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Wind turbines are neither clean nor green and they provide zero global energy–Matt Ridley

May 24, 2017

By Paul Homewood

 

h/t HotScot & Coeur de Lion

 

For those who have not seen it, here is Matt Ridley’s piece in the Spectator last week:

 

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The Global Wind Energy Council recently released its latest report, excitedly boasting that ‘the proliferation of wind energy into the global power market continues at a furious pace, after it was revealed that more than 54 gigawatts of clean renewable wind power was installed across the global market last year’.

You may have got the impression from announcements like that, and from the obligatory pictures of wind turbines in any BBC story or airport advert about energy, that wind power is making a big contribution to world energy today. You would be wrong. Its contribution is still, after decades — nay centuries — of development, trivial to the point of irrelevance.

Even put together, wind and photovoltaic solar are supplying less than 1 per cent of global energy demand. From the International Energy Agency’s 2016 Key Renewables Trends, we can see that wind provided 0.46 per cent of global energy consumption in 2014, and solar and tide combined provided 0.35 per cent. Remember this is total energy, not just electricity, which is less than a fifth of all final energy, the rest being the solid, gaseous, and liquid fuels that do the heavy lifting for heat, transport and industry.

[One critic suggested I should have used the BP numbers instead, which show wind achieving 1.2% in 2014 rather than 0.46%. I chose not to do so mainly because that number is arrived at by falsely exaggerating the actual output of wind farms threefold in order to take into account that wind farms do not waste two-thirds of their energy as heat; also the source is an oil company, which would have given green blobbers a excuse to dismiss it, whereas the IEA is unimpleachable But it’s still a very small number, so it makes little difference.]

Such numbers are not hard to find, but they don’t figure prominently in reports on energy derived from the unreliables lobby (solar and wind). Their trick is to hide behind the statement that close to 14 per cent of the world’s energy is renewable, with the implication that this is wind and solar. In fact the vast majority — three quarters — is biomass (mainly wood), and a very large part of that is ‘traditional biomass’; sticks and logs and dung burned by the poor in their homes to cook with. Those people need that energy, but they pay a big price in health problems caused by smoke inhalation.

Even in rich countries playing with subsidised wind and solar, a huge slug of their renewable energy comes from wood and hydro, the reliable renewables. Meanwhile, world energy demand has been growing at about 2 per cent a year for nearly 40 years. Between 2013 and 2014, again using International Energy Agency data, it grew by just under 2,000 terawatt-hours.

If wind turbines were to supply all of that growth but no more, how many would need to be built each year? The answer is nearly 350,000, since a two-megawatt turbine can produce about 0.005 terawatt-hours per annum. That’s one-and-a-half times as many as have been built in the world since governments started pouring consumer funds into this so-called industry in the early 2000s.

At a density of, very roughly, 50 acres per megawatt, typical for wind farms, that many turbines would require a land area [half the size of] the British Isles, including Ireland. Every year. If we kept this up for 50 years, we would have covered every square mile of a land area [half] the size of Russia with wind farms. Remember, this would be just to fulfil the new demand for energy, not to displace the vast existing supply of energy from fossil fuels, which currently supply 80 per cent of global energy needs. [para corrected from original.]

Do not take refuge in the idea that wind turbines could become more efficient. There is a limit to how much energy you can extract from a moving fluid, the Betz limit, and wind turbines are already close to it. Their effectiveness (the load factor, to use the engineering term) is determined by the wind that is available, and that varies at its own sweet will from second to second, day to day, year to year.

As machines, wind turbines are pretty good already; the problem is the wind resource itself, and we cannot change that. It’s a fluctuating stream of low–density energy. Mankind stopped using it for mission-critical transport and mechanical power long ago, for sound reasons. It’s just not very good.

As for resource consumption and environmental impacts, the direct effects of wind turbines — killing birds and bats, sinking concrete foundations deep into wild lands — is bad enough. But out of sight and out of mind is the dirty pollution generated in Inner Mongolia by the mining of rare-earth metals for the magnets in the turbines. This generates toxic and radioactive waste on an epic scale, which is why the phrase ‘clean energy’ is such a sick joke and ministers should be ashamed every time it passes their lips.

It gets worse. Wind turbines, apart from the fibreglass blades, are made mostly of steel, with concrete bases. They need about 200 times as much material per unit of capacity as a modern combined cycle gas turbine. Steel is made with coal, not just to provide the heat for smelting ore, but to supply the carbon in the alloy. Cement is also often made using coal. The machinery of ‘clean’ renewables is the output of the fossil fuel economy, and largely the coal economy.

A two-megawatt wind turbine weighs about 250 tonnes, including the tower, nacelle, rotor and blades. Globally, it takes about half a tonne of coal to make a tonne of steel. Add another 25 tonnes of coal for making the cement and you’re talking 150 tonnes of coal per turbine. Now if we are to build 350,000 wind turbines a year (or a smaller number of bigger ones), just to keep up with increasing energy demand, that will require 50 million tonnes of coal a year. That’s about half the EU’s hard coal–mining output.

Forgive me if you have heard this before, but I have a commercial interest in coal. Now it appears that the black stuff also gives me a commercial interest in ‘clean’, green wind power.

The point of running through these numbers is to demonstrate that it is utterly futile, on a priori grounds, even to think that wind power can make any significant contribution to world energy supply, let alone to emissions reductions, without ruining the planet. As the late David MacKay pointed out years back, the arithmetic is against such unreliable renewables.

MacKay, former chief scientific adviser to the Department of Energy and Climate Change, said in the final interview before his tragic death last year that the idea that renewable energy could power the UK is an “appalling delusion” — for this reason, that there is not enough land.

The truth is, if you want to power civilisation with fewer greenhouse gas emissions, then you should focus on shifting power generation, heat and transport to natural gas, the economically recoverable reserves of which — thanks to horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing — are much more abundant than we dreamed they ever could be. It is also the lowest-emitting of the fossil fuels, so the emissions intensity of our wealth creation can actually fall while our wealth continues to increase. Good.

And let’s put some of that burgeoning wealth in nuclear, fission and fusion, so that it can take over from gas in the second half of this century. That is an engineerable, clean future. Everything else is a political displacement activity, one that is actually counterproductive as a climate policy and, worst of all, shamefully robs the poor to make the rich even richer.

http://www.rationaloptimist.com/blog/wind-still-making-zero-energy/

 

FOOTNOTE

I’m glad that Matt referred to the BP numbers, as I have noted similar discrepancies between their figures and DECC’s before.

Just to recap what he said:

One critic suggested I should have used the BP numbers instead, which show wind achieving 1.2% in 2014 rather than 0.46%. I chose not to do so mainly because that number is arrived at by falsely exaggerating the actual output of wind farms threefold in order to take into account that wind farms do not waste two-thirds of their energy as heat; also the source is an oil company, which would have given green blobbers a excuse to dismiss it, whereas the IEA is unimpeachable But it’s still a very small number, so it makes little difference.

I usually use BP’s data, as I find it is easily the most comprehensive. It is also sensible to stick to the same source for consistency, rather than chopping and changing.

According to BP, wind/solar/hydro supplied 6.4% of the UK’s energy in 2015. This contrasts with the much lower figure of 2.4% that the UK Government officially declares.

BP say they assume that one million tonnes of oil or oil equivalent produces about 4400 gigawatt-hours (=4.4 terawatt hours) of electricity in a modern power station.

Presumably there are different rules that governments and the IEA have to adhere to. Otherwise I am sure that the government would be only too delighted to triple its renewable output!

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34 Comments
  1. Jack Broughton permalink
    May 24, 2017 11:29 am

    Great point that previous generations developed reliable fossil fuel powered plant because of the unreliability of wind. What goes round comes round….. maybe.

    • HotScot permalink
      May 24, 2017 11:55 am

      Matt usually comes up with little known facts that can be easily missed but are hugely important.

      I watched a video of his, and bearing in mind he’s a Zoologist, he cited this little know peach. And I paraphrase so the numbers might not be precise, but they are in the ball park.

      He referred to how many animals have gone extinct thanks to man. If islands are excluded which have suffered from rat infestation etc., Including Australia, only 9 species (not sub species) have gone extinct since 1700.

      Which isn’t what we are led to believe by the greens.

    • May 24, 2017 12:51 pm

      Witness the maritime industry.

    • May 24, 2017 4:21 pm

      Jack

      But in the case of a wind turbine, only occasionally.

      I’ll get my coat ….

      • John F. Hultquist permalink
        May 24, 2017 5:40 pm

        Actually, that’s a good observation.
        Where we live (central Washington State, USA) the wind did not exceed 3 mph on Tuesday until after Noon. Then we got to 13 mph on its way to the high 20s. About dusk there was a gust of 47. So far today the sustained has been 31, with a gust of 43.
        About Midnight the forecast is for the wind to decrease. Thursday Noon, it will be back at about 5 mph.
        The cut-in speed is typically 7 to 9 mph.

      • Hick From The Sticks permalink
        May 24, 2017 7:27 pm

        The optimum output from turbines is usually around 12-15m/s. This is 6 to 7 on the Beaufort Scale. To my mind that will be quite shocking to windmillistas, more so than 27mph to 35mph.

      • John F. Hultquist permalink
        May 24, 2017 8:43 pm

        H F T S,
        Nearest place to me claims their sweet spot is at 13.85 m/s.
        [Turbine manufacturer & model: Vestas V80-1.8/2.0]
        That spot is about 500 m. higher than the local airport weather station, where the current sustained wind speed is exactly that. It likely is faster up there, but I can’t find that they report it.

      • Hick From The Sticks permalink
        May 25, 2017 6:41 am

        JFH, there are a number of wind facilities round here currently the wind speed is reported as 2 m/s at the local airport (YoWindow app), less than 20km as the crow flies. That’s Force 2, a light breeze.

  2. John Fuller permalink
    May 24, 2017 12:03 pm

    Excellent article, especially the wind turbine manufacturing cost of winds. Matt Ridley’s book, The Evolution of Everything, is also worth a read.

    • John Fuller permalink
      May 24, 2017 12:04 pm

      delete, of winds!

  3. HotScot permalink
    May 24, 2017 12:03 pm

    And thanks for the acknowledgement Paul. I guess I’m now an officially recognised sceptic. 🙂

    Which makes me very happy. Nor am I a lukewarmer because I fail to understand how 400ppm of anything is significant. In almost any realm of science or statistics I suspect it would be written off as inconsequential.

    The usual response from the eco loonies is to cite bacteria. But bacteria is self replicating, CO2 isn’t.

    • Curious George permalink
      May 24, 2017 3:09 pm

      400 ppm of potassium cyanide in a body is significant. I share your opinion that CO2 is not KCN.

    • AndyG55 permalink
      May 24, 2017 7:03 pm

      When they do that, just tell them that they are breathing out approximately 100 times the atmospheric concentration of CO2. They hate to be told that.

  4. Athelstan permalink
    May 24, 2017 3:00 pm

    Paul we know it and Matt, a devestating confutation of the nostrum that by somehow [miracle of delusion] wind and PV technology – better described as: ruinables could be any sort of answer to mankind’s energy requirements, all power to you both!

    Backwards looking and what would an alien think?

    It puts me in mind of this, just substitute potato for windmills/solar arrays…………………..

    “what do they use to generate electrical power?”

    cue exasperated and manic giggling:

  5. Athelstan permalink
    May 24, 2017 3:01 pm

    “devastating” arrgggggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhh soz xx!

  6. snoopyloopy permalink
    May 24, 2017 4:31 pm

    Blatant propaganda. Wind is making up a major part of all new generation, so the percentage attributable to it will go up in the future as more projects are brought online.

    • May 24, 2017 6:19 pm

      Yes

      In 10 years time it might have doubled from 0.5% to 1%!

      • richard verney permalink
        May 25, 2017 7:42 am

        That growth is unlikely since as population grows, and a boom in technology and consumerism, the planet’s need for energy increases.

        Further, we have already used many of the low hanging fruit sites, ie., those with the best wind characteristics, those easiest to couple to the grid, those in shallow oceans etc. Going forward efficient siting will become ever so more difficult. Yet further there are some reports that suggest that average wind speeds are dropping, and it appears obvious that if we extract energy from wind in ever increasing quantities that in itself will have a consequence on the available wind energy.

        The article makes it clear that we will struggle to roll out wind turbines at a rate sufficient to keep up with future energy demand, still less to eat into the requirements of existing energy needs. It may be that we are very nearly at peak wind in percentage market share terms.

      • snoopyloopy permalink
        May 25, 2017 2:58 pm

        More likely to be surpassing 10% worldwide with certain areas consistently above 50%. Both China and India have already suspended construction of over 100 coal plants and are scrapping plans for more. Those two countries were to account for much of future growth of fossil fuel generation, so those cancelations mean that the reality will change far quicker than previously anticipated.

      • May 25, 2017 8:21 pm

        Are you talking about 10% of electricity, or 10% of energy?

        At a rough guess, 10% electric comes to 2% of energy.

        And 50% of energy comes to 200% of electric!!!!!

    • AndyG55 permalink
      May 24, 2017 7:00 pm

      “Blatant propaganda”

      Great heading for you post. !!

  7. John F. Hultquist permalink
    May 24, 2017 5:24 pm

    There is a limit to how much energy you can extract from a moving fluid, the Betz limit …

    Great mention. Link

    Here is another interesting thing:
    E=MC2
    Source

  8. May 24, 2017 6:06 pm

    What a wonderful article by Matt Ridley,I can now just email this to my disbelieving grandchildren instead of trying to explain the obvious in my layman terms.
    As an investor myself I would be delighted to know what form of investment Matt Ridley has in coal as I would like to follow him.

    • May 24, 2017 6:23 pm

      He inherited the family land on which there is an active coal mine. He gets severance royalties.

      • May 24, 2017 6:31 pm

        Thank you ristvan

      • dave permalink
        May 26, 2017 8:11 am

        “…he gets severance royalties…”

        No.

        The coal underground was “Nationalized” many decades ago.
        He merely gets a small* wayleave for allowing access.

        Of course, I have not forgotten that Ridley presided over the appalling Northern Rock fiasco. Never think that anybody is always clever!

        *They are always small. My uncle used to get a wayleave payment for a 600 volt power cable across the end of his garden. It was £0.20 per year.

  9. Lego Ninja permalink
    May 26, 2017 5:52 am

    I feel deeply sorry for you. You should really go see a doctor. The entire uk had a coal free day about about a.month ago. Yes there is a bit of nuclear, but that will end soon too. The world is changing, there is nothing you can do to change it.

    • May 26, 2017 8:16 am

      You obviously did not read that we relied on gas for half of our power that day!

    • Stuart Brown permalink
      May 26, 2017 3:42 pm

      That would have been Friday 21st April. As Paul says, 50% gas. And that bit of nuclear was 20%. Only 12% was wind, and the following day was a Saturday when demand was lower. What was winds contribution to that lower demand? Less than 5%. (BM Reports and a bit of hopefully correct excel-ing).

    • catweazle666 permalink
      May 27, 2017 4:43 pm

      “The entire uk had a coal free day about about a.month ago.”

      Disingenuous – mendacious, in fact.

      The coal fired stations were throttled down, but they were still burning plenty of coal due to being on fast response standby.

  10. Coeur de Lion permalink
    May 26, 2017 8:08 am

    Dutch windmills have a ‘language’ based on how their sails are positioned. ‘ I have a marriageable daughter’ etc. Perhaps a use for useless turbines

    • dave permalink
      May 26, 2017 8:14 am

      “…a ‘language’…use…”

      ‘Please chop me down! I just turn and turn and am dizzy.’

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