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Bad News on Wind Power in Canada

From the National Post:
In May, the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO) announced that the province's grid could not safely accommodate more than 900 megawatts of wind-power generation, a target that will be met late next year. Proposals for 3,000 more MW of production have been thrown into indefinite limbo at an estimated cost to producers of $6-billion; meanwhile, the province is already spending $1-billion to strengthen the transmission system so that even the 900-MW cap can be reached. In Ontario, meanwhile, the grid operator warned late last month that 5,000 MW -- about one-fifth of the province's current peak consumption -- is probably the absolute technological limit. (A total of 1,280 MW of wind capacity is already in operation or being built.)

It is starting to look as though wind cannot meet more than a fraction of our energy demand even if other issues with the technology, like esthetics and wildlife impacts, are ignored. The problem, as engineers skeptical of wind power have been yelping for decades, is that power usage and production constantly have to be balanced in an electrical grid. Adding too much unstable, unpredictable power to the system creates a risk of failure and cascading blackouts. In fact, the EU is investigating the possible role of Germany's heavy wind-dependence in causing a Nov. 6 blackout that hit 10 million Europeans.
Now that last part is a surprise. Then again, the overarching problem is something California apparently shares with Canada.

JANUARY 4, 2007 UPDATE: Greetings to readers of GlobalSpec, we're glad you're here.

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Anonymous said…
One of my first jobs when I went back to grad school going on three decades ago was utility reliability simulation using a mix of intermittent sources along with more reliable baseload sources. The results? As soon as you started approaching 10% of the mix based on intermittent sources, all hell broke loose. You started seeing power flow fluctuations, difficulty in loading units and maintaining load factors, decrease in system stability and reliability, and eventual unstable feedback resulting in massive load shedding. That was 30 years ago. We evidently haven't learned our lessons. Too much dependence on intermittent sources for baseload energy is a prescription for disaster.
robert merkel said…
If I'm understanding Cosh's regurgitation of the figures correctly, wind is an even more marginal player than the power outputs he quotes.

Assuming the limit of 20% figure is referring to rated capacity, and the capacity factor of roughly 25% is also correct, and assuming the capacity factor of the balance of power plants is, say, 70%, wind would be contributing only 8% of the elctricity generated.
Ruth Sponsler said…
The analysis of windmill effectiveness by Energy Probe that is mentioned in Cosh's article is a 20-page, quite readable, .pdf file that discusses the high variability in wind production and a falloff in production during the early morning hours when people get up, put lights on, warm coffee, cook toast etc. A recommended read!

By the way, Energy Probe probably had hoped for better. They're fans of renewable energy but are unfortunately anti-nuclear.
Starvid, Sweden said…
NEI shouldn't bash windpower so much. Everyone knows that windpower can not supply more than 10-20 % of demand (not rated capacity*!), depending on the local conditions. Still since wind power is such a tiny generator at the moment, there is vast potential for expansion in 99 % of all countries. Talking about grid stability is only relevant when some fool states that we can rely _only_ on wind and other intermittent generation. Wind is a great complement to hydro or gas while nuclear can supply the constant base load.

Bash coal, the main competitor to nuclear instead (nat gas bashing is on an adequate level around here, though you could mention that North American nat gas extraction has peaked and gone into decline (but don't write about it until I have bought Exelon shares ;) )). The Australia situation is the best example of hypocrite anti-nukes who are completely bought by the fossil fuel mafia.

* Source:
Brian Mays said…
Starvid said...

"NEI shouldn't bash windpower so much. ...

"Talking about grid stability is only relevant when some fool states that we can rely _only_ on wind and other intermittent generation."

Of course your comments on grid stability are correct, but the problem is that there are so many fools out there who do state these kind of stupid things all of the time! Furthermore, many of these fools spread disinformation and lies about the nuclear industry in almost the same breath.

So I say ... bash away! Trash wind as much as you want. At least, we should hold wind to the incredibly high standards that nuclear power is held to. Until the wind industry is regulated to the point where every bird killed by a wind turbine -- or even every theoretical bird that could possibly be killed by a wind turbine -- is carefully accounted for, and until there is an army of well-funded professional activist groups, with years of experience, who are constantly following every move of the wind industry and are filing legal challenges at every wind project they can, then I'm not going to feel too sorry for windpower.

"Bash coal, the main competitor to nuclear instead ... "

Actually, I am more sympathetic to the coal industry, because they at least will provide significant power for the future. That doesn't mean that I don't want to see as many coal plants as possible replaced by nuclear plants, but the demand is huge -- even considering aggressive conservation efforts -- and both will be necessary. Nuclear cannot do it all. I only feel sorry for wind because they are such a small player in the grand scheme of things. Nevertheless, we should not overlook wind's significant shortcomings.
Starvid, Sweden said…
Of course nuclear can do it all, or at least nuclear can do everything coal can do, and do it better, cheaper, and incredibly cleaner at that.

Just look at France.
Rod Adams said…

I feel no sympathy for wind power developers; they have been providing false impressions about their technology for many years. By pushing very hard to a gullible electorate and political leadership, they have obtained huge injections of tax payer money plus mandated purchases by regulated utilities.

Their efforts have produced a less stable, more expensive, and probably dirtier power system than we should have.

The role of guilty parties includes some of the most knowledgeable companies in the world, who should have known better - I am sure that Siemens, GE, FP&L, and many others have plenty of engineers that have the formal knowledge experience described by Anonymous in the first comment.

However, those engineers and operators either were afraid to challenge their sales and marketing departments about the hot air they were pushing with regard to wind, or they recognized that building wind now would keep them fully employed later when the need for replacement power systems for wind became painfully obvious.

I am not a wind basher - it exists and can be used by humans to do work. However, its limitations should be well understood so that it is not asked to do a job for which it is poorly suited.

The wind is does a poor job as a grid connected power source since a stable grid DEMANDS many controls in order to function. Adding an uncontrollable power source like wind is like adding fossil generators without voltage and speed controls.

If you like wind power, buy a sailboat.
Brian Mays said…
Good point, at least in the long run. I was thinking more of the short term.

Even so, France doesn't do it all with nuclear -- about 1/5 of their electricity comes from other sources. But since about half of that is from hydro, I'm not going to complain too much. They're doing pretty well and are a net exporter of electricity. Compare that to the problems of the wind-heavy Germans cited in the article above.
Starvid, Sweden said…
In the short run I am not saying coal plants should be forcibly shut down. I am saying it should be illegal to build new ones.

New demand can easily be met with nuclear power, and with wind.

No, the French are not all nuclear, and neither does America need be all nuclear. A sensible generation mix could be 10 % hydro, 10 % wind, 10 % gas and 70 % nuclear.

So we better start building those 250 GW of nuclear and 150 GW (remember the capacity factor!) of wind as soon and fast as possible.

And, as I wrote above, I think the main competitor (coal) should be banned from new construction. It's better than a carbon tax as it doesn't take any money from consumers but reaches the same result.

Natural gas will price itself out of the market as North American supply has gone into terminal decline and LNG is unlikely to be available even if the unpopular terminals are built.

And a small word on those terminals. I would not like to have one of those in my back yard. Contrary to a nuclear reactor, a major failure at a LNG terminal will cause an explosion on the same magnitude as a small nuclear weapon.

No thanks.
Brian Mays said…
Starvid said...

"A sensible generation mix could be 10% hydro, 10% wind, 10% gas and 70% nuclear."

I wouldn't say that that is the only way it could be done, but yes, I'd go along with that as a sensible mix. I agree.
Anonymous said…
Perhaps the best thing to do is to convince people of a fundamental truth: windpower should not be viewed as a source of baseload capacity, but as a source of energy. As such, like many energy sources, it may be best developed in a manner that makes use of its intermittent nature to produce a product that stores the energy over a long period of time, which can then be deployed and distributed in a manner more suitable for it's end use. I am thinking of perhaps producing hydrogen, or some other energy storage medium, which can then be transported or otherwise used in a more effective manner than electrical generation, which, by and large, must be used as it is produced.

I have often thought that a very clean environment would result if we used nuclear generation for baseload capacity, and variable, intermittent sources to produce something that efficiency stores energy. If those sources cannot meet the demand for the stored energy form, use nuclear, especially breeder technology, to supplement it.
TJW said…
What about energy storage in batteries at the windfarms, which could release a more consitant flow into the grid?

(Not a power engineer, so this is wild speculation on my part.)
Anonymous said…
Perhaps a similar storage concept: pump water into a reservoir using wind, then use hydro to generate steady power. Water could be either open or closed (recirculating) cycle. If feasible to co-locate windmills with water, then mechanical pumping could be used.
It's very difficult to walk away from free energy like wind, hydro, solar, tidal, geothermal and -- yes -- nuclear. The public will never be as happy funding nuclear as the others; engineering design must take all constraints, including budget/funding, into account or the design doesn't get built and the problem doesn't get solved.
The ironic theme in this thread is that "oh, well, there's a technical problem with inconsistent wind availability" but there's no attempt at thinking of solutions (other than, of course, increasing nuclear power). Are we engineers or just nuclear advocates?
Anonymous said…
Rather than blasting anyone, I think it wise to pay attention to ways that might allow a greater contribution by solar and wind. For example, there are power storage technologies that can store many megaWatts of power and release it on the scale needed by the grid.

What if solar stored its energy during the day and released it in known quantities through the night using energy storage systems (like VBR Power)?

Wind could do the same, but as wind blows 24 hours, it could be scheduled to make its contribution as the region or locality needs it.
Anonymous said…
Next to nuclear, wind or solar, there are still other options.

Mankind produces an awful lot of organic waste. Some clever biomass processing could offer a continuous energy supply if technology is developed adequately.
Anonymous said…
It can be an engineering problem, which - of course - can be solved. But, in my opinion, it is A POLITICAL PROBLEM! Someone does not want to go further and is looking for problems and explanations for the fools!
Frank said…
I have to say this discussion is very civilized, no partisan rants.
I hear the concerns with intermittent sources like wind and I would think that if one were to group sources such as wind, hydro and boi-mass the combination could give us a dependable and controllable source. Maybe we should not be developing wind farms in isolation but in a package with a fast acting source such as hydro or gas and a storable source such as bio-mass or waste incineration. The generating facilities would not have to be co-located but they would have to be controlled as a single system.

One drawback of such a system is idle equipment when the wind doesn’t blow or when your bio-mass generator is waiting for the wind to die. This may be an inherent cost which must to be factored into the business plan.

If only we could store energy efficiently. I have heard of ‘flow through batteries' that can store MW-H's of power but they are only 75% efficient and very expensive.
Johan Goossens said…
global warming is one thing, but for civilisation less problematic (on the short run) than this .
it isn't fission (who will guard the waste for the next 10.000's of yrs ? (vast opportunities for terrorists)), coal, gas nor oil that will save us.
Fusion (always 50yrs away) or renewable energy (biomass, wind and solar) will have to do it in the long run.
Anonymous said…
I work in the energy sector researching biofuels, specifically turning waste streams into useful energy (restaurant grease to biodiesel, landfill gas for turbines, etc.) and utilizing that energy in commercial and industrial buildings for space heating, process energy, etc. Biomass, while very under-utilized at this point in time is not currently a major player in the energy sector. Ethanol offsets 3% of our gasoline demand and that is by far the most developed biomass fuel source. A lot of technical hurdles exist before we can bank on that working beyond a token presence in the world's energy portfolio.

Nuclear is not as clean as its made out to be, and I am not talking about nuclear waste. The mining of fuel (uranium), the refining of the uranium using centrifuges, and the construction of nuke plants saves about 20% of the CO2 over the life of the plant versus a clean coal plant. (portland cement emits/generates a lot of CO2 during processing from breaking up the limestone and the firing of the limestone using natural gas at nearly 2000degF)

Finally getting back to the original topic. During my undergraduate days, the electrical engineering department demonstrated a number of non-linear control techniques that were to be applied to large power systems. As I am a mechanical engineer I didn't fully understand it, but it was supposed to solve (who knows exactly to what extent) the irregular power flows of non-steady state power generating equipment, specificaly wind sources as there are a lot of wind installations in Wisconsin.

Where this research is today, I have no idea, but I think the solutions do exist, but the politicians (washington and industry) will need to change the regulations/operating methods for the power grid. During the presentation by the EE's, they indicated that you could go as high as 30% distributed non-steady energy production (not capacity). This is simulated of course!
Anonymous said…
Of course the Nuclar lobby would post that wind caused the European black out but a simple search would find otherwise;

Utility Company Behind Europe Blackout

The Associated Press
Monday, November 6, 2006; 7:21 PM

BERLIN -- A German utility confirmed it caused a weekend outage that left millions of people in several countries without power, but denied Monday that the blackout revealed a lack of investment in Europe's power grids.

E.On AG said it switched off a high-voltage transmission line over a German river on Saturday night under an aborted plan to allow a newly built Norwegian cruise ship to pass safely.




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