Thursday, October 1, 2009

Blowing in the Wind

I say this often, but I can't say it often enough. Wind power is not an alternative energy source. It can not nor will it ever be able, on its own, to replace coal, nuclear, oil or any other consistent source of electricity.

I hear talk however about 'combining' wind with electricity generation from hydroelectric projects. Which again, is just foolishness. The problem stems from the fact that when the wind stops blowing something needs to replace all of the electricity generated by wind not just part of it.

Some environmentalists use the following logic: (the numbers are just for fun - a nuclear station produces far more than this in a year)

Hydro produces 100 kWh in a year
Nuclear produces 50 kWh in a year
Wind produces 50 kWh in a year
Demand is 150 kWh in a year

Wind + Hydro = Demand

Voila! Wind can replace nuclear power, they will say. The problem comes when you look on a day-to-day or even minute-to-minute basis. At one particular instant this may be the case: (again, numbers are ridiculously low and just for fun)

Hydro can produce up to 100 kW
Wind produces 10 kW
Demand is 150 kW

Wind + Hydro < Demand

What happens when electricity supply is less than demand? Well, you stop reading this blog for one thing, because your electricity goes out.

And yet, I still have to deal with environmentalists who insist that wind power can replace nuclear power. For good measure I'll quote an Obama scientist working under Steven Chu, Steven Koonin. In an interview with Physics Today he said: "Wind is now 2% of electricity generated in the US... it will probably get to 20%, but then you start getting into issues of intermittency and transmission... beyond that, I think there are two material options: nuclear fission power and carbon capture and storage." [1]

[1] "Physicist Steven Koonin takes on a new role as DOE's 'technical conscience'" Physics Today, Sep 2009

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