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Discussion > Do Wind Turbines Reduce CO2 emissions?


Thanks for the link about offshoring emissions to China - I'm not sure linking to an article in the Guardian is a good idea if you want to convince a sceptic, however! Never mind, it actually seems to make my case for me (what a bind, wanting to agree with something in a paper I instinctively mistrust). It says (inter alia):

"The full extent of the west's responsibility for Chinese emissions of greenhouse gases has been revealed by a new study. The report shows that half of the recent rise in China's carbon dioxide pollution is caused by the manufacturing of goods for other countries - particularly developed nations such as the UK."

"Last year, China officially overtook the US as the world's biggest CO2 emitter. But the new research shows that about a third of all Chinese carbon emissions are the result of producing goods for export."

"Under Kyoto, emissions are allocated to the country where they are produced. By these rules, the UK can claim to have reduced emissions by about 18% since 1990 - more than sufficient to meet its Kyoto target.

"But research published last year by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) suggests that, once imports, exports and international transport are accounted for, the real change for the UK has been a rise in emissions of more than 20%."

I appreciate your honesty in linking to an article that makes my argument for me. I know you would argue that cheaper labour is a more important factor in offshoring to China than energy costs, but we have to disagree with each other on that. We have aired this one before, in the context of steel costs. Earlier this month I spoke again to my friend who has worked in the steel industry for the best part of 30 years. He reiterated that energy costs are the biggest issue facing the industry, and said they've budgeted for 20% energy costs increases every year up to and including 2020. He believes it is hugely damaging to the UK steel industry, which is currently facing the biggest challenge in its history.

My quote about primary energy consumption was full, clear and deliberate. If wind turbines are to serve any purposes, it is no use them providing 5, 10 or even 15% of 20% of our requirements - because that's an exceptionally small percentage of the whole. My purpose was to return the debate to reality and away from my favourite saying this week - "lies, damned lies and statistics". I could use the same phrase about your 250% increase - 250% of a small number is still a small number.

On a similar theme your quote below is highly selective:

"Researchers have carried out an environmental lifecycle assessment of 2-megawatt wind turbines mooted for a large wind farm in the U.S. Pacific Northwest. They conclude that in terms of cumulative energy payback, or the time to produce the amount of energy required of production and installation, a wind turbine with a working life of 20 years will offer a net benefit within five to eight months of being brought online."

It relates only (apparently) to 2-megawatt turbines; it refers only to production and installation (not transportation of parts; maintenance; decommissioning; offshoring due to energy costs); and assumes a working life of 20 years. Choose your assumptions carefully, and you can always get the result you want.

Finally, no response to the figures I correctly quoted from the Climate xchange paper, rather than the much smaller CO2 emissions figures for wind turbines you quoted.

Oct 25, 2016 at 9:35 AM | Unregistered CommenterMark Hodgson


'You also quote Climate xchange as saying "The life cycle carbon emissions from both on- and offshore wind are very low at 15 and 12 gCO2eq/kWh, respectively". However, having downloaded and read the paper, I found them saying this in the "key messages" section at page 16:

" Credible estimates of the carbon emissions for onshore wind range from 3 to 45 g CO2eq/kWh, but
when farms are constructed on forested peatlands these increase to 62 to 106g CO2 eq/kWh.
 Credible estimates of the carbon emissions for offshore wind range from 7 to 23g CO2eq/kWh."

Your point escapes me, the first numbers are best estimates, the second set adds uncertainty bands.
Totally consistent, and an order of magnitude or more smaller than the equivalent numbers from fossils.

4.66 million barrel equivalent, up from 1.86 over 4 years is indeed a small number in absolute terms, but not much smaller than 5.4 which is the number for coal, down from 11.5 over the same period. This is in line with the global trend:

Green energy accounted for more than half of net electricity generation capacity added around the world last year for the first time, leading energy experts have found.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) said the milestone was evidence of a rapid transformation in energy taking place, and predicted capacity from renewable sources will grow faster than oil, gas, coal or nuclear power in the next five years.

Sorry, you'll have to overcome your aversion to the Guardian to read the whole piece, but its admirably short.

Oct 25, 2016 at 10:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterPhil Clarke

"net electricity generation capacity added "
and for solar/wind renewables output is tiny compared to CAPACITY

Add a 1.2GW gas plant and it can averagely generate that much
Add a 1.2GW of solar and you'd be lucky to get an average output of 240MW and even then you've go the problem of it's intermittancy

Oct 25, 2016 at 2:54 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

stewgreen, claimed capacity v actual output is the major misleading scam involving wind and solar for Planning Permission purposes.

All electric cars will do 180mph and zero emissions, if you drop them from a high enough cliff.

Oct 25, 2016 at 3:20 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

The installed wind capacity in the UK is about 15 gW for 2016,so far this year maximum output was just short of 6.5 gW on 05/10/2016. About 40%, minimum was zero, on many occasions less than 100MW are recorded.

Oct 25, 2016 at 6:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS


I don't think I need to say much by way of a response. Stewgreen, golf charlie and SandyS have said what I would have said, had I not been out enjoying a beautiful day in the Lake District (spoiled only by the wind turbines in sight all around the edge of the National Park).

The fact that "leading energy experts" can make such a play about "net electricity generation capacity" rather than "net electricity generation" says it all. I seem to be referring to lies, damned lies, and statistics rather a lot these days.

Oct 25, 2016 at 7:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterMark Hodgson

Mark Hodgson, I remain supportive of wind and solar, but they are Unreliable, and not the slightest bit renewable either, given the cost of replacement and over ambitious life cycles used for subsidy planning.

The term "renewables" is pure marketing spin to hoodwink the politicians and public. The words scam and con can be substituted for hoodwink, without loss of meaning.

Oct 25, 2016 at 10:31 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Meanwhile, back in the real world.

Phil, 250% of diddly-squat is what?

Oct 26, 2016 at 2:45 AM | Unregistered Commenterkevster

Golf Charlie
Wind and solar do have their place, I've no problem with people living Off Grid. But I don't want to subsidise another lifestyle choice by buying energy neither of us wants or needs at inflated prices. I think that they should pay a premium for electricity supplied by the grid in times of need.

We have some friends who renovated an old house in France. It took some time to connect electricity so yhey used garden solar lights for light for several months. Lights were left out during the day and brought in at night. Quite a cheap and effective method but no better than the paraffin lamps of my childhood. These were much safer than candles or paraffin as a light source.

Oct 26, 2016 at 8:41 AM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

The renewable energy generating capacity trick is common enough. Here's an article on the "science" section of the BBC website:

It is headed "Renewable energy capacity overtakes coal" and commences "The International Energy Agency says that the world's capacity to generate electricity from renewable sources has now overtaken coal."

Later on it, it admits what the reader actually needs to know:

"At this stage, it is the capacity to generate power that has overtaken coal, rather than the amount of electricity actually produced.

"Renewables are intermittent - they depend on the sun shining or the wind blowing, for example, unlike coal which can generate electricity 24 hours a day all year round.

"So renewable technologies inevitably generate a lot less than their capacity."

Oct 26, 2016 at 8:41 AM | Unregistered CommenterMark Hodgson

SandyS 8:41, agreed!

If people want to be truly "Green", rather than buy electricity off the grid from Dale Vince and EcoLunacy, they should have SMART Meters fitted that charge them more to reflect the extra cost of wind and solar etc, when they are producing, and less when they are not.

They will be able to celebrate the days when Unreliables are contributing, by subsidising everyone else. At the moment, everybody else has to subsidise them.

Mass production may have reduced manufacturing costs, but it has not increased the production of electricity when the sun is not shining and the wind not blowing.

Lunar power for eco-egotics

Oct 26, 2016 at 11:32 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Add a 1.2GW gas plant and it can averagely generate that much
Add a 1.2GW of solar and you'd be lucky to get an average output of 240MW and even then you've go the problem of it's intermittancy

Not quite. For interest, here are the capacity factors for the main electricity generating methods, UK average 2007-2012

Nuclear power plants 61.9%
Combined cycle gas turbine 56.6%
Coal-fired power plants 44.7%
Hydroelectric power stations 33.7%
Wind power plants 27.5%
Photovoltaic power stations 8.6%

The wind CF is 48% and 62% of the gas and coal CFs respectively.

I went looking for more up to date numbers and found on the Digest of UK Energy Statistics (DUKES) site that wind CF is creeping up, in 2015

Offshore 33.7
Onshore 29.5

This is the merit order effect in action, once a wind farm is constructed the ongoing costs of generation are tiny compared to thermal and so the market tends to favour them.

Then we come to the real Achilles' heel of renewable energy: their relatively low capacity factor. What this means in practice is that if you build a solar system with a capacity of 100 megawatts, in practice it won't produce energy at that level all the time. So you might get 100 MW out of it when the sun is out, but at night or on cloudy days, you don't. If you average it all, you might only get a 20% capacity factor. But don't worry, when we look at the cost of 1kWh of wind or solar, we're talking about actually produced energy, so the capacity factor is embedded in that price.

The reason why this matters so much has to do with one of the big strengths of wind and solar: Once the wind turbines or the solar panels are installed and paid for, the power produced has basically a marginal cost very close to zero.

It's very hard for a grid operator or power company to say no to free power once it has access to it, so that clean energy takes precedence on more expensive power from coal and natural gas plants.

As Bloomberg explains: "It’s a self-reinforcing cycle. As more renewables are installed, coal and natural gas plants are used less. As coal and gas are used less, the cost of using them to generate electricity goes up. As the cost of coal and gas power rises, more renewables will be installed."


Oct 26, 2016 at 11:49 AM | Unregistered CommenterPhil Clarke

Heh, treehugger, Connolley's Wiki, and You howl from the top of the Tower of Alarmist Babel, and your foundations are insecure. Look alive, mate.

Oct 26, 2016 at 1:14 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

Just read through Bloomberg's 'explanation' again.

Oct 26, 2016 at 1:19 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

'Free' power. Omigod, Phil.

Oct 26, 2016 at 1:24 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

I'd make a response to the substance of those one-every-five-minutes ripostes, if they had any.

Oct 26, 2016 at 2:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhil Clarke

Read the context, nobody is saying wind power is cost-free, however its operational costs are negligible compared to the alternatives. Where those costs are fully covered by FITs or other subsidies, the price to the grid is low, sometimes even negative.

Negative pricing is already a feature of wholesale power markets in countries such as Germany, which obtained a third of its electricity from renewables last year.

But until now it has been rare in the UK, where renewable generators supplied a quarter of electricity in 2015.

It happens because renewable generators such as wind and solar farms are paid a subsidy for each megawatt hour of electricity they produce, so they can keep generating profitably even when power prices are very low.

Since conventional coal or nuclear power stations cannot always be switched off or turned down quickly, this can lead to an oversupply of electricity, driving wholesale power prices down sharply or even below zero. […]

The growth of renewables, especially solar power, has taken the market by surprise in the UK.

Officials forecast in 2012 there would be 6.5 gigawatts of solar electricity in the UK by 2030, enough to power about 1m homes.

The energy department said at least 9.5GW had been installed by March this year, an increase of 20 per cent from the same month in 2015. Because official statistics lag what is happening on the ground, the actual figure is thought to be far higher.

The surge in renewable power contributed to a milestone earlier this month when, for the first time in more than a century, coal-fired power stations that were once a mainstay of the UK’s energy system did not supply any electricity at all on seven different occasions.

“This is just a phenomenal position for us to be in and one that I guess we all thought would happen but not quite so soon as it has,” said Mr Leslie of National Grid

From <>

Oct 26, 2016 at 3:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhil Clarke

Heh, ask the Germans about 'free' power.

Oct 26, 2016 at 3:55 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

Oct 26, 2016 at 4:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhil Clarke

Phil Clarke, the Germans can't make wind and solar work. They are sick of the wasted money, as are the Danes and Dutch.

You may have faith in your sources, but loss of faith in the EU is now being linked to failed energy policies. If just 1% of the UK electorate was swung at BREXITtime, by EU energy policy inflicted by the Green Blob, it was their greatest achievement. There are unlikely to be many more in the UK.

Failed German Energiewinde promises are making Merkel nervous.

Oct 26, 2016 at 5:21 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Sorry, fella, the German people are increasingly disillusioned with the rising price of electricity and the obvious environmental destruction.

Energiewiende has not been good to them.

Oct 26, 2016 at 5:21 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

Ah, a

Oct 26, 2016 at 5:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhil Clarke

Ah, a KimFact.

Oct 26, 2016 at 5:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhil Clarke

You live 18 months in the past. Try to keep up.

Oct 26, 2016 at 6:30 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim