Thursday, August 07, 2008

Fact Check: Minyanville Analysis of Wind Power

An article by Jill Delender on green energy sources (nuclear, wind and solar) from Minyanville, which appears to be an investing advice site, contains a number of factual errors about wind:
In 2007, the US added 5,243 megawatts of wind power to its electric grid, the largest amount ever added by a single country in a single year. Globally, wind power has increased almost fivefold from 2000 to 2007.

Despite this increase, wind only accounts for 1% of worldwide electricity use and 5% of US energy.

Actually, wind accounts for about 1% of both world and U.S. electricity use.
This may be due to the fact that modern turbines are massive and cost-prohibitive, making smaller facilities unviable.

This is incorrect. Larger turbines are more cost-effective. Industry is not making them just for fun, but because the amount of energy a turbine can capture from the wind is a function of the rotor's swept area, and a small increase in blade length leads to a large increase in swept area. Also, wind speeds increase with altitude, and large turbines stand higher off the ground.

All other things being equal, small wind facilities are less economical than large ones because "balance of plant" expenses (such as equipment to connect to the utility system) can be spread over a larger number of turbines.
Not having to pay fuel costs for wind is a perk, but the level of subsidies, the paucity of energy needs met and the uncertain financial return of wind projects make wind power inferior to other energy sources.

This is incorrect. First, all energy sources are subsidized. Second, nuclear power enjoyed enormous subsidies during its early years of development. Third, wind projects are having no problems obtaining financing.
Wind power doesn’t displace fossil fuel’s generating capacity on a one-to-one basis. And some say it doesn’t actually reduce carbon dioxide emissions, because its inconsistent output keeps it dependent on fossil fuel plants.

Some do indeed say that, but they are mistaken. The purpose of an article such as this one should be to distinguish between facts and misinformation. It is quite true that wind power doesn't displace fossil fuel generating capacity on a one-for-one basis. But it does reduce carbon dioxide emissions, enormously, as documented in the U.S. Department of Energy's 20% Wind by 2030 Technical Report. According to that report, if wind generates 20% of U.S. electricity in 2030, it will reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the electric sector by 25% in that year.
Many environmentalists, as well as politicians like Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy, have raised objections to wind power on environmental grounds - particularly since wooded land may be cleared to accommodate wind farms, destroying trees and displacing wildlife.

This is a trivial issue compared with wind's benefits in reducing mining and drilling, global warming pollution, air pollution, water pollution, and water use for power generation.


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