Futile investment in wind power
Credit: Royal Academy of Sciences Energy Committee. April 22, 2012, Updated April 24, 2012. svd.se ~~
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[translation by G.L., with the help of Google Translate, of Meningslös satsning på vindkraft]
The giant multi-billion bet on wind power development in Sweden is excessive. The money should instead be used to reduce fossil fuel use in transport.
80% of the energy supply and 70% of electricity in the world comes from fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas). In recent decades, interest in renewable energy sources has increased partly due to high extraction costs of fossil fuel and partly by concern over global climate. Sweden’s electricity production is largely fossil (gas turbines in extreme weather conditions cause a few per cent fossil-generated electricity), yet the development of wind power record high. Currently about a wind turbine per day is being built in Sweden.
The problem with renewables is the low energy density. This is especially so for solar and wind power, which require relatively large land areas. Wind energy is also affected by changes in the weather. Especially during very cold periods when the demand is high but the winds are often low, so the contribution of wind power is negligible. In the autumn of 2011, for example, Germany had a period of very light winds for more than 40 days, which created serious problems.
To many, wind power appears attractively simple. You just connect a wind turbine to the power grid and presto, it is a benefit. But power is a complex process where the task is to provide electricity when needed. The need for electricity cannot be adapted to suit changes in the wind, but it must respond to user needs.
When the wind suddenly starts blows strongly it is necessary to quickly reduce the hydroelectric power because there is nowhere to use the excess energy.
A difficult problem in Germany and Denmark is that they are forced to sell surplus wind energy for less than cost, so the seller is not fully paid for electricity and can also bear the sales cost. Vice versa, if the wind is too little, or not at all, then scarce hydropower has to be used to prevent the lights going out, or the fridge and freezer going off.
All this would probably work in a natural market, but in the Swedish system where wind power provider is guaranteed income (due to electricity certificates), regardless of whether it can be used or not, does not respond to market forces. After the closure of several nuclear power plants, Germany is in a difficult and dangerous situation that is creating problems for its neighbours. Unless the correct voltage and current can be guaranteed in the network then irreversible damage may occur with complex and sensitive equipment that is common in today’s society.
The Royal Academy’s Energy Committee has produced a detailed analysis which has revealed that Sweden can handle up to about 10TW of wind power in the electricity supply system by balancing it with the available hydro-power, but that is used less efficiently and causes greater wear and tear on equipment. Expanding wind power further, both the electricity and hydro-power must be reinforced, alternatively, new gas or coal power plants must be installed or protected rivers sacrificed. Nuclear power, for its part cannot balance the wind variations but serves primarily as a steady reliable electricity supply. In countries with primarily fossil fuel generated electricity, wind contributes to reductions in CO2 emissions and so is of greater use than in Sweden.
It is unfortunate that Sweden has put itself in this situation, when it is not necessary. The need for fossil-free electricity in Sweden is covered by existing sources of energy. From an economics point of view, basically the bulk of the cost of an excessive expansion of wind power has to be a loss when it obviously is not needed. The Swedish wind power development would not have been possible without extensive “subsidies” (in the form of certificates) in the multi-billion and is mainly a benefit to foreign industry.
The total extra cost of the policy ultimately affects electricity consumers. It seriously weakens the country’s competitiveness and is also a measure of the contradictory nature of the so-called green tax changes. If this trend is allowed to continue the end result will be a surplus of electricity, with supporting subsidised electricity exports from Sweden.
That such enormous energy investments are being carried through in our country already which has a successful and fossil-free electricity system is incomprehensible. If the intention is to reduce carbon emissions, the investments worth hundreds of billions should instead be directed towards the transport sector where about 35% of the fossil emissions are occurring.
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