Wind Energy: The Future Has Arrived

One of the sites that I visit quite regularly is the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF). As of late, there have been a deluge of articles and links on the subject of wind energy, many of which are focused on the UK and EU. Whilst this blog is primarily looking at New Zealand, the experience of the UK and EU may be seen to be useful in understanding wind energy in general. This latest story grabbed my attention and prompted the post:

THE amount of electricity produced from “green” energy sources in Scotland fell by almost half for a period earlier this year – because it was not wet or windy enough.

• Murdo Fraser voices concern despite 13 per cent rise in green power over first half of year

• 35 per cent of Scottish electricity demand met by renewables

• Renewable energy down 20 per cent in second quarter

The figures prompted opposition concerns that Scotland could be left in the dark if the “wind isn’t blowing”.

First Minister Alex Salmond wants to pioneer a “renewables revolution” by generating the equivalent of all the country’s electricity needs from “clean” sources, such as hydro, wind and wave power.

But, according to government figures, renewable electricity fell to 2,498 gigawatt hours (GWh) between April and June from 4,596 GWh the previous quarter, the most dramatic fall in mainland Britain. There has been a 600 GWh drop from the same quarter last year.

For those who view wind as a source of power as near to useless, this may come as no surprise. However, it is a story that only serves to emphasise the problems inherent in wind power. How is it possible to plan power supply with such huge variability? Despite such a stark example of the risks of reliance on wind energy, I can confidently predict that this will not derail the Scottish dash for more renewable energy. The mounting evidence pointing to the problems of reliability of wind energy just seems to have no impact. And then there are the real costs of wind energy, which is starting to be felt in one of the homes of wind energy; Germany. When Germany shut down its nuclear industry, it found out what a ‘green’ future starts to look like. This from Reuters:

Germany must rein in the runaway costs of subsidising electricity from renewable sources or risk overburdening consumers, European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said on Tuesday.

“We need a speed limit,” Oettinger said, referring to the accelerating cost of funding electricity produced from sources such as wind and sun at above-market prices – a course Germany has chosen to become a low-carbon economy.

And for ordinary consumers, there are the costs of the subsidies for renewable electricity:

The rise to above 5 cents will work out as an additional 70 euros on the 900 euros ($1,200) average household power bill paid in 2012, of which 150 euros already go towards green power.

And then there is this from Christopher Booker on renewables in Germany:

Now the problem for the German grid has become even worse. Thanks to a flood of subsidies unleashed by Angela Merkel’s government, renewable capacity has risen still further (solar, for instance, by 43 per cent). This makes it so difficult to keep the grid balanced that it is permanently at risk of power failures. (When the power to one Hamburg aluminium factory failed recently, for only a fraction of a second, it shut down the plant, causing serious damage.) Energy-intensive industries are having to install their own generators, or are looking to leave Germany altogether.

Die Welt has reported the risk of blackouts in Germany, with the following a summary from GWPF:

Last winter, on several occasions, Germany escaped only just large-scale power outages. Next winter the risk of large blackouts is even greater. The culprit for the looming crisis is the single most important instrument of German energy policy: the “Renewable Energy Law.” The economic cost of a wide-scale blackout are measured in billions of Euros per day.

This is from Spiegel:

At other industrial companies, executives at the highest levels are also thinking about freeing themselves from Germany’s electricity grid to cushion the consequences of the country’s transition to renewable energy.

Likewise, as more and more companies with sensitive control systems are securing production through batteries and generators, the companies that manufacture them are benefiting. “You can hardly find a company that isn’t worrying about its power supply,” said Joachim Pfeiffer, a parliamentarian and economic policy spokesman for the governing center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

And there is more from the same article:

The problem is that wind and solar farms just don’t deliver the same amount of continuous electricity compared with nuclear and gas-fired power plants. To match traditional energy sources, grid operators must be able to exactly predict how strong the wind will blow or the sun will shine.

But such an exact prediction is difficult. Even when grid operators are off by just a few percentage points, voltage in the grid slackens. That has no affect on normal household appliances, such as vacuum cleaners and coffee machines. But for high-performance computers, for example, outages lasting even just a millisecond can quickly trigger system failures.

This is exactly what people, including myself, predicted would take place. As it is, in Germany, there is now a boom taking place for companies to have back-up systems for an unreliable power supply. I have found no figures for the cost of this, but it would be reasonable to expect that it is very high. The cost that is not so visible will be the companies that might consider packing their bags and moving to a country that can provide reliable energy. It is bad, very bad, and I will quote at length from another Spiegel article (emhasis added):

Energy prices are rising and the risk of power outages is growing. But the urgently needed expansion of the grid, as well as the development of replacement power plants and renewable energy sources is progressing very slowly. A growing number of economic experts, business executives and union leaders are putting the blame squarely on the shoulders of Merkel’s coalition, which pairs her conservatives with the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP). The government, they say, has expedited de-industrialization.

[and]

In macroeconomic terms, the impending demise of heavy industry is all the more worrying, because the job losses will not be offset elsewhere. There is no sign yet of the green economic miracle that the federal government promised would accompany Germany’s new energy strategy.

[and]

The price of electricity is moving in only one direction: steeply up. For the Krefeld plant, the cost of a kilowatt hour of electricity has tripled since 2000.

And there is no end in sight. When Merkel’s new energy policy was introduced last year, says plant manager Behmenburg, planning for the future became virtually impossible. Behmenburg says that it is impossible now to know what will happen to the supply situation and the price of electricity in the coming years. The mill, steeped in tradition, didn’t stand a chance of surviving, he says.

Voltage Fluctuations and Power Outages

Other companies could suffer a similar fate. Berlin’s energy policy affects all classic industrial sectors, from the steel and aluminum industry to paper and cement manufacturers, as well as the chemical industry. The metal industry, long an important sector in Germany, is already migrating to countries with cheaper electricity.

The Düsseldorf-based conglomerate GEA closed its zinc plant in nearby Datteln. Aurubis, the Hamburg-based company that is Europe’s largest copper producer, is critical of higher energy costs and has announced plans to invest abroad, especially in Asia and South America. According to a recent survey by the DIHK, almost one in five industrial companies plans to shift capacities abroad — or has already done so. The study also finds that almost 60 percent fear power outages or voltage fluctuations in the power grid, because wind and solar power are still too unreliable.

“The promotion of renewable energy has led to substantial displacement effects on employment in the conventional energy production sectors, as well as in downstream industries that are particularly energy-intensive,” concludes the report on a conference held at the Federal Ministry of Education and Research last year. The political opposition has also recognized the importance of the issue. Some believe that the green economy is everything, warns Sigmar Gabriel, chairman of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD). “But they forget that they can’t make a wind turbine without steel, plastic, mechanical engineering and electrical engineering.”

Welcome to the world of renewable energy. Germany has followed this path towards its conclusion, and words like ‘deindustrialisation’ start to appear. This is the future of the countries that stake their future on renewable energy. For years we have had the ‘green’ advocates, politicians and pressure groups promising and promising that ‘green’ energy would create jobs, and that all would be good with the world. Well, the experience of Germany is not a forecast, not a hypothetical scenario, not an imagined future; the future has arrived, and it is high prices, deinstrialisation, and a grid that does not work.

Germany is an economic powerhouse. It is an economy that has even managed to survive relatively unscathed whilst much of the world economy has been in a dire state. However, for the German economy to prosper, it needs reliable and affordable power. No wonder to find then that Germany is rapidly reversing course and is building 23 coal power stations.

Here in New Zealand, as I have discussed in previous posts, there is similar enthusiasm for wind and renewables as in Germany. It is an enthusiasm that is promoted by a narrow group of green fanatics, and a renewables industry that has enjoyed subsidy and growth on the back of building useless and expensive energy.

Throughout the last few years, claims for wind energy as a solution have been made, and we can read argument after argument from the ‘green’ advcacates proclaiming a bright future for those who pursue the renewables future. Well, if a bright future is sky-high energy prices, companies fleeing from expensive and unreliable energy provision, rising unemployment, and the most vulenerable living in energy poverty, then the future is indeed bright. It is no longer an imaginary ‘bright’ future, but a future that has come to Germany.

How long until we see it in New Zealand? It is a question of politics. It is a question of when politicians finally stand up to the green lobby. Renewable energy is not the foundation for economic prosperity, but is instead a policy of economic decline. We can see the results in Germany. Quite frankly, I am simply baffled that nobody has the guts to stand up and say ‘enough’.

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2 responses to “Wind Energy: The Future Has Arrived

  1. Pingback: More on the Reality of Living with Wind and Solar Energy | New Zealand Climate Change

  2. Wind energy is here to stay. However, wind energy needs backup supply for stable production. Therefore, the maximum fraction of wind energy in the grid is no more than 50%.

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