Groupe d’information sur les éoliennes (La Roche-en-Ardenne) 

 Dossier sur les coûts et les nuisances des éoliennes 


Comments on an article authored by a member of the wind lobby AWEA in response to the studies claiming that it was not proven that the offshore wind power reduces the CO2 emissions.

The laws of physics and of arithmetic defied by AWEA

     Comments on AWEA report: The Facts About Wind Energy and Emissions: Anti-wind groups are attempting to defy the laws of physics with their claim, by Michael Goggin, AWEA, 1 September 2010.

    AWEA paper is a lobby document which should be interesting for students in communication to show how far one can go in ignoring technology and accounting. Most errors have been pointed out in the reader’s comments. The present critical paper explains some errors or intended misinformation of this AWEA report.

AWEA computations include hidden replacements of coal by gas or biomass

      The reduction in CO2 coming from the replacement of coal generating plants by gas plants was mixed with the effect of more wind turbines. The addition of biomass plants was also mixed in the data used.

     There is a very large difference between natural gas and coal, the later emitting up to 3 times more CO2 per MWh produced. On the one hand, per calorie produced, gas produces less CO2 than coal and, on the other hand, gas plants have a better efficiency than coal.

      Therefore the replacement of a coal plant by a natural gas generator strongly modifies the total emissions. In comparison, the theoretical savings of adding a few percents of wind generation is almost negligible and perhaps negative if the efficiency loss for intermittent generation is larger than claimed. The errors in the estimated rate of emission of any fuel and on the generator efficiencies can blur any statistics compiled with different types of fuels.

     The relation between the CO2 emissions and the generation of electricity is estimated using official figures of efficiency for every fuel and for each generating plant. These theoretical data come usually from the most modern generator (CCGT) and assume that the thermal generators used for backup emit less CO2 than measured on the real plants used.

The rules of arithmetic do not allow adding apples, pears and pumpkins

      An elementary rule of arithmetic is to add similar items. AWEA paper adds coal and gas plants as equivalent items, but the US DOE righty separates the emission rates of coal and natural gas. These two types of plants are therefore entities described by different data in AWEA and in DOE. This error of methodology invalidates all results of AWEA report.

      As usual in wind lobbies, intermittent power is the same item than the power on demand. This error makes irrelevant most conclusions of AWEA report.

Biased presentation of the operating mode of backup plants

      AWEA studies backup plants operating in a steady mode outside their optimum efficiency power and it assumes that this causes a very low loss of efficiency (1%). In reality, the wind backup plants have to operate in variable mode with large variations of power (cycling). Each time, the demand increases, this requires overheating many areas of the thermal plant. When the demand decreases, this loses the heat stored. This heat penalty further reduces the efficiency. When the plants have to be kept hot and spinning to be ready to supply power at a short notice, the fuel consumption during these idle periods should be taken into account. The variable regime also increases significantly the production of unhealthy pollutants (SO2, N2O, CO, particles) in the coal and gas backup power plants.

      AWEA estimates the loss of efficiency of the wind backup plants at 1% (deduced in AWEA report from an increase of emissions from 1000 pounds of CO2 per MWh to 1010 pounds of CO2/MWh). As the electricity demand does not change and must be satisfied, the backup power should be maintained, eventually by activating new backup generation plants. It is a glaring blunder to write that “It is important to note that this reduction in efficiency is on a per-unit-of-output basis, so because total output from the fossil plant has decreased the net effect is to decrease emissions”.

      A simplified explanation of the inefficiency of wind power to reduce CO2 emissions, is advanced by independent research, cited by anti wind organizations and supported by data from some utilities (Bentek, Ercot). The important point is that, when the backup plants have to work in a variable mode (cycling), their average efficiency is only 80% of their best performance, so that this loss is compensated by the 20% produced by onshore wind turbines. The net result is thus that the widely intermittent onshore wind plants do not reduce CO2 emission or fuel consumption. These explanations have never been falsified by the utilities which could make a rigorous and verifiable study of the efficiency of the usual backup stations used in the variable cycling mode constrained by the wind blowing patterns, perhaps because the results would be embarrassing.

      The real efficiencies of generators operated in variable mode (cycling), are only known by the manufacturers and by some utilities and have never been published, probably as it would be embarrassing. AWEA and DOE have no data allowing an estimation of the efficiency although they could measure that.

Confusions about the fluctuations of demand and of production

      In a footnote, the paper says: “It is important to keep in mind that the supply of and demand for electricity on the power system have always been highly variable and uncertain, and that adding wind energy only marginally adds to that variability and uncertainty”. This was valid when the wind instantaneous production was less than 6% of the maximum country power. When the wind production is larger, the production fluctuations are larger than those of the demand. This is the case in Spain where the wind production grows up to 50% of the country demand during some nights. The limit of 6% is already frequently reached in some countries and will be reached in most countries according to AWEA plans. One cannot continue to tell that the increasing wind power intermittency remains negligible when it is compared to the demand. 

       Forecasting wind power has proven to be quite difficult, especially when the wind blows in the narrow speed domain (from 7 to 12 m/s) where the production varies from negligible to full power. Reducing the effect of intermittency by preparing the most efficient generators with a correct forecasting within a two hours delay is a research hope, but poorly supported by the current results.

      The capacity reserves are designed to ensure a continuous power generation when a nuclear plant has an unexpected “forced outage”. These infrequent events arrive a few times in the life of a plant and do not have a long time impact on the production efficiency while the strong and unexpected drops of wind that happen several times on each windy days (hundreds of times each year) have a strong cumulative effect on the efficiency of backup plants.

Make believe that wind power reduces coal generation

      Building and using natural gas plants instead of coal plants is a political decision. In Europe, most countries have increase coal use as it is less expensive. AWEA report informs us that: “The Eastern Wind Integration and Transmission Study (EWITS) had used in-depth power system modelling.” This sophisticated and pointless development seems designed to hide that, within this model, is hidden the following causal link: “The study found that wind energy will drastically reduce coal generation”. These US reports entertain thus the confusion that the expensive political decisions to increase gas generation at the same time than wind generation are supposed to have a strange effect: a curious law of physics would create such a causal link. In Europe, the causal link was not observed: The coal consumption and the CO2 emissions have both increased in Denmark, Germany and Spain when they have installed more wind turbines. In the US, new technologies to bore very deep wells have allowed recently to discover huge reserves of natural gas and these new resources could better explain the observed increased natural gas consumption than a new strange law of physics.

CO2 emissions are not measured but computed

     The measurements of CO2 in the atmosphere cannot detect significant local changes as the wind and the diffusion displaces the CO2. The problem is further complicated because the normal rate of emission by vegetation is 200 times greater that the one coming from the fossil fuels. It is thus not possible to measure locally the CO2 emission. All data published are always deduced from the consumption of fossil fuels which are reliably measured by the tax administration.

     The indirect method of CO2 calculation makes difficult the objective comparison of the energy savings from house insulation, from improved efficiency of generating plants and from the optimization of the HT transport network. The official government data are not useful to solve this important problem.

Skewed computations

     AWEA presentation suggests decomposing the computation of emissions in 3 factors: A, B and C. This is an astute way to set new confusing principles which would made further realist computations impossible. A section of AWEA report, which announces “The Truth about Wind and Emissions,” does not show any truth but exposes a skewed calculation decomposed in steps A, B and C. A and B  cannot be determined independently as, when the wind production becomes larger than the demand, the grid capacity to accept wind energy (factor A) is not independent of the factor B (the variable power produced at that time by the backup).

     The factor C is based on the stupid assumption that the addition of wind power is the physical cause of the replacement of coal generation with natural gas generation. AWEA report summarizes its skewed computation by stating that “the net effect of Factors A, B, and C is to reduce emissions by even more than is directly offset from wind generation displacing fossil generation (Factor A,)” a magical result produced by the faked calculations!

     The recent reduction of electricity consumption (and thus of CO2 emissions) due to the economic recession is not discussed in these calculation methods but is hidden into the data stating that the CO2 emitted is down.

The losses in electric HT (high tension) lines

      According to the European Commission: “An in depth re-engineering of transmission and distribution networks is required to tackle environmental challenges”. For those who know that ‘renewable energy’, ‘clean technology' and ‘environmental development’ are coded words when they (the participants in the coalition about climate) talk about wind development, this sentence means: “Expensive additions to the grid are not needed if wind energy is not developed”. It is rarely stated that the energy transport in HT lines is much more expensive than the transport of fossil fuel or nuclear fuel.

      Wind lobbies require an improvement of the electrical grid but do not want that the cost be supported by those who will profit from this investment. The intermittent electricity produced with wind turbines is already twice or three times more expensive (when the accounting does not contain any type of visible or hidden subsidies) than the electricity on demand produced with coal and gas thermal plants. Adding wind power to the grid requires, in addition to an advanced grid, an increased capacity in thermal plants for backup (as observed in Europe), and these must then operate below their optimum mode and have thus a reduced average power and efficiency. As the wind power cannot usually be produced near the user, the electricity must be transported through longer distances. This requires more high tension (HT) lines and generates larger Joule losses in the lines. These costs (mainly capital investment in HT lines) must be attributed to the wind producers, so that the wind intermittent power is at least 3 times higher than the power on demand of fossil plants (4 times higher than the constant power of nuclear energy).

      How much should the cost of fuel be multiplied before that wind power becomes competitive with fossil generation? As the cost of wind power has not been reduced since many years and as no technological breakthroughs are announced for onshore turbines, the wind would become competitive only if the fuel cost becomes 3 times higher than today (Except if a political decision reduces the large profits of the wind promoters). Thus, for the next century, the electricity would remain 4 times more expensive with wind than nuclear. Many breakthroughs are expected in other methods of generating electricity.

Cost of storage

      The electricity dams have been developed in the early 1900’s to store energy. The nuclear energy has developed pumped storages to store additional energy during each night (for example Grandmaison in France or Coo in Belgium). The main cost is for the development of the upper reservoir and the required reservoir size depends on the amount stored. Their size should store one night of production for nuclear industry, or a few weeks of wind production (average time between windy periods). The cost of storage is thus greater (say, ten times) for the wind than for the nuclear. The loss of energy in a cycle of pumping and generation is above 25% (86% efficiency for pumping and 86% for generating), that should be deduced from the theoretical saving of onshore wind power. Contrary to the unsupported statement of AWEA report, the pumped storage for the nuclear cannot be used in the same way for the wind.

Government data are not necessarily valid.

      The practices revealed in the ‘Climategate’ have shown that the data published by official organisations are not more reliable than those from the utilities. A reader comment (by Sol_Invictus) qualifies as follows the reliance on DOE data by AWEA author: “Your analytical candor is matched only by your naiveté on the objectivism of Government data”. DOE had disqualified itself by publishing wind papers famous for having assumed that the load factors of wind turbines would be 44%.

      After the Climategate, an assessment by IAC (International Academy Council) has recommended to do not use anymore data or papers published by lobbies (Greenpeace, EWEA, EREC, AWEA) or unverified data from official organisations (CRU, NREL, EWITS, DOE) but it seems that AWEA paper has selected only the statistical sources that pretend having detected CO2 savings.

Is anyone paid to hide the truth? Lobby methods

     The wind lobbies have a strange belief (or a mischievous tactic). They claim that the anti wind movements are paid by the petroleum and gas industries. It turns out that some wind turbine manufacturers (Enercon) and some gas producers (T.B. Pickens) say the contrary and explain why: The wind power requires backup with fossil fuel generators instead of nuclear power, the real competitor of the petroleum and gas industries. The arguments that the alarmism on AGW (anthropogenic global warming) coalition is useful to ‘Big oil’ are as strong as the arguments against it. When ‘Big Oil’ provides a support, this is usually skilfully camouflaged by a few proofs of the contrary.

     Most large utilities are the best customers of the fossil fuel industry and are expected to collaborate with them and not to fight against these powerful enterprises. Many utilities now manage wind farms to benefit from the huge subsides allocated for wind. The wind lobbies want to turn into law the RES (renewable energy standards) system, an effective strategy to force, with huge fines, the utilities to install wind turbines. This tactic was successful in Europe. The highest RES quotas and the highest rate of fines are in Wallonia (This data should be added to the corruption index. Belgium was in the top European countries when minister Cools was assassinated. The Corruption Perception Index prepared by the Berlin-based international watchdog Transparency International does not list presently Wallonia. Belgium is 21st on 180, starting from the best governance). A powerful lobby tries to have RES adopted in US, despite revelations on AGW and on wind lobbies.

     Many enterprises linked to utilities appear to move into the profitable businesses of investing in the manufacture and installation of wind turbines (Tractebel, Suez, Vestas) and/or in the improvement of the grid (Siemens, GE).

     In propaganda, one has to clearly identify the enemy. The poor local groups of inhabitants fighting against wind promoters are not an enemy fit to be accused of greedy intentions (although wind lobbies call them NIMBY). The wind lobbies have thus launched the rumour that ‘Big Oil’ is the culprit. They claim that “the fossil fuel industry’s latest misinformation is reminiscent of scenes that played out in Washington in previous decades, as tobacco company lobbyists and their paid “experts” stubbornly stood before Congress and insisted that there was no causal link between tobacco use and cancer.” It would be more logical to compare the tobacco strategy to the stubborn insistence of wind lobbies on an automatic causal link between wind installation and reduction of coal use. The wind lobbies have a strong influence on the Medias while the anti wind groups have no comparable resources.

Usual communication bias of wind lobbies

     AWEA paper is a typical document of a lobby. It immediately states in its title that it gives ‘Facts’.  This turns off those who know that lobby’s task is to deliver a doctored view on their business domain. Such risky introduction remembers the careful reader that he/she must not believe the indirect sales talk and instead should check whether these facts can be falsified. But a lobby cannot influence those who already know the scam or have learned to do not believe everything on face value. A majority of electors are easily influenced by the Medias and the lobby messages are designed for them.

     AWEA paper assumes that the reader is already convinced of the “the universally recognized and uncontestable benefits of wind energy”, in the same way that Communists had to be already convinced of the superiority of the soviet system.

     The author of AWEA report has probably used many slogans and techniques from the propaganda literature. For instance, the report, when it introduces statements from the enemy, adds a comment to make believe that they are false. For instance, “in spite of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the fossil fuel industry… misinforms… that wind energy does not actually reduce carbon dioxide emissions” but this overwhelming evidence is found nowhere, after the papers from the wind lobbies have been eliminated for lack of scientific value.

     AWEA does not lose an opportunity to repeat its propaganda message according to Goebbels’ recommendation: “The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly - it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over”. For instance, the report repeats the usual AWEA false statements: “We need to put our country’s tremendous wind energy resources to use, creating jobs, protecting our environment, saving consumers money, and improving our energy security”. This sentence is analysed in the following:  There are “tremendous wind energy resources to use,” (to produce as much energy as a nuclear plant - 3 reactors totalizing 3 GW or 26 TWh -, one needs 7500 giant wind turbines - 2 MW, 150m tall, 20% load factor - that must be sited on a land equivalent to a square with 70 km sides), “creating jobs,” (one could build two times more jobs with the same investment according to a Spanish study which explains why more than 2 regular jobs are destroyed for each wind job added), “protecting our environment,” (tell that to inhabitants in front of their landscape destroyed by scores of wind turbines), “saving consumers money” (their electricity bills will be multiplied by 1.5 when 25% of the nation power will be produced by wind at a cost 3 times higher), “and improving our energy security” (no wind turbines can continue producing a secure uninterrupted power if the pipelines of natural gas for the backup are shut).

      In summary, this deserving report shows that AWEA seems presently unable to do even a simple business or technical calculation. Does AWEA have no people formed in technology or in mathematics but only people skilled in communications to the technically uneducated readers?

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