Doomed Planet

The Great Wind Delusion

One of the most common delusions propagated under the umbrella of the climate caper, as Garth Paltridge calls it, is the idea that sun and the wind can replace coal to generate sufficient electricity at the right times. The brutal reality is that the intermittent providers will experience “choke points” when the sun isn’t shining and the wind  scarcely blowing. Obviously, the sun is off duty every night, and the records available on the Australian Energy Marketing Operator website show that the wind across SE Australia dies several times a month.

The chart shows how much of the installed or “plated capacity” of the wind fleet is coming through from hour to hour. How many times a year do we want the lights to go out?

The choke point was not an issue when we had reserves of conventional power but this is no longer the case after several coal-fired power stations closed, most recently Hazelwood in Victoria. AEMO warned that when demand peaked in high summer we would be “running on the rims” with no spare.  We almost squeaked through in the summer of 2018-19 until, in January, some coal-fired capacity went off line in NSW and parts of Melbourne blacked out.

The Victoria’s energy minister blamed “old and unreliable” coal stations that will soon be replaced by wind and solar factories across the nation. Of course equipment can fail, which is why we need spare capacity. The blackouts didn’t demonstrate that coal power is obsolete; rather, it showed  it is indispensable — most obviously at the choke points when wind and solar fail to deliver.

The great expectation for renewable energy is that the peaks and troughs of supply will be evened out by batteries and pumped hydro to store power when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing (but not too hard!). Brutal reality bites again: the Chief Scientist of Australia repeated a warning from Bill Gates and everyone who understands the difference between storing data and storing power. Moore’s law in computing states that storage capacity will double every couple of years, but that is not happening with battery storage of power for very good scientific and technological reasons.

The fabled Elon Musk battery in South Australia cost $60 million, it is connected to one wind farm and will maintain a flow of power from that facility for some 20 minutes in the absence of wind. That translates into enough power to sustain the entire state for a pitiful three or four minutes. So forget about batteries as a serious answer to the choke point problem.

Meanwhile, massive and incredible claims for the capacity of wind power keep coming. In October 2019 the renewables industry boasted that solar and wind power had beaten the output from brown coal over the September quarter. Glossed over was the background information that, for much of that time, two generators were down and brown coal output fell to 3.1 gigawatts. In January this year and with all hands on deck, brown coal could deliver up to 4.7 gigawatts. Since September, in the windiest quarter of the year, South Australia — the “wind power state” — has imported lots of coal power.

Installed capacity is indeed expanding, but the critical number is the lowest point – the choke point- that kills the grid.  As the lowest point of oxygen supply kills a drowning or choking victim, it is not the average amount of electricity calculated over a lifetime but the specific points of greatest shortfall.

Another way to demonstrate the limitation of wind power is to see what it contributes at the evening peak of demand when dinner is cooking and air conditioners are turned on at home after work. The following numbers indicate the per centage of demand that wind contributed at 6.30pm during the month of January 2020:

 6, 5.5, 6, 12, 12.5, 8, 6, 8, 9, 10, 8.5, 5, 6, 10, 14, not recorded, 8, 12, 10, 3.2, 8, 8, 7, 6, 6, 5, 6, 3, 1.7, 5.5. 

The wind only managed double figures seven times in that month at the peak of demand. Contemplate the number of wind turbines and the thousands of kilometres of new transmission lines required to lift those numbers to the 65 per cent coming from reliable coal at present.  All the periods below 10 per cent would call for at least a six to sevenfold increase in installed wind capacity, but still with no guarantee of service availability because the wind can fall away at any time.

In the worst-case scenarios, at the very lowest level of wind, the wind farms’ contribution is effectively zero, regardless of the installed capacity.

What will happen when the Liddell coal-fired power station closes, as planned in three years time? Calculate the amount of installed wind capacity required to replace 1.8 gigawatts when the fleet of windmills is operating at 10 per cent capacity. The number is 18 gigawatts and that is more than twice the current capacity of the wind system! The fleet may double but the lights will still go out when the wind falls below the 10 per cent level.

This all means that there is no way in the foreseeable future that wind power can replace coal.  Any further loss of coal-fired capacity will be catastrophic unless some other cost-effective and reliable substitute can be found before 2023.  Gas is a possibility, but will the Greens let us extract it?

15 thoughts on “The Great Wind Delusion

  • Peter Smith says:

    In a way, and a valuable one, Rafe is putting into numbers what we all know from our commonsense – the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine yet cities don’t sleep; and certainly not at times convenient to the elements. Batteries might be good enough to even out power perturbations but they soon run out if asked to carry most of the load for any length of time. As I said we know all this. But only if we have commonsense. Unfortunately, commonsense is no longer endemic. It has become particularly rare among goverments, public servants, academics and the media and completely absent among greenies and assorted climate alarmists. And then there are the carpetbaggers who live off the spoils.

  • Tony Tea says:

    That’s glass half empty talk. On five occasions, and very nearly eight, EIGHT, wind energy was running at 50%.

  • Biggles says:

    “Any further loss of coal-fired capacity will be catastrophic unless some other cost-effective and reliable substitute can be found before 2023. Gas is a possibility, but will the Greens let us extract it?”
    What a gutless lot we Australians have become, to allow Green ratbags like Adam Bandt dictate to us what we can and cannot have. We senior Australians will suffer, but not nearly as much as will our children and grandchildren because of the mindless belief that burning coal releases CO2 which will cause the Earth’s temperature to rise to a catastrophic level. As I have remarked before, the Sun is headed into a minimum energy state which is expected to last until 2045. Forget about not being able to turn the lights on; widespread fatal starvation is mankind’s greatest threat over the next 25 years.

  • Rafe Champion says:

    Tony Tea. Of course there are high points and most of the time it is above 10%. None of this matters as long as we have enough conventional power to keep the lights on. The problem is the low points if we lose Liddell and any more coal capacity to that the wind supply matters. And when it matters the lowest point will kill the grid or at last black out substantial parts of it. And there are lower points in other months. January was just a sample. December was much worse.

    Have a look at the AEMO dispatch summary. South Australia, the wind leader, has been importing coal fired power all day today.

  • Andrew Campbell says:

    However, there is hope. Imagine the inner city without 24 hour electricity – traffic and street lights out; business lights off; no petrol; no trains and no soy-half-strength-latte-with-Columbian-beans. They’ll feel it first … crime and chaos and more …

  • Rafe Champion says:

    And look at the feeble contribution that wind is making in SA to their rather small generation that is still not enough to meet their very modest demand, given the de-industrialization of the state largely due to the almost world record price of power.

  • Rafe Champion says:

    Adding a bit more to the story because this is something I check every day. At 6.30 this evening the wind was contributing 1GW to the total demand of 25GW. That is 4% of the total and 15% of the plated wind capacity. At the time the sun tipped in another 1.4GW so RE contributed almost 10% of the demand. Not long after the sun set and it was all up to wind for the RE team. In the early afternoon wind was down to 7% of plated capacity.

  • Rafe Champion says:

    And there is more, the start of a series on the SA situation, a spinoff from the
    Windwatch series.

  • Jim Simpson says:

    Working from the consumer back, frankly I don’t care where my electricity comes from. Nor I
    suspect, do most consumers. All we want is reliable, affordable & available energy 24h/day from
    a number of competitors to choose from.

    Let industry decide which mix of technology bests suits their individual Business Plans (we
    should be technology neutral) based upon a simple, clearly defined Energy Policy. Not hard.
    In the absence of empirical evidence proving the case against CO2 (it’s just an unproven UN
    IPCC hypothesis based upon speculative computer models) Australia should;
    1. Withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord.
    2. Terminate all Federal subsidies. No favourites! A level playing field.
    3. Introduce 100% Quality of Service (QOS) standard for all energy suppliers (force majeure
    accepted – eg earthquakes, floods & bushfires, but NOTthe lack of normal resources eg
    coal, gas, wind or sunshine) to ensure reliability of supply for an essential service.
    4. Clearly define & impose substantial financial penalties upon energy suppliers who fail to
    meet prescribed minimum QOS (Quality of Service) standards ie; Perform, or Perish!
    5. Revisit wholesale pricing to ensure common (fair) to all energy suppliers.
    6. Remove the ban on nuclear to enable industry to make their own decisions as to the
    merits, or otherwise, of using nuclear technology.
    7. Repeal the Governments Direct-Action Plan & related Safeguard Mechanism legislation
    that’s indirectly driving up Australia’s energy costs.
    If these policies are unattractive to the power generation industry, tough… just re-nationalise it.

    Adopt these policies & Australia would not need the plethora of Govt bureaucracies that burden
    the industry. Just one (the AEMO or the ECA?), to ensure QOS standards are met, an adequate
    ROI is provided & substantial penalties applied for any failure to perform.

    Australia would then have a future (as we once did) as a world-class, low cost energy
    producer. Essential if we’re to compete globally.

    And there would not be any adverse impact upon the world’s climate!

  • Mike O'Ceirin says:

    Rafe you are too kind let us take pitting Bayswater power station against all of wind on the eastern seaboard yes that’s right the whole lot. On average they produced more energy into thousand and 19 than the single coal station Bayswater did but not much. Bayswater produces about 50 GW hours per day. All wind just a bit more. But that is an average which is I think the point of the chokepoint as your saying. So how did wind do on individuals days?

    27/07/2019 12
    20/06/2019 12
    19/06/2019 12
    15/06/2019 13
    16/06/2019 14
    22/05/2019 14
    13/08/2019 15
    06/05/2019 15
    17/02/2019 16
    25/09/2019 16
    09/03/2019 16
    01/04/2019 17
    those are gigawatt hours. Wind varies year for year and 2015 was a particularly bad year when wind went to zero in fact it was drawing energy from the grid more than it was producing. And when I say wind I am not writing about an individual wind power station I am writing about the lot.

  • Rafe Champion says:

    +Yes it has to be explained that it is not the high points that count, or the total for the year, or the average for the year, it is the low points that kill the grid and that has been obscured by the fact that we still have almost enough reliable power almost all the time. That will not be the case when we lose one more decent sized coal fired power station.

  • DG says:

    Average production per plate capacity is what we are talking about. And sometimes, no matter how many sky prickers you have, they will be stationary: either too much or too little wind. These periods can last for hours during which power comes from the spinning reserve. Maybe hydro can fill in, maybe we could cover the entirety of SA with batteries, but there will still be gaps, and at vast cost to the taxpayer. With wind, you have to buy more generation than you need because you never get what is promised! And all for a sham. You cannot run a modern industrial economy on an 18th-century farmyard approach. Of course, that’s the underlying objective of the ultra-green who are behind this cultural distortion: no industry. And this was the base impetus against nuclear power in the 1970s. 19th century luddite romanticism gone ferral.

  • Tony Tea says:

    Rafe, I was being sarcastic.

  • Rafe Champion says:

    Thanks Tony! To tell the truth I didn’t expect a troll to turn up here but you never know…

  • talldad says:

    Peter Smith – 10th March 2020

    In a way, and a valuable one, Rafe is putting into numbers what we all know from our commonsense – the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine yet cities don’t sleep;

    And the problem of “choke points” is that mankind cannot do a damn thing about it! If the wind stops and the sun is around the other side of the planet, there is simply NO way to “switch on” any energy production.

    Whereas with coal, gas, oil or nuclear power stations operating, when demand exceeds supply there is some human action possible – switch on another turbine (if available).

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