May 15, 2018
Michigan, Opinions

Wind power increases dependence on fossil fuel power plants

By Martin Barillas | Spero Forum | May 15, 2018 |

The advocates of alternative energy often cite wind turbines as a means of reducing dependency on fossil fuels and nuclear energy. However, a new study has shown that wind power has not delivered the level of fossil fuel independence predicted in the European Union. Appearing in the academic journal Energy Policy, the study looked at data from 1990 to 2014. It found that installing more wind turbines has merely preserved dependence on fossil fuels because intermittent renewable sources (as opposed to hydro, which is far more dependable) means the energy infrastructure must maintain, and sometimes increase, the number of fossil-fuel power plants generating power when there is insufficient or too much wind.

The study found that increasing the number of power plants (whether wind or fossil-fuel) has also increased the idled power plant capacity, thus making the entire energy system less efficient and costly. This comes when wind turbines are idle because of insufficient wind speed or when fossil fuel plants are idle because the wind is blowing.

Some power companies in the U.S. appear undeterred by scientific data about the efficacy of wind turbines.  In Michigan’s lower peninsula, in the area directly north of Detroit known as the “Thumb,” Consumers Energy recently built another 19 wind turbines in Tuscola County. More are to come and add to the more than 100 wind turbines already in the area. The Cross Winds Energy Park, slated for completion in 2019 with a $345 million CMS Energy Corp. investment, will establish a total of 81 turbines providing electric power for 60,000 residents. Approximately 150 jobs were created by the project, which is garnering increasing opposition from local voters who object to the noise generated by the wind turbines. 

The conclusion of the study states:

“In short, the results indicate that the European Union’s domestic electricity production systems have preserved fossil fuel generation, and include several economic inefficiencies and inefficiencies in resource allocation. On the one hand, as renewable energy sources (RES) deployment increases, the idle capacity of RES increases by the same amount. This generates idle capacity and electricity production systems have to maintain or increase the installed capacity of fossil fuels in order to back up the RES, thus generating installed overcapacity in fossil fuels too. On the other hand, both the electrification of the residential, industrial and services sectors and consumption peaks also require fossil fuels, because RES are unable to satisfy them without resorting to fossil fuels.”

“In fact, RES cannot satisfy electricity consumption without resorting to fossil fuel electricity generation. This has hindered the shift from fossil fuels to RES, and has cancelled out the advantage of the shift to electrification, because of the need to burn fossil fuels”

The paper is titled: “Have fossil fuels been substituted by renewables? An empirical assessment for 10 European countries.” António Cardoso Marques, José Alberto Fuinhas, Diogo André Pereira of the University of Beira Interior and NECE-UBI Management and Economics Department in Portugal are the authors.

The abstract of the study states:

“The electricity mix worldwide has become diversified mainly by exploiting endogenous and green resources. This trend has been spurred on so as to reduce both carbon dioxide emissions and external energy dependency. One would expect the larger penetration of renewable energies to provoke a substitution effect of fossil fuels by renewable sources, in the electricity generation mix. However, this effect is far from evident in the literature.

“This paper thus contributes to clarifying whether the effect exists and, if so, the characteristics of the effect by source. Three approaches, generation, capacity and demand, were analysed jointly to accomplish the main aim of this study. An autoregressive distributed lag model was estimated using the Driscoll and Kraay estimator with fixed effects, to analyse ten European countries in a time-span from 1990 until 2014. The paper provides evidence for the substitution effect in solar PV and hydropower, but not in wind power sources. Indeed, the generation approach highlights the necessity for flexible and controllable electricity production from natural gas and hydropower to back up renewable sources. Moreover, the results prove that peaks of electricity have been an obstacle to the accommodation of intermittent renewable sources.”

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