely all quoted measures are wrong if you have to build in extra to allow for slack wind? AFAIK, wind farm outputs are stated as maxima (the minimum being zero or worse), while you know that a conventional power station can always deliver its quoted output.

It always amuses me to see proposed forests of offshore turbines, when the stuff they are standing in (and expensively designed to resist) is releasing loads of wave energy (effectively concentrated wind) right below them!

Time for a rethink?

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Flame

Time Taken To Supply

Eh Paul. I'm afraid you are wrong. Cockenzie Power Station near Edinburgh can start supplying the grid from a standing start in less than 2 hours. In fact most coal fired stations can be on load within 3-5hrs depending on the kit and the size of the turbine. Gas turbines in actual fact a little quicker. Whilst the gas turbine itself is pretty fast the secondary turbine attached to the boiler (heated by the turbine exhaust) works in the same way as a coal fired station turbine (steam driven) so is still quite slow.

This article is in fact pretty damn good because it highlights the fallacy of the renewable argument. Reality is much more complicated and whilst we can use wind etc the baseload will be supplied by something else; my current favs are nukes and clean coal. Longer term favs would be fusion but I suspect I'll be long gone by the time that appears. Wind is only going to be a suppliment. I wish it could be different but the experience of the Danish (30% power availbility) suggests otherwise.

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Pumped Storage

If pumped storage can run the country for a day or two, it can certainly do the load balancing and allow the gas turbines to be started gently, there by removing all this nasty maintaince the Oswald refers to. If you have to (and the pumped storage is running low) you can keep the gas turbine running for an extra hour or two afterwards to replace the pumped storage that was used while the turbine was firing up.

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Anonymous Coward

@Tim: Well said, Tim.

Tim, contrary to the garbage from some others, you are SPOT ON.

Electricity generation capacity must match electricity demand, at any moment in time, give or tack a Dinorwig or two (www.fhc.co.uk).

So there already is, and must be, a hierarchy of generating capacity which can be switched on and off as required so supply matches demand (there's very little research gone into making demand follow supply, afaik, other than so-called "interruptible contracts", but that's another story).

Nukes take days to warm up and shut down in a controlled way, so basically you have to leave them running 24x365 (give or take faults, maintenance, etc). Coal and big oil and gas are a bit quicker, taking hours (rather than days) to reach full power.

Meanwhile, the hundreds of gas-powered CCGT power stations around the UK [1] as introduced by the lunatic "dash for gas" which followed Thatcher's electricity privatisation, are **ALREADY** used for short term peak following and are **ALREADY** going through thermal cycling once or twice a day, because they are able to respond within minutes, but you have to turn them off quickly once you don't need them for peak use, because the (soon to be imported) gas they use is too expensive to use for anything except short term peak lopping.

Very poor research, very poor article. Sorry Lewis, not up to your usual standard.

[1] Not in Northern Ireland 'cos gas is expensive there

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"Why not use hydrogen"

One word: Hindenburg.

Also, Hydrogen atoms are pesky buggers that put Houdini to shame and escape from anything you try and put them in.

As for industries that buy intermittent power.....that only works if they want the power when the turbines are supplying it.

One solution is super insulate all houses so that heating no longer becomes such an issue, fit energy saving light bulbs everywhere and outlaw these rediculous plasma TVs. Then there is less demand during winter.

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Anonymous Coward

sequestration

...other types of CO2 sequestration being worked on too. You could theoretically turn CO2 into anthracite, for example...

I always love these ideas.

We go to huge lengths to extract sequestered carbon from underground, as oil/gas/coal, and burn it to release stored energy, and create CO2. Then some bright spark comes along and says "hey, we should convert the CO2 into carbon and sequester it underground"

Precisely how do you propose doing that without having to put back in exactly the same amount energy that was released when you converted the carbon to CO2? OK, you could maybe use solar power, but why not just use that directly?

There may be inefficient ways to store CO2 to keep it out of the air, but the only two ways that will really work are:

- Don't extract it in the first place.

- Use natural renewable processes like growing trees and other biomass. That, of course, is not a complete solution because of the land area required.

Barring a major drop in energy requirements kicked off by the 4 horsemen, there's no viable short-term (20-40 year) option but nuclear. Hopefully by 2050 or so we may have some other options.

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Go

Gas plant startup

Another blindingly obvious point here. Given the article claims the UK could run off pumped storage hydro (like Dinorwig, or the Tanygrisiau station I can see from where I'm sitting) for 1-2 days, surely that's enough time to start any gas turbine plant nice and gradual-like? So you don't need to forecast the wind days, or even hours in advance. Pumped storage hydro can ramp up in seconds, so they tell me, and could clearly cover the time it takes to spin up the gas turbines.

Combine that with the other options for storage, plus better use of intermittent power (as other commenters have pointed out), and there's little doubt that we can happily use the output of all the windmills we can build.

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Linux

Why no mention of demand management

It seems that no consideration at all has been given to demand management - a certain proportion of energy usage is not time critical and can wait until times of lower demand or higher wind energy availability. This would cover for example heating and refrigeration loads, charging of electric vehicles (very small at the moment but likely to increase) and washing/dishwashing on the domestic front, as well as a large number of industrial loads. These don't need to happen during the evening peak and can easily be postponed (at least in part) until the night-time low (or when wind power is high).

However without a suitable infrastructure to enable devices to know when the load is low, this is unlikely to happen as there's no financial incentive to develop suitable devices. The claim that only gas turbines can compensate for variability is a fundamental flaw in the logic of the article.

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Just a question to those who know...

...on the embedded energy question.

How long to PV cells last?

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Anonymous Coward

@Why not just convert the electrical energy into hydrogen?

Good question but storage is the problem, as compressing Hydrogen is very inefficient. What we really need is some nice easily reversible method of reacting the hydrogen into a solid, let me know if you find a way!

Any method of storing energy will get around these lag days, and as stated timescales are what is important, but as suggested by the Danes if you have electric cars connected to the grid you have a phenominal amount of storage capacity ready when you need it, Obviously you use an intelligent system that doesn't drain your car flat, but even 10% of 20 Million Vehicles is massive, and massive is whats needed. The problem with cars is that unless you plug back in at work, the capacity is not available 9-5! which is useless so it only works if you connect up at home and when parked, whats clever though is that you use electricity where you are this is also where your car is!

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