Thursday, October 22, 2015

Wind power is too expensive at any price, you fool

This morning, CityAM published a spectacularly silly article by Ben Goldsmith on energy provision in the UK (which is, as we know, looking pretty dicey right now).

Upon reading the first part of Goldsmith's piece—which dwells on the mind-bendingly high energy price that the government has signed us up to for the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant—you might find yourself nodding along in agreement. But then you will have read a little further...
It is not surprising that, instead of setting a new competitive low for nuclear generating costs, Hinkley Point has done the reverse at £92.50 MW/h.

The costs of coal and gas power are also rising. Recent Bloomberg research has shown that the price of UK coal and gas power rose by around 17 per cent to £74 MW/h in the past year, despite downward pressure from the advent of US shale gas. Now comes the surprise. Over the same period, the costs of energy from onshore wind fell from £70 MW/h to £55 MW/h–making it cheaper than gas.
Sigh.

Look, running an energy system is not an easy job: you need to be able to keep the energy in the grid at a fairly stable voltage, but demand ebbs and flows considerably—which means that you need to be able to control the supply to the grid too.

And this is where wind power fails spectacularly: not only because it is intermittent, but also because you have almost no control over the output. Even were wind power levels consistent, because the actual output is only a fraction of the theoretical installed capacity (around 29% on average), you would need to install around four times the required capacity to be certain of keeping the lights on.

All of this is made abundantly clear in a recent report by physicist and civil engineer, David Partington (and as reported by Not A Lot of People Know That.
Derek Partington, a former Chartered Engineer, has spent a lot of time in the last six years, researching the effectiveness of wind turbines. His findings are damning:
His report runs to thirteen pages, well worth a read. But some of his tables and charts tell the story.

For instance, how capacity utilisation can vary wildly from month to month.
It's well worth reading the whole thing—but, for now, I will just repeat the conclusions.
Over the period studied, January 2013 to December 2014 inclusive, wind turbine operational capacity connected to the UK Grid has increased from 5,894MW to 8,403MW. The operational capacity in January 2011 was 2,490MW; therefore there has been an increase of almost 3.4x over the four year period.
The conclusions to be drawn from the data analysis are:
  1. An increase in the operational capacity does not improve average output. In fact the average monthly capacity factor has fallen over the periods studied, dropping from 33.2% in 2011 to 28.8% in 2014.
  2. An increase in the operational capacity does not reduce the periods of low or very low output as measured by the number of hours per year when output was low (less than 10% of installed capacity) or very low (less than 5% of installed capacity). There is a variation from year to year but no pattern emerges. The mean low output over the four years was 1,617 hours/year with a standard deviation of 197 hours/year and the mean very low output was 599 hours with a standard deviation of 96 hours.
  3. An increase in the operational capacity does not reduce intermittency. If taken as a measure of intermittency, the average monthly minimum expressed as a percentage of installed capacity was 1.9% with no significant variation from year to year.
  4. Taking maximum rise and fall in output over one hour period as a further measure of intermittency, the National Grid is now having to cope with variations in output of over 1,100MW over one hour periods, with this variation increasing by about 250MW per year. This is very significant as it represents the changes in output which the Grid has to cope with and which has to be compensated by conventional fossil fuelled power stations.
  5. An increase in the operational capacity does not indicate any possibility of closing any conventional, fossil-fuel power stations as there is no correlation between variations in output from wind turbines and demand on the Grid. Often the opposite is true – when demand rises, output from wind turbines falls and vice versa. This has a significant negative effect as back-up has to be provided from conventional, fossil-fuel power stations not only to cater for increase in demand on the Grid at peak times but also to cover for any possible fall in output from the UK wind turbine fleet at the same time.
Therefore, taking the four criteria above, there is no case for a continued increase in the number of wind turbines connected to the Grid.

As stated in my previous report, it is incumbent upon the Government to ensure that the British consumer is getting value for money from industrial wind turbine installations and that they are not just paying subsidies to developers and operators (through ROCs) whilst getting nothing back in return in terms of CO2 emission reductions through the supplanting of fossil-fuelled power generation.

Based on the results of this and my previous analysis I cannot see why any policy for the continued increase in the number of wind turbines connected to the Grid can be justified.
So, to return to Mr Goldsmith's article, and his lunatic assertion that onshore wind power is "cheaper than gas"... Well, this is clearly barking insanity of the very first order: wind power does not provide stable and controllable power outputs; as such, it does not provide what we require from a power generation source and, therefore, is too expensive at any price.

So, since you would have to be an idiot not to understand all of this, one has to pose the Polly conundrum—is Goldsmith ignorant or is he stupid?

Actually, that is unfair. Because there is a third option in the conundrum, and it is this—"or is he shilling something?" And it is, of course, this last option that explains the article.

Accompanying the piece, in typical (usually decent) CityAM style, is a short biography that coyly explains that Goldsmith is "the founder of Menhaden Capital and WHEB Group". These are investment firms, of course, but what is their speciality? Well, given that Goldsmith is brother to environmentalist nut-job Zac, I think you can guess.

And you'd be right.
Ben Goldsmith, brother of Conservative MP and environmental campaigner Zac Goldsmith, is floating an investment fund backed by high-profile business figures to invest in green businesses.

Menhaden Capital will target business opportunities that specialise in saving resources such as energy and water or cutting waste.
...

Goldsmith said investment in green projects was no longer an act of faith and that there were many opportunities to make good returns from backing environmental businesses.
...

Ben Goldsmith is the founder of WHEB, an investment firm focused on energy efficiency, clean technology and sustainable development.
Can it be that "investment in green projects" is, in fact, "an act of faith". And could it be, with the government steadily rowing back from subsidising these white elephants, that Mr Ben is having trouble persuading people to invest money into his fantasyland adventures?

You might say that: I couldn't possibly comment...