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February 26, 2007

Wind power wimpy? NOT

Category: Wind power – Dan – 10:07 pm

Critics use a variety of ways to discredit the potential contribution of wind power. Consider this text on the front page of www.wind_watch.org:

“As people start to examine whether such impact is justified, they find that the promoters of big wind are unable to show even minimal benefit. Despite decades of experience and substantial installations in Denmark, Germany, and Spain, the giant turbines have not been shown to reduce the use of other fuels — such as coal and nuclear, let alone gasoline and heating oil — or thus to reduce carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming or pollutants that cause acid rain and health problems such as asthma.”

Wow. Sounds depressing. How then, can Denmark product 18%[1] of their electricity with wind and Spain over 6%[2]?

The fact is wind power has come a long ways. A single wind generator can exceed 2 MW, and a wind farm with 300 windmills can match the output of a typical coal-fired generating facility.

Wind power is variable, and critics will argue this is a reason that wind can never be significant. Yet there are several factors that mitigate this issue:

  • While one windmill may be quite variable, a wind farm will average out the variations.
  • While the power output from one wind farm will rise and fall with the available wind, multiple farms in multiple locations balance this variation to some extent.
  • Wind isn’t the sole source of energy. When other sources such as biomass, hydropower, and natural gas are added to the mix, a modern power grid can efficiently utilize power from wind sources.

Wind power today is the fastest growing source of renewable energy. Why? In the words of Javier Garcia Breva (recent director general of the Spanish Institute for Energy Diversification and Saving, a part of the Spanish government):

“…at the first analysis, the renewable energy plan has focused on increasing energy independence in Spain.” with a second goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions in line with the goals of the European Union.[2]

Cost is also a driver. Wind power is already competitive in many locations at about 4 cents per kWh and are expected to drop to under 3 cents per kWh by 2030.[3]

But what about the viewscapes that will be destroyed? What about the birds that will be killed? These will be topics for a later post!

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