Seen Any Conventional Electric Generating Plants Retired Lately?

One would think with the thousands of wind towers that have been erected in the Great Plains and elsewhere the last few years and all of the solar installations, we would be seeing conventional power plants decommissioned with all that new electricity, right?

Not a single U.S. power plant has been replaced by all of the recent wind and solar construction due to excess alternative energy. Because the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t always shine, the plants are needed for backup with their generators still spinning (“spinning reserve” as it is called in the industry). 

There has been a fair amount of news pertaining to the end of the U.S. government’s subsidy for wind power expiring the end of the month.  

Turns out we are not the only nation losing its enthusiasm for “alternative energy.”

In the words of the German Association of Physicists, “solar energy cannot replace any additional power plants.” On short, overcast winter days, Germany’s 1.1 million solar-power systems can generate no electricity at all. The country is then forced to import considerable amounts of electricity from nuclear power plants in France and the Czech Republic.

Indeed, despite the massive investment, solar power accounts for only about 0.3 percent of Germany’s total energy. This is one of the key reasons why Germans now pay the second-highest price for electricity in the developed world (exceeded only by Denmark, which aims to be the “world wind-energy champion”). Germans pay three times more than their American counterparts.

So, Germany is ending its subsidies. As environmentalist Bjorn Lomborg (author of the above piece) concludes:

In the meantime, Germans have paid about $130 billion for a climate-change policy that has no impact on global warming. They have subsidized Chinese jobs and other European countries’ reliance on dirty energy sources. And they have needlessly burdened their economy. As even many German officials would probably attest, governments elsewhere cannot afford to repeat the same mistake.

It isn’t just the U.S. and Germany. Spain is phasing out its alternative energy subsidies.

I’m in favor of stripping out all the subsidies for all types of energy and allowing the best technology and energy density (high with oil, very low with wind) win.  

Three Important News Stories from Kansas

Here are four stories that I believe are worth bringing to you.

Moving the federal animal disease research lab for the Department of Homeland Security from New York to Kansas. There are pros and cons about the move as the article states. If the building is sufficiently hardened (the current building in NY is not), then I’m fine with the move. I am struck by the fact the federal government has spent between $30,000,000 and $40,000,000 on site selection alone. I don’t even know how that is possible! What a waste of our dollars. 

In 2012, Kansas will be #1 in new wind power construction. I wish I thought that was a good thing. 

The new tornado and “world’s largest hand-dug well” museum in Greensburg is coming along nicely. Unfortunately, they do not expect to have it finished by May 4, which is the fifth anniversary of the devastating F-5 tornado. Hopefully, it will be done by the Memorial Day weekend. 

And, Now: The Rest of the Story

Longtime readers of this blog may find this posting of interest.

The evening of February 2, 2011, with record cold spreading south behind the “Groundhog Day Blizzard” that affected the Midwest, I wrote this blog posting. The headline is below:

That posting set off a firestorm with the pro-wind forces who said, correctly, that earlier in the day, the wind generated significant amounts of electricity.

The problem with their responses was my posting was that it went up on the blog just before 10pm and it was written in present and future tense. The amount of wind that had been generated earlier was irrelevant to what I wrote regarding the people of Texas being warned to cut back on electricity use the night of the 2nd and on the 3rd to prevent further brownouts.

I even heard from the head of the wind power lobbying group, so, to be fair, I elevated his comments to a posting of his own. I offered to retract, as Mr. Goggin demanded, if they would release the figures that actually proved my contention that little wind power would be produced that night or the next day was actually wrong. Mr. Goggin — twice — said he would provide the figures. He never did. Case closed.
Now, case reopened. Today, an anonymous commenter told me I should retract and provided a link to the data I requested to see (nearly a year later). Turns out I was correct after all. Take a look at the graph of Texas power. I added the data in orange and red.

Total power use is green, scale at left. The wind output is the blue line, scale at right. I believe this is the genuine data because it shows peaks of approximately 6,400 megawatts earlier on the second which is what the wind advocates claimed.  However, the wind power rapidly fell off to nearly zero by the evening of the following day (orange arrow).

My post went up on the blog at the time of the red arrow. There was an uptick in wind power just after midnight, then the output rapidly fell as I contended.

Wind power did little to add to the total power available to the state of Texas late in the evening on the second and throughout the third.

Glad we could put this to rest.  

Wind Power to Replace Boeing?

As many know, Boeing made a decision to wind down its Wichita operation by the end of 2013. Boeing has been part of Wichita for 85 years and everyone here is taking it pretty hard.

As I said to one of Meteorological Musings’ commenters, I’m certain Wichita will continue to grow and prosper. However, one odd idea that has been floated is to go after wind energy companies to replace the jobs lost from Boeing.

Long-time readers of the blog know that I do not believe wind energy has a long-term future except for niche uses. Now, comes a report from Great Britain that states,

A study in the Netherlands found that turning back-up gas power stations on and off to cover spells when there is little wind actually produces more carbon than a steady supply of energy from an efficient modern gas station.
The research is cited in a new report by the Civitas think tank which warns that Britain is in danger of producing more carbon dioxide (CO2) than necessary if the grid relies too much on wind.
Wind turbines only produce energy around 30 per cent of the time. When the wind is not blowing – or even blowing too fast as in the recent storms – other sources of electricity have to be used, mostly gas and coal.

Given Wichita’s location at the geographic center of the U.S. and near the population center of the U.S., there are many companies that would be smart to locate here. We have great people and a wonderful standard of living with a low cost of living. Check us out!

My Wind Energy Fear Comes True; Part 2

Monday, I posted about my fear of abandoned wind energy towers littering the Great Plains.  More evidence the fear is justified. The story is from Wednesday:

Google Inc. has abandoned an ambitious project to make renewable energy cheaper than coal, the latest target of Chief Executive Larry Page’s moves to focus the Internet giant on fewer efforts.

If Google can’t afford it, who/what can?

My Wind Energy Fear Comes True

For years I have been saying, “once the wind energy fad is over, the Great Plains will be littered with rusting wind towers.” It is already happening.

To the many new readers of the blog: I started out as a big proponent of wind power. Unfortunately, it has not lived up to its potential. Too many maintenance and other reliability problems when combined with the fact that wind is least available when it is needed most caused me to reconsider my position.

While it may be worth continuing research into solving these problems, large scale deployment of wind power — with the current level of technology — is not justified.

Can the World Continue Feed Itself?

“Politicians,” Mr. Brabeck-Letmathe says, “do not understand that between the food market and the energy market, there is a close link.” That link is the calorie.
The energy stored in a bushel of corn can fuel a car or feed a person. And increasingly, thanks to ethanol mandates and subsidies in the U.S. and biofuel incentives in Europe, crops formerly grown for food or livestock feed are being grown for fuel. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s most recent estimate predicts that this year, for the first time, American farmers will harvest more corn for ethanol than for feed. In Europe some 50% of the rapeseed crop is going into biofuel production, according to Mr. Brabeck-Letmathe, while “world-wide about 18% of sugar is being used for biofuel today.”
In one sense, this is a remarkable achievement—five decades ago, when the global population was half what it is today, catastrophists like Paul Ehrlich were warning that the world faced mass starvation on a biblical scale. Today, with nearly seven billion mouths to feed, we produce so much food that we think nothing of burning tons of it for fuel.
Or at least we think nothing of it in the West. If the price of our breakfast cereal goes up because we’re diverting agricultural production to ethanol or biodiesel, it’s an annoyance. But if the price of corn or flour doubles or triples in the Third World, where according to Mr. Brabeck-Letmathe people “are spending 80% of [their] disposable income on food,” hundreds of millions of people go hungry. Sometimes, as in the Middle East earlier this year, they revolt.
“What we call today the Arab Spring,” Mr. Brabeck-Letmathe says over lunch at Nestle’s world headquarters, “really started as a protest against ever-increasing food prices.”

An important interview in The Wall Street Journal

Electric Car Demand is "Strong"?


The Wall Street Journal, in a story about the upcoming electric Ford Focus, says demand for electric cars is “strong.”

If that is true, why did the Chevy Volt sell just 125 cars in July?

Throughout July, a whopping 125 Chevy Volts were sold, making the seemingly low 281 units sold in February a groundbreaking month.
GM spokeswoman Michelle Bunker attributed the fallback to “supply constraints,” alleging that GM was “virtually sold out” and supply was down nationwide. But Mark Modica, associate fellow at the National Legal and Policy Center, confirmed Bunker’s assertion was false, as he wrote on
A search of site showed nearly 500 Chevy Volts listed for sale. I had originally assumed that GM dealers were advertising vehicles that were not actually available for sale, since GM has stated that there were only a “few” Volts available. I decided to call a few dealers within 75 miles of my location to determine what the true situation was. I stopped my research after finding that five of the first six dealers I called had Volts in inventory available for immediate sale. Two of the five dealers even had two each in stock. I can now safely assume that GM is, once again, not being entirely honest with its facts. The demand for the Chevy Volt is not as strong as GM would have us believe.
Modica later clarified his findings with GM’s Direct of Communications, Greg Martin, who attested that there are 116 new Chevy Volts currently available nationwide, plus demo units offered with a hefty discount.

Full story is here.

While I expect Ford’s electric Focus to be a more capable car than the Volt, the fact is that demand for all-electric vehicles is — at the moment — anything but “strong.” I believe the media frequently engages in wistful thinking when it gets into areas dealing with environmentalism.

That said, I believe there is a future for electric vehicles, especially if they are powered by new generation nuclear power. But, just like all groundbreaking technology, costs will need to come down and performance will need to improve.

Wind Power — The Tail Wags the Dog, Again

Just when you think our federal government could not be more stupid or out of touch, they propose this. It is a proposal to stop regulating the power grid at a precise 60 cycles (hertz). The money quote

“Is anyone using the grid to keep track of time?” McClelland said. “Let’s see if anyone complains if we eliminate it.”

Ever hear of electric clocks? Ever hear of clocks embedded in computers and other devices? This is lunacy.

Why would they even consider such a thing? My guess: Wind energy.

One reason wind energy is so terribly inefficient is that it does not lend itself to directly produce 60 hertz power. So, if they loosen the standards wind energy will look slightly better by comparison.  Of course, that it will screw up just about every electric device that requires any precision is of no consequence to most “greens.”

I’d be happy to be proven wrong.

Hat tip: WattsUpWithThat

The Wind Energy Disconnect

As you may know, there was a firestorm on this blog from February 2 to 4 over my assertion that wind energy was not available in significant amounts when Texas was suffering its energy crisis due to extreme cold. You may also recall that the American Wind Energy Association demanded a “retraction” which I said I would do if they were to provide the figures that said my assertion was incorrect. They never did.

In the United States, the wind energy lobby has been very successful. Not only are there tax subsidies for building wind farms, they have managed to get their (taxpayer-supported) output classified as “proprietary”so we cannot see for ourselves whether wind is available when it is needed the most. As I wrote on February 10, when record cold occurs the turbines are usually not turning. The same is often true in the hottest days of summer in many parts of the U.S.

That is not the case in Great Britain. A recent study was conducted as to whether wind energy was available during periods of peak demand in 2010. Here is the bottom line:

During each of the four highest peak demands of 2010, wind output reached just 4.72%, 5.51%, 2.59% and 2.51% of capacity, according to the analysis.

There is no reason to believe that wind energy is any more available here which is probably why the industry is so defensive.

Welcome: Readers from Germany! Please feel free to look at other blog postings while you are here.

Hat tip: Bishop Hill

Realistic Article about Wind Power

From the Wall Street Journal.

Without renewable-energy mandates, Horizon’s Mr. Alonso says, most wind farms would be built only where they are economically competitive: in the nation’s midsection. That, he says, would mean that wind “wouldn’t become a sustainable source of growth for the country.”

Here is the link (subscription may be required) or Google: wind+power+hits+a+trough.

Faster, Please

Unlimited oil from bacteria, sunlight and carbon dioxide (that’s right, good old CO2). Details here.

And, yes, we would pull the CO2 out of the atmosphere to make the oil.  Everyone wins!

Hat tip: WattsUpWithThat

I Wish This Were Not True

By Scott Adams

When I saw this in the paper today, I wanted to post it. This is not to say there will never be breakthough green technology, there will. As I have written many times, I have great hopes for solar and next-generation nuclear. Unfortunately, we aren’t as far along with either as I would like.

The Economics of Wind Power

My posting below, Broken Wind Turbines, seems to have touched a nerve. Several commenters dispute my contention that wind turbines are unreliable and uneconomic.

I have tried to get, from Texas, detailed information about wind power output. The wind power industry seems to have gotten it declared “secret.” Hardly a promising sign that it is delivering what its promoters contend. Others have found the same thing. This posting is from The Energy Collective,

Vendors, owners, financiers often claim “trade secrets”, whereas in reality they want to obfuscate wind power’s shortcomings, a too-generous subsidy deal, or other insider’s advantage. It would be much better for all involved, if there were public hearings and full disclosure regarding the economics of any project receiving government subsidies, to ensure the people’s funds receive the best return on investment.

The Collective did manage to obtain the financials on a university wind power project and several others. Here are the figures from the project at the University of Maine:

Capital Cost and Power Production
Estimated capital cost $1.5 million
Actual capital cost $2 million; an overrun of 33%
The project was financed by UM cash reserves and a $50,000 cash subsidy from the Maine Public Utilities Commission.
Estimated useful service life about 20 years.
Predicted power production 1,000,000 kWh/yr
Predicted capacity factor = 1,000,000 kWh/yr)/(600 kW x 8,760 hr/yr) = 0.190
Actual power production after 1 year 609,250 kWh
Actual capacity factor for 1 year = 609,250 kWh/yr/(600 kW x 8,760 hr/yr) = 0.116; a shortfall of 39%
Value of power produced = 609,250 kWh/yr x $0.125/ kWh = $76,156/yr; if O&M and financing costs amortized over 20 years are subtracted, this value will likely be negative. 
Actual power production after 1.5 years 920,105 kWh
Actual capacity factor for 1.5 years = (920,105 kWh/1.5 yrs)/(600 kW x 8,760 hr/yr) = 0.117

Actual capacity 11.7% — and this is when the turbine was new. There is little doubt the return on investment for this project will be negative. And, this doesn’t even include “parasitic power” which would drive the return even lower (please read the posting to understand parasitic power).

The Collective provides several other examples, please read the entire posting. After reading, I believe it is unlikely that you will find much appeal to wind power in most locations.

Interesting, they believe that wind power is economical on the Great Plains. Given the number of broken turbines I have seen in Kansas, I question that — especially since no figures were given — but I give the Collective credit for balance and open-mindedness.

As one of the commenters to my original post said,

I like the notion of wind power helping communities and farmers.

I like that notion, too. Unfortunately, we live in the real world where resources are finite and our nation is running up huge deficits. The sooner we get more natural gas and new-generation nuclear power online, the better off both we and the environment will be.

As always, comments are welcome. Please keep them on point.

Environmental Reality

U.S. environmentalists often point to Europe as an example we should follow when it comes to environmental policy. I have written several times about Europe’s rapidly diminishing enthusiasm and support for alternative energy. Here is an article from Germany’s Der Spiegel about the reality of things today:

Germany is among the world leaders when it comes to taking steps to save the environment. But many of the measures are not delivering the promised results. Biofuels have led to the clear-cutting of rainforests, plastics are being burned rather than recycled and new generation lightbulbs have led to a resurgence of mercury production…

…A single full tank of bio-ethanol uses up as much grain as an adult can eat in a whole year. In order to cover the German requirement for biofuel, an arable area of around one million hectares would be needed. That is four times the size of the south-western German state of Saarland, which would need to be fertilized, treated with pesticides and intensively farmed. Environmental groups say that across Europe, farming for biofuels would create up to 56 million tons of additional greenhouse gases — an environmental crime they say must be stopped immediately.

Does German Garbage Really Get Recycled?

…Once the rubbish is collected, the sorting continues. Special machines with infrared sensors discern six different types of plastic. But then something strange happens — more than half the yoghurt cups, plastic juice bottles and packaging foils are incinerated. That is quite legal. Under German law, only 36 percent of plastic rubbish has to be recycled.

Importing Plastic to Burn

The remainder can be sold for a profit, for example to plants that burn rubbish to produce heating or power. Such facilities are everywhere in Germany. Municipalities across the country built then in response to a ban on storing garbage in landfills. Indeed, now there are far too many of them in Germany — and there is a shortage of burnable waste.

The result is that firms are buying up as much plastic waste — which burns well due to the high quantity of oil in plastics — as they can get their hands on. Indeed, some companies have even resorted to importing plastic waste to burn — hardly a contribution to an environmental utopia.

Read the whole thing. These anti-marketplace schemes don’t work well in Germany and they will not work well in the United States. The reason the plastics get burned is because the oil content is energy dense. The reason wind turbines don’t work is because they are mechanically unreliable as is their “fuel,” the wind.

I fully support better fuel efficiency and smart environmentalism. This isn’t it.

Broken Wind Turbines

I fear that in a few years, when the reality (as opposed to the idealism) of wind turbines sets in, the Great Plains will be littered with broken down, rusting wind turbines.

This is already the reality in California as documented by my friend Anthony Watts.

Outstanding Article About Disaster Response

Photo of the Three Mile Island cooling towers taken
by me about a half hour ago.

If you read just one article about disaster response (and, as individuals and citizens, we should all know something about the subject) read this one.

Two quick excerpts:

A society’s resilience increases with its wealth. When an earthquake shook Haiti last year, an estimated 316,000 people were killed and 1.5 million left homeless. The Japanese quake was far more powerful; it was followed by a tremendous tsunami; and the affected area had a bigger population. But the death toll is expected to be closer to 10,000, and the number of people left without homes is estimated at 500,000. We don’t know what the long-term effects will be of the radiation leaks from Japan’s power plants. But no matter how bad those might get, I would be deeply surprised if they’re as damaging as the long-term effects when the Haitian quake contaminated the country’s already-fragile water supply. Last October, for example, the country saw its first cholera outbreak in decades.
Obviously, there are many differences between Japan and Haiti. One of the most important is that Japan is much richer.

and, why you cannot depend on FEMA,

Traditionally, emergency management in America was relatively decentralized. That didn’t change much after FEMA was founded in 1979, and it’s a good thing it didn’t; the agency had a well-deserved reputation for cronyism and incompetence, though its performance improved somewhat in the ’90s. After 9/11, though, it was absorbed by the gigantic new Department of Homeland Security, and the country’s emergency response system grew more centralized, militarized, and dysfunctional. The disaster researcher Kathleen Tierney—one of the scholars whose report from the Kobe quake is quoted above—wrote a withering account of the results in 2006. Traditional emergency management, she noted, takes an “all hazards” approach, in which institutions “assess their vulnerabilities, focus generically on tasks that must be performed regardless of event type, and then plan for specific contingencies, guided by risk-based assessments of what could happen.” But DHS was oriented toward more specific threats, and it had the authority to impose its obsessions. Under Homeland Security Presidential Directive 8, communities that once had assessed their own risks and vulnerabilities were “required to develop plans and programs for dealing with fifteen different scenarios, thirteen of which involve terrorism, WMD, and epidemics.” 
In other words, DHS ignored approaches that had evolved over time in state and local governments, volunteer groups, and the private sector. When it cooked up its new ideas, such as the much-mocked color-coded threat levels, “almost no one representing either academic social science or professional emergency management was at the table.” Worse still, “as we saw so vividly in Hurricane Katrina, the government’s stance is that the public in disaster-ravaged communities mainly represents a problem to be managed—by force, if necessary—and a danger to uniformed responders…
I took the photo of Three Mile Island a little while ago. I’m at the Harrisburg Airport awaiting my flight back to Wichita and the airport is nearly in the shadow of TMI. I bring this up because I have been accused of “drinking the Kool-Aid of the nuclear industry.” Not at all, but let me clarify in case my position is not clear.
I believe TMI and other U.S. nuclear plants are safe. That said, there is a bit of a Rube Goldberg aspect to them that makes them complex and expensive. I do not support building any more of those. I do — strongly — support the new generation thorium reactors. I have read quite a bit about them and I believe they offer numerous advantages.  From Wikipedia,

Thorium as a nuclear fuel

Thorium, as well as uranium and plutonium, can be used as fuel in a nuclear reactor. A thorium fuel cycle offers several potential advantages over a uranium fuel cycle including much greater abundance on Earth, superior physical and nuclear properties of the fuel, enhanced proliferationresistance, and reduced nuclear waste production. Nobel laureate Carlo Rubbia at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research), has worked on developing the use of thorium as a cheap, clean and safe alternative to uranium in reactors. Rubbia states that a tonne of thorium can produce as much energy as 200 tonnes of uranium, or 3,500,000 tonnes of coal.[14] One of the early pioneers of the technology was U.S. physicist Alvin Weinberg at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, who helped develop a working nuclear plant using liquid fuel in the 1960s…

[edit]Key benefits

According to Australian science writer Tim Dean, “thorium promises what uranium never delivered: abundant, safe and clean energy – and a way to burn up old radioactive waste.”[16] With a thorium nuclear reactor, Dean stresses a number of added benefits: there is no possibility of a meltdown, it generates power inexpensively, it does not produce weapons-grade by-products, and will burn up existing high-level waste as well as nuclear weapon stockpiles.[16] Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, of the British Telegraph daily, suggests that “Obama could kill fossil fuels overnight with a nuclear dash for thorium,” and could put “an end to our dependence on fossil fuels within three to five years.”[14]

Let me emphasize: They burn up existing nuclear waste as well as offering relatively inexpensive, abundant fuel. There are no ‘greenhouse gasses.’ 

As I indicate in the “Amen” posting below, I do not understand why the environment movement doesn’t get strongly behind this. 

Amen! Amen! Amen!

From RealClearScience:

It was only a matter of time before environmentalists would point toward Japan, say, “We told you so,” and then declare a moral victory for anti-nuclear activism.  Merely for the sake of argument, let’s pretend they are right.
Eliminating nuclear power might be a nice experiment.  But there is one big problem:  Environmentalists are trying to eliminate all the other alternatives, as well…
…All sources of energy pose some sort of risk or cost.  Risk-free, cost-free energy is a complete myth and simply does not, and will not, exist.
Groups that never propose realistic solutions are simply not worth taking seriously.  Unfortunately, this characterizes the arguments put forth by some environmentalists.  They should not be given a seat at the adults’ table until they demonstrate an ability to propose a serious solution to the most serious of problems.

Thank you to author Alex Berezow for these wise words.

Hat tip: WattsUpWithThat