back to article Amazon guarantees bitterly contested Ohio wind farm project

Amazon has taken on a stalled wind farm project in Ohio to power its data centres because, as we all know, intermittent and flaky power supplies dependent entirely on the randomness of the weather are just what mission-critical data centres need. "We remain committed to achieving our long-term goal of powering the AWS Cloud …

  1. Marketing Hack Silver badge
    Stop

    Green PR BS

    Of course what Amazon is really saying is that the wind farm in question can provide enough incremental power to run their datacenter, if the farm is operating at its maximum designed output.

    The other 95% of the time that the farm is operating below maximum output, Amazon is getting their power from natural gas, coal and nuclear--especially considering that we are talking about the upper Midwest.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Green PR BS

      The state of Iowa generates a third of its electricity from wind, and is on pace to exceed 50% by 2025. Yes, that relies on natural gas plants to spin up additional capacity on days when the wind is calm, and idle them when the wind is blowing. Fortunately that's easily done, versus say nuclear plants which can't vary their power levels too much.

      Since the wind turbines are spread across the state (more concentrated in the west, but since Iowa is larger than England, that's still a pretty big area) the instantaneous fluctuations of individual turbines as the wind gusts and calms cancel each other out, leaving plenty of time to adjust the natural gas load as weather systems enter/leave the state.

      It is surprising on how even in a very light wind you barely notice those massive blades on a big turbine are still turning.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Green PR BS

        Why pick Iowa as your example? That state is kinda flat, has more than its share of wind, is ranked 36th in pop/density by state (lots of land, not many people), and is pretty large geographically as states go. Also there's little resistance to the ugly blight of the eco-crucifixes. Anything to break up the monotonous corn-scape, I guess.

        All those factors give a boost to the wind power 'industry,' and yet it's still subsidized by both state and federal taxpayers to this day, with no end in sight. If wind power isn't financially viable in Iowa of all places, where can it be viable?

        Nowhere, that's where.

        By the way, Iowa wind power is now running into a big problem, specifically the lack of enough transmission capacity to handle the distributed wind farm supply. Those hidden costs are projected to be rather large, and Iowa wind power can't expand further without it.

        All in all, a big passel of problems for a system that can't guarantee it will be available when you need it. Great.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Green PR BS

          I picked Iowa because it is generating the most wind power as a percentage of its overall electrical needs of any state. Texas generates much more wind power, but it is obviously a far larger state.

          The subsidies help because the big cost of wind generation is the initial investment to build it. After that the power is free, unlike gas plants which require fuel that fluctuates wildly in price and has some rather unpleasant side effects (i.e. all the earthquakes in Oklahoma, for example)

          The fossil fuel industry is massively subsidized, with trillions in defense spending over the years to "secure" oil supplies in the middle east. If we really did give a shit about bringing "freedom" to the people of Iraq, Libya, etc. to save them from their nasty dictators, we have a lot to answer for to people in Africa who suffer under far worse dictators but we ignore since they don't have billions of barrels of oil underneath their feet.

          As for transmission line capacity, that's part of the infrastructure your buddy Trump is claiming he's going to revitalize. Or is he just going to build more bridges to nowhere like that idiot senator from Alaska wanted?

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Green PR BS

            > "As for transmission line capacity, that's part of the infrastructure your buddy Trump is claiming he's going to revitalize."

            Revitalize? You do realize we're talking about NEW infrastructure that's only needed because of the very low power density of wind? Hundreds or thousands of miles of ugly and expensive transmission lines all over the map.

            And that 'initial investment then all free' belief is not true. Those wind turbines are notorious for needing maintenance fairly often, along with all that infrastructure. Then there's the land taken up by it all, thus unavailable or unpleasant for other purposes. In California I see vast wind farms just a few years old that are mostly non-functional. I guess the subsidies aren't enticing enough to induce the owners to reinvest, eh? Easier to just build more ugly subsidized wind farms elsewhere.

            The way we are going, the landscape will eventually be a wind-farm wasteland. Then when it gets bad enough, the taxpayer will again have to pay to clean it all up.

            Wind power on a large scale is a way for speculators to get rich quick and then blow town, leaving the people with broken down ugliness. Meanwhile they will have to deal with brownouts and such, thanks to the lack of enough proper power plants.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Green PR BS

              All the wind farms I see around here use underground cabling between the turbines, which connect to the above ground high voltage towers at a single point.

          2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: Green PR BS

            'The fossil fuel industry is massively subsidized, with trillions in defense spending over the years to "secure" oil supplies in the middle east'

            Wind and solar are subsidised by the costs of having fossil fuel plants on standby to make up the gaps. So if the fossil fuel industry is itself subsidised then wind and solar are doubly so.

      2. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Re: Green PR BS

        Fortunately that's easily done, versus say nuclear plants which can't vary their power levels too much.

        If that were true, US submarines and aircraft carriers would just zip around all the time like crazy blowflies.

      3. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: Green PR BS

        Re: The state of Iowa generates a third of its electricity from wind, and is on pace to exceed 50% by 2025. Yes, that relies on natural gas plants to spin up additional capacity on days when the wind is calm, and idle them when the wind is blowing. Fortunately that's easily done, versus say nuclear plants which can't vary their power levels too much.

        So using wind turbines a third of the time with gas (a carbon-based fossil fuel) plants the remaining two thirds of the time, is more green and hence better for the environment than running one nuclear (non-carbon fuel) plant all the time.

        Wow! some real Green PR BS!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          @Roland6

          While I agree with you about nuclear, getting new nuclear plants approved in the US is pretty much impossible. A quick google shows Iowa has just one, and given that more will not be coming online for the foreseeable future, the question becomes whether aside from that nuke plant Iowa is supplied 66% by fossil fuels or 100% by fossil fuels.

          1. Roland6 Silver badge

            Re: @Roland6 @DougS

            Getting new nuclear approved is seemingly impossible in any democratic country currently...

            Here in the UK, politicians compounded the problem through their unwillingness to make a decision for at least 3~4 decades; all the time knowing that one day a decision would have to be made and the electorate faced... Such procrastination seems to naturally lead politicians to go for "too big to fail" types of projects - which I think Hinkley Point C is a prime candidate. So it will be interesting to see if Hinkley Point C actually gets built anytime soon.

            I have no problem with your rephrasing of the conundrum, which reflects how it really is rather than trying to pretend the solution is somehow greener than one that doesn't produce greenhouse gases (I'm ignoring for the moment the issue of nuclear waste).

            In the UK, basically, we have to build new nuclear, if we want to keep the lights on and comply with our international obligations by decommissioning all our legacy generating plant. (Which basically says that Hinkley Point C will get built and go online even though we may have been advised against it.)

    2. Faux Science Slayer

      True Cost of Wind

      "Full Report, True Cost of Wind" at strata.org

      "Green Prince of Darkness" at FauxScienceSlayer on PV scam

      "Fracturing the Fossil Fuel Fable".... sustainable Hydrocarbons

    3. Nikki Radir

      Re: Green PR BS

      @Marketing Hack

      In the short to mid-term, having gas plants spin up to take up the slack is a sound approach; when wind ramps up again, we get less CO2 output. In the long term, we need better energy storage, a more diverse set of renewable inputs and tight control of the power mix feeding the grid (and in the States, a _connected_ grid!). People are working on that, thank goodness. What are you doing? Yes, that's a "What did you in The Great Energy Transition, Grandad?" question.

      Looks to me like wind is a worthwhile part of the energy mix. If you don't like it, invent, sell, and/or invest in, something better! For example, having the occasional wind turbine catch fire, or fall over, seems a better set of risks than the certainties of dealing with waste, long term, from existing fission reactor designs. I would be interested, however, in the prospect of 'fail-safe-ish' thorium reactors with much wider availability of fuel, reducing geopolitical distortions. And maybe, just maybe, someone surprises us with a economical, working, long-life fusion reactor - one of these years.

      What is not an option is continuing to burn fossil fuels at an increasing rate. Every time we can expand renewable generation, and have sufficient control over its contribution to the grid, we chip away at the CO2 burden. [And if anyone here has any problem with the need to do that, go away and do some proper, disinterested reading outside your confirmation bias comfort zone. A year or so should do it.]

  2. ratfox Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    I never understood why people oppose wind farms. They do not pollute or even smell bad, unlike practically any other rural development.

    The only argument I've heard which I could technically accept is that they spoil the scenery. I personally disagree (I find them quite decorative), but it's a question of taste. I still don't think it justifies such acrimonious opposition.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The only argument I've heard which I could technically accept is that they spoil the scenery.

      Then you've not being paying much attention? At modest distances they can be noisy, they do tend to smack birds out of the sky, and also very effective at exploding bats who fly behind the blades where the low pressure. But the main problem is that intermittency.

      As a near random power source, when you build a wind farm that acquires a near "must run" status (not bothering with the technicalities, that's good enough for now), then that wind turbine gets paid when the wind blows. Problem is that the system (and therefore customers) need to pay for the assets that provide power when the wind doesn't blow, so those assets either need additional subsidies ("capacity payments") or they need vastly higher wholesale prices to pay their high standing costs. Either way, renewables put total system costs up. All the prattle about "grid parity" that their makers claim is against prevailing wholesale prices, not for a system approach that provides adequate capacity. So wind and solar providers are vastly over-rewarded for their low quality power output, and expect customers to pick up the tab for the inadequacy of their assets.

      We'd all like cheap, clean energy. Sadly wind and solar only provide that within very narrow definitions that externalise all costs relating to how you and I wish to use energy. Battery storage will make that a little bit better, but not much, because it can't offer intra-seasonal storage at any viable cost (and the same goes for pumped storage, CAES and P2G technologies).

      1. Tom Paine Silver badge

        Either way, renewables put total system costs up

        Oh! Well, in that case, clearly renewables are a complete non-starter, even if fossil fuels WILL destroy civilisation as we know it within a dozen or two decades. God forbid the price of energy should go up!

        1. Clunking Fist Bronze badge

          "even if fossil fuels WILL destroy civilisation as we know it within a dozen or two decades"

          Drink Koolade? Check.

          1. Nikki Radir

            @Clunking Fist

            "Drink Koolade? Check."

            What on Earth does that mean? I presume however that you disagree with the statement, or maybe don't care if civilisation ends. For myself, there are places I'd like to visit in my old age, that I'd much prefer to see without using diving gear.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Well, people like to live in rural areas where they can enjoy landscapes unspoiled by anything except them, their houses, the connections to their homes and the vehicles they use to get everywhere.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Well, people like to live in rural areas where they can enjoy landscapes unspoiled...

        Get off your high horse, and notice that the majority of large coal, nuclear, and gas plants have been located in rural areas for donkey's years (plus the fugly transmission networks spreading the visual pox across the countryside). Not to mention the crime of ground mount solar arrays, sterilising prime agricultural land for quarter of a century as fat cat financiers milk the subsidies.

        Maybe urban fuckwits should face up to the despoilatory nature of their need for power?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Facepalm

          Maybe urban f***kwits should face up to the despoilatory nature of their need for power?

          On reflection, I apologise to the world and the previous poster for my intemperate wording.

    3. This post has been deleted by its author

    4. Infernoz Bronze badge
      Facepalm

      The relatively power density and reliability of wind farms is poor (zero in high winds), maintenance will be expensive and the lifespan will probably be short; the noise, the required large amounts of wasted space and wildlife erosion don't help either.

      Solar may be better because it could be spread over a huge surface area without wasting much space and can be very close to were the power is used, especially if the tyrannical and inefficient compulsory requirement of connection to grid infrastructure is dropped e.g. a lot of use could be made significantly more efficient by using relatively lower voltages from the batteries via efficient DC to DC SMTPs. There is even tech. being researched to coat solar panels with a layer which can generate power from the salts in rain water.

      For higher power it'd make more sense to install distributed, small scale Thorium fission reactors where larger sub-stations would normally be and only use grid transmission for excess energy balancing and for industrial supply. Thorium fission reactors require an external neutron source to drive fission so they could probably be much safer and better for variable power output than Uranium based fission reactors. The post turbine heat may also be usable for heating/cooling local buildings.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

    5. Clunking Fist Bronze badge

      "The only argument I've heard which I could technically accept is that they spoil the scenery"

      The access roads destroy pristine environments. If you can restrict wind farms to FARMLAND, then that's better. The there's the problem of infra sound, the low frequency pulse that is created when the blade passes the shaft. This isn't ordinarily audible, but the pressure wave travels across the land having a non-imaginary effect.

      Then there's the effect on bird life, especially if the turbines are located too close to nesting sites. Have you not heard the term "bird mincer"?

  3. Marketing Hack Silver badge

    @ratfox

    Wind turbines can make noise, the big ones tower over the landscape, they of course require unsightly transmission lines to be put in, they kill birds, bats and insects by the cartload and because the turbines are so distributed utility crews will sometimes encroach on your property. Their production and use also consumes a lot of rare earth minerals, the production of which is highly pll

    I can see why people don't like them. Not that other sources of generation are perfect, but wind and solar are no picnic.

  4. cantankerous swineherd Silver badge

    won't someone think of the birds?

    1. Fungus Bob Silver badge

      Mmmmm, crunchy!

  5. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Meanwhile the large turbine on my horizon hasn't turned for months. Admittedly this is an exceptionally long period for it to be out of service. I'd call it TITSUP (Total Inability To Supply Usual Power) but I'm not sure its reliability record is good enough to justify "Usual".

    1. Marketing Hack Silver badge
      Devil

      I'm sure that you are paying for it on your utility bill, operational or no >:)

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Maybe it's just there to keep the Ice Demons away?

  6. GreenThumbStick

    Utterly unreliable nuclear power !

    Critics of windpower harp on about it being intermittent, but wind load is an expected factor in the case for investment. In the UK it currently means we can burn less fossil fuel. The intermittency is not a problem to the grid at current investment levels (the need to close coal power stations is a far greater concern). The business case for nuclear power on the other hand is that it should supply reliable baseload power, whereas the reality is that many nuclear power stations often have to be shut down at the same time, well outside their expected operating plan. For instance the current plight of the the French nuclear industry, see following article. Whilst we had to grovel and beg China to invest in "too big to fail" Hinkley I am finding that the smart money is buying me out of my wind investments many years before I expected.

    http://www.powermag.com/frances-nuclear-storm-many-power-plants-down-due-to-quality-concerns/

    [Note: This article will appear in the forthcoming December 2016 print issue of POWER.]

    "The discovery of widespread carbon segregation problems in critical nuclear plant components has crippled the French power industry—20 of the country’s 58 reactors are currently offline and under heavy scrutiny. France’s nuclear safety chairman said more anomalies “will likely be found,” as the extent of the contagion is still being uncovered.

    With over half of France’s 58 reactors possibly affected by “carbon segregation,” the nation’s nuclear watchdog, the Autorité de Sûreté Nucléaire (ASN) has ordered that preventative measures be taken immediately to ensure public safety. As this story goes into production in late October, ASN has confirmed that 20 reactors are currently offline and potentially more will shut down in coming weeks.

    The massive outages are draining power from all over Europe. Worse, new questions continue to swirl about both the safety and integrity of Électricité de France SA’s (EDF’s) nuclear fleet, as well as the quality of some French- and Japanese-made components that EDF is using in various high-profile nuclear projects around the world."

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Windows

      Re: Utterly unreliable nuclear power !

      Interesting. It never ceases to amaze me that such complex systems of engineering, management politics and economics such as nuclear reactors (based on militarily-usable PWRs, natch) can even be built at all.

      OTOH, if nuclear reactors show this kind of problem in manufacture, expect similar problems to occur in wind power installations. Long series of cracked shafts, broken wings and waterlogged alternators (as well as companies going titsup, nullifying expectations of investment paybacks) are likely to await in the future.

      Incidentally, Paluel 2 has been offline since May 2015. Its maintenance period is continuing, following an incident on March 31, 2016, in which a 465-ton steam generator tipped over during removal.

      OTOH, I have the impression the new generation of engineers is not up to snuff.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Utterly unreliable nuclear power !

        This French reactor problem has nothing to do with Nuclear energy generation itself. It has to do with faulty manufacturing of parts elsewhere. That could happen in any industry, so it's dishonest to impute the Nuke industry for this issue.

        1. GreenThumbStick

          Re: Utterly unreliable nuclear power !

          Big John wrote:

          "This French reactor problem has nothing to do with Nuclear energy generation itself. It has to do with faulty manufacturing of parts elsewhere. That could happen in any industry, so it's dishonest to impute the Nuke industry for this issue."

          The safety issue is orders of magnitude greater with "too big to fail" nuclear power plants. That is a major reason behind the ever increasing cost of new nuclear. The aviation industry also has to ground whole fleets of planes. Maintenance also means shutting down the whole reactor for days or even months, they can't fix problems incrementally like they can on windfarm/solar farms. You are not going to have a 30 mile exclusion zone around a wind turbine or incidents that are well beyond the ability of emergency services to cope with.

          I think there is a case for nuclear energy as part of a policy of diversification of energy generation, but "too big to fail" nuclear power plants with multiple reactors is just compounding the inherent risk of nuclear, the complexity and costs.

        2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: Utterly unreliable nuclear power !

          "That could happen in any industry, so it's dishonest to impute the Nuke industry for this issue."

          And has, indeed, happened to some wind turbines. Too much wind. Or maybe the wrong sort of wind.

      2. Tom Paine Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: Utterly unreliable nuclear power !

        OTOH, if nuclear reactors show this kind of problem in manufacture, expect similar problems to occur in wind power installations. Long series of cracked shafts, broken wings and waterlogged alternators (as well as companies going titsup, nullifying expectations of investment paybacks) are likely to await in the future.

        Well, apart from the obvious fact that the requirements for nuclear power engineering are orders of magnitude more stringent (due to the safety consequences of failure, and to the extreme pressures, temperatures, impacts, etc etc that the buildings and machinery have to be designed to withstand -- if a wind turbine catches fire, falls over and sinks into the swamp it's really not that big of a deal. Bear in mind too that the fundamental physics of wind turbines (aerodynamics) is (a) simple, and (b) very well established and understood after over a century of research. I suppose exotic materials could come along at some point - maybe if carbon fibre manufacturing makes enormous breakthroughs -- and I suppose it's conceivable some unexpected failure mode might show up with them, but it seems pretty unlikely to me.

        Finally, on the basis of a quick google around*, it looks like a 3Mw offshore wind turbine costs about £400k (assuming it's built as part of a large farm of other turbines.) The probability of a mechanical or structural failure that takes out hundreds or thousands of installations at once is vanishingly small -- all I can think of are sabotage at cable landing sites or the massive rectifier facilities that presumably are needed the same as they're needed for sub-sea interconnects with continental Europe, or a very very big tsunami. (The latter are a significant and entirely disregarded risk to nuclear sites on the coast, but everyone in the industry likes to pretend tsunami never happen in NW Europe, Storegga is a electronic dance music record label, Gran Canary is as solid as Labour's 20% core vote , and similar handwaving, but that's a rant for another day.)

        In summary: you are mistaken :)

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Utterly unreliable nuclear power !

          > "The probability of a mechanical or structural failure that takes out hundreds or thousands of installations at once is vanishingly small..."

          True. What happens is they fail one by one, and in a fairly short time it amounts to the same thing.

    2. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Utterly unreliable nuclear power !

      Whilst we had to grovel and beg China to invest in "too big to fail" Hinkley I am finding that the smart money is buying me out of my wind investments many years before I expected.

      Whilst I would agree the UK government has been daft with respect to the way it has decided to fund new nuclear; namely off book, and so we will be paying a premium for the electricity produced. It should be remembered that the price premium is still significantly lower than the price we are currently paying for electricity from wind...

      WRT to your wind investments; I suspect there are some who are gambling on the sale price of electricity going up, as the UK turns off existing generating capacity and finds itself with insufficient installed capacity as it delayed and delayed over installing new capacity.

      1. tiggity Silver badge

        Re: Utterly unreliable nuclear power !

        Except that as politicians fail to think long term, there is the future fun of how to deal with all the radioactive waste. Given expensive botched efforts we have seen so far with other plants then it will be difficult to quantify the costs of cleanup, but they will be massive.

        I'm just hoping a decent form of energy "storage" comes along fairly soon (i.e. relatively cheap, stores a lot of energy in a small space, low hazard, energy can be quickly released at variable levels) which would make intermittent renewables more useful (as "excess" could be stored when supply exceeded demand and released when required)

      2. GreenThumbStick

        Re: Utterly unreliable nuclear power !

        Roland6 wrote:

        "WRT to your wind investments; I suspect there are some who are gambling on the sale price of electricity going up, as the UK turns off existing generating capacity and finds itself with insufficient installed capacity as it delayed and delayed over installing new capacity."

        It isn't just in this country though. Smart money won't touch nuclear with a barge pole, whilst it is falling over itself to invest in renewable energy. New generation nuclear is a hugely risky investment, unless you mug the tax payer and heap the risk on him as happened with Hinkley despite all the promises not to do that. New generation wind and solar energy has dramatically falling costs, whilst "too big to fail" new generation nuclear just gets ridiculously more expensive each year.

        I can see that the state may wish to diversify energy production, so nuclear could pay a role but I don't like this "too big to fail" approach we have to nuclear. Also wanting to be a guinea pig for new nuclear, when we would be better off investing later on when costs are more predictable, though perhaps the timetable for closure of coal plants/old nuclear does not give room for that.

        1. Marketing Hack Silver badge

          Re: Utterly unreliable nuclear power !

          @GreenThumbStick

          There are a couple new nuclear reactors coming online in the U.S.

          https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/06/17/the-u-s-is-powering-up-its-first-new-nuclear-reactor-in-decades/?utm_term=.ad3870f34427

  7. Sureo

    Win - Win

    Everpower will order the windmills from Amazon :

    https://www.amazon.com/WINDMILL-Generator-controller-automatic-installation/dp/B01HGJH4O2/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&qid=1478051242&sr=8-7&keywords=windmill

  8. Tom Paine Silver badge

    a canned missive which was read at Vulture Central on a computer connected to a power grid with a whopping 7 per cent of its input supplied by wind, despite this being late autumn.

    Wow, that's terrible. We'd better get building a lot more wind turbines, lickitty split.

    1. Infernoz Bronze badge
      Alert

      That's if people can find the space for, can afford the extreme cost of a vast number of wind turbines and can find enough sites with just the right amount of wind, and can afford the backup power generation for when there is not enough wind i.e. probably not!

      If people expect to rely on gas turbines for backup power, that is probably foolish, because the oil economy will apparently be thermodynamically uneconomical in 10 to 15 years, world wide, so no more gas as a bonus of drilling oil wells!!!

  9. welshie

    Batteries and renewables

    Any data centres will have battery storage, which normally is just enough to run the systems until backup generators are up to speed, or in some cases, where all data is replicated offsite, long enough to shut down or migrate processes to another site.

    Increase the size of those batteries, get the local renewables to charge those batteries. Use the batteries as a buffer, and any surplus generation (or battery state of charge greater than required for generator failover) can go straight into the data centre power, reducing the draw on the grid.

    By all means, have on-site generator backup running on some heat source or other, because the bigger the data centre, the more there is to lose if any power source goes down.

    Net result is data centre has cheaper than normal grid power, is more self-sufficient. Choice of fuels for the on-site backup generator is down to economics and local availabilty of the fuel.

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