Sunday, November 05, 2006

Newsday, New York Times Get It Wrong

Well, oops.

Two prominent and respected newspapers embarrassed themselves this week by passing on the same erroneous anti-wind information. Newsday, the major Long Island newspaper, and the New York Times made the missteps, both citing a questionable report from a British firm, ABS Energy Research, on claimed defects of wind power.

The Newsday article, by reporter Mark Harrington, said ominously, "A sharp increase in wind-power capacity in Europe is challenging utilities to stabilize their electric grids in the face of sometimes wildly fluctuating wind-energy levels, while calling into question some of the greenhouse-gas reducing claims of windmills, according to a recent study." It went on to add quotes from the report and from Euan Blauvelt, who is identified as ABS's research director.

The Times account, by John Rather, was slightly more restrained: "In Europe, power providers are having trouble coping with the variable output of wind turbines, according to a study by ABS Energy Research in London. When winds slacken, providers must scramble to draw supplies from conventional plants, the report said. It also suggested that wind power was having only limited impact on overall greenhouse gas emissions."

The ABS report was issued in late June, with similar hysterical language in a news release hyping its sale. I haven't read it yet, nor will I, since it costs roughly a cool $1,600 and appears to be, based on what the firm itself has said of its contents, of low quality and credibility.

Here, for example, is the complete text of an e-mail from Brian Parsons, a researcher at the (U.S.) National Renewable Energy Laboratory who specializes in wind integration issues, written directly to ABS:

Subject: RE: The Wind Power Report - Ed 3 2006
Date: Thu, 22 Jun 2006 08:39:10 -0600
From: "Parsons, Brian"
To: [address snipped]

Rachel - Thank you for your quick response. With your lead, I was able to find ABS on the web, which helped my understanding of the offering.

My inquiry was stimulated because I see two interesting components to the report. The first is market facts on the growth of wind power deployment worldwide. The second is what I view as alarmist and selective representation of potential problems and issues with wind power integration on the grid. In my work, I interact with utilities on a daily basis, and there are many concerns regarding wind due to unique characteristics different from conventional power generation sources.
However, once detailed research is undertaken, it is often found that the real impacts are less dire than expected.

The e-mail you sent out cites the DENA [German Energy Agency] work, which is now quite outdated. Additional work looking at the issues in Germany has resulted in less alarmist conclusions. The same can be said regarding the Irish Moratorium. Ireland is well on the way to having the largest % penetration of wind in Europe, without strong ties to other electrical systems.

This is not to say that issues don't exist. As the amount of wind power deployment increases, the use of forecasting, neutral market rules, and industry practices becomes more important. Operation of the flexible generators is modified. Yet, the integration of wind has been found to be advantageous overall economically. It is not just a political/environmental hoax.

For example I attach an article summarizing the Nov/Dec IEEE Power and Energy issue on wind integration issues. This summary is endorsed by the 3 major utility associations in the United States. There are numerous links to studies addressing these issues on the Utility Wind Integration Group's web site ( as well.

In short, I find many of the assertions in the solicitation to purchase the report to be erroneous, and the information selectively biased. Dissemination and sale can only further misunderstanding and create further confusion. I wish the author had done a better job of researching all sources. If you wish to distribute the attached summary to the authors, and customers of your report, please feel free.

Best Regards,

Brian Parsons
Project Manager, Wind Applications
National Renewable Energy Lab
[emphasis added]

But wait, there's more. In a story by Susan Nelson carried November 1 by SNL Interactive, a firm that publishes several trade newsletters and actually did some checking on the ABS report, Parsons is quoted as saying the report "should be put in a trash can" and adding, "The future for wind power is looking good--it's not a slam dunk, but it's looking good."

Also, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) has generated a more detailed response to the Newsday story. In particular, it refers to a comprehensive study by the U.K. Energy Research Centre:

The UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) convened an expert group that reviewed more than 200 studies on wind power integration and published an internationally peer-reviewed, comprehensive report this year (see release at and full report at The report concluded that:

- 100% ‘back up’ for individual renewable sources is unnecessary; extra capacity will be needed to keep supplies secure, but will be modest and a small part of the total cost of renewables. It is possible to work out what is needed and plan accordingly.

- The output of fossil fuel plant will need to be adjusted more often to cope with fluctuations in wind output, but any losses this causes are small compared to overall savings in emissions.

- Renewable energy, such as wind power, leads to a direct reduction in CO2 emissions.

- None of the 200+ studies UKERC reviewed suggested that the introduction of significant levels of intermittent renewable energy would lead to reduced reliability.

- If wind power were to supply 20% of Britain’s electricity, intermittency costs would be 0.5 - 0.8p per kilowatt an hour (p/kWh) of wind output. This would be added to wind generating costs of 3 - 5 p/kWh. By comparison, costs of gas fired power stations are around 3 p/kWh.

- The impact on electricity consumers would be around 0.1 p/kWh. Domestic electricity tariffs are typically 10 - 16 p/kWh. Intermittency therefore would account for around 1% of electricity costs.

- Costs of intermittency at current levels are much smaller, but will rise if use of renewables expands. Wide geographical dispersion and a diversity of renewable sources will keep costs down.

In recent months, anti-wind groups have been focusing more and more on wind integration issues. I hope this continues, as it is a fight they cannot and will not win.


Anonymous said...

Some reports about this weekend's huge power outage in Europe suggest that either a surge or a dip in German wind energy infeed started it. Initial reports pointed out that Eon Netz had shut down one trunk line to let a ship leave a dockyard, but Eon Netz said they had done this before without incident.

The UCTE (Union for the Co-ordination of Transmission of Electricity) is reporting: "Island 1 [western part of Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Italy, a part of Austria and Slovenia] was characterised by a power imbalance (lack of generation), due to the fact that German wind energy injected from the Northern region belonged to island 2. As a consequence, the frequency dropped in island 1 down to 49 Hz. This activated automatic load shedding procedures (cut of supply to customers) according to UCTE standards. Island 2 and 3 had to overcome a frequency overshoot due to power surplus."

Tom Gray said...

Yes, very true. I'm told by those who know that typically it takes three or four days for all the facts about a blackout to get sorted out. I'm also hearing that wind was not at fault, so I'll be interested to learn more.

Thomas O. Gray
American Wind Energy Association

Tom Gray said...

Here is some commentary from E.ON Netz on the Euro blackout. While it is still conceivable that wind was involved in some way, it clearly was not the primary cause of the event. More info will be posted here as it becomes available.

Thomas O. Gray
American Wind Energy Association


Human error at control center chiefly responsible for power outage on 4 November

E.ON Netz reports on status of investigations

According to the latest findings of E.ON's in-house investigation into the causes for the disruption to the European power grid on 4 November, that were submitted to the Federal Network Agency today, human error, as opposed to any technical malfunctions, was chiefly responsible for the outage.

Thanks to a detailed analysis of a comprehensive set of data, E.ON has already been able to largely reconstruct the chain of events that led to the disruption. The results show that an E.ON control center had assessed developments correctly and accordance with standard procedures but, owing to time pressure, had not made use of all technical options for a comprehensive situation analysis.

Prior to the scheduled deactivation of the ultra-high voltage transmission line that crosses the Ems River ahead of the passage of the Norwegian Pearl cruise ship, the control center had not checked whether the outage of an additional transmission line might overload the power grid. About half an hour later, another high voltage transmission line was overloaded - for reasons that are not yet known. To compensate for this, a number of lines were switched together at a substation. Contrary to the assessment of the control center's staff, this did not decrease but further increased the load on the power grid, which, in turn, triggered an automatic shutdown procedure. The outage of the second transmission line therefore ultimately set off the domino effect which led to the temporary disconnection of the European interconnected power grid.

There is, however, no evidence whatsoever of any technical malfunction of the transmission lines, control or monitoring systems involved. Findings to date indicate that all systems reacted correctly and in accordance with standard procedures, effectively preventing a complete blackout. Insufficient investment in maintenance or technical infrastructure can therefore be ruled out as causes for the disruption.

Further investigation is required until all remaining issues have been resolved. These, for instance, include the cause for the rapid and unexpected increase in electricity flows through the transmission lines in question. It is not until these issues have been fully investigated that possible improvement measures can be pinpointed. In doing so, E.ON Netz intends to work closely with the Federal Network Agency and all other parties involved.

Klaus-Dieter Maubach, the E.ON Energie Board of Management Member responsible for the power grid, issued the following statement on the matter: "We deeply regret the disruption to the power supply that affected many European electricity consumers as a result of the events of 4 November. We were quickly able to identify the main cause for the disruption but will continue to press ahead with our investigations until all remaining questions have been answered to our full satisfaction."

KM said...

UCTE is still investigating: They promise a report at the end of this month. They note that the motivation of Eon Netz's internal investigation is necessarily different than UCTE's.