Is It Time to Put Wind Energy on Ice?

By Gordon Tomb

Even before ice-covered wind turbines contributed to massive power failures in a Texas cold snap this month, the viability of air-driven machines as reliable and economical generators of electricity was in question. Moreover, suspect at best is the claim that this technology is environmentally preferable to conventional energy sources.

Wind turbines are unlikely to be economically viable without government subsidies anytime soon, if ever, according to a recent report by PPHB Energy Investment Banking.

Referencing a study by Dr. Gordon Hughes, a professor of economics at the University of Edinburgh, PPHB says, “(Wind turbine) performance is impacted by major breakdowns that deprive power generation until the turbine is repaired. There is also deterioration of output due to blade erosion and other factors that reduce the aerodynamic or mechanical performance of the turbines.”

Major breakdowns can be expected in the first eight years of operation in about 80 percent of offshore machines and 20 percent of their onshore counterparts, the report says. However, more significant is performance decline through age-related wear that reduces within 16 years of operation the output of offshore turbines to 50 percent of their peak performance and that of onshore machines to 63 percent.

Quoting Dr. Hughes, the report says, “(W)hen capital costs, economic life and the cost of capital are combined, the overall capital element of the cost of wind generation per (megawatt) of capacity rose substantially during the decade from 2000 to 2010 for both onshore and offshore wind. 

“The trend has, at best, flattened out for onshore wind since 2010 with the effect of a large fall in the cost of capital offset by a reduction in economic life and an increase in average capital costs.  For offshore wind, the overall capital element of the cost of wind generation per (megawatt) of capacity increased by at least 20 percent from 2009 to 2019.”

PPHB suggests the operational life of a wind turbine may be closer to 16 years than the 25-30 years often advertised by supporters of the technology. This compares to nuclear and fossil-fueled plants that can operate for 50 years or more and whose capacity factors can be more than double the 35 percent expected of windmills. (The capacity factor of a machine that runs without interruption is 100 percent.)

Wind turbines — like solar panels and electric vehicles — are regularly promoted as saviors of the planet from carbon dioxide-induced global warming.

The first fact to note is that higher levels of carbon dioxide and higher temperatures are beneficial to plants and animals, making the claims of climate alarmists a manufactured crisis. Earth has gotten greener from increased carbon dioxide, and people are more likely to die from cold than warmth.

A second is that so-called green energy technologies are themselves energy intensive in their manufacture. Building wind turbines and solar panels to generate electricity, as well as batteries to fuel electric vehicles, requires, on average, more than 10 times the quantity of materials, compared with building machines using hydrocarbons to deliver the same amount of energy to society, according to Mark Mills of the Manhattan Institute.

During their operating life, wind turbines are well known for killing birds and creating eyesores that draw the ire of nature lovers and neighbors.

Decommissioned turbines pose a significant environmental impact as well. “If current International Energy Agency forecasts are met, there will be over 3 million tons per year of unrecyclable plastic turbine blades by 2050,” Mills reports.

Because wind turbines are so inefficient compared to conventional sources, their footprint — taking into account the complete life cycle —is estimated to be 70 acres per megawatt produced compared to about 12 acres for coal, nuclear and gas plants.

Of course, it is the inefficiencies of windmills that make their electricity expensive for consumers who use the power and a drain on taxpayers who pay for subsidies.

With the bleak economics and environmental record of wind turbines — along with their apparent incompatibility to extreme cold events — perhaps it is time for these machines, whose origins are rooted in the 8th or 9th centuries of the Old World, to be put, well, on ice.

Gordon Tomb is a Senior Advisor for the CO2 Coalition, a non-profit scientific organization that promotes information and science that informs the public about the important contribution made by carbon dioxide to our lives and the economy. 

This article appeared on the RealClear Energy website at https://www.realclearenergy.org/articles/2021/02/28/is_it_time_to_put_wind_energy_on_ice_685730.html


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