back to article Save the planet: Stop the Greens

I find myself in an uncomfortable position over this climate change thing. I've no problem with the existence of man-made climate change, no problem with the idea that we ought to do something about it. But what we are actually trying to do about it seems bonkers, counter-productive even. So how did we get into this mess? To …


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  1. John 90


    > at least a soupcon of a suspicion

    You do know that "soupcon" means suspicion, don't you?

    1. frank ly

      Tautology Soup

      It does in French. In modern English, it means 'a slight trace or hint', especially when used in culinary matters.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I thought it meant "little bit" - at least in this context

      which I suppose is also one interpretation of "suspicion" ("I detect a suspicion of garlic in this soup" say) but a different meaning to the one in use. English is like that - sometimes the same word can have several completely different meanings - which can make translations from foreign rather ambiguous.

      1. PhilBack

        The french brigade says...

        "un soupçon de suscpicion" means "a tiny bit of suspicion, just enough"

      2. Lars Silver badge

        Lee, you are funny

        Do you actually know of any language "where the same word cannot have several completely different meanings", or translations not beeing rather ambiguous (left out the "from foreign" as it sounds rather silly when you think about it, very British I suppose, though ).


    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Tautology

      "at least a suspicion of suspicion" works for me. Poetic. Makes the point. Prefer the original.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      why we spend a fortune on Windmills?

      Actually its pretty simple, politics

      its quick, its high visability and politicians can say, hay look at what we are doing.

      Its to help buy your votes

      Why would any govenment want to start a project that wouldnt be finished before the next election, it doesnt give them any more votes ad by the time they are finished no one will be really intrested.

      Its this short sighted policy that has got this whole country screwed

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        why we spend a fortune on Windmills?

        You seem to be saying that we're building windmills so that politicians can buy peoples votes. How can this be when all I keep hearing about is how people don't want a windmill built near them? They are definitely *not* being promoted as vote winners.

        1. G.R.L. Cowan, H2-to-B convert

          They are fossil fuel tax revenue winners.

          They are fossil fuel revenue tax winners.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward


          Of course not, because politicians dont do anything for the wider public

          no one wants them built next to them but given that the locations for these things are usually remote its a tiny proportion of the voting public.

          your right tho, lets build one of these monsters on top of every city house and see if it wins votes, of course it wont, but you build these things far enough away and its no longer their problem.

          Im telling you, this country is a victim of its own stupidity.

      2. Craig Taylor

        Follow the money

        Darren, you are right, of course. But it's worse than you state.

        The politicians have two entirely different constituencies. First, the naive greenies who want to "save the planet" and think they have The Answer. More stealthy are the subsidy suckers, companies who produce the economically unjustifiable Windmills and Solar PV panels. They supply money to the pols as contributions, complimented by the votes from the greenies.

        It's a marriage made in hell. Lots of votes AND plenty of campaign funds to advertise how GREEN they are. Even the odd, temporary job in their district pouring concrete for windmill tower footings. The fact that it's all going to be paid for by the poor electricity rate payer and taxpayer is irrelevant. It's not costing the Pols anything! They get re-elected and get to continue their scam. Personally, I think burying the cost in increased electricity rates rather than in more obvious direct taxes is brilliant. In a disgusting sort of way.

        And yes, if the money were applied to energy research on low waste fission reactors (thorium) and other undeveloped technologies, we might eventually have a true solution. We sure do need one for that time to come when all the natural gas is consumed in space heaters and gas turbine generators. England will need LOTS more gas turbines for the rather obvious times when the wind stops blowing and the sky is overcast. But that never happens, does it?

  2. M7S
    Thumb Up

    Great article

    Now "feel the love".

    Or maybe not....

  3. Dunstan Vavasour

    Carbon footprint is Power times Time

    Whether the windmills are generating at the time of maximum demand will effect the amount of non-windmill capacity required. But they are still generating many kilowatt hours every year, which replaces burnt carbon, whether it is at times of maximum demand or not. The carbon footprint isn't about the instantaneous rate at which it is emitted, rather about the total quantity emitted each year.

    Even if the windmills are becalmed for a significant proportion of the time, that doesn't mean they "don't work".

    1. Anonymous Coward

      I wonder....

      how many of those kilowatt hours are needed before the carbon footprint of actually PRODUCING just one of those turbines is actually offset and they become carbon neutral.

    2. Jaap stoel

      Replace work with 'cost effective'

      If I want to get from Europe to the UK I could swim the channel. That 'works' but its a lot more effective to take a ferry or plane.

      What the author's saying is that these windmills are not generating enough power to be cost effective and its most likely that they never will. But still there's tons of money subsidizing them.

      While other experimental technologies (and I use the term loosely) are not eligible for subsidies while they do look like they could become self-sustaining and thus economically viable.

      1. Sandtreader

        Energy payback time for a modern turbine = 3 months,1033)/The_energy_balance_of_modern_wind_turbines%2C_1997.pdf

        1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
          Thumb Up


          Thank you for providing some actual statistics rather than just an opinion.

        2. Zippy the Pinhead

          @ Santreader

          How do you figure?

          Looking online I see that even small wind turbines cost into the upper hundreds and thousands of dollars even before installation... and because of the additional fees and installation cost from licensed contractors you can easily triple the final cost of having the device installed for home use. (Don't think you can do this yourself unless you are a licensed electrician!!!)

          So tell me how is my spending oh I figure about 2000 dollars to have a tiny 600 watt unit installed and its going to pay me back in 3 months when I spend on average less than 50 dollars a month on electric. Especially when I pass a huge turbine daily on the way to work and less than 50% of the time the thing is actually moving.

          So figuring at even the absurdly high rate of 50% efficiency for a wind turbine over this time frame.. I would be lucky to have this little miracle paid for in about 5 years and still not have enough power to pop a bag of popcorn.

          Oh wait.. you forgot repairs too... So now after 5 years it's worn out and I have to replace it... You figure it'll be a simple swap but the previous unit and this unit are not compatible so you spend even more money this time.

          This one of the huge issues about what bothers me about the Green Movement.. its "We must be green regardless" attitude doesn't not take into account real world issues such as total cost of ownership.. where Green cost 2~3 times more than "wasteful" over the life span,

          Like green Laundry Detergent cost twice as much and gets clothes 1/2 as clean!

      2. copsewood

        Wind turbine energy payback 6-8 months

        It isn't meaningful to answer this in KWh, because there are many different sizes of turbine, and some equipment in a windfarm e.g. grid connection relates to the farm as a whole. However, states:

        "The average wind farm in the UK will pay back the energy used in its manufacture within six to eight months, this compares favourably with coal or nuclear power stations, which take about six months."

        1. Ammaross Danan

          @"Payback time" people

          "The average wind farm in the UK will pay back the energy used in its manufacture within six to eight months, this compares favourably with coal or nuclear power stations, which take about six months."

          However, this is likely factoring in the subsidies payed out for deploying a windfarm "renewable" solution. Also not mentioned is the power generating capacity of said windfarms vs a coal plant. If the coal plant generates 5x the amount of power of a given windfarm, that's 5x capacity it's profiting off of. Stop subsidies and see how fast they switch to a "this is not even near economically feasible" mindset.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        turbines driven by carbon emitting fuel consumption also have a carbon footprint for their production, probably quite similar for the same output as the wind driven one.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I also wonder...

        how many of those kilowatt hours are needed before the carbon footprint of actually PRODUCING just one nuclear reactor is actually offset and they become carbon neutral.

        1. Andydaws

          It's something pretty tiny - in the 1-3 months range.

          Nuclear stations are big, complex beasts - but they make a LOT of power.

      5. Saigua

        Cost effective, awesome, menacing, picaresque, fungible, real; pick any 6.

        I wish he'd cited the wind cost-benefit bits, not that carbon fiber is swimming in wins as a construction material over whatever was supposed to have replaced concrete (you know, absorbing CO2 into its carbonates at first, instead of releasing them.) It is not impossible to store some energy (typically in water works,) though his example is a fine win for industrial wool...sweaters. The relation to Greens as a party, burgeoning class or new weird odor is yet unclear.

        It's stupid not to ask subsidy ever; we don't buy quad redundant heating provisions until we can switch to the built green and cheap one, we buy on the spot year (or 3 years.) Coal's seeing subsidies as a matter of course, offsetting proof-of-principle compliance, rural buildout, right-of-way, tariffs on heavy metals disposal, ash and coke steerage, mine allocation, distribution safety, railways, etc.

        From the other side (concerning why not shale methane everywhere,) it's stupid not to build more awesome heath roofs instead of PV (which I regret is less use poleside of +-44 longitude) or not to use less power (power that nVIdia Tesla with compost fumes) rather than try to burn enough LNG that the earth gets/loses a more richly layered atmosphere. Maybe there's a tacit local carbon sequestration angle to shale claims that we hadn't seen developed...

    3. Anonymous Coward

      Yes it does

      Even if the windmills are becalmed for a significant proportion of the time, that doesn't mean they "don't work".

      It means exactly that - They aren't going to solve the energy problem that people say they will, therefore as a solution they "don't work". Yes the individual windmill produces power. Its very much like saying that the solar powered (non storage) torch works. Yes it generates light when the sun is shining, however at night its not much use. By your definition it works, it produces light, just not when we need it to.

    4. David Evans

      @Dunstan Vavasour

      He probably means "don't work" in the more traditional sense of "don't provide power when you need it to heat your house", rather than the more progressive interpretation you seem to favour.

      To be honest I'm amazed this article even needed writing; I thought everyone knew this already? Never trust a hippie.

    5. Tim Greenwood

      Green anything, not just windmills !!

      Whether windmills are generating at full chat or becalmed they generated a hell of a lot of carbon to produce them and install them. If they operate through their life time (often only 15-20 years with full stripdown service with some renewal after 10 years) at 30-40% efficiency then their payback is pretty bloody crap. This is one of my biggest issues with "green" products - WHOLE LIFECYCLE IS IGNORED. Electric bloody cars are apparently super green provided you scrap your existing car buy the electric one and keep it for the 2-3 years the batteries will last then buy a new one. Of course this assumes you don't take into account the effect of scrapping your otherwise acceptable existing vehicle, take no account of the effect of producing the electric car, and in particular ignore where the electricity has come from.

      My existing car can become super green and generate no emissions providing you only take a snapshot such as turning the engine off and coasting downhills, it's not real worls though is it !

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @ Dunstan Vavasour - RE: Windmills

      I see your point - windmills are not totally useless, however you have to look at the big picture - which is that you will always need a secondary power source to supplement the windmills.

      You are dead right in the inference that a reduction in CO2 by less reliance on coal / oil fired stations through an increase in wind power will be a Good Thing, however you then need to look at the impact of needing alternative power sources for the times that wind is not cutting it (typically either in the dead of winter when we need lots of heating or the height of summer where we need our aircon).

      Power stations cannot just generate power on demand - they take time to power up, time to run down and need constant maintenance. Supplementary power stations will practically need to be able to provide 100% of the country's power needs on demand - you can't make pensioners freeze to death just because it is a still, overcast day in January.

      Which gives us 2 options - either the backups to the windmills are carbon pumping (like coal, oil and gas) or they are carbon neutral (like nuclear, wave or hydro).

      It seems fairly rational to conclude that we would be better off spending the windmill R&D / building money on either looking at cleaner fossil burners, practical tidal generators or safer nukes (sorry, I don't believe that solar & hydro are viable for the same reasons that wind isn't - too unreliable. I am not optimistic regarding tidal either - I think the environmental impact would be unacceptable).

      It is not that windmills inherently "don't work" so much as resources thrown at windmills is preventing 100% viable options from being developed.

      1. amck
        IT Angle

        Wind prediction ...

        I'm always surprised that El Reg never mentions the IT angle in this : yes, backup power will be needed, but its not as if wind is unpredictable. We don't need to run the gas / etc. stations full time in case the wind power isn't there, we can predict it!

        Secondly, there's this whole "smart grid" thing, adjusting load to suit generation conditions. No mention of that here ... how about talking about the 'data centre use follows the moon' models, so popular elsewhere, never mentioned here ... why?

        As for shale gas, look at for a contrarian view. Not as green as _its_ made out to be.

      2. Andydaws
        Thumb Up

        Lee, a very good post. But... miss something important. That's to do with the economics of standby plant.

        When you build standy plant, you look typically for two things - it should have low fixed costs (including finance - we'll come back to why), and that it should be reliably and quickly "dispatchable". Dispatchable is the industry term for bringing plant on line as required.

        The first comment is, by their very nature, that rules out most renewables, since they may well not be available - i.e. they're not dispatchable. Unsurpsingly, wave and wind intensity tends to be coupled, and tidal, although predictable, varies sinsoidally twice each day. So, you may end up having to have back-up plant for the back-up plant - which obviously burns capital investment at a rate of knots.

        TO give you an idea, the industry awards something called (capacity credit) reflecting the reliable availability of standby plant. Wind power is usually rated at best at a15-18% of nominal capacity - a more usual number is around the 8% mark. Tidal would merit perhaps 30%, if built. Wave would be soewhere between the two. A conventional generator (gas, coal or nuclear) is usually rated in the middle 90% range. They have outages, but they tend to be predictable, and can be timed for periods of low demand.

        Back to the finance....

        If I build a power station, obviously, I expect to make a profit on it - borrowing for power projects usually costs around the 7% range (the "weighted average cost of capital)"). The cost of financing, of paying for the station, and for the operating costs have to be recovered - and those can only be recovered by the sale of electricity. Sorry if that's stating the bleedin' obvious.

        If I have a 1000MW station that costs £1Bn to build, and another £30Mn to maintain per year (whether it runs or not), I have to have revenues of at least £100Mn to break even. If it runs 20% of the time, that means I need to see at least £60 or so per megawatt-hour of margin, over and above the cost of fuel. If it runs 10% of the time, I need £120/MWH of margin.

        For what it's worth, the "balancing price" - the price paid for short term generation (including fuel cost) rarely goes over £60/MWh, INCLUDING FUEL.

        So, I desperately need, if I'm going to de-risk my investment, to keep capital cost way, way down, and be happy to carry variable costs when I'm generating. If I do that, I can be sure my competitors are seeing similar fuel costs, and hence I'm unlikely to get undercut.

        And keeping captial costs down rules out most forms of low-carbon plant. It pushes me towards open-cyclle gas, and certainly rules out carbon-capture. It certainly rules out tidal - according to the last study on the Severn Barrage, it was of then order of £30-35Bn for an average output of 1,900MW.

        I'd even be a bloody fool to use carbon-capture on gas - say it's as little as a 50% uplift on capital spend, that still hughely increases my break-even point., and hence my chance og getting burned.

        1. Saigua

          Broken model; pure-play considered regulated out

          ...unless you have to pay CO2 emissions, natch. Though that Severn Barrage tidal bit is a nice example of not making book (cite it for us next time?)

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re Green anything, not just windmills !!


        Absolutely. Try including the carbon footprint created creating the vast amount of electricity used in producing petrol, and the carbon footprint of moving the fuel to the petrol stations, as well as the carbon footprint used creating your petrol car, and suddenly the already frighteningly bad figures for a petrol car get much worse.

        "Electric bloody cars are apparently super green provided you scrap your existing car buy the electric one"

        No, you buy a new car when you need one. However it is a valid point. Creating a new car and scrapping an old car is wasteful. Don't do it unless you need to.

        "and keep it for the 2-3 years the batteries will last then buy a new one."

        Oh so much wrong with that. Batteries should last way more than that. There is I think an electric RAV4 with 10 Year old batteries that's still working fine. You don't have to buy a new car simply because the batteries are worn out, just like you don't have to buy a new car simply because it's run out of petrol. You replace the batteries, or fill the tank.

        "[] take no account of the effect of producing the electric car..."

        just like people take no account of producing a petrol car

        "...and in particular ignore where the electricity has come from."

        Well electric cars are typically charged at night, when electricity demand is lowest, and as less coal is being burned to produce it, it's greener than peak rate electricity.

        1. Andydaws

          AC, those numbers are actually quite well known....

          "Try including the carbon footprint created creating the vast amount of electricity used in producing petrol, and the carbon footprint of moving the fuel to the petrol stations,"

          Refining produces about 3% of UK carbon output (and we're a small net exporter of refined products, I think). Electricit5y is a small proportion of that, most is process heat production.

          Overall transport use is about 35% of CO2 output. Refined product transport is way <1% of net transport use.

          So, you can up the carbon output per mile by about 5-8% if you add in refining ad fuel transport - not insiginficant, but not the "game-changer" you suggest.

          "Oh so much wrong with that. Batteries should last way more than that."

          It depends entirely on the usage - how deeply and houw fas they're syscled. Generally, batteries will last a long time (depending on the technology) provided they're not cycled below 50% of capacity, and are kept "conditioned" when not in use. The problem is, given the restricted range of EVs, it's going to be very hard to stick to using <50% of an already inadequate range.

          " You don't have to buy a new car simply because the batteries are worn out, just like you don't have to buy a new car simply because it's run out of petrol. You replace the batteries, or fill the tank."

          Rather a different set of ecnomics - unsubsidised, a set of the LiOn batteries used in something like a Nissan Leaf are probably worth about 40% of the overall cost of the vehicle. A cloer analogue would be having to pay for a replacement engine and gearbox every few years.

          "Well electric cars are typically charged at night, when electricity demand is lowest, and as less coal is being burned to produce it, it's greener than peak rate electricity."

          Rather the oppoiste - almost all variation in UK electicity production comes from cycling gas-fired CCGT plant, which is about twice as carbon-efficient as coal. If anything, the CO2 output per KWH is likely to be higher at night than during the day.


      4. indulis

        Please justify your "whole lifecycle" claims for windmills

        Can you please provide a reference for your claim that "[energy] payback is pretty bloody crap" for windmills? This sounds like the same old "solar cells give back less energy than it takes to produce them" claim that has become an often quoted psuedo-fact (that is actually incorrect).

        It'd be interesting to do a "whole of lifecycle" calculation for a current technology nuclear power plant. For both $ and energy.

        For some real reading on energy and a rational investigation readers can turn to "Sustainable energy: without the hot air".

      5. elderlybloke

        Green anything, not just windmills !

        Dear Tim,

        Plead don't confuse the Greenies and friends with facts , reality and reason.

      6. apjanes

        Hydro is viable, under the right circumstances

        The blanket statement that hydro isn't viable because of reliability is not actually true. Two thirds of Canada's electricity is generated by hydro and last time I checked it was plenty reliable. The main potential issue for hyrdo in the UK is to do with demand and capacity.

        1. The UK has many millions more people than Canada requiring much more electricity

        2. The UK has far less space to build hydro plants and, as such, far less water

        These issues, rather than reliability, might be the show stopper for hydro in the UK.

        As an island with plenty of coastline, tidal seems like a good potential source.

      7. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Thumb Up

        @Tim Greenwood.

        "years with full stripdown service with some renewal after 10 years) at 30-40% efficiency then their payback is pretty bloody crap. "

        The Register has mentioned before that large wind generation companies work on the basis that a windmill will generate power 26% of the time (30% offshore)

        However at least 1 site listed in an Andrew Orlwoski article was 1 wind mill showing 5% (roughly 19days a year) operating time.

        The actual *electrical* generator is something like 96% efficient (when it's working of course).

        A *full* accounting on "Green" energy would need to factor in *all* carbon emissions from the supply chain (For example until a few weeks ago *all* current UK windmill towers were made in China) *and* the carbon footprint of the *backup* system that will have to step in.

    7. Skizz

      If only it were that simple...

      The problem with wind is that it is volatile and unpredictable. In an ideal situation, your power generation would match the required demand, but in reality the demand is not constant. You don't just switch off power generators when you don't need them, it takes time. So, if there's a sudden gust of wind, it's not possible to turn down all the other generators in response to the spike in power from the wind farms. In fact, varying the output of a fossil fuel plant might be less efficent than keeping it running at a fixed rate.

      So, in the end, wind isn't useful for general supply as it can't be switched on when required, and when it's generating you can't easily turn off other generators. So the best use I guess for wind power is to pump water back up into the reservoirs that feed the hydro electric stations.

    8. bamalam

      Still need plenty of other electricity plant to back it up

      Electricity generation plants are not free and their investment has to be justified. Wind and solar still needs to be backed up by other plant as they may produce next to zero at any given day.

      See for an example of where 1250MW of Irish installed wind capacity gets you on a calm day like today. And since the greenies don't want nukes as backup this means carbon producing plants. That means you are still dependent on coal/gas/oil and the price escalator they are on. Often they have to be running to backup wind immediately as it is such an unpredictable source of power (see forecast as against actual capacity in the Irish case).

      Thorium based reactors can be throttled up and down with demand and are much safer than conventional Uranium based reactors. Time we started working on them.

    9. smylar


      Greens always neglect the economics, they would love it not to be a factor, unfortunately it's a big one.

      To power the country on wind means a hell of a lot of turbines, expansion of pumped storage, and then a load of gas turbines as back-up that can provide power in the event not a single windmill is turning and the pumped storage has run out. So you have an installed capacity well over double what you need, and massive maintenance costs.

      The result is *!#&ing expensive, which means a lot of poor people, high product prices etc etc. Which is probably what the most devout greens want, so that we can all go back to the glorious hunter gatherer days!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        Oil and Gas are finite resources. They will run out. Oil is used for all sorts of useful things like making plastics etc. I think it's wise to reduce the consumption of oil and gas by using renewable resources. This will make the non-renewable ones last longer.

        1. Homard

          More basic !

          This article is at multiple levels.

          Firstly it discusses globalisation as bad. I have to agree.

          At the most basic level, people need full bellies, water, and a place to shit. If you don't have this society breaks down.

          So, tractor engines have the cylinder block manufactured in Detroit (where else :-) ?), the head/valves in UK, and the injection/engine management system in Japan. All works well until something goes wrong. The Japan earthquake is an example.

          This is why globalisation is bad. People will starve !

          Globalisation is also good with trade agreements and cheaper goods. But when the chips are down this won't matter one iota.

          Secondly this article discusses 'energy alternatives' and the 'greens'.

          Now nuclear might be clean for those present now, someone has to deal with the legacy. Is this as bad as global warming ?

          I use (and have to fight) the wind all the time and know how fickle it can be. So I agree with the arguments that windfarms are useless on that cold winter night. Given UK weather, do they pay ? I honestly don't know. If you're guaranteed wind (30 mins after lunch ?) they maybe have a higher service factor.

          What truly frustrates me about all of this :-

          Daughter : must be green (from school) - xbox on 24/7, laptop on 24/7 etc.

          Thy must not use thy conveyance : fuel duty increases, and so do rail prices, so what alternative ? In general if you work in rural areas public transport is bollocks.

          Leccy cars : great idea, not as green as claimed, and if everyone used them out go the lights !

          Cycling : often a viable alternative transportation, but not free. Wear and tear costs have to be met. If an MP claims these it is fair IMHO (and good on the guy for doing it). Really good for getting fit !

          Man's activities in general : if the 24 hour clock is the time since earth was created, we have been here mere minutes, and how much damage have we done ?

          We need to work out what is actually 'green', and when we understand that, then we can really take meaningful action.

          1. Anonymous Coward


            Man's activities in general : if the 24 hour clock is the time since earth was created, we have been here mere minutes, and how much damage have we done ?

            The earth is approximately 4.5 billion years old and for 4.5 billion years it has been undergoing some kind of climate change. Using that timescale, we have been around for about 2 minutes but our 'best' minds with their super long view of climate history (usually about 200 years or so), they have convinced us that its all out fault.

            Well done, top choice.

      2. Saigua

        How completely unlike server farm demands!

        Lucky for us you only turn on your tablet when you can completely utilize its computational faculties. See also: inductance, phase margins, market scheduling, water treatment/storage, negative power pricing subscribers.

    10. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge
      Thumb Down

      @ Dunstan Vavasour

      "The carbon footprint i'tsn't about the instantaneous rate at which it is emitted, rather about the total quantity emitted each year."

      So what? The argument made here isn't solely about carbon footprint. It's about replacing existing energy generation mechanisms with low impact ones - and in that case it is absolutely about instantaneous rate, as I don't want be turning my telly on in April, only to find that no electricity is available until June simply because of the weather.

    11. SImon Hobson Silver badge

      Wrong on many levels

      > But they are still generating many kilowatt hours every year, which replaces burnt carbon, whether it is at times of maximum demand or not.

      Actually, there is an argument that those windmills may actually INCREASE CO2 emissions !

      The simple fact is that for EVERY kW capacity of windmill, you need another kW capacity of an alternative. Nuclear really, really doesn't deal well with rapid changes in power, and nor does coal. Pumped storage (like Dinorwig) have very limited capacity - certainly nowhere near the level needed to allow for a widespread becalming for a week or more*. Given that nuclear (apart from declining in capacity as old stations are shut) doesn't like changes in power, and coal takes some time to adjust (and in particular takes hours to get from ready to running, or even days to get from fully shutdown to running), that means gas will be used to fill in.

      Generators are commercial companies - they look to make a profit. If you tell an owner that you'd like them to provide capacity, but you won't actually call on it for much of the time, and when you do, you'll expect them to turn up and down very rapidly and repeatedly - then they aren't going to put in the best, most efficient, and probably more expensive turbines. No, on the basis that they'll have a low load factor (poor return on investment), and high operating costs as the rapid cycling kills the turbines - they'll build the cheapest ones they can.

      So there's an argument that the 70% (I'm being VERY generous and assuming a 30% load factor for the windmill) of the power generated from the cheap and nasty gas turbine, operating at a sub-optimal load, may actually produce more CO2 than if you'd just generated 100% of the power with a more efficient gas turbine operating at a better load.

      Add to that another factor. All these renewable incentives are paid for by higher fuel bills for everyone. If (and I don't personally believe it) electric cars are "the answer" to another problem, then higher electricity prices are a disincentive to their use. Thus one "green" agenda is detrimentally influencing another "green" agenda.

      * Don't claim it won't happen, it already has been shown to happen, but I can't find the article now. There was almost zero wind across the whole of northern Europe for about 10 days - back in the 1990s IIRC, but it's happened since.

    12. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Of course it means they don't work. Please do some research into how the National Grid works.

      Coal, Gas and Nuclear plants cannot ramp production very fast (50% output to maximum). Gas and some kinds of Nuclear take tens of minutes, Coal and older kinds of Nuclear tends to take half an hour or longer. Certain kinds of Hydro can start up from 'hot standby' in a few seconds, but they can't be left in hot standy for very long, keep up that level of production and don't have a large capacity compared to Coal/Gas/Nuclear.

      Wind is *highly* variable - it can even go from 'maximum output' to 'zero output' in tens of seconds, possibly faster: the windspeed exceeds maximum rating, so the turbines automatically feather and shut down.

      So, let's examine your proposition:

      Wind is producing 60% of the UK's needs by running at 100% plate rating across the whole country (actually impossible for many reasons, but let's roll with it). Coal/Gas are at 'cold shutdown' (not burning any fuel).

      Windspeed rises in some regions and large blocks of turbines shut down. Coal/Gas has to be started from cold - but this takes several hours!

      So Country-wide blackouts occur. Parts of the National Grid may be damaged, and many non-resettable big trips drop open to protect generation plants and distribution. The whole system is down for a long time (even days) as repairs and manual resets are carried out.

      So we have to keep the Coal and Gas plants 'hot' - burning their fuel to maintain temperature and synchronisation - even when they're not producing any electricity.

      Now windspeed rises and blocks of turbines look on the verge of shut down. Gas plant is ramped up, followed by coal plant. Depending on how good we are at predicting that shutdown, we either get brownout or partial blackout for minutes or tens of minutes, or we burn a lot of fuel ramping the Gas/Coal plant for no reason as the turbines don't shut down or shut down later than expected.

      Either way, you simply don't save much CO2 but you end up with a *very* unstable National Grid.

      That's even before you consider the cost of having 'other plants' with at least the generating capacity of all the wind turbines in the country put together - as there are many days where there's no wind nationwide, on those days you've got to produce it somehow. Or go dark - and going dark is very, very bad for the Grid, and even worse for homes, business and hospitals. (Hospitals will start up their diesel generators and *hope* they've got enough fuel to cope.)

      On top of that, the Greens are also pushing for greater electrification of transport - trains and plug-in electric vehicles. If that occurs, then electricity demand will greatly increase - and we're on the edge of capacity already.

      Basically, small amounts of wind generation are annoying for the Grid (it's expensive power and hard to balance as it can ramp down at any moment), and large amounts would make the Grid highly unstable.

    13. BristolBachelor Gold badge

      Peaky power generation

      I thought that one of the problems with power generation was that the cleaner 'normal' type power generation needed to be turned on slowly, and then run continuously and then turned off slowly.

      If you need 'nromal' type power generation that you can turn-on at a flick of a switch (like when there's no wind), it tends to be dirtier, outputing more CO2 for the same energy. If we have to switch all our 'normal' generation to this technology to allow for wind / no-wind, does our total CO2 output go down or up? EVen if it still goes down, does it go down by as much as we are told is saved by wind?

      If our total CO2 goes up because of these windmills, can I say that they don't work (as in they don't reduce CO2, which is what we're told they do)?

      1. amck
        Thumb Down

        Wind highly variable

        Wind in _wind_farms_ is less variable: fast changes are on the order of 10's of percent over 10 minutes, not max to zero in seconds. Secondly they can be spotted working their way across the country as weather fronts pass over -- on a national scale they are quite predictable, much more than predictable than we currently do.

        We don't currently do specialised wind forecasting, but various groups are setting up to do it, precisely because of wind generation. So the backup generation problem is far less severe than usually railed against in El Reg, not much more than needed now. In fact, given that you need to have backup power in case _any_ piece of equipment fails - e.g. the transformers for a 1 GW coal station, in practice the spin reserves, properly done, can be no larger and possibly smaller than today.

        (You need spin reserves, 'backup', in case any given piece of equipment fails. A large 1 GW coal or nuclear plant is a single point of failure. For it you need 1 GW spin reserves. The same spin reserves also backup wind. Move to having multiple 10 -- 500 MW wind farms, with no SPOF being more than 50 MW, spin reserves need to be ~ 50-100 MW).

        1. Richard 12 Silver badge

          You didn't read the post, did you?

          Max to zero windspeed does indeed tend to be fairly gentle.

          However max to zero *output* can happen very rapidly - the wind gets *too strong* so the plant *shuts down* to protect itself.

          Wind gently rising. Plant increases in output. At some point the windspeed exceeds the maximum rating of the turbines and they shut themselves down.

          Turbine shutdown is very fast because if it isn't, the plant can be badly damaged and in worst-case you can even get large pieces of turbine flying across the countryside!

          - There's video of failed shutdowns around YouTube somewhere. Don't have YouTube access from here, but should be easy to find.


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