Making the case for wind power  

Posted by Big Gav in

Jerome has a post at TOD Europe pointing out that wind power is a substantial and fast growing component of our energy supply - contrary to some of the myths being produced by the nuclear power lobby - Making the case for wind, again.

I must admit that I have been a bit nonplussed to see that the peak oil community seems to share the oil industry's dismissal of wind power as irrelevant and useless in the face of the currently energy challenge (maybe I am unfairly judging from a few individuals' comments, but it's definitely an existing undercurrent in the community).

So, in reaction, let me put up here a few arguments that suggest that wind could play a major role in solving our current energy woes - not a silver bullet, but rather more than a side show.

First, the "wind is too small to make a difference" argument: well, so was nuclear, until it got big enough. Wind is following the exact same growth trajectory [as shown below].

Wind power has already been a large part of energy investments for a number of years now, at least in Europe (but the rest of the world is now catching up, with the USA and China booming).

Over the past 8 years, wind has represented around 40% of new installed capacity (which, it is true, represents a smaller fraction a new production, in MWh, which is probably closer to 25%). In terms of investment amounts, wind has actually been the biggest business for the power generation manufaturers like GE or Siemens, given that a wind MW costs about double what a gas MW costs (prices per MWh are something else, given that you still need to buy the natural gas to burn to generate using a gas turbine...).

Wind will be a core instrument for the EU to fulfill its stated objectives of reducing carbon emissions and improving energy independence.

So it is simply false to say that wind is too small to matter. It is the biggest power generation industry by turnover in Europe, and it is on a fast growing trend that will quickly ensure that it becomes a significant part of the installed generation base. The industry reached the level of 100 GW ofinstalled capacity this year, as well as the threshhold of being able to produce 1 exajoule per year of useful energy. In fact, wind is reaching the stage where nuclear was when it was hit by the 1973 energy shock (which lowered demand and killed new investment) and the 1979 Three Mile Island accident (which turned the public against the industry) and is unlikely to hit the same snags. ...

Under market price setting mechanisms, wind power (which has a zero marginal cost) brings wholesale prices down when it is available, by avoiding the need for more expensive coal-fired or, more usually, gas-fired power plants that would otherwise be required to balance the system.


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