Doomed Planet

Wind vs Wind: There Can Be No Honest Winner

Can wind power survive wind power, I will ask? In the meantime, to more familiar territory. Reliable, cheap, base-load coal power can’t survive heavily subsidised, unreliable, intermittent wind power. It can’t compete.

The marginal cost of delivering a megawatt of wind power to the grid when the wind is blowing is very low. Coal power can’t be shut down and ramped up according to the whirling velocity of an anemometer. Hence, the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) pronounced in its latest report, released on December 10, 2021: “Coal retiring two to three times faster than anticipated.” It went on as follows:

Current announcements by thermal plant owners suggest that about 5 gigawatts (GW) of the current 23 GW of coal capacity will withdraw by 2030. However, modelling suggests that 14 GW may do so. Over the past decade, coal-fired generators have withdrawn from the market before their announced dates, and competitive and operational pressures will intensify with the ever-increasing penetration of cheap renewable generation.

Notice the reference to cheap renewalable energy. Only by smoke and mirrors can renewable energy be described as cheap. If it were cheap, it wouldn’t need to be subsidised. In fact, it’s extremely expensive. Wind power, for example, requires 100 percent back up. They call it firming. Firming? Hyperbole on stilts.

When the wind is still, as it regularly is, wind turbines produce zero power. That’s one less than one for the information of delusional fans of wind. As modern economies require base-load power every second of every day, when the wind stops something else must fill the whole of the gaping chasm. It can’t be batteries, however big, holding totally insufficient amounts of power; and it can only very seldomly and selectively be hydro.

Unless a green hydrogen miracle happens, it’s fossil fuels; to wit, natural gas, which will be required to fill the chasm. That will work, provided sufficient gas turbines and sufficient gas are on constant standby. But it will be truly expensive and will represent the first time in history that societies have chosen to make energy, the lifeblood of modern life, more costly; and by factors not percentages. Buy extra sweaters and blankets if you live in colder climes.

To return to my start, coal power can’t survive in a rigged market within which wind power is heavily patronised by government. But, can wind survive wind? That is the question. Enter profitability and environmental harm.

This caught my eye. “Australian wind projects grind to a halt in face of grid hurdles and falling prices,” claimed an article in June 2021 on the Australian site reneweconomy. It got me thinking and dusting off my forgotten economics.

When you rely on nature for energy, most costs are upfront. When the wind is blowing, the marginal cost of providing a bit more power is close to zero. If wind farms are competing, they will bid the price down in line with marginal cost. And we have the classic perverse case of marginal cost falling below average cost. To those of mathematical bent, that means losses.

The pharmaceutical industry provides an analogous example. Drugs are easy and cheap to produce once the formula is known. Pharmaceutical companies would simply go out of business if they sold their expensively developed drugs at close to the marginal cost of producing them. Patents protect them for a lengthy period, allowing them to keep prices at profitable, very profitable, levels. You can’t patent wind.

If wind farms compete, then they will go out of business. It’s as simple as that. The market must be rigged in one way or another. One way would be to ensure that one supplier monopolises output in a defined market. Another would be for suppliers to collude. A third and most likely would be for government to set a floor price or to continue to provide subsidies to keep suppliers afloat. Solar farms present the same issue. Hydro too has a low marginal cost of providing additional megawatts but the idea of hydro schemes competing with one another in the same market is academic.

I suspect governments will protect the viability of wind farms for the time being (and solar farms too). But when you add environmental problems to their financial woes, the joyful plot thickens.

Bob Brown started it. Well, maybe Prince Phillip. He didn’t like wind turbines. Called them useless monstrosities. Bob didn’t go that far. But Australia’s most prominent tree hugger didn’t want them in his playground in Robbins Island in North-West Tasmania. “We have alternatives for renewable energy. We don’t have alternatives for extinct species of birds,” he said, when coming out swinging against the planned giant new wind farm.

If you search around the world, you will find wind farm after wind farm being rejected on environmental grounds. In 2019 wind accounted for only 2.2 percent of primary energy consumed. Imagine the environmental devastation of ten times that amount?

Conservationists versus sleazy rent-seeking carpetbaggers is the future of wind. Internecine struggles to look forward to brighten the gloom of leaders forlornly falling over themselves to ward off Greta Thunberg’s wrath. They should realise that chimeric promises of net zero, clean hydrogen revolutions and wall-to-wall electric cars, blah, blah, blah, won’t do the trick. She who won’t be mollified, won’t be mollified.

Finally, if not from wind, you might ask, where the heck is Twiggy to get his power from to make oodles of clean hydrogen for the world? That’s what keeps me awake at night. Or it would if I owned Fortescue shares.

12 comments
  • DougD

    The Morrison government is in a desperate place: torn between the green lunatics demanding zero emissions NOW! and a mass population used to getting power at the flick of a switch that will go into melt-down when, from time to time”, the switch doesn’t deliver. And sleazy rent-seeking carpetbaggers on both flanks offering subsidised “solutions”. [ I’m re-reading Moore’s biography of Margaret Thatcher. Unfortunately, we will never see her like in Australia.]

  • ianl

    Apart from actual handout subsidies with tax money (such as the suburban solar panel rort), the prime method of keeping wind power as the dominant supplier is to prohibit coal/gas generators from bidding supply when the wind is actually blowing – but not simultaneously requiring wind generators to guarantee 24/7 supply.

    Nothing sneaky about that government-mandated market gazump. Right out in the open.

  • bobmbell39

    Patrick Moore ex head of Greenpeace points out very effectively in a recent talk that if we hadn’t started using fire and producing co2 we could possibly have now life left. Living plants need at least 150ppm to survive and for the last several thousand years the percentage was consistently declining. An interesting concept.

  • Michael

    “Conservationists versus sleazy rent-seeking carpetbaggers is the future of wind.” Absolutely correct.

  • Stephen

    The attached link is an extract from Vaclav Smil’s book, “Numbers Don’t Lie”.

    http://vaclavsmil.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Gasturbines.pdf

    As you know natural gas is methane. When burnt in a Gas Turbine for electricity generation you get three outputs, water, CO2 and a lot of waste heat.
    Greenhouse Growers obviously need water and they usually buy CO2 in cylinders and pump it into the greenhouse to make the veggies grow faster. They usually aim for 1,000 ppm. A law of diminishing returns applies where spending more for more CO2 is not worth the money.
    So….in a warm climates like Aus. The Gas Power station can supply the water and CO2 to collocated greenhouses to grow crops and the waste heat can be used to heat water to drive an associated steam turbine to generate extra electricity. In cold climates the waste heat can be used to heat the greenhouses.
    Reliable base load power, low, or maybe no, emissions and more food grown on less land. I have suggested this idea to a few friends have drunk the catastrophist cool aid and they all hated it. One replied with a single word, “ridiculous”. I replied, “why”. No response yet! Failure to even consider ideas like this suggest that for too many people climate activism is a religious commitment not susceptible to actual science. Wind and solar are holy sacraments of the faith and cannot be challenged.

  • rod.stuart

    Ianl
    “the prime method of keeping wind power as the dominant supplier is to prohibit coal/gas generators from bidding supply when the wind is actually blowing – but not simultaneously requiring wind generators to guarantee 24/7 supply.”
    Not a lot of people know that. It is in fact the crux of the whole thing. If ruinables had to adhere to the well-established rules of the electricity market, (as they were prior to Gillard-Rudd), there would be no ruinables left in the market. The rules were established for good reason; to allow competition among generators to enforce efficiency of operation. Without this departure, there would never have been any in the first place. It is exactly the same as operating and maintaining two personal vehicles where previously only one was necessary. One is for virtue signalling, and the other is for when you actually need to travel somewhere.
    The market design was such that each generator bids, at five-minute intervals, to generate at a specific output. Each time a generator fails to meet that obligation, a penalty is due. (except for ruinables).

  • rod.stuart

  • Daffy

    I recall, but cannot track down, a wonderful quote from George Pell on wind power, wind turbines, in fact. It was something about them being the idols of modern paganism. How rite he was (ironic misspelling intentional)

  • IainC

    ALP modelling said renewable energy capacity was projected to grow to 26GW by 2030 or “82 per cent of all NEM generation”.
    I don’t understand how this zombie myth is still sayable with a straight face. Repeat after me: “RE capacity is NOT delivered power!” Without vast and vastly expensive storage backup, this whole technology is a mirage. Without vast storage, solar farms’ capacity is zero from 1 hour before sunset to 1 hour after sunrise, and only dispatchable over the daylight hours.* Without vast storage, wind is non-dispatchable, unpredictable from day to day, and can vary from 0 to 100% capacity randomly over vast areas (often most of the eastern seaboard) and is therefore not dispatchable. Both forms of RE average 30% of capacity over a year. Yet they want to devise a stable, almost 100% RE grid within 8 years!
    Every commenter here knows all this, yet we have so-called experts still propagating technological unicorns.
    *Mike Cannon-Brookes’ Sun Cable proposal involves putting about 100 sq km of solar panels in the Simpson Desert to generate around 3GWh of DC supply, backing up the inconvenient 12-16h of non-production with, get this, around 40GWh of battery backup. He estimates the capital cost at AUD30 billion. Of course, once in operation, sunlight is free.

  • Biggles

    Peter. It is worth noting that Prof. Ian Plimer said recently that making hydrogen from water is silly in a low-rainfall country like Australia. It takes nine litres of pure water to make one litre of hydrogen. Salt water won’t cut it.

  • Biggles

    My apologies; that should have read 9 litres of water to make one kilogram of hydrogen.

  • Daffy

    Imagine if someone wanted to build a 100 sq km mine in the Simpson Desert. The left-green fanboys would go berserk.

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