The experts who forgot that wind energy is intermittent

A final post in the energy fact check series from SER. Fact check number 4 is titled “Do wind mills run mostly on subsidies?“.

This is the reasoning why subsidies are necessary according to the fact check: since the cost of wind energy is somewhere between €0.074 to €0.098/kWh for onshore wind and €0.133 en €0.157/kWh for offshore wind and on the price on the energy market is around €0.04, therefor subsidies has to be provided to settle the difference.

I have no problem with that.

The fact check starts with the costs of wind energy: cost of the wind mills, installation and maintenance. That is rather brief, but luckily there was a source at the bottom of the page for more information. Unfortunately, no link to it, just a name of a report: Final advice base costs 2014 by ECN (Energy research Centre of the Netherlands). Fortunately that report (Dutch) was easily found on the internet. Strange, why was there no link provided for a source that is readily available online?

According to the report, the cost of wind energy consist of the turbines, installation costs, connection to the grid, maintenance and they even took losses into account, like wake effect, availability, electrical losses, performance (restriction related to its design) and environmental losses (wear & tear) and curtailment.

While there was an impressive list of things that were taken into account in the report, it is only part of the story. In fact, they look at wind energy as if it was a conventional energy source. In other words, they ignored an important characteristic of wind energy: intermittency.

Because of the intermittent character of wind energy, there will be some extra costs that are not accounted for in this calculation.

A first issue that the experts gloss over: because of this intermittency, backup is needed. There is no guarantee that the wind will blow when demand is high or that there will be less wind when demand is low. The morning peak and evening peak in working days in winter are crucial at our latitude. It is entirely possible that there is only little production by wind during these peak moments.

So no matter how many windmills (and even solar panels) are installed, conventional power plants and/or storage systems have to be able to provide the needed electricity in winter for almost 100%. This means that wind mills don’t replace conventional sources, they just add to it. Two systems have to be installed and maintained. That is an extra cost that is the result of the choice for wind energy, but not attributed to wind energy.

The conventional sources that are needed to obtain sufficient capacity during peak demand in winter, will be closed or run idle in summer. These will not economically viable, therefor additional support is needed. This is also a direct result of the characteristics of wind energy, yet no expert is attributing this cost to it.

Even more, the performance of these backup power plants is reduced when a conventional power plant adjusts its load to the intermittent output of the windmills, using more fuel than when they would run at optimal load. This additional inefficiency and corresponding fuel use are also the result of the use of intermittent power sources in a continuous working grid and are not attributed to these intermittent sources.

What about for example production at times it was not needed and other energy providers not be able to adjust to it, yet this output is being counted as useful produced electricity).

So here we have the “experts” in the field of wind energy and they don’t know about or glossed over an important characteristic of wind energy. By the way, they are not the only ones doing so.

Then further in the fact check, it is claimed that wind has social advantages. The example being given is that during production it emits no small particulate as does the burning of coal and this is not accounted for by coal.

Okay, I can perfectly understand that coal power plants emit small particulates and calculating this in the cost, it will make coal more expensive, making it more attractive for wind energy. But first, we are now comparing the advantages of wind energy with the disadvantages of conventional sources, more specifically coal. Second, these disadvantages could be removed. If particulates are the really the issue, I can’t imagine that these could not be filtered out somehow. Or other conventional sources with less/no emissions of particulates could be used (for example gas or nuclear).

The fact check continues by listing other advantages, like the advancing of technological development and innovation, creation of jobs and opportunities for regional development.

True, but that is again only one side of the story. Anyone of these could also be said of conventional sources. They can also advance technological development and innovation, create jobs and provide opportunities for regional development.

What I am missing in this fact check are the advantages of conventional power sources and the disadvantages of wind energy. What they explained is only half of the story. How could policy makers make informed decisions when they are presented with one side of the issue?

In such an unbalanced communication, wind energy appears a no-brainer. While in reality this conclusion could only be drawn because the experts omitted the disadvantages of wind energy and the advantages of conventional sources. The experts are obviously biased. Should’t they give a balanced view in stead of promoting one specific technology?


8 thoughts on “The experts who forgot that wind energy is intermittent

  1. vuurklip

    Confirmation bias. Ignore the bits that don’t fit your pet theory. Feynman warned against this – but the Greens don’t care about physics. It’s too difficult.

    Besides, saving the planet is a powerful “feel good” movement.

    After so many years of Green brainwashing, politicians/policy makers are under tremendous peer pressure to toe the line. Few, if any, have the courage to stand up to pressure.

    Scientists who call the Green Emperors naked are quickly shut down.


    1. trustyetverify Post author

      I think you hit a lot of nails here in just a few sentences. Confirmation bias, feeling good and peer pressure are important parts of the puzzle. I can add a couple things like trust and lack of clear definitions to the list.


  2. poitsplace

    And one of the biggest failures is that these “green jobs” are a step backward. If one bothers to check, essentially all “green” jobs take more people to produce the same product. This is a step in the opposite direction that industrialization normally takes us. Less is created overall and the standard of living declines. What about factoring in the value that would have been added to the society if those workers had built apartments, factories, accessories, etc…instead of blighting the landscape with monuments to the green god that produce inferior product for more money?

    And it takes more workers just to provide the green side of the equation. The conventional power plant backing it up still has to be staffed 24/7, and their maintenance needs actually increase because of the erratic nature of the renewables. How have THE DUTCH forgotten why they replaced their wind powered pumps as soon as an on-demand version came available???


    1. trustyetverify Post author

      I am also bewildered hearing that the transition from high density energy sources to low density, intermittent energy sources, needing large spaces, requiring more llabor ot produce, is somehow beneficial for the economy.
      A couple weeks ago, I contemplated writing a (satirical) post about a video I viewed back then. It was a horse driven generator showing a setup with a Belgian draft horse and its driver, generated enough electricity to lighten up some (flickering) light bulbs. Seeing this, I imagined how good it would be for the economy when we would produce our power this way… There would be no unemployment anymore (everybody would be needed to produce our electricity) and we could compete with other strong animal driven economies like Central African Republic, Democratic republic of the Congo and Burundi… 😉


  3. ilma630

    “therefor subsidies has to be provided to settle the difference. I have no problem with that.”. I’m sorry, but I do. That’s what’s keeping the whole corrupt ‘Rob Peter to pay Paul’ charade going.


    1. trustyetverify Post author

      Maybe that statement was a bit ambiguous.

      I have no problem with the explanation of how the system works. Contrary to many others, the authors are rather honest about wind energy being more expensive than conventional sources.

      However, I do have a problem with those feel-good measures being taken on basis of one-sided advice, without critical reflection, without allowing debate and without evaluation of results.


  4. chrism56

    The big social disadvantage of wind power, that all the proponents don’t want to address is no-one wants to live by them. The infrasound is quite something. Of course, the frequency is so low that sound meters don’t register it, so it is claimed they make very little noise.
    There is supposed to be the infamous brown note
    Wind turbines must be about that level up close, even if it is a myth



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