May 27, 2005
Wind Power: Beyond Nantucket Sound
Well, Wired News shows a report with the incredible, unbelieveable, counter-intuitive, weirdo finding that wind power is just like, all around us, and just there for the taking.
At the risk of repeating myself: the candidate that enumerates a comprehensive, innovative wind power strategy for the Commonwealth will be much closer to getting my support. This is a big one. (Hat tip: Carpundit.)
In other wind farm news... a group of folks from the Cape just left for Denmark for a tour of the wind farms there. The Wind Farm blog's Jack Coleman is on the trip, and reporting on it for Cape Cod Today. And here's extra-special full disclosure from me: leading the trip are William and Dorte Griswold of Centerville, who happen to be my cousins, and a big reason I got interested in the issue to begin with.
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The Griswold's are goin' to Denmark in Vacation V.."Passing Wind"
Posted by: The troll | May 27, 2005 9:18:43 AM
A few comments:
1. This is at 80 meters. I didn't see it in the Wired article, but this Stanford study has been making the rounds. 80 meters is significant, because that is an approximate height for the center of a rotor on a electricity-generating windmill.
2. There's more than "good wind" that's needed for a windmill. Such additional factors include:
* proximity to high voltage wires
* proximity to electrical demand
* physical access
* foundation appropriateness
* land ownership
* local NIMBYism
* local 5-minute "spot" electricity prices
* state green-e requirements, legislation, and subsidies
* variance (predictibility) of the wind speed and direction at that location
These are just some of the other factors. It turns out that, given all of this, the location Cape Wind has sought after off the Cape is an outstanding one.
Wind power is not a silver bullet, because of its variance. However, in the Northeast it can be a very effective tool in
* improving air quality -- Cape Cod has the worst air in MA
* reducing consumption of foreign oil
* reducing radioactive emissions from coal power plants
* lowering the price of electricity to end users, since the marginal (spot rate bid) of wind energy is $0.00
* lowering demand for natural gas, thereby helping to reduce imports/lower prices for those who use natural gas for heating and cooking
Outside of New England, FL, and HI, you don't get the foreign oil savings... but you get everything else.
Wind power won't cure all energy woes, but it can do wonders to alleviate some of the problems completely and reduce others significantly.
Posted by: stomv | May 27, 2005 10:46:24 AM
Be sure to read the comments following J. Coleman's report from Denmark at CapeCodToday [link above].
Text from first comment cut and pasted here.
Re: The Wind Blows Free in Denmark
The wind may blow free in Denmark as Mr. Coleman reports, but Danish citizens are being cheated. I wonder if Mr. Johnsen would still say, “I learned to live with it,” if he really knew how much wind power was costing him personally, and how little of it he actually received in return. Hugh Sharman, director of the Danish energy consulting firm Incoteco, does a great job explaining what is really going on in Denmark in the letter pasted below, published in the Financial Times [London] on May 24.
Letter to the Editor, Financial Times, London, May 24, 2005.
by Hugh Sharman, Hals, Denmark.
“Danes Blow Away Wealth In Wind Power Exports.”
Sir, in your editorial ("Glowing green", May 16) you wrote that "Denmark, which relies on intermittent wind power for nearly 20 per cent of its power, has stability problems on its grid".
Although it is true that the wind power we have creates "stability problems", it is not true that we inhabitants of west Denmark rely on wind power at all. Whenever west Denmark produces a lot of wind power, it simultaneously exports almost equivalent quantities along its strong inter-connections with Norway, Sweden and Germany.
In other words, in spite of wind turbines producing a quantity of power equivalent to more than 20 per cent of its domestic consumption, very little of this power is actually consumed in west Denmark. I have calculated that in 2003, more than 80 per cent of wind output was exported, leaving west Denmark to consume about 4 per cent of its power from its enormous capacity of wind turbines.
There is an added irony here. The Danish consumer pays the highest tariffs for electricity in Europe. Much of these are hypothecated for the support of windmill owners. However, the wind power is sold on the spot market at rates that are much lower.
Thus there is a direct transfer of wealth from Danish consumers to consumers in Sweden, Norway and Germany, every time 1kWh of electricity is sold in this way. During 2003, this net transfer of wealth amounted to more than £100m -- or £40 per inhabitant.
Posted by: Gocapegirl | May 27, 2005 12:28:28 PM
Hey man, your putting a damper on the Griswolds' vaction.
Posted by: The troll | May 27, 2005 12:36:01 PM
That's an argument about the particular arrangement of Denmark's eco-political arrangement, not against wind power.
The tarrifs discussed have no equivalent in Cape Cod. Additionally, it is expected that all large wind farms "export" from the region, since when they are generating at full capacity, they're generating far more power than the local houses can consume.
This is no different than any other power generation. When Sandwich's plant gets shut down for maintainance, the other plants in MA, RI, and CT automatically bear some of that lost-load, and "export" electricity to Cape Cod. Likewise, when the Salem plant shuts down, the Sandwich plant "exports" power to the North Shore.
You're grasping at straws. Denmark's geographic, economic, and social policies are markedly different than those near Cape Cod.
Posted by: stomv | May 27, 2005 12:46:25 PM
Grid stability and predictability is a huge problem with wind power though. We don't have an effective means of storing power, so you have to produce exactly what you are using right now. If wind production is greater than expected, that means you have to shut other plants down, when it is lower you have to bring other plants up.
On the surface, this sounds like a good thing. However, most high effieciency power plants are designed for constant operation with only minor adjustments to their power. This means you have to use alternate means to smooth out your grid. Usually this is smaller gas turbines.
Just as you get more efficiency when driving your car at highway speeds than in stop and go city traffic, these smaller turbines are much less efficient than a large power plant. As a result, Wind Power is much less economically (and environmentally) useful than it appears at first glance.
This is probably also why Denmark exports most of their wind power. If wind power is about 5% of your grid, you can alter the other power sources enough to smooth everything out. When you get above that, it becomes far less efficient useful. By expanding their grid to Norway, Sweden, and Germany they are keeping the total at a proportionately lower amount.
Posted by: Dave Justus | May 27, 2005 2:53:55 PM
"There are none so blind as those who will not see."
Mr. Sharman's letter clearly illustrates why wind energy is an inferior source of electrical power, in Denmark and elsewhere [that would include Cape Cod].
Posted by: gocapegirl | May 27, 2005 3:01:32 PM
"However, most high effieciency power plants are designed for constant operation with only minor adjustments to their power."
That's sort-of true. Nuclear, to be sure. Coal? Well, you can vary with some success. Natural gas can be varied at just about real time.
Furthermore, there's great engineering work being done on predictive analysis and variance reduction in wind farms, thereby reducing the amount of "tweaking" the other plants would have to undergo.
So, it is a concern with wind power (and other variable sources)... but, it can be managed successfully, and nobody is arguing that the Cape (or anywhere else) should run on only wind power. The Cape Wind project wouldn't raise generation ability to be anywhere near 20% of Massachusetts, no less the Northeast energy grid.
As for gocapegirl:
Mr. Sharman's letter does not illustrate why wind energy is an inferior source of electrical power in any way. He does point out that the tax structure is problematic given that much of the electricity is sold to other countries. However, the situation in Demark is nothing like the situation in Cape Cod.
You've used this tack of not responding to an article (or poster) directly and throwing location-specific non-relevant complaints about wind power on the windfarmblog over and over again.
So, I challenge you: explain how Denmark's electrical tarriff system, exporting situation, and electrical supply structure are anything like what Cape Cod/MA/New England/the Northeast should Cape Wind's project be installed. Only then would your mumbling be at all relevant.
Posted by: stomv | May 27, 2005 3:11:16 PM
"There are none so blind as those who will not see."
Well, thanks for that, gocapegirl. Very constructive indeed. I'm surprised you didn't just stick with "nyah nyah" or "liar liar pants on fire."
The letter that you posted might be apropos if Cape Wind were going to sell the energy to, say, Bermuda. Do you know something about that that we don't?
Posted by: Charley on the MTA | May 27, 2005 3:23:04 PM
Democrants points to an interesting Globe op-ed suggesting putting a wind farm at the apparently-to-be-closed Otis Air Force Base. Thoughts?
Posted by: David | May 27, 2005 4:53:32 PM
Yes, I have a comment on the essay, ‘Relocating the Cape Wind Farm,’ by Paul Schneider. In his conclusion he wrote "...one can only wonder what James Otis of Barnstable might have thought of the prospect of the base named for him being caught up in the same political wave that gave us the Patriot Act, with its licenses to snoop in libraries and elsewhere."
Whenever a small error of fact appears in a larger statement, it throws everything into doubt. Mr. Schneider is mistaken about whom Otis Air Base was named for. See http://www.maotis.ang.af.mil/home.htm
"Otis Air National Guard Base is named for pilot, flight surgeon, and eminent Boston City Hospital surgeon, Lt. Frank "Jesse" Otis, a member of the 101st Observation Squadron who was killed on Jan. 11, 1937 when his Douglas O-46A crashed while on a cross-country training mission. In 1938, the landing field area at Camp Edwards was named Otis Field in memory of the Boston flying physician. Ten years later the base was renamed Otis Air Force Base in his honor. Until 1973, it was the largest Aerospace Defense Command base in the world and is the only base named for a doctor." [cut]
Maybe I'm being petty but I've always believed details matter. The author also said something along the lines of; "history argues for wind power." I'd disagree on this, but if wind power ever comes to Cape Cod, I'd rather see it at Otis than in the center of Nantucket Sound.
Posted by: deight2 | May 27, 2005 5:39:28 PM
It's definately worth looking in to. Clean power is clean power. I'd be curious what the expeced production (in MW) of power on Otis vs. Horseshoe is though... are we talking fewer turbines?
Additionally, the article claims "even a superficial consideration of the cost of construction and maintenance of a major installation on terra firma not far from a major highway versus one on 130 separate platforms 3 miles offshore suggests that any slight decrease in electrical output would be more than made up in savings. Furthermore, the cost in both dollars and efficiency of getting the power into the grid would be lower from Otis." That's weak. There is an answer to the question, and this is why we have engineers and finance experts in addition to journalists in this world. Just guessing that it would be cheaper is simply unacceptable. Furthermore, he's arguing that a lower fixed cost (and perhaps a lower variable cost) will make up for lower revenues. That comparison (fixed cost reduction vs. reduced revenues) can be made, but by an accountant or financier, not a journalist.
To be honest, I think that many anti-Cape Wind activists will use Otis as a means to stall, delay, and add cost (requiring another feasibility study, permits, etc) to the project, hoping it will just go away. Personally, I'd fully support projects at both sites.
Posted by: stomv | May 27, 2005 6:43:41 PM
Stomy repeatedly insists that the experience of other places, such as Denmark, is irrelevant because the Cape is a different place. The issue is integrating an unpredictably variable into the grid, which must maintain a constant balance of supply and demand. Reports from around the world -- Denmark, Germany, Japan, Ireland -- say that is is a serious problem. Cape Wind is in the same technological boat. It's simple denial to say that everything's different here.
It should also be pointed out that only 2.3% of our oil use is for generating electricity nationally, so please drop that the claim that wind power will reduce our dependence on "foreign" oil.
There is also no evidence that it will reduce the cost of electricity. Wind power is economically attractive to developers because of tax breaks and artificial ROC markets, but they remain expensive for the public, and building them requires building more power lines, too -- if anything, our bills will go up.
Finally, that map does not take into account the upper limit for wind turbines, which can't be built in really windy places. (The typically shut themselves down when the wind gets to 55-60 mph.) So that's another limitation to the amount of usable wind.
Posted by: Rucio | May 28, 2005 9:58:23 AM
I've added some more info on my blog, which David was kind enough to reference. While it partly links back to the quality discussion here, I've added a link to an article in today's Globe that Otis is not a viable alternative, perhaps a supplement. In addition, an editorial from one of the opposition groups from last Monday's Cape Cod Times questions the assumptions made by the Army Corps of Engineers as to the economic and environmental benefit. To that end, if you find that the benefit has been overstated, you have to ask yourself- who wins if this project is built?
Posted by: Steven Leibowitz | May 28, 2005 1:11:55 PM
Another note about that map: Wind turbines can't be built at very high elevations, either. The upper limit is considered to be 3500 feet.
Posted by: Rucio | May 29, 2005 1:10:51 PM
You said, "Reports from around the world -- Denmark, Germany, Japan, Ireland -- say that [variability into the grid] is a serious problem."
Please give us some links to reliable sources. Thanks.
Posted by: Charley on the MTA | May 30, 2005 9:37:37 AM
Here is a reliable source, explaining the current situation in Japan.
Utilities put cap on wind power
The Asahi Shimbun
TAKAMATSU-Just when it looked like smooth sailing for wind power generation, electric power companies, its main buyers, have placed limits on their purchases, citing the unreliability of the clean energy.
The wind power industry, in more ways than one, has become a victim of its own success.
A surge in wind power supply has raised concerns among regional utilities that a greater dependence on natural forces may destabilize their power grids.
Wind power has been tipped as a key alternative energy source to greenhouse-gas emitting fossil fuel, and initiatives by local governments have led to its introduction around the country.
But with little demand left to fill at electric utilities and little chance of finding other buyers, many projects are likely to be stalled.
[I've snipped the rest of the article out of space and copyright considerations. Of course it should be read in its entirety, but at the site itself. -- Charley on the MTA]
Posted by: Neil G. | May 30, 2005 12:34:58 PM
Neil has provided a report of the situation in Japan. For Germany, see Eon Netz's, which operates a grid with 6,250 MW of wind capacity on it, Wind Report 2004. Also in Germany, the government energy agency (Dena) issued a report in February, concluding that the theoretical emissions benefits from wind power could much more easily and cheaply achieved (and without having to build yet more plant, which is the odd "solution" of wind power). I don't know if it is available in English -- the government suppressed it until it Der Spiegel leaked it -- but it was reported widely in U.K. papers, e.g., The Guardian.
In Ireland, the National Grid came to the same conclusion in a February 2004 study (172-KB PDF), also noting the costs of wind's variability on other plants and that with more wind plant even any small benefit would actually decrease.
Denmark's experience has been described by David White in The Utilities Journal ("Danish Wind: Too Good To Be True?," July 2004) and by Vic Mason in papers available here and here, as well as by Hugh Sharman in the letter reproduced by Gocapegirl above.
Posted by: Rucio | May 30, 2005 2:08:12 PM
I'm reading through many of these sources now, including the E.ON Netz report.
Thanks to everyone for advancing the debate beyond the "pretty view vs. clean power" axis; I know how I feel about that one. The grid issue is a little trickier, and I'm interested in learning more about that.
[Editing my own comment...]
Stomv, you say: "Furthermore, there's great engineering work being done on predictive analysis and variance reduction in wind farms, thereby reducing the amount of "tweaking" the other plants would have to undergo." I'd love to hear more: can you post some links?
Rocio, you say "It should also be pointed out that only 2.3% of our oil use is for generating electricity nationally, so please drop that the claim that wind power will reduce our dependence on "foreign" oil." Well, it seems to me that anything that uses domestic energy over any amount of foreign oil would definitely "reduce our dependence". No one is saying that Cape Wind is going to make us energy-independent all by its lonesome. stomv's statement is accurate, and I think, made in perfectly good faith.
As far as your critiques of the map ... I don't think anyone's suggesting that we build wind farms in all of the "hotspots", so arguing that some are not actually all useful seems a marginal point.
Again, I am more interested in the issues of stability and capacity and the grid at this point. I will echo stomv in saying that we're a long, long way off from seeing the kinds of challenges that Germany is experiencing, because they've been a heck of a lot more ambitious than we've been.
Steve, as for Ms. Parker's Op-Ed: it seems to me that she's displaying the same tendency to cherry-pick her comparisons that she accuses Cape Wind and the Army Corps of Engineers of doing. Sure, it depends on what kind of power generation you're contemplating replacing, but I'd love to hear more about the "mostly [my emphasis] highly efficient gas-fired, combined-cycle plants with state-of-the-art emissions control" that's she claims has been added lately. While Salem may be cleaning up its act somewhat (at great cost to consumers, by the way), I'm not so sure that the fossil-fuel techno-fix is forthcoming. Again, I'm happy to see evidence.
Posted by: Charley on the MTA | May 30, 2005 5:35:00 PM
I would suggest that the boundaries of a fairly short op-ed piece only lends itself to cherry picking, to make your best case. Please keep in mind that much of the Army Corps report is based on the experts, consultants, etc, paid for by Cape Wind. The Cape Cod Commission, in opposing the project, also criticized the report as "based either on an incomplete or flawed analysis".
Posted by: Steven Leibowitz | May 31, 2005 8:52:27 AM
Sustainable Development Commission in the UK which is the official gov't advisory body on environmental and energy policies came out with a report in May of this year that debunks the "wind is bad for the grid" arguements seen posted here by wind energy opponents. Here is a relevent section:
3.5 Capacity and flexibility of
The need for reserves
It is commonly assumed that adding significant
wind power capacity to the electricity system
will lead to a large expansion in the need for
balancing services, particularly reserves. This is
due to an implicit assumption that the
intermittent output of wind power results in the
need for large amounts of reserves devoted
entirely to providing standby power for wind
output – this is often referred to as ‘backup
plant’. Therefore, if the average output of wind
plant is 35% of its rated output (its capacity
factor), the remaining 65% must be provided as
reserve, or backup capacity.
This reasoning is seriously flawed, for three key
• No generating plant is 100% reliable.
Therefore, reserves are required to cover for
unexpected outages on all plants.
• The rated capacity of the total installed wind
plant is of minor interest to system operators,
who make supply security assessments based
on estimates of overall statistical probabilities
for the complete generating mix. This leads to
the concept of ‘capacity values’, described
• Wind power is often described as
‘intermittent’, which implies a high level
uncertainty as to its actual output, but it can
be quite accurately forecast in the appropriate
timeframes for balancing electricity supply. A
more precise term might be ‘variable’,
especially when considering aggregate output,
which benefits from the wide distribution of
wind turbines across the country.
Instead, system operators assign all generating
plant a ‘capacity value’ (often called ‘capacity
credit’), which refers to the ability of that plant
to contribute firm capacity to the overall system.
High availability plant such as combined cycle
gas turbine (CCGT) can have a capacity value of
up to 90%, meaning 10 GW of gas plant would
be treated as providing the system with 9 GW of
firm capacity – the remaining 1 GW allows for
outages, both scheduled and unscheduled.
Existing nuclear plant in the UK has recently
shown lower capacity values of 75%, due to a
number of problems at individual plants.
No plant has a capacity value of 100%, because
there will always be some statistical probability
that it will not be available when required.
When determining reserve requirements, system
operators make an assessment of the needs of
the system as a statistical whole rather than
considering the needs of each individual plant.
This leads to a treatment of wind output that is
different than if it were the only generating
Capacity value of wind
Due to the variability of wind power, its capacity
value is more limited, as it will not be possible
to displace conventional generation capacity on
a ‘megawatt for megawatt’ basis. The capacity
value decreases as more wind is installed on the
system; at low penetrations it has been put at
roughly equal to the capacity factor for wind
(30-35%), but at higher penetrations the value
decreases. This is because with low penetrations
wind output is hardly noticed on the system, but
when this increases, the variability of wind
becomes more noticeable and its ability to
provide firm capacity is reduced. National Grid
Company have stated that 8,000 MW of wind
capacity would displace 3,000 MW of
conventional plant, with 25,000 MW displacing
the need for 5,000 MW. This means that wind
power has a capacity value of around 35% at
penetrations of around 6%, declining to around
20% at penetrations of 20%. These figures,
along with other corroborating evidence, were
accepted by the House of Lords Science &
Technology Select Committee in their 2004
report into renewable energy22.
It is worth noting that the capacity value of
wind is higher in the winter than in the
summer, in line with seasonal changes in the
capacity factor. This means there is a correlation
between the capacity value and times of peak
Lower capacity values have been reported in
other countries. For example, a recent report by
E.on Netz, one of Germany’s network operators,
with 44% of that country’s wind capacity, quotes
an average yearly capacity factor of just over
15%23. However the UK’s greater resource
means that capacity factors and the associated
capacity values tend to be higher than most
other European countries and comparisons can
therefore be difficult. In addition, the integrated
nature of the GB electricity grid, differing trading
rules (eg. gate closure times), and its wide
geographical distribution, separates it from
some of the other problems faced in Germany.
Wind forecasting and distribution
Wind conditions may not be that easy to predict
over the course of days or weeks, but
forecasting for the next few hours has become
quite accurate. Figure 9 illustrates this by
showing a typical 1-hour wind forecast against
actual output for one wind farm over a period of
a week. The total output of all wind capacity
will be less variable, as it will be made up of a
large number of wind farms spread throughout
the country. It therefore follows that greater
geographic diversity in wind farm locations is
beneficial to the combined output profile of
The GB electricity supply market operates with a
one hour ‘gate closure’, meaning that contracts
to supply electricity have to be agreed one hour
in advance. By this time the system operator
and other market participants will have a good
idea of the likely contribution of wind power
within the overall system, and other plant will
be scheduled accordingly. Any shortfall in
predicted wind output will then be met by the
routine use of balancing services.
The accuracy of wind forecasting will continue to
improve as more sites are developed and
forecasting models are refined.
Accommodating wind power
It should now be clear that accommodating
significant amounts of wind capacity on the
electricity system is not likely to pose any major
operational challenges, and this view has been
confirmed by the GB system operator, National
Grid Company. It is also the conclusion of a
comprehensive report on this issue
commissioned by the Carbon Trust and DTI25. At
higher wind penetrations, the capacity value of
wind is indeed reduced, and this does lead to
additional balancing requirements. However, this
represents a cost rather than a barrier, as
additional reserve requirements will lead to an
increase in systems costs – this is explained
further in Chapter 4.
On an operational level, wind power has one
distinct advantage when compared to large
centralised plant. Faults at conventional plant
can cause a large instantaneous loss of supply
that must be dealt with using a full range of
balancing services. In contrast, combined wind
output does not drop from the system in the
same way, even under extreme weather
conditions (too much, or no wind). Variations in
wind output are smoother, making it easier for
the system operator to manage changes in
supply as they appear within the overall system.
There is often some confusion between the
additional reserve capacity needed for wind and
the ‘plant margin’ – the extra capacity that any
electricity system needs, over and above the
likely peak demand. It is sometimes implied
that an extra plant margin is needed to provide
the additional reserve capacity to cover for
wind, but this is also misleading. Analysis of the
effect of integrating 20% wind output shows
that although the apparent plant margin is
higher, this is simply because the capacity factor
of wind plant is lower. In reality, some
conventional plant will have been displaced
(because of the capacity value of wind),
meaning the higher plant margin consists solely
of wind plant, because of its lower capacity
factor. The additional reserve capacity required
to integrate wind energy will therefore be
provided by the remaining thermal plant. This
issue is explained in more detail in Annex B.
Future reserve options
As already stated, the additional reserve
requirements related to the variability of wind
could be provided by increasing the use of
storage and more emphasis on demand
management. These are further explained below:
• Demand management: There is scope for a
considerable expansion in demand management
services, with the possibility of domestic and
commercial appliances such as refrigerators
being able (with the appropriate technology
installed in them) to respond to a drop in
frequency by temporarily switching themselves
off, without damaging the food inside.
• Storage: In the longer term there is the
possibility of much greater use of storage,
although at present this is seen as an
expensive solution. The UK already has several
pumped storage plants, but future storage
solutions could rely on developing new largescale
‘battery’ technologies, or compressed air
These options may become more attractive as
the percentage of intermittent renewables on
the national grid increases and as technologies
improve. A large increase in electricity prices
would also provide a big incentive, particularly
for storage. They both offer low or lower-carbon
alternatives to increased use of reserves (which,
as shown below, may come from inefficient
plant), although in reality all available options
will be utilised to some degree.
Posted by: ccfellow | Jun 1, 2005 8:51:59 PM
Would you mind providing a link so that I can excerpt your comment? It's a bit lengthy for this forum, I think. Of course all should read it in its entirety, but at its own site. Thanks.
Posted by: Charley on the MTA | Jun 1, 2005 11:15:47 PM
Seems the key passage here, that would relate to Cape Wind’s plan, is this one;
“...with low penetrations wind output is hardly noticed on the system."
Posted by: deight3 | Jun 2, 2005 8:43:43 AM
Sorry, I agree it made for a very long post. I cut and pasted that text out of their PDF report, the link to the report is:
Posted by: ccfellow | Jun 2, 2005 3:37:05 PM
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