Goldilocks power generation

Wind powerstations don't like the wind to be "too calm", and they don't like it to be "too strong"; they like it to be "just right".

(Thanks to an anonymous commenter for the tip-off.)

32 thoughts on “Goldilocks power generation

  1. What I want to know is - Who videos wind turbines just in case they fall over?

    Surely even Mr Carter wouldn't derive enough gratification from the occasional "success" to make the effort worthwhile.

  2. Unless, of course, he planted the explosive device & waited with his video recorder.........I can hear sirens!

  3. Not so much hostility as utter scorn. Oh, dammit, and hostility too. I gather from your comment that you must be new round here (and from your blog posting that you don't agree with me).

    Climate change is the most serious problem facing the planet. Messing about with windmills isn't going to achieve anything apart from a tepid, green glow of self-righteousness. Serious problems require serious solutions. For which, read nuclear power.

  4. The facts are weighed greatly against your position. Wind power alone, when developed intelligently, could power the entire continent, see here:

    http://www.davidstrahan.com/blog/?p=127

    http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change/
    windfuelled-supergrid-offers-clean-power-to-europe-760431.html

    http://environment.independent.co.uk/climate_change/article3194088.ece

    Similar proposals exist for solar power. Both rely on the "supergrid" theory which is proven technology and could be deployed in a lot less time than it takes to build a nuclear power station. Just ask the Finns.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2007/dec/29/nuclearpower.finland

    Nuclear's green credentials are questionable and on the schedule that our civilisation has to attempt to halt runaway climate change, nuclear cannot make an impact. We have a few years at best, at the most a decade.

    http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change/the-earth-today-stands-in-imminent-peril-453708.html

    (If you want a copy of James Hansen's paper I will be happy to email it you.)

    Any new nuclear build likely won't be online until 2020- too late to make a significant difference. More importantly, every pound invested in nuclear capacity that won't generate for a decade will be a pound NOT spent on renewables that can be generating in a few months time.

    Note that I haven't even mentioned nuclear proliferation, waste disposal or the economics of nuclear power as I feel these are secondary to the issue of climate change.

    Most importantly of all, the promotion of nuclear power by the government undermines the future prosperity and security of this country. The public, misled by the government, have little understanding of the consequences.

    Feel free to respond here or on my blog. I'd love to hear your counter arguments.

  5. I am well familiar with the propaganda surrounding wind powerstations, thanks. The fact remains that the only country in the supposedly green continent of Europe with surplus energy to sell is France, which derives 70% of its energy from nuclear power (without covering its still beautiful landscape in silly, ineffective windmills or so-called supergrids of electricity pylons).

  6. Your link to the government report is broken but I find the BBC report of the issue paints a far less gloomy picture than yours with E.ON stating that they produced 90% of their target.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/norfolk/4786647.stm

    E.ON blamed the 10% loss on mechanical and maintenance issues, which means that they probably cut corners and didn't install them properly or bought cheap parts. This hardly represents a flaw with the concept of wind generation.

    As for selling energy I think you'll find that Denmark sold 4.27 TWh of its electricity- 15% of which is produced by wind power, as these peer-reviewed studies reveal:

    [Richard Carter's Note: Supplied URL did not work as it contained expired user-session-related parameters, so I have removed the link.]

    I hope you agree that this does not count as "propaganda". I'd be interested to know what you do class as propaganda because I find that the government's illegal nuclear proposals are pretty model examples of it.

    As for pylons, do you think that a new generation of nuclear power stations are going to be built without a connection to the grid?

  7. "Wind powerstations don't like the wind to be "too calm", and they don't like it to be "too strong"; they like it to be "just right"."

    Similarly, aircraft have aerodynamic 'rules'. Aircraft 'don't like' being outside their flight envelope - if the conditions are not "just right" they have a tendency to fall out of the sky. It's no reason to panic and doesn't stop millions of folk from flying away on their jollies.

    Also it's odd to complain about safety and efficiency maximisation operating criteria being designed into wind turbine operation. I thought that was a good thing?

    The Goldilocks argument is a bit of a straw man really - but this one bites back. It could be applied to most, if not all, energy sources - it applies to nukes too. I mean, isn't it just terrible the amount of processing required to refine ores into nuclear fuel so it is "just right" to use in a power station? How ridiculous is it that we can't just use it as it is dug out of the ground?

  8. Rossinisbird, I was not commenting on the safety of wind turbines. The point I was trying to make was that wind powerstations have an inherently unreliable power source. But seeing one of them self-destruct did warm the cockles of my heart.

  9. Punkscience,

    So the government report has gone missing, has it? If I were a conspiracy theorist, I would have a field day!

    Nuclear powerstations require far, far fewer powerlines than wind powerstations because we need far, far fewer of them.

  10. Are you implying that your link to the report isn't broken? I just tried it again and I can assure you it is.

    Or are you being facetious?

    To drop another factual bomb shell on you, most of the wind turbines around me (and there are a lot in Cornwall, I can assure you) don't have any pylon connections to the grid. The cables are underground. Not that this is particularly relevant as I'm sure that if the technology's mature enough to be buried without having to worry about maintenance access then they can apply the same to nukes. Except for the fact that they can't because centralised generation requires the distribution of far larger currents and so requires a correspondingly more advanced network with greater maintenance requirements and efficiency losses.

    Here's the two papers I linked to earlier, sorry about posting the wrong ones. They are subscription only so if you can't access them from ScienceDirect I will happily email them to you.

    Lund, 2005. Large-scale integration of wind power into different energy systems.

    Lund & Munster, 2003. Management of surplus electricity-production from a fluctuating renewable-energy source.

    So, as it stands I've made my point about wind power being completely suitable for powering the entire continent reliably, sustainably and cheaply (you'll have to read the first few links I posted to find out why. Unfortunately the UK government don't seem to think this is a worthy proposition and are intent on pursuing nuclear. As a result runaway climate change will likely become a reality and, instead of "covering its still beautiful landscape in silly, ineffective windmills or so-called supergrids of electricity pylons" we my children will find much of the landscape covered in a meter of saltwater and yet more of it covered in families of climate refugees and nuclear waste.

    You might consider that to be hyperbole. I have plenty of evidence at my fingertips to demonstrate otherwise.

  11. Punkscience, no, you are right, the link in my earlier piece is very definitely broken. It didn't used to be. All I was saying was that a conspiracy theorist might have something to say on this subject. I don't.

    I agree that the best solution to electricity powerline eyesores is to bury them underground. Unfortunately, it is a legal requirement that the National Grid use the cheapest means possible (i.e. pylons) to transport energy around unless there are overarching reasons not to (e.g. when going through areas of outstanding natural beauty).

    A 16-week course on energy generation techniques as part of my physics degree convinced me many years ago that any energy policy which excludes nuclear power is a joke. Serious problems require serious solutions. Fortunately, our government seems to agree. So, as far as I can tell, do most energy scientists.

    (Sorry to keep tinkering with your comments, by the way, but spurious characters keep getting inserted.)

  12. Do you remember the title of the government document? I'll try and google it.

    Can you explain why nuclear power is so essential to our country? You are clearly convinved and I'd be interested to know why.

    Sorry about the random characters- I write in word and then copy text into here. I don't know so I don't know why the characters suddenyl appear- I try and delete them before I hit submit but they keep returning.

  13. The report is here (PDF document). I'm not sure if it's exactly the same version as the one I originally referred to (I suspect I was referring to an interim report and this is the final version), but the figures I was quoting are to be found on page 5 (final column).

    Nuclear is essential because it is the only low-emission technology we have that is capable of providing anything like the power we need. I have long-since forgotten the relevant science (I studied the subject in depth in 1985), but the (extremely heavy) course left me in no doubt that nuclear was the only serious option: it is a matter of pure physics. I'm all for reducing energy consumption, but I simply don't believe that people will be prepared to do that to anything like the degree required. In fact, I'm with Lovelock on this one: it's already too late. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't be trying to mitigate the problem.

    Although my views might be unpopular, I believe they are in line with those of most mainstream energy scientists (and the Royal Society) - and they're the chaps I trust on this issue. Energy policy is far too important a subject to leave to tree-hugging so-called 'greens' (although I accept that not all greens are tree-huggers!).

  14. Thanks for the link, its very informative. I struggle to see how you perceive this to be an indictement of wind power when, even after all the problems the site went through, it still provided only 6% less technical availability.

    As for your knowledge of nuclear power, I imagine that technology in many fields has moved on a long way from 1985. If you weren't aware, back then the nuclear industry had enormous lobbying power- so much so that it was able to contrive the death of Britain's fledgling wave power industry.

    http://punkscientist.blogspot.com/2007/06/how-nuclear-lobby-stopped-development.html

    Things haven't changed much since then. The nuclear lobby still have many friends in Whitehall with their eyes on cosy directorships once they semi-retire and they can be relied upon to rig the figures. Were you aware that the government's Energy Bill has already been determiend to be illegal by Greenpeace's lawyers and will be shot down by the EU at the first opportunity?

    http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/blog/nuclear/uk-energy-bill-illegal-under-ec-law

    Not only is nuclear dangerous and unethical, its unnecessary and uneconomical. If you had two technologies, both capable of producing a nation's electricity and (hypothetically) both economically viable, why would you choose the one that required fuel to be transported across the globe and produced dangerous waste for which there remains no ultimate disposal solution?

    http://punkscientist.blogspot.com/2008/01/main-hope-for-safe-nuclear-fuel.html

  15. 75.1% technical availability versus 81.2% planned availability is actually 7.5% less availability than planned (75.1 is 92.5% of 81.2) - but the fact that the availability figures are reasonably close to the planned figures actually supports my argument... The wind powerstation was working at 92.5% of its planned availability for the year in question, but only generated 24.6% of the power it was supposed to. That means there is absolutely no way it will ever get anywhere near 100% of its planned generation capacity. In other words, the original business case (upon which the wind powerstation providers based their original grant and planning applications) was a pack of lies. Hence my describing it as 'propaganda'.

    I agree that there is plenty of propaganda from the nuclear industry too, but it's time that people cottoned on to the fact that these people who want to build windmills all over the land and sea are just a bunch of big businessmen too who are out to make money. They are simply jumping on the latest green bandwagon.

    The main reasons to go for nuclear are (a) it works, (b) it is reliable, (c) it can generate huge amounts of power, and (d) it does not require ridiculously large expanses of land and sea to be given over to power generation.

    Please don't get me started on Greenpeace. They claim they want to save the planet, yet they want to shut the door on our best hope for a solution.

  16. Ok . . . . . you obviously aren't aware that wind turbines are, on average, about 33% efficient. Let me assure you that this was worked into the planning application and does not comprise 'propaganda' of any kind. All wind turbines develop only about that percentage of their output due to the intermittent nature of the wind. This is like saying that an internal combustion engine only produces 20% of the energy fed into it as chemical potential energy in its fuel.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internal_combustion#Engine_Efficiency

    The turbines in question, Vestas V80 2MW models, produced an average of 4,214 MWh each for 2006. Some simple maths gives us:

    (4,214 MWh divided by (365 days multiplied by 24 hours)) divided by 2 MW = 24.05% of their rated capacity (the quoted figure is 24.1%)

    The farm in question, with 30 2MW turbines, therefore has a mean output averaging:

    (30 multiplied by 2MW) divided by ~4 = 15MW

    This is why wind farms are usually quoted in terms of 'installed capacity' as opposed to their actual output, which will vary with the wind.

    I hope this helps explain why wind power, amongst other renewable technologies (a) works, (b) is reliable, (c) can generate huge amounts of power. As for covering the land and sea in turbines, an integrated renewable generation network would include a wide range of technologies including wind, wave, solar, tidal and CHP from refuse incineration that would require fewer turbines than the total wind generation system I linked to in my second post. That's just a thought exercise really to demonstrate the viability of the supergrid concept- although I'd bury half the country under turbines if it meant avoiding more nuclear waste for my grandchildren's grandchildren to worry about.

    I realise you hate Greenpeace, I'm not too enamoured with them myself. I work in the same building as one of their labs and their staff have plenty of resources but no work to do because they absolutely refuse to experiment upon animals- even non-destructive techniques due to the organisations fear of being branded as 'fluffy-bunny murderers'. Its the most god-awful hypocrisy because they could achieve so much more with their resources if they just had the spine to stand up for good science. Sadly not. That doesn't mean that they are wrong to condemn the government's embrace of nuclear power as the dangerous, expensive and environmentally suicidal policy it so clearly seems.

  17. Let me state quite categorically that I do not 'hate Greenpeace'. Greenpeace is a very well-intentioned organisation which does a lot of good work. Ditto Friends of the Earth. They would both probably have my membership money, were it not for their frankly irresponsible position on nuclear power (and their knee-jerk hostility to G.M. - I think we need a wider debate on the pros and cons, and am currently pretty neutral on the subject).

    You appear to be mixing your terminology. When people say that a generator is '33% efficient', they mean it converts 33% of the energy available to it from the energy source (e.g. the wind) into a different form of energy (e.g. electricity). This should not be confused with what the report describes as the 'capacity factor', which is 'the amount of generation produced over time, compared as a percentage, with the theoretical maximum generation that would have been produced if turbines operated at maximum output all of the time in that period'. In theory, a turbine should occasionally be able to hit 100% capacity factor, but no machine on earth can reach 100% efficiency (the Second Law of Thermodynamics is a real bugger).

    The fact that the wind powerstations capacity factor never even remotely approached 100% is, as you imply, unsurprising. That's the very nature of wind powerstations. But it does rather beg the question, why do these people quote impossible-to-achieve theoretical maxima at all? If that isn't propaganda, I don't know what is.

  18. You're right- my mistake on the terminology. I think you'll find that when the wind is blowing at an optimal rate wind turbines produce 100% of their capacity factor so my point about energy supply stands.

    The point about quoting installed capacity is that actual output varies with the wind. Capacity values give a fixed point of reference. Does that answer your question?

    I'm a biologist and I am profoundly against GM. So is George Monbiot and I agree with all of his his arguments against it. I also perform destructive and non-destructive experiments on animals so Greenpeace think I am 'The Enemy'.

    http://www.monbiot.com/archives/category/genetic-engineering/

    Frankly, this discussion is rewarding but we haven't come close to my initial issue with the viability of nuclear power to prevent climate change and power the country economically, safely and ethically. All of which (except the last) it may well be able to if we manage to solve the waste problem and make the power companies cover the costs of cleaning up their own sites. However, renewables can do the job more cheaply and with less emissions. So why not use them instead?

  19. One consequence of adopting less efficient generation is that you get lots more points on the network generating energy. Is there any mileage in that? I mean, rather than a small number of very powerful nuclear sites, you need many wind-"farms", wave power stations, solar catchers, convict-powered treadmills, and so on. I'm not advocating inefficiency for inefficiency's sake, but doesn't that in turn mean you have a more robust network -- in the event of (accidental or otherwise) failure of any sites? If that is part of the point of the "supergrid" then it hasn't been raised in your exchanges yet.

    Just wondering out loud. Perhaps it's not statistically significant for the number of sites in a national network anyway. But perhaps a national solution to power needs to allow for being robust in catastrophic circumstances (from natural forces or more human enemies), and actually large powerful nodes on the network aren't ideal for that?

    In which case, I supose that would logically lead to advocating lots of small nuclear facilities rather than a few giant ones.

  20. The UK's National Grid is, I understand, one of the most reliable in the world, so I don't think there would be much benefit in migrating to a 'supergrid' just for the sake of resilience for current (no pun intended) power distribution.

    Small-scale renewable energy powerstations would certainly benefit from a supergrid to distribute their generated power and to improve resilience (e.g. by linking in to energy storage schemes). If you're going to have lots of small-scale renewables, then a supergrid makes a lot of sense. One of the benefits of small-scale renewable power generation is that you require so many generators that you don't have to distribute the power so far, meaning there is less wastage.

    A supergrid would have disadvantages as well as advantages, though: lots more nodes would mean lots more pylons all over the place, and lots more maintenance. More pylons and more maintenance mean more carbon emissions moving equipment and engineers around. It would also create more jobs (a good thing, presumably).

    I don't know if the price of creating and maintaining a supergrid is factored into the cost/benefit calculations for small-scale renewable powerstations. They certainly should be. But I'm pretty sceptical of cost/benefit calculations anyway (on any subject - not just renewable energy) - where there's a will, the proponents will always make a case!

  21. Punkscience, I should have been more careful when I said I'm pretty neutral on GM... What I meant to say is that my natural inclination is against it (because I can see a lot of disadvantages, and I don't trust the motives of a lot of the people who are pushing the technology), but I don't think we should rule it out entirely, just because it's big 'Frankenstein' science. There might be cases where GM is very beneficial, but the likes of Greenpeace have already ruled it out.

    As to the viability of nuclear power to prevent climate change and power the country economically, safely and ethically, as I have already said, I believe it is already too late to prevent climate change. However, every coal/gas-fired powerstation that nuclear takes out of the equation is a step in the right direction. Also, climate change is such a huge issue that it is simply too dangerous to leave it unproved renewable technologies. Nuclear works -as our new bosum-buddies across the channel have shown.

  22. I'm really glad that we agree on GM- my instaincts were against it and a little reading around and a couple of evenings of 'follow the money' led me to my position of extreme scepticism about the claims made by the biotech industry about the technology. I'm not one of these ranting fundies, though, who advocate prohibition of everhtying they disagree with- I'm not, for example advocating the instant closure of the UK's nuclear plants, just a prohibition on building any more. GM has enormous potential as ecological tools and disaster management systems- for example crops resistant to drought or salinification of soil. This does not earn the biotech companies any money though. These industries produce products which actually damage the environment- pesticide resistant crops , for example, which allow the prophylactic administration of pesticides without care for the effects upon the surrounding ecology. The genes for pesticide resistance have already jumped into pest species that can be found growing at the borders of GM fields in much of the US, and will be coming to a field near you pretty soon. I advocate careful and conscienscious development of technology appropriate to the wider picture. Again, Greenpeace are very much vested in the whole environmental movement and cannot be seen to be acquiessing to any creeping progress on this front, which is why I find them to be tedious and obstructive.

    With respect to nuclear generation, you seem convinced, despite eveything I write or link to, that renewables are 'unproven' or 'unreliable'. Let me assure you that this is not the case. They are just as reliable as nuclear if developed appropriately. Renewables work- as our friends on the continent have shown (I mean the Danes, the Germans and the Spanish, by the way).

    As for it being too late to prevent climate change, the Stern Report proved otherwise. The executive summary sets out the report's findings quite simply and is relatively jargon-free.

  23. You are correct when you say I am unconvinced that renewables are proven and reliable. Even if I am wrong, I am utterly convinced that they are not up to the job in terms of the amount of energy that they can produce (especially without utterly defiling the face of our entire landscape and seascape - an important factor when it comes to public acceptance). The day the Royal Society says we don't need nuclear power will be the day that I have a serious rethink on my views - but I can't see that happening for a very long time.

    Incidentally, I read this morning that our friends in Germany are currently commissioning brand new coal-fired powerstations (New Scientist, 29-Mar-2008, p.36). Evidently, they feel the need for some backup for their 'reliable' renewable sources.

  24. Wow! I did not realise that Germany's energy industry was so oxymoronic. Its quite shocking that we're going down the same route- please be aware that I would prefer a country of nuclear power stations to any more coal! The risks of nuclear waste are far lower than that of catastrophic climate change which is becoming a virtual certainty with every passing day as politicians fail to take meaningful action.

    We had Linda Gilroy, MP talking to a group of us the other night and she hadn't got a clue! She thought carbon capture was already being deployed! When I pointed out that it hadn't left the lab yet she had to do some furious backpeddaling.

    I'll see if I can do some fag-packet calculations to show you that renewables are wuite capable of powering the nation. Its partly for my own interest really but I'd be glad to share them with you.

  25. -sorry, forgot to add my details, but then you knew it was me ranting about hugging trees ay?

  26. I doubt you will have read this but its very interesting.

    "Professor Stephen Salter of Edinburgh University, one of Britain's leading marine energy experts, estimates that the Pentland Firth alone could generate up to a quarter of Britain's electricity – more than is now being provided by all the country's nuclear power stations"

    He's talking about just one site in the UK. There are many others where the technology could be applied, such as the Bristol Channel, the Menai Straits and pretty much all of the Hebrides. Plus, and I think this will appeal t o you particularly, the whole thing is completely submerged out of sight.

  27. (although I do still rate Clouseau playing with a bent cue as funnier - "I appeyer to 'ave grayzzed youur billayarrd tabeel" - classic)

  28. Very funny. It's a pity they don't actually work, as a whole bunch of those on top of city buildings might save a few hillsides.

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