The Guardian defends wind farms. Badly.

I chose this image because I like the photo

There has been a lot of publicity recently for the proposition that wind farms don’t in fact deliver on their primary objective of reducing CO2 emissions (whether or not you think emissions reductions are important).  This counter-intuitive result arises because intermittent wind requires back-up, usually gas.  And because the gas-fired generators are run sporadically to balance the variable wind, they run inefficiently.  Each KWh of electricity they produce (on average) costs more, burns more gas, and emits more CO2 than if the plant were run more consistently and efficiently.

I’ve been regularly quoting Professor Gordon Hughes, an environmental economist from Edinburgh University,   but Fred Udo  and others have found similar results.  See my blog.

Now the Guardian, no less (God bless ’em), leaps to the defence of wind, with their own research.  It’s well known, of course, that the Guardian employs a team of highly respected environmental economists.

Let’s look at a key passage from their report:

From analysing National Grid data of more than 4,000 half-hour periods over the last three months, a strong correlation between windiness and a reduction in gas-fired generation becomes clear. The exchange rate is about one for one: a megawatt hour of wind typically meant the UK grid used one less megawatt hour of gas-derived electricity. This means that actual CO2 savings can be calculated from the data with a high degree of accuracy – these are not guesstimates from models, but observations of real-world data

Remember that the gas is there to back-up the wind.  So obviously, high winds (provided they’re not so high that the turbines have to be switched off) will generate electricity, and therefore there will be less production from gas.  And what does the Guardian’s study find?  Why that on windy days, there’s less use of gas.  OK, guys, but we knew that already.  That’s a given of the system.  Indeed, it was designed that way.

Then get that key phrase: “one less megawatt hour of gas-derived electricity”.  So (they say) CO2 savings “can be calculated”.  So in logical terms they’re now assuming what they’re trying to prove — that any one megawatt hour of gas production uses the same amount of gas, and creates the same emissions, regardless of conditions.  But the Hughes/Udo findings are precisely that the efficiency of the gas-fired power station is determined by the pattern of usage.  Obviously if the Guardian simply assumes to start with that this is not the case, and that all megawatt hours are the same, they can satisfy themselves that Hughes/Udo are wrong.

They say that “these are observations of real world data”.  Yes guys, but the wrong real-world data.  You’re measuring the electricity output, and obviously that correlates directly and negatively with wind output.  But you’re not measuring the CO2 emissions.  So far from proving your point, you’ve not even addressed the question.  Your article is a lot of hot air.

They have other priceless observations.  Get this:

The intermittency of wind is balanced both by the inertia of the turbines themselves and by multiple wind installations over a wide geographical area.

Intermittency balanced by inertia?  So how long do they expect a turbine to keep spinning — and delivering electricity — when the wind stops?  Thirty seconds?  Maybe 45 if you’re lucky?  This is clutching at straws.  And the proposition that “the wind is always blowing somewhere” is just not true. Frequently it drops over the whole of the UK, or large parts of Europe.

The Guardian would do well to go away and read Professor Hughes’ work, and see if they can find a logical flaw in it, before they set out on superficial attempts to disprove his conclusion, in terms that show they simply haven’t understood the issue.

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17 Responses to The Guardian defends wind farms. Badly.

  1. PaulK says:

    Roger, you should try adding some facts to your opinions occasionally.

    “It was found that low wind speed events have a limited impact on the UK, and that high wind speed events are extremely rare; no hours were identified where electricity production from wind power throughout the UK was curtailed due to these extreme events.” http://www.eci.ox.ac.uk/publications/downloads/sinden06-windresource.pdf

  2. Ilma630 says:

    Roger,

    The fallacy of the inertia argument is the simple “you cannot create something out of nothing”, so if the turbine continues spinning after the wind drops but reducing in speed and therefore output, then it’s obvious that when the wind picks up again, the output is not immediate, but there is an ‘inertia’ to get the blades spinning again and a delay before the output recovers.

    The only outstanding aspect of the Guardian and their report is their naivety!

  3. John Carter says:

    I have not read Professor Gordon Hughes but I am sure that as an academic he relies on much detailed and high-octane argumentation to advance his thesis. Assuming this to be so, it would a contrast to the low-grade arguments used in the posting responding to the Guardian article. The day you read a posting on Mr Helmer’s site that manages to use just clear arguments unaccompanied by puerile jibes, is the day you might start to take his arguments seriously. The desire to despise an opponent is the single most obvious source of clouded reasoning. One specific point among several that could be made: the posting seems to take no notice of the difference between Gas Power Stations and gas-fired open cycle turbine (OCGT) plants.

    • rfhmep says:

      I didn’t want to get too technical. But you are right: wind back-up (I understand) needs to be open-cycle for quick response. That’s hugely less efficient than combined cycle. So the gas back-up is relatively inefficient for two reasons: first, because it’s open-cycle. Second, because it’s run intermittently. The Guardian seems unaware of this.

      Sorry about the “puerile jibes”. Maybe you could put the same point to the Warmists, who call for “environmental Nuremburg Trials” for anyone who disagrees with them.

  4. Phillip Bratby says:

    But it’s Mark Lynas reporting, and he isn’t renowned for drawing logical conclusions. Let’s face it, he’s hardly the person you’d go to to find out how our electricity supply system works.

  5. Paul says:

    Roger, take a look at this video. Imagine Crete dominated by wind turbines and solar panels. That’s what the authorities have planned:
    http://notrickszone.com/2012/09/25/europes-environmental-destruction-madness-now-threatening-to-demolish-beautiful-scenic-crete/

  6. Rob says:

    You say “high winds (provided they’re not so high that the turbines have to be switched off) will generate electricity, and therefore there will be less production from gas. And what does the Guardian’s study find? Why that on windy days, there’s less use of gas. OK, guys, but we knew that already.”

    I’m not sure you did know that already because just last week you wrote that even when renewables are online and generating, gas power stations need to be kept running as a “spinning reserve” to make up for their intermittency:
    https://rogerhelmermep.wordpress.com/2012/09/20/solar-pv-more-harm-than-good/

    “keeping this capacity going as spinning reserve is a bit like running the engine on a stationary vehicle. It burns fuel and creates emissions without going anywhere”

    If this was the case then there wouldn’t be less use of gas even during windy periods.

  7. Rupert Kempley says:

    THE VERY LARGE (EVEN FOR AN ELEPHANT) ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM OF THE WIND DEBATE – THE VERY CONSIDERABLE SIZE OF THE CARBON CYCLE.

    This won’t surprise anyone reading comments in this location but the limitation of the wind debate as to whether renewables may or may not lower UK CO2 works greatly to the advantage of the renewables scam.

    The wind scammers can keep this issue running indefinitely as it is undoubtedly difficult to prove exactly what the impact of our renewables policy is on our CO2 production.

    Whilst this argument (Call it Argument 1) trundles on they continue to rake in mountains of subsidy from their product which naturally comes with no money back guarantee of success.

    If you consider that the ULTIMATE purpose of wind power is to lower the concentration of atmospheric carbon to such an extent that the temperature of the planet falls then the true ridiculousness of the renewables debate is laid bare.

    There is a lot (really a lot) of carbon up there above us, there is huge inertia in the atmospheric system and most of the world intends to keep on burning stupendous amounts of coal. Given this scenario (call it Argument 2) even flicking the switch on the UK would make no difference to the planet’s well being.

    The difference between the Argument 1 and Argument 2 produces the exact credibility of the UK wind lobby.

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  10. Esa Hakola says:

    That is really bad defend,i remember in Finland country that most of the people turn to use wind turbine generators and it seem that now a days they don’t have yet any problem or issue that need to depend on it.I can say defending is really hard task but for me i am still amaze to all wind farm that give people some clean energy for saving the world.

    • Ilma630 says:

      Esa. At what price? I would also not want my hospital, factory, bank, supermarket, etc. to rely on wind power – it’s just too unreliable. I have lived through power cuts when the miners went on strike, and with so much more dependency on computer systems in all areas of society, would never want to go through that again. Reliance on wind power is a recipe for power cuts and/or rationing (brown-outs).

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