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« New solar paper | Main | Pointman on the climate wars »
Monday
Mar052012

Matt Ridley on wind

Matt Ridley's essay in the Spectator is a nice summary of the arguments against wind power. I wasn't aware of this point:

I have it on good authority from a marine engineer that keeping wind turbines upright in the gravel, tides and storms of the North Sea for 25 years is a near hopeless quest, so the repair bill is going to be horrific and the output disappointing. Already the grouting in the foundations of hundreds of turbines off Kent, Denmark and the Dogger Bank has failed, necessitating costly repairs.

Booker in the Telegraph is ploughing a similiar furrow.

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  • Response
    To the nearest whole number, the percentage of the world?s energy that comes from wind turbines today is: zero. - Matt Ridley hails The Beginning Of The End Of Wind. Let's hope he's right. The piece is quoted from at greater length by Bishop Hill and at WUWT. See, or rather, ...

Reader Comments (44)

I think the last two paragraphs say it all:

Politicians are especially susceptible to this condition [noble cause corruption]. In a wish to be seen as modern, they will embrace all manner of fashionable causes. When this sets in — groupthink grips political parties, and the media therefore decide there is no debate — the gravest of errors can take root. The subsidising of useless wind turbines was born of a deep intellectual error, one incubated by failure to challenge conventional wisdom.

It is precisely this consensus-worshipping, heretic-hunting environment where the greatest errors can be made. There are some 3,500 wind turbines in Britain, with hundreds more under construction. It would be a shame for them all to be dismantled. The biggest one should remain, like a crane on an abandoned quay, for future generations to marvel at. They will never be an efficient way to generate power. But there can be no better monument to the folly of mankind.

Mar 5, 2012 at 8:26 AM | Unregistered CommenterIan_UK

http://www.thegwpf.org/uk-news/5123-wind-power-adds-p45-billion-to-cost-of-climate-targets.html

"The study was supposed to be published last year but was killed by its sponsor, KPMG, one of the government’s closest advisers on energy policy, after some of the findings leaked, provoking an outcry from the wind farm industry."

Says it all.

Mar 5, 2012 at 8:33 AM | Unregistered CommenterHuhneToTheSlammer

Jeremy Grantham wrote two cheques for £12 million, the second was for a sister institute at Imperial with Brian Hoskins. The CEO's of WWF-US and Environmental Defense are on the joint management board, as is John Schellnhuber, Paul Nurse, Lord Browne, ex BP, Simon Dietz, ex Tyndall, helped write the Stern Review, Sam Fankhauser, carbon trading advisor with Lord Stern at Idea Carbon, and economic adviser to GLOBE International, Lord Stern, Lord Rees, Sir Evelyn de Rothschild, Vikram Mehta, Shell India and a few more:
http://www2.lse.ac.uk/GranthamInstitute/whosWho/Other/AdvisoryBoard.aspx

Mar 5, 2012 at 8:49 AM | Unregistered CommenterDennisA

The green movement have a lot to answer for and windpower is one of their greatest follys. The cncept flies in the face of their so called dogma. It is an environment al disaster which is entirely man made. They have ignored their own criteria by supporting the unsupportable and sacrificed their own principles.
Another great article by Matt Ridley.

Mar 5, 2012 at 8:57 AM | Unregistered Commenterpesadia

Our current system for generating power is very concentrated. The concentration comes from the high energy value of the fuel, e.g. gasoline, or the concentration of the power generation facilities, e.g. large electrical power plants. For power plants, this concentration in one location leads to a certain level of productivity to maintain the facility. For example, simply the distance a technician has to travel to get to the "problem", support infrastructure, work environment safety and security, etc. We probably take all that for granted as we migrate to distributed power generation with wind which is very much more widely distributed, leading to the relative inefficiencies now being noticed as "costs".

Mar 5, 2012 at 8:59 AM | Unregistered CommenterRob Schneider

Well if they only use grouting, that is bound to fail. I find it difficult to believe that there are no systems of deep-driven piles. Obviously more complex foundations will put the price up.

But I thought the main problem was the effect of sea spray on the machinery and problems of accessibility for maintenance (and how about seagull shit in the generators?). We've already blogged about those issues that seem to me more intractable.

Mar 5, 2012 at 9:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn in France

In the narcissist mind of the politician, the opportunity to change from being regarded as a scumbag to being a 'saviour of humanity' by leading us all into a wonderful Green future with their windmills, is far too tempting to pass up, even if the facts suggest it will be an economic, energy and environmental disaster.

Mar 5, 2012 at 9:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterRick Bradford

A relation has been told by a Windmill maintenance engineer that Windmills must be rotated under power (from the grid) under two circumstances. The first instance is to overcome the inertia of the mechanism (bearings/gears/generator) when the wind is too light to start rotation from stationary, but enough to keep rotation happening once started. The second is where, for an extended period, there is no wind or insufficient to maintain rotation - in this case powering up is required periodically to keep the mechanism and lubricants from fouling up. The engineer suggested that the cost of this power was not included in the Windmills' efficiency figures.

Mar 5, 2012 at 9:29 AM | Unregistered CommenterBudgie

John in France says: "... (and how about seagull shit in the generators?) ..." - It's OK, they don't use the same paint as BMW!

Mar 5, 2012 at 9:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterIan_UK

Ridley says, correctly AFAIK, that "burning gas emits less than half as much carbon dioxide as coal for the same energy output", but has elsewhere claimed that wood was 40x worse than gas, because it (cellulose) has more carbon when compared with methane (CH4), but even if the ratio was that high (I don't think it is) it isn't comparing energy outputs.

Ridley cites:
'Carbon Dioxide Emissions in a Methane Economy
J.H. Ausubel, A. Gruebler, and N. Nakicenovic'
http://phe.rockefeller.edu/co2-methane/co2-methane.pdf

But that's not a searchable document and I'm not sure it helps much, and it's not searchable (it's a scan). I would love to have some ammunition to help oppose a local wood-pellet power station project, although the recent fire at Tilbury may help, if the material is prone to spontaneous ignition!

Mar 5, 2012 at 10:03 AM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

Several negative feedbacks will see an end to the windfarms. One is public opinion, as the real burden of this particular aspect of the AGW madness becomes more widely appreciated. Another, is the technical difficulty of grid management for such variable and erratic inputs. A third, is the powerful bird lobby the RSPB who will one day decide that whacking raptors and other flying creatures is not such a good thing after all. A fourth, is the harsh environment of corrosive rain, occasionally very strong winds and very cold weather, plus for the offshore ones, tidal flows, waves, and occasional very large waves. The loss they cause to society will have a long tail into the future though, as the stumps will disfigure the landscapes and seascapes, and submerged or partially submerged broken stumps will be a hazard for shipping. On land, the concrete bases and abandoned access roads will not enhance their locales, although presumably tree cover will return in many places relatively quickly. And of course, a fifth feedback is to be expected from the marketplaces and energy-intensive industries as the relatively low costs of new shale resources for power generation become apparent.

Matt Ridley has touched on all of these and more. He notes 'Even in a boom, wind farms would have been unaffordable — with their economic and ecological rationale blown away. In an era of austerity, the policy is doomed, though so many contracts have been signed that the expansion of wind farms may continue, for a while. But the scam has ended. And as we survey the economic and environmental damage, the obvious question is how the delusion was maintained for so long. There has been no mystery about wind’s futility as a source of affordable and abundant electricity — so how did the wind-farm scam fool so many policymakers?'

He answers that question in the piece, and also announces a very creative negative feedback fuelled by windfarm subsidies: 'the Matt Ridley prize for environmental heresy' http://www.spectator.co.uk/ridleyaward. Brilliant! May it find the coup-de-grace!

Mar 5, 2012 at 10:05 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

"The engineer suggested that the cost of this power was not included in the Windmills' efficiency figures."

Nor is the power required for de-icing the blades, or pumping the gearbox oil, or providing anti-condensation heating! I suspect that in low wind scenarios, where only a few are working, the power they generate is entirely absorbed by the ones that aren't!

Mar 5, 2012 at 10:06 AM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

Repairing offshore windmills involves hiring a crew and a boat large enough to mount a structure to reach the blades' spindle and a crane to manoeuvre the replacement parts. Then there is the hiring of the mechanics and other equipment to fix the problem, and then, probably the most expensive part of the operation, waiting for the wind to drop so that the investigation and repairs can be carried out, presumably during daylight hours. Atop a tall structure, with only small waves lapping against the vessel, is bad enough, but up against the stationary tower of the windmill, it will be interesting!

What a surprise! Who would have guessed?

And there is always the possibility that they don't have the part, and that they need a second visit.

Mar 5, 2012 at 10:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterRobert Christopher

Both the AGW and renewable energy scams are inevitably and slowly coming to an end. How can we speed them up to save the country from bankruptcy?

Mar 5, 2012 at 10:15 AM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

These are some of the differing foundations for offshore wind turbines-
http://offshorewind.net/Other_Pages/Turbine-Foundations.html

Engineers are going to have quite a challenge with the SWAY concept, it "consists of a floating spar buoy that is some 640 ft tall, designed to rise and fall with wave activity."

Mar 5, 2012 at 11:33 AM | Unregistered Commentermof

If I proposed building a number of gas powered stations that all needed to be turned off at random times for random lengths of time would my plan be greeted with open arms and championed by our political classes? I suspect not. So why does anyone give windmills the time of day?

Thankfully, it seems to be dawning on our politicians that we are headed down the road to energy disaster.

Mar 5, 2012 at 11:41 AM | Unregistered CommenterSteve Jones

Mar 5, 2012 at 10:03 AM | James P

Ridley says, correctly AFAIK, that "burning gas emits less than half as much carbon dioxide as coal for the same energy output", but has elsewhere claimed that wood was 40x worse than gas, because it (cellulose) has more carbon when compared with methane (CH4), but even if the ratio was that high (I don't think it is) it isn't comparing energy outputs.
============

I haven't looked into wood burning closely, but it occurs that one of the problems is water content. 50% when it's green and about 20% for seasoned firewood. It takes an awful lot of energy to boil off water. Getting the water content down at least takes time and space.

You have to process wood in some way, even if it's only chopping it. it takes energy. The more processing, such as pelletising, the more the energy input to prepare it.

The chemical formula of cellulose is roughly C(n)H(2n)O(n), so one way of looking at it in comparison to methane CH4, is that it's partly burned already.

I've got an idea that wood pellet power stations are more to do with being able to claim to meet a target than actually achieving any sensible goal. Rather like local authorities which comply with avoiding landfill by sending rubbish off to China to be dumped in landfill there.

Mar 5, 2012 at 11:49 AM | Unregistered Commentercosmic

Philip:
My suggestion is a list of 5 key facts about windpower using incontrovertible and self explanatory facts - starting with the lifetime costs per KWh generated, the % of time the wind is sufficent to generate power, the longest period without sufficient wind, the amount of back up generation capacity needed as a % of installed wind capacity.

Mar 5, 2012 at 11:50 AM | Unregistered CommenterBernie

Bernie,

I and many others have put all the facts to DECC and various Ministers, but they are impervious to facts.

Mar 5, 2012 at 12:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

"there is always the possibility that they don't have the part"

Or drop the spanner...

Mar 5, 2012 at 1:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

A surprisingly fierce but well-written article by Matt Ridley - you expect it from Chris Booker and Dellers - but not necessarily other journalists..!
Anyway - you really do have to wonder what is going on in the minds of politicians - and the local planners - when, on the most fundamental of levels, the country's electricity is to be driven by the weather. Has NOBODY bothered to think about why millers and drainage engineers have long since abandoned wind power in place of something more reliable..? Are the politicians under the illusion that The Climate Change Act includes a clause which will cause the wind to blow steadily at 25mph throughout the British Isles..?
The point is also well made about maintenance - as a retired mechanical engineer who spent much of his life doing his damnedest to keep production machinery going under a single roof - never mind dotted around the (once) picturesque uplands of this land - or, worse still - stuck out in the North and Irish Seas.... Twentfive years..? Some of these turbines will be lucky to survive five...
Keep the pressure up, guys - we SHALL overcome...!

Mar 5, 2012 at 1:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid

More on the grouting problems here:

http://social.windenergyupdate.com/offshore-wind/london-array-taming-tides

In the event that there is a failure, we’ll need to address it at the time, because the mode of failure may not be what we expect

Mar 5, 2012 at 1:13 PM | Registered CommenterDreadnought

Phillip:
I was thinking more the type of thing that would go on a series of bumper stickers targeted at the general population.

Can you provide a link to what you have sent to the DECC?

Mar 5, 2012 at 1:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterBernie

Both the AGW and renewable energy scams are inevitably and slowly coming to an end. How can we speed them up to save the country from bankruptcy?
I suspect you can't, Phillip.
These things have a natural lifespan of their own. I think it's something to do with what you science guys call 'inertia' <[:-)

Mar 5, 2012 at 1:45 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

5MW at 50 % efficiency is 10MW, converted to Kg force and multiplied by tower height gives a torque figure of around 80,000,000 Kg metres or 579,000,000 lb ft in old money. Plant your turbine in wet sand and gravel, add in tidal scoring, what can possibly go wrong?

Mar 5, 2012 at 2:16 PM | Unregistered Commentersimpleseekeraftertruth

Wind turbines are akin to the parable of the broken window. Ed Miliband, Chris Huhne and other little boys are going round breaking sensible energy policies and Dong Energy, etc reap the rewards. If we are made to spend billions on turbines we cannot spend that money on other things of our own choosing.

Mar 5, 2012 at 2:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterGareth

Mar 5, 2012 at 1:13 PM | David,

There are several reasons why politicians jumped on the bandwagon.

Now they've set up a legislative and bureaucratic machine to administer climate change policies, much of which are dictated by the EU, a bigger legislative and bureaucratic machine. They've created a huge, powerful brute with a mind of its own and mainly concerned with protecting and extending itself and it's hard for them to control even if they wanted to.

Most of them live in a closed world, the Westminster Bubble, anyway.

Mar 5, 2012 at 2:29 PM | Unregistered Commentercosmic

"much of which are dictated by the EU"

I foresee a sharp upturn in UKIP's fortunes...

Mar 5, 2012 at 2:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

If the politicians are so relaxed about the things, they would surely have no objection to their names appearing in large letters on the things. I'd put up with a few, just to see 'this was Chris Huhne's idea' in peeling paint on a delapidated and broken offshore windmill, leaning over at an improbable angle...

Mar 5, 2012 at 2:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

I was not a very good civil engineer, which is why I ended up in advertising.

But I am always grateful to the grounding it gave me in common sense, pragmatism and, above all, ROI (which became envROI in my green years).

I wanted, and still dearly want, all viable renewable options to 'work'. As pieces of kit, sources of power, energy independence and yes, GHG reduction.

However, from the off, I just could not see how the numbers added up in this industry, from cradle through all maintenance and repair to responsible grave strike down.

And as one who loves mucking about in boats, albeit more flat calm with a G&T, for the life of me I was trying to grasp how the notion of 25 years, salt water, high wind and complex machinery atop steel columns was going to work.

It looks like it was never going to. Now, who knew, and if they did, are they going to account to my kids for this costing a lot more than money to sort out?

Mar 5, 2012 at 3:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterJunkkMale

James P
"I foresee a sharp upturn in UKIP's fortunes..."

I see Roger Helmer, whose DVD distributed some years ago confirmed my views of CAGW, has just left the Conservatives for UKIP. May there be more.

Mar 5, 2012 at 4:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterHuhneToTheSlammer

David,

"Are the politicians under the illusion that The Climate Change Act includes a clause which will cause the wind to blow steadily at 25mph throughout the British Isles..?"

Apparently so, and it's an historical illusion dating back to the time of King Arthur.

"It's true! It's true! The crown has made it clear.
The climate must be perfect all the year.

A law was made a distant moon ago here:
July and August cannot be too hot.
And there's a legal limit to the snow here
In Camelot.

The winter is forbidden till December
And exits March the second on the dot.
By order, summer lingers through September
In Camelot."

Mar 5, 2012 at 4:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhil R

Mar 5, 2012 at 9:58 AM | Ian_UK says:

John in France '... (and how about seagull shit in the generators?) ...' - It's OK, they don't use the same paint as BMW!</ says: blockquote cite=>

Not that daft, guano and salt spray have a way of working their way into machinery through louvres and panelling joints with devastating effect - but they surely thought of that (?!).

Mar 5, 2012 at 4:16 PM | Registered Commenterjohninfrance

The owners of offshore wind farms only get paid the double-ROC subsidies for the electricity they produce. So if they fall over or rust away in pretty short order, then it is the owners who pay to put them right or remove them, not us poor put-upon electricity consumers. Let's just hope and pray that they get all the problems that they deserve for trying to rip off us electricity consumers.

Mar 5, 2012 at 5:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Philip
I'm wanting some concise but checkable basic facts on wind power for my "green but sceptical" group, would be grateful if you can give me a pointer. Thanks.

Mar 5, 2012 at 5:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterLucy Skywalker

It is precisely this consensus-worshipping, heretic-hunting environment where the greatest errors can be made. There are some 3,500 wind turbines in Britain, with hundreds more under construction. It would be a shame for them all to be dismantled. The biggest one should remain, like a crane on an abandoned quay, for future generations to marvel at. They will never be an efficient way to generate power. But there can be no better monument to the folly of mankind.

Andrew Simms of the Guardian keeps a doomsday countdown that he calls "100 months to save the world". This month's piece is accompanied by a photo of a row of Easter Island statutes. The caption reads, "We are more aware now of the likely consequences of our choices than any society in history."

I think he was trying to argue in his ever more inane ways that if we don't fight climate change then we'll end up like Eastern Islanders. I don't know what he makes of the giant windmills dotting the British coastline.

Mar 5, 2012 at 6:33 PM | Registered CommentersHx

Phillip - yes I too wish that the sooner they can build one of these 6 or 10MW machines in an exposed marine environment the better. The question is not whether it would fail within a year or two, but how. The foundations, the steel tower, the gearbox, and the rotor blades are all likely candidates. I suspect that common sense will prevail south of the border, but only after Scottish Power/Iberdrola have bankrupted themselves trying to bolt one of the these machines to the sea floor off Tiree.

Lucy - you should find the joint report by the JMT/Stuart Young useful. http://www.jmt.org/stuart-young-report.asp

Mar 5, 2012 at 6:46 PM | Unregistered Commenterlapogus

Someone mentioned that this was the kind of thing you'd get from Dellers or Booker. Well, perhaps what would be really worth a read would be if Monbiot was prepared to respond to Ridley. Not on the politics or the eco-wet-dreams, but on the practicality; the economics of the damn things. But I figure that Monbiot would not feel comfortable with the truth coming from his pen.

Mar 5, 2012 at 9:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterSnotrocket

Well done Matt Ridley.

What is exasperating about all this "renewable" ideologically forced engineering (including the ongoing photovoltaic stupidity) is that clear cut energy saving / efficiency measures have been sidelined and the ability to run your own generation at optimum times is being bureaucratically strangled , ransomed even by self serving gatekeeper idiots employed at public expense.

Our public servants are at least as much - perhaps more - to blame for the egregious failures in due diligence and undiluted ignorant stupidity that have resulted in the UK putting the majority of it's energy investment eggs in one basket.

Scrap the green subsidies - all of them and disband DECC - immediately - and concentrate on engineering up the efficiency of what we've got and use public funds to replace the aging and near end of life base load capacity.

I shudder to think how much has already been wasted.

To the greens - If you want to be green in your own mind - that's your choice - don't try to compel me to conform when I can see (and demonstrate) the delusion, folly and innumeracy inherent in your beliefs...

I don't feel very forgiving about all this mess and the scampering about to try and cover up the lies and dissembling or attempts re-frame the issue are deserving of sanction.

Mar 5, 2012 at 10:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterTomO

"So if they fall over or rust away in pretty short order, then it is the owners who pay ..."

It may be like that now but will it remain that way. Remember the banks.

Mar 5, 2012 at 11:07 PM | Unregistered Commentergraphicconception

you just know that no commentator or expert has any idea of what sea air is, or the damage it does, or the sheer hostility to any kind of terrestrial life that it poses. Trees rot or get eaten by maritime creatures- so they had to be coated with metals, that set up electrolytic envirnonments in the highly-conductive marine world. Most metals do not co-exist happily with sea-water and retain their pristine condition. Unless all offshore mills will be made of gold, then corrosion will happen. But not as fast as the thefts of gold from the offshore sites. Have modern governments overcome the laws governing electrolysis?

Mar 6, 2012 at 12:01 AM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

Lapogus - thanks, just what I wanted.

Mar 6, 2012 at 2:11 AM | Unregistered CommenterLucy Skywalker

I'm surprised a hot shot like Matt hasn't tethered feathers to the blade tips to afford high pheasant practice.

The whirling monstrosities gradual erosion by ought six ought over several seasons might prove less traumatic that their disintegration into shrapnel in a singe storm.

Mar 6, 2012 at 9:27 AM | Unregistered CommenterRussell

"I wasn't aware of this point ..."

You need to get out more.

http://eureferendum.blogspot.com/2011/08/price-of-wind.html

http://eureferendum.blogspot.com/2010/05/trouble-in-wind.html

http://eureferendum.blogspot.com/2007/12/cathedrals-of-insanity.html

http://eureferendum.blogspot.com/2010/04/that-sinking-feeling.html

Mar 6, 2012 at 10:18 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard North

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