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July 04, 2011

God Bless the Brits.
They show us what not to do.

Backup power needed for Wind Farms

Problems with the backup power.

(I'm not going to talk about Global Warming or whether CO2 is a problem. The Brit govt. has made up it's mind on that. I'm just looking at what the Brits have decided to do about it.)

These two stories (found via CCNet) show that the British move to massive wind power has passed beyond stupidity and is headed toward full blown insanity.

The Brits have decided to make a big push to wind power (about 20% of their electricity) in order to fight Global Warming by reducing CO2 emissions. They plan to have this in place by 2020.

Problem One. Wind Power isn't cost effective compared to fossil fuel plants. The only way wind turbines get built is if somebody (via higher electric bills) subsidizes them.

Problem Two. Wind Power isn't consistent. In the Brit winter you might have 4-5 day periods when little or no wind is blowing. The rest of the time, output will fluctuate greatly which Just Doesn't Work with a power grid. So you need backup power for your wind turbines. Each gigawatt of wind farm needs a gigawatt of backup power. This backup power needs to be able to run for extended periods (remember those 4-5 day no wind episodes) and be able to start up QUICKLY the rest of the time. Natural gas turbines are the answer.

Problem Three. Not only do you have to pay for 17 gigawatts of wind farms you also have to build and pay for 17 gigawatts of backup gas turbine plants. So beyond the already high cost of building a wind farm, there's a bonus cost of building the backups. Electricity in post 2020 Britain is gonna be real expensive.

Wow. But at least they'll have solved their part of the Global Warming problem with all those turbines. Hey, the planet is worth spending some (other people's) money, eh?

And now we get to the full blown insanity part.

About those backup gas turbines. They have the ability to quickly move from idling to full power to compensate for the erratic wind turbines. Funny thing about that "idling". The turbines emit more CO2 when they're idling than when they're at full power. They're designed to run at full power all the time. That’s the most efficient mode of operation for them. Idling is inefficient and emits more CO2. The CO2 emitted while idling wipes out any savings you could get from the wind farms!

Summing up, the Brits have committed to a plan that will give them very expensive electricity and have no effect on their CO2 emissions.

Bonus! Don't forget that the Brits have recently discovered that they have vast reserves of natural gas (shale gas). A big gas power electric plant is an inexpensive way to generate electricity. So not only will they have expensive electricity, they've chosen to ignore the option of cheaper electricity.

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