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Wind turbines: Con of the century

The promotion of industrial wind turbines as a source of cheap, green energy is wrong.

The promotion of industrial wind turbines as a source of cheap, green energy is one of the biggest cons of the century.

Although wind power can be termed a ‘renewable’ source of energy it can never be a viable alternative source of electricity. It will also not measurably reduce carbon dioxide.

A national grid requires two types of electricity production. The majority must come from sources that run all the time to meet base-load demand. In addition, other sources are needed that can be switched on or off at short notice to meet peak demand. Clearly both types of source must be guaranteed to be available all the time. By its very nature, wind power cannot be guaranteed and can thus fulfil neither function.

Base-load demand can be met by nuclear, coal, gas, oil or hydroelectric power stations as all of these run continuously.

Coal, gas, oil and hydro sources can all also be used to meet peak demand as they can all be turned on or off at short notice. Coal, gas and oil stations operate on the basis of heating water to make steam to drive a turbine that in turn drives an electricity generator.

Although the generator can be disconnected to stop electricity production, the boiler must be kept running all the time thus these stations consume fuel continuously regardless of whether or not they produce electricity. Nuclear plants cannot be turned on and off at short notice in this manner.

So what happens if we want to introduce wind turbine power into a national grid?

Because the availability of wind-produced electricity cannot be guaranteed there must be other sources ready. If we want to use wind power there must be a gas, coal or oil plant continuously burning fuel ready to start producing electricity when the wind stops. Thus the only effect of using wind turbines is to bring the standby plants in and out of electricity production but they continue to burn fuel all the time anyway. In France the argument against wind power is particularly strong because:

1. France generates over 90% of its electricity from nuclear and hydro. There is little scope for building more dams to produce more hydro-electricity thus additional coal, gas and oil stations will need to be built to provide the backup for the wind turbines.

2. Coal, gas and oil stations produce the most carbon dioxide. Bringing these stations on and off line to match the fluctuations of wind power makes them run less efficiently and use more fuel than if they ran continuously.

3. The more wind power generation capacity that is installed the more reserve generation capacity is needed to cover it. Thus rather than reducing the use of polluting fuels, increasing wind power generation capacity in France will increase the use of other polluting fuels and carbon dioxide production.

4. Wind power will never make a significant impact on national carbon dioxide emissions. Electricity generation accounts for about 8% of total CO2 emissions in France. If for the sake of argument wind farms reduced this by 5% (a hypothetical figure effectively impossible to achieve) overall emissions would be reduced by only 0.4%.

5. France is largely self-sufficient in electricity production. However, if it increases the use of wind power it will have to increase the use of coal, gas or oil which it will need to import.

6. The cost of electricity in France is lower than in almost all other European countries. The cost of electricity from wind power is more expensive than electricity from sources already in use. If France increases wind power generation the cost of electricity will rise.

Denmark is heralded as the doyen of green wind power. In practice, Denmark’s national grid is highly unstable and its wind farms have resulted in almost no reduction in established ‘conventional’ electricity generation.As with most ‘wonder solutions’ to global problems, when one scratches beneath the surface all is not as the promoters and politicians would have us believe.

Ian Halliday

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