In the light of the recent prolonged calm anti-cyclonic conditions prevalent in this country, it will not be reassuring to the hard-pressed Irish taxpayers that the subsidies (from taxpayers’ purses) to the Irish wind energy sector are providing very little payback by way of wind-generated energy.
All the more reason why the promotion of wind energy needs to be curtailed, as it is an unsustainable energy-generating source.
Here are a number of facts to highlight the ineffectiveness of wind power. First, the windiest places are more often far away from where electricity is needed most, so the costs of building transmission lines is high.
So far many wind projects have been able to patch into existing grid interconnections. However, those opportunities are shrinking, and material expansion of wind would require big power line investments.
Secondly, the wind doesn’t blow all the time, so power utilities have found that in order to balance out the variable load from wind they have to invest in keeping fossil-fuel-burning plants on standby. When those plants are not running at full capacity they are not as efficient. Most calculations of the cost of wind power do not take into account the costs per kwh of keeping fossil plants on standby or running at reduced loads. But they should, because it is a real cost of adding clean, green, wind power to the grid.
Thirdly, wind energy is only able to replace traditional power stations to a limited extent. Their dependence on the prevailing wind conditions means that wind power has a limited load factor even when technically available.
As a result, traditional power plants with capacities equal to 90% of the installed wind power capacity must be permanently online (and burning fuel and releasing carbon dioxide) in order to guarantee power supply at all times, eg 900mw fossil online to make 1000mw wind feasible.
The cost benefit analysis of wind versus conventional power generation does not add up.
Patrick L O’Brien
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