Saturday, September 13, 2008

Fact Check: Wind Power and Natural Gas

In an article published Thursday, Edgar Gaertner of the Wall Street Journal, regrettably, gets it wrong with respect to wind power and its ability to reduce the use of natural gas in Europe (which depends heavily on Russia for natural gas supplies). According to Gaertner:
Wind turbines generate electricity very irregularly, because the wind itself is inconsistent. Therefore wind turbines always need backup power from fossil fuels to keep the electricity grid in balance."

This is incorrect. Customer demand for electricity varies throughout the day, just as wind does, and wind adds little variability to a utility system. Other power sources are needed not to "back up" wind, but to meet peak demand.

Gaertner goes on to note that gas-fired power plants are ideally suited to match up with wind, because their output is very flexible (true) and ascribes increasing use of gas in Spain and Germany to those countries' growing use of wind (probably not true). Here's one reason gas consumption is increasing in Germany:
...Greens and even parts of the governing Christian and Social Democratic parties are fervently opposed to the construction of new coal plants.

The U.S. Department of Energy has found that wind can generate 20% of U.S. electricity by 2030. In the process, it would reduce the use of natural gas for electricity generation by 50%, even though an additional 90,000 megawatts (MW) of gas generating capacity would be needed. Why is this? It's because even though there would be more gas plants, they would run much less and use much less fuel. Mr. Gaertner's commentary, therefore, misses the mark.

Utilities are building wind today because it provides them with zero-cost energy. It is primarily an energy resource, not a capacity resource. Society today faces three major issues: rising electricity demand, high (and volatile) fuel prices and global warming. Fuel prices and global warming have nothing to do with capacity, but rather with fuel consumption.



ForBetterEarth said...

Wind Power is needed just because it's a kind of green energy.

Tom Gray said...

True. Unfortunately, that is not the way most businesses work. If wind DID create a need to burn more natural gas, that would be a legitimate issue.