Thursday, October 29, 2015

Reach for the Heights to Do It Right

A picture from 2011 of a Senvion LWST from a few years ago (a 3.4 MW rated unit with a mere 104 meter rotor diameter placed on a128 meter tall tower) - It makes the high voltage/high power transmission tower look small by comparison, and that is probably at leaf 160 feet (50 meters) above the ground…. This company just came out with a 3.4 MW unit with a 140 rotor diameter x 3.4 MW unit, in theory able to tap 81% more air moving through it’s swept rotor area ( than the 104 meter model. That’s some serious cost of electricity production reduction…. However, based on similar scale ups, only 2/3 of this is likely to be realized, which is still a 54% increase in energy output for an identical wind resource.

Over the last couple of years, Low Wind Speed Turbines have now become THE dominant form of new wind turbines that are being sold, especially outside of China (but even in China they are becoming a big factor in the wind biz). Those installing turbines have done the rather simple math surrounding these - for essentially the same installation costs and cost of the turbine, a LWST versus a “medium” or a “high speed” turbine is a better bargain. For essentially the same price/cost, a LWST makes more electricity over the course of a year. This makes the cost to generate the electricity less. And if the cost of the product (electricity from those wind turbines) is more or less fixed and the cost to make it drops, well, that’s certainly better than the situation where the cost is rising and the price stays the same or the cost is constant and the price is dropping. 

For example, consider the 3.4M140 (2015) and the  3.4M104 (2011) turbines. The main difference is that the older unit has a rotor blade that is 50.5 meters long (~ 166 feet) while the new one is is 68 meters long (about 225 feet). Since the mass of these is more or less proportional to the 2.4 power of the length, the new blade weighs about twice as much as the older, smaller one (probably less, as some tricks of the trade have been learned in how to make these blades). If the labor to make these blades is roughly the same as for the smaller ones, but the mass is about twice as much, the cost to make that blade is mostly the cost of epoxy resin and fiberglass cloth. 

An estimation of the cost breakdown for a turbine can be seen in this graph (from 2012):

Using a turbine like the 3.4M104 (a bit ahead of its time in 2011), the blades constituted about 20% of the total cost. The new, seriously more humongous turbine would be more costly to make, mostly as a result of having blades weighing around 30 tons each and not 15 tons. This means that the longer bladed turbine would cost about 20% more than the smaller turbine, and that the blades are now about 33% of the cost of the turbine. But, a 20% increase in cost to get potentially an 54% increase in potential energy output. That’s not too shabby…

Another aspect of these longer blade turbines is that a lot more land deemed windy enough now exists. For example, instead of searching wide and far for the windiest spot of land, the places to search for reasonably windy lands near electrical transmission lines. A recent study by the US Dept of Energy shows the amazing increase in land area that is made viable for wind energy via LWST in combination with taller towers… The “possible” windy area jumps from 1.2 million km^2 to 2.7 million km^2 (110 meter tall towers) to 4.2 million km^2, an increase of 225% to up to 350% at a 40% gross capacity factor.

Going to a large rotor diameter almost necessitates taller towers. For example, putting a 70 meter radius blade on an 80 meter tower would mean that the blade at the low point (10 meters above the ground) in its rotation is getting very little energy to tap while at its high point (150 meters above the ground) a lot of wind pressure would push on the end of the blade. The blade would begin to wobble and set up a horrendous vibration - pushed hard at the top and hardly at all at the bottom. It would be far better to have the blade experience at least decent wind speeds for most of its rotation. With a 130 meter tower, the minimum distance to the ground would be 60 meters, while at the top it would be 200 meters (656 ft above the ground),

The wind resource at a given spot is usually evaluated at the center point of the rotor - also called the hub height. For an area with trees and/or some hills/buildings, hub height matters a great deal. This is because there is a logarithmic relationship between the height and the wind speed. For regions characterized by a surface roughness of 1 meter (very typical for NY State), here is a table relating average wind speed to hub height, as well as the cube of the ratio of wind speeds relative to speeds at an 80 and also 100 meter heights.

Hub Height Wind Speed Ratio, WS cubed

  80 meters 6.00 m/s 1.00 0.86
100 meters 6.31 m/s 1.16 1.00
120 meters 6.55 m/s 1.30 1.12
130 meters 6.66 m/s 1.37 1.18
140 meters 6.77 m/s 1.43 1.23
150 meters 6.86 m/s 1.49 1.28

Tall towers really go good with large bladed wind turbines. They also go good with local manufacture of the “extra boost” portions of these towers, because most of these are made of reinforced concrete sections that are easily transported on trucks, but due to the weight and their ease of manufacture, making these local makes sense. It turns out that steel is just too flexible - even when 1” thick - when it is in the form of a turbo with a base diameter of around 145 feet (~ 4.2 meters), which is as large as can be transported and still fit under bridges that cross over a highway. At present, the nearest concrete tower plants are in Welland, Ontario and in Quebec (to make towers for Enercon turbines), but these are easy to set up. It’s just that the US has not caught up with what has been common in Europe for more than a decade. But hey, better late than never….

BTW, at 6 m/s the likes of a LWST can put out 35% of its capacity on an average basis - see page 8 of A 6500 MW-hr/yr output is 37% of the rated capacity of a 2 MW unit (100% would be 17532 WM-hr/yr), and that's at a 6 m/s hub height wind speed. Not bad...

These days, LWST are now being used in faster wind locations, too, pushing net yields towards the 50% level and higher. As a result of more electricity made for a slightly larger investment, the costs of electricity production form these newer turbines has dropped very dramatically. After all, the bulk of the cost goes like this:

Cost = Capital Cost * Fixed Charge Factor/(Energy made per year) + O&M

Cranking out more annual energy production makes it less expensive to generate electricity.

For example, let’s say the installed capital cost for a 2 MW turbine is $5 million, and the Fixed Charge Factor is 8%/yr but the net output is 40% and the O&M cost is $10/MW-hr. The cost to make this electricity would be $67/MW-hr. But if that turbine used a taller tower to get to a 50% net output (but it cost an additional $500,000), the cost to make that electricity drops to $60/MW-hr.

In the US, most wind turbines are placed on 80 meter tall steel towers, though in some cases towers in the range of 95 to 100 meters are used. That is the limit of how large conventional steel towers can be, because taller towers require a larger base diameter, and a larger base diameter cannot be transported over roads due to the height of overpasses. Towers taller than 100 meters will have to use some other arrangement.

An easy solution is to place a conventional 80 meter tower on a “non-conventional base” - such as one made of multiple steel panels that can be bolted together, or concrete sections. For example, Vestas now has their “Large Diameter Steel Tower” (LDST) system that allows heights of 119 to 137 meter towers to be utilized. But there are a number of ways to make a usable tall tower for a wind turbine. The trick is to do it at a low cost. After all, the turbine owners are expected to make a profit, and this is still a cut-throat business when methane is being sold for less than the cost to make it.

Anyway, the really tall turbines are not needed everywhere - the usual indication is either the presence of trees or hills or both. But in much of the parts of the world where a lot of people live and where it’s not a desert - such as the eastern part of the US - that applies. It also applies when wind speeds are not that great, and especially where there is a hefty wind shear due to a rough surface (especially because of trees!). In fact, there’s the best rule of thumb - if there are trees present, tall turbines (120 meters and taller) are in order. It’s just what you do in this century, especially if you want to forestall Global Warming or at least make a valiant attempt at living without pollution sourced electricity.

So, for much of the US - here’s a map to ponder. With this, the quest as to how to power up America - at least the electricity portion - with renewable non-pollution based electricity - is done, except for some true believers for whom fax don’t mean much at all. The answer was to how to do it fastest and at the lowest cost is via wind turbines. It would take $2.5 trillion worth (maybe less) to do it, and a decade or less if we just bother to do it And for buffering/short term storage, these turbines mesh nicely with pumped and deferred hydroelectric storage. But then some people want to research this subject to death, while others just want no solution to come about (even though it has). Oh well, read it and weep. Or maybe read it and weep because our country shows no indication of bothering to choose this path - we just won’t be allowed to choose this approach of Low Wind Speed Turbines on Tall Towers.

Oh well, on to Paris 2015 for the Climate Talks, all talk and so little action….

Map from which shows the land area of the US with a 35 % gross capacity factor or better that can be tapped for LWST on 140 meter towers (lower for fast wind areas). Cool, eh?

Saturday, July 4, 2015

NY Energy Plan2015/NY Wind Energy in 2014

NY City’s only wind turbine of note, a 100 kw Northern Power Systems (a true champion in its class) installed in Brooklyn (Sunset Park, South Brooklyn Marine Terminal), owned by an Australian company, Sims Metal Management - Too bad it takes a foreigner to do what is right in this state, as no USA oligarchs in NY City have seen fit to do the right thing, despite wallowing in oceans of money that cannot find a profitable home….

This week a new NY Energy Plan got released; it has been in the works for over4 a year: Over 100,000 comments were received on this effort, but perhaps almost all of those got ignored. A quick summary - “All Hat, No Cattle”, and continued increasing reliance/dependence on/addiction to the Fracksylvania Marcellus shale fields for methane. Even though the “Plan” supposedly covers the 2015 to 2030 time period, odds are this will be obsolete long before 2020 - in other words, when gas prices start rising due to falling drilling levels and rapidly depleting “sweet spots”, this plan is worth loess than burnt toast.

And it’s been 2015 for 6 months now. This is the year that NY was supposed to have achieved 30% of its electricity production from renewables, or 25% (the 25% value was upped by another 5% around 2009). This 2015 goal was set up in 2005, which also set up NY’s pathetically bad but well intentioned Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). There were also some very aggressive energy efficiency standards/goals postulated, but performance in that area has also been underwhelming. The 25% or 30% values sound impressive, but thanks to hydropower (two major projects and hundreds of smaller ones) we were already at ~ 20% of our electricity from renewables. Anyway, what were the goals of the RPS and how did that work out?

Almost all of the renewable energy capacity installed that tapped the NY RPS as of the end of 2014 has been wind turbines, with minor amounts of hydroelectric (small and medium hydro), some landfill gas/anaerobic digesters a couple of biomass projects and some PV. In terms of delivered capacity, most new delivered renewable energy electricity has been wind, biomass, biogas and hydroelectricity. Less than 56% of target (1086 MW on a delivered basis, or MWd) has been achieved, and even that is a stretch - see In particular, for wind energy, according to NYISO, an average of 451 MW (3956 GW-hr/yr) was delivered from 1735 MW of capacity (MWc), for an average of 26% net output, which is not very good, especially since a lot of the locations where these were installed are in some of the best NY State wind sites. The American Wind Energy Association has a great summary of NY’s wind statistics here:

The subsidies offered by NYSERDA have ranged from 1.475 (2007) to 3.495 (2013) c/kw-hr; these have been for 10 years and they are in addition to the Federal PTC tax avoidance (passive income tax credit) and MACRS tax avoidance (State and Federal tax deduction) subsidies. By any standard in the US, these are pretty generous as a combined package - on a 10 year basis these (NYSERDA + PTC + MACRS) can range from 7.1 to 9.1 c/kw-hr. So what weren’t or aren’t those juicy subsidies/incentives enough to cause a giant wind energy stampede? After all, while the MACRS tax deductions and Investment Tax Credit (ITC) work whether the wind farm makes any or no electricity, both the RPS and the PTC are based on the amount of electricity made; the more electricity is made, the greater the subsidy.

The answers to the question involving the poor performance of the NY State RPS and why the really wimpy targets were not met all revolve around the “can’t make any money” to “can’t make enough money” variety from wind turbine installations. The money making aspect involves both the production of electricity as well as the price for that electricity, and whether or no they wind generator gets blocked from selling their product (called economic curtailment). While the “EC” part only amounts to around 2% of the wind energy generated, that is “pure profit avoided”, and it’s importance to profitability is quite significant, especially if profit margins are thin to begin with. One way to improve the profitability is to simply generate more electricity, and there actually there us a way to raise per turbine productivity, though it would involve additional expenditures. Another way to improve the productivity of new turbines (about 270 MW worth are supposed to be installed in the 2015 to 2016 time frame) is to actually install the turbines suited for NY winds, and to install them in a less crowded manner. When too many turbines are installed in too small an area, the overall wind farm productivity drops significantly, as some turbines “rob the wind” from nearby ones located downwind.

The early projections/expectations for the per turbine yields in NY State were based on an assessment of the hub height wind speeds where those turbines were installed - numbers north of 36% were often quoted. In 2014 the average for the state was 26.42%, or about 73% of the expected value. To get5 the same profit rate as was expected, the price of electricity (= subsidies plus NYISO price) obtained by the owners would need to be 38% over what was originally expected due to the craptacular performance of NY’s turbines. And those higher prices never happened; instead, average NYISO prices DROPPED by 40%. This means the NY’s turbine owners got a double dose of bad news. But in some ways, they sort of got what they deserved.

The “wind shadow” effect has been well documented for a long time, and all developers can easily make use of very accurate software that models the effect of wind turbine placement AND topography AND surface vegetation/presence of trees. THEY HAD TO KNOW of the wind shadow effect. But then placing the turbines across more area means more lease payments and bigger installation costs per turbine/more transmission wire per turbine and possibly more headaches signing up people. Overall, this is a “greed equation” and they opted to minimize lease payments and wiring costs. However, they paid big time with poor performance. An example is the Steelwinds farm in Lackawanna, where hub height wind speeds average 7.6 m/s and yet output averages only 30% in a good year (there are also reliability issues with Clipper wind turbines). Those turbines tend to be aligned perpendicular to the prevailing wind, but even with the amazingly directed average direction, you just can’t put turbines with so little space between them (about 2.2 rotor diameters between each tower). The same goes for the turbines in Wyoming County and especially at the Maple Ridge wind farm.

Another factor in the poor financial performance was the high installation cost. An example is poor construction timing and a failure to use rail instead of trucks to transport the heavy components to as close to the location as could be done. hauling heavy towers and nacelles by truck is very expensive - trains are at least an order of magnitude cheaper. This had profound effects in Lackawanna (timing plus transport cost).

Next, there is the tower height. NY tends to be hilly and there are trees just about everywhere, and trees drastically degrade the wind resource, especially at only 80 meters above the found. In NY there are only two wind farms with taller towers - Hardscrabble (100 meter towers, 44 meter blades) and Marble River (95 meter towers, but with ~ 56 meter long blades). Given the large “surface roughness length” of 1 meter or more for any place other than the Lackawanna coastline, going taller taps much faster winds. However, if the goal is to minimize investment while maximizing short term gain, well, that is a conflict. NY’s developers chose the “quick and dirty” route, and they paid for that mistake many times over. It turns out that existing wind farms could utilize taller towers, at least for some of the turbines at a minimal cost, but since zero investment is the order of the day, that’s all that will be done for them. Taller towers also makes for quieter turbines at least as perceived on the found (inverse square law). So going to 120 meter hub heights from 80 meters (by putting in a 40 meter concrete lower section and then putting the 80 meter steel towers on those) would tap winds on average 9% faster that gives up to 30% greater average energy output while at the same time dropping the sound intensity by 2.25 times at the tower base.

Finally, there is blade length. New wind farms tend to use Low Wind Speed Turbines - such as the Stony Creek array (Wyoming County) and Marsh Hill (Steuben County) which use 100 meter rotors for 1.6 MW nacelles. Last year the Stony Creek array produced 33% of its rated capacity, which was 27% better than the NY average in a spot with less than optimal wind speeds. 

Of course, in a more ideal world, things like concrete tower sections would be made in NY State, and used for NY wind turbines that were properly spaced apart, used tall towers and LWST design. And for offshore wind arrays in Lake Erie, nearshore locations (where they COULD BE SEEN) combined with concrete “gravity” foundations and using LWST or near LWST. Offshore units should get AT LEAST 40% net outputs and more like 45% given the 8.5 m/s wind resource that exists above Lake Erie.

However, the biggest problem that sunk the NY State RPS was the Casino pricing system for electricity in NY State (alias NYISO pricing or LBMP - Location Based Marginal Pricing). The risk of NOT being able TO KNOW what future prices will be is a killer for wind power project financing. As luck would have it (or maybe luck had nothing to do with it), electricity prices collapsed in NY State following the combination of the Great Recession price crash (June 2008) and the fraudulent “fracking for methane” epidemic that followed, where drillers on average continually sold methane for less than the cost to make it and then drilled even more in an effort to get out of the debt incurred by selling for less than the cost of production. Instead of pegging the electricity price based on the cost to make it plus a reasonable profit, wind turbine  owners in NY State have the price of their electricity at the price set by natural gas. For the last several years this methane has been priced not at what it cost to make it but whatever it could be sold for, and then generally has been less than the cost to make it from MOST wells. Using this money losing methane to make electricity makes the electricity a bargain, but it also ruins whatever profitability might exist for alternatives to methane based electricity generation. Normally what “should happen” is that methane suppliers should restrict their output until prices rise to a point where drillers/producers can make a profit, but because of the way these drilling efforts were financed, that is not possible. Drillers have to produce as much as they can as soon as they can and if they go bankrupt in the process due to the conditions of the loans/bonds that were used to get the money to drill and frack those wells… and if the drillers go bankrupt, well, the financiers take possession of the company assets and then they sell them off to someone else, who continues this same crazy business arrangement. Such a calamity was not foreseen by competitors of methane production and usage - that when a glut of methane appeared, production would not be curtailed until prices rose but instead even greater amounts of methane drilling would be pursued. The greater production rates drive the prices EVEN LOWER and until mass quantities of drillers go out of business, the insanity never stops, and as long as the bankers/hedge funds keep providing the money, well, the fun just never ends…. And added to that is the fracking for oil frenzy, as many of the oil shale wells are also prodigious methane producers (Eagle Ford, Niobara, West Texas), dumping enormous amount of methane onto the market as a by-product of oil production.

Because the electricity prices wind turbine owners get in NY State are mostly pegged to methane prices, there is little profit potential to the business. Average NYISO prices have varied between 3 to 4 c/kw-hr since 2009, and not the anticipated 5 to 7 c/kw-hr. This was partly made up with rising REC (=RPS prices) in the bids submitted - the ones in 2013/2014 were 2 c/kw-hr greater than those in 2007-2008. However, they probably need to be even higher. But this also means that NYSERDA wouldn’t make its numbers - the 1086 MWd could not be achieved for the amount of money initially allocated in the 2005 RPS effort.

In addition to that shortcoming, very few wind turbine minor component manufacturing and no major manufacturing has developed in NY State. As a result, the only jobs produced in this effort are a tiny number of maintenance technician ones and some one-time design and construction ones which disappear where the construction phase of the operation has been completed. Contrast this with Quebec (6000 jobs created) and Ontario (~ 12,000 jobs created). Without the jobs and the businesses that employ the workers, there is little incentive to have a serious wind energy policy; after all, almost all the wind turbine manufacturing jobs/business helped by the $3.4 billion worth of wind turbine installs in NY to date were located out of state or out of country. And of course, no one gets held accountable for that, either….

Of course, the “solution”to the lackluster and highly inadequate performance from the wind biz is even more hair brained - divert the money for solar PV installations. In this way, the same quantity of money as would have been spent on wind turbines will produce less than 20% of the electricity that would be made using 26% net output wind turbines, and 13% of that which could be made using 40% net output turbines. The net effect wiki be to replace LESS pollution based electricity with the $1 billion advocated for the NY Sun proposal that is to be stretched out over a decade.

While it is nice that NY State in its various entities subsidize PV (which may even involve purchasing Made in NY State PV systems via Solar City), it is a shame that the “missing” 500 MWd of electricity that was supposed to be created by the RPS will forever be missing in action. The Main Tier of the RPS will be lucky to ever get to 600 MWd even with the proposed 170 MWc of new projects:

 - Black Oak wind farm 12 MWc (Tompkins County)
 - Jericho Rise wind farm ~ 80 MWc (Franklin County)
 - Arkwright Summit wind farm ~ 80 MWc (Chautauqua County)

The two larger projects would be owned by the Portuguese monopoly EDPR, while the smaller one is planned to be owned by some members of the community, which would be quite a milestone for NY State (only 3 of the 1000+ wind turbines now installed in the state are owned by a member of/members of the community - 2 near Rochester and one near a ski hill adjacent to Massachusetts). These will be installed sometime in 2016 to 2017.

Of course, in 2016, the solar PV incentive called the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) expires (, so the solar installation plans - all thoroughly dependent unpin this passive income tax avoidance subsidy - may also go up in smoke. At a minimum the Republicans in the House and Senate will “put it up for legislative ransom (stop Obamacare implementation or Ban Abortion or go declare war on a nation with big oil reserves or else the ITC gets the axe!). The Republicans and especially the extremely extreme right wingers in the House will no longer approve ANY subsidies for wind turbines, fully prepared to see a $20 billion/yr industry go “poof” because wind turbines compete with nukes and methane from fracking. Should the PV industry be perceived as providing competition, they too will experience “The Chop”. To avoid “The Chop” they will have to essentially silence their advertising, PR and evangelical promotion efforts, which would be VERY DIFFICULT for a variety of reasons. A lot of PV advocates are of the “true believer” variety, as the subsidies provided to the PV industry are either invisible to them or now seem like a given, a birthright.. To get their subsidies extended, they will actually have to push the belief that they are invisible, and that the PV output in the US is likely to stay a small fraction of the total US demand for electricity.

The wind biz pushed the belief that wind turbines are cost effective against nukes, coal and methane, which is often true, especially if methane prices actually rise to reflect the actual real cost to produce that methane and also include a profit. Once the wind biz became viewed as a player in the electricity supply of this country (soon to be 5% by the end of 2015) and the effect of wind in displacing the consumption of 1.5 trillion cubic feet per year or more of methane became apparent, well, the proverbial gloves of the polluter based electricity biz cam off. Out came the proverbial maces, battle axes, nail protruding clubs, knives coated with poison, electroshock equipment and of course, IEDs. Its a multibillion dollar/yr business, with potential profits of over $1 trillion in a decade, and all is fair. There are only winners and losers, the living or the dead, and no prisoners are allowed. And there is only a decade or so of low cost to make methane left in the continental USA, so this should be prime profiteering time for the natural gas biz. Instead, it is mired in a gas bloat of mostly its own making (well, that and those who financed the fracking frenzy), with prices that are money losers for most in the biz, with methane prices to producers now in the $2/MBtu range. The almost last thing they need is MORE competition from the wind biz, and that problem seems to have been staunched for now with the demise of any extension of the PTC. Would the gas biz and its servants and supplicants the Republican Party allow an new entrant in anything other than a trivial mode? Not likely!. And will the solar PV true believers, many of who cannot compute what the real, unsubsidized cost per delivered mw-hr is, submit to hiding their real intentions (which, lets face it, do have a lot of merit, aside from the really high electricity production cost) of making the PV industry a real player in the US electricity supply? Also not likely.

PV vs. the Fracking Methane Suppliers Analogy:

Unstoppable force meets immovable object. Oh boy…

BTW, the average installed cost of PV in NY for the last 3.5 years is now down to $5780/kwc ( At a money cost of 6%/yr for 25 years (a loan rate virtually impossible for most people or companies to access) that gives a real cost of electricity production of 41 c/kw-hr before any other costs (insurance, property taxes, inverter replacement, etc) and any profit are added in (12.5% net PV output). As long as the money paid to the PV generation owner mostly stays local, the economics of blending in this higher cost energy are not very hurtful, and can be quite beneficial. But when the money gets shipped out of the locality, well, that’s not good. And the high capital cost is either somebody else’s wages or a business owners profit, which in turn provide the basis for the taxes that keep things civilized. But could 41 c/kw-hr PV compete with 8 bc/kw-hr wind or the current grid rate of 3 to 4 c/kw-hr - probably not. So PV needs its subsidies to maintain the illusion that it is competitive, while also employing a lot of installers. 

Oh well, interesting times….

Thursday, June 25, 2015

World Wind Day and Economic Roadkill

Picture from of some really TALL turbines somewhere in Europe on a foggy day. You can also see the very tops of some major high voltage transmission towers (pretty tall in themselves) which are dwarfed by the turbine towers. In Europe, wind turbine towers of 135 to 149 meters (up to 489 feet) in height are getting more common - ones made of at least some or all reinforced concrete. For tall towers supporting that weight of the nacelle and staying rigid so that the flexing blades don’t take a whack out of the tower just can’t happen using steel for the tower - even 1” thick steel is too elastic. But, that’s where things are heading in places where the technology can profitably develop…. which unfortunately is not in the USA to the extent many would like to believe….

Last week was World Wind Energy Day (June 15), a “holiday” sponsored by the European Wind Energy Association Now, this is a PR holiday, but it is designed to get the public aware of and talking about wind turbines, what they can do, who they can employ and what it all means. And the industry and advocates of wind energy in particularly and renewable energy in general can celebrate what has been accomplished to date and perhaps speculate on what can be done with them in the future. There has been a lot of good accomplished so far, despite some pretty fierce opposition from the nuke, coal and methane pushers who seem so immensely better politically connected that those in the wind biz. If this aspect of renewable energy is to go further, it’s also going to have to do a lot better than it has been doing in the political realm. After all, with the correct politics, some really crazy subsidies can go into effect that make the most whacked technology (like nukes) seem viable - nukes being the prime example. Or perhaps energy generation approaches with drastically different costs can be priced identical with the differences covered by subsidies so that it appears that all are equally expensive. In the short term, politics trumps economics and politics determines what makes money and what does not. And it can get messy.

So far, the world is closing in on 400 GW of wind turbine capacity, and that will represent an investment of roughly $US 700 billion. At the end of 2014 installed capacity was around 370 GW ( and last year over 51 GW (about $US 80 billion to $US 100 billion) were put up. That’s not too shabby. Imagine what could be done if most governments really tried to push this technology instead of being cheerleaders for nukes, gas and coal and generally the equivalent of brakes with respect to wind turbines…. And as some of the cumulative graphs show,  exponential growth is still going on…..

But the problem is, this rate of wind turbine deployment is TOO SLOW. And it could be done SO MUCH FASTER. There could be SO MANY MORE PEOPLE EMPLOYED in making the stuff that goes into wind turbines.  A LOT MORE CO2 pollution could be avoided, with attendent climatic and ecological consequences minimized. All that is both great for business and great for workers and communities where people live and try to make a living. And once installed, this wind based electricity causes essentially no pollution. Depending on what type and where they are installed, all of the energy expended in making and installing them is paid back in electricity generated in 4 to 16 months. And once they are generating, these turbines don’t need any cooling water nor do they make air pollution, including particulates that might cause Alzheimers ( but do cause lung and heart disease, radiation that causes cancer and weakens immunity to all kinds of ailments not to mention acid rain, heavy metal poisoning as well as the CO2 pollution that is severely messing with our planet’s climate and energy balance.

Plus, you you can install more delivered electricity for a given cost with wind turbines than any other form of renewable energy (especially now that all the good hydroelectric sites are pretty much tapped out). ESPECIALLY IN THE USA. So if you only have $3 trillion to spare to power up our country with renewable electricity, you could easily do this within a decade while putting around 5 million people to work both directly and indirectly. And NO imports are needed to do this, either, though for all practical purposes, the technology to make and install wind turbines of the correct size and wind speed to rotor diameter ratio  and tower heights is imported from Europe. It would take well over $15 trillion to do that with PV, not to mention the much larger buffering/storage issues. In general, wind turbines make SOME electricity at least 80% of the time, while PV (especially fixed orientation solar) generally makes it less than a third of the time and less than a quarter of the time in the non-desert parts of the country.

And there is room for both, as long as people understand that PV is more of a “make work” for somebody arrangement than is wind turbines. That’s because electricity made from PVs is between 5 to 10 times more costly than from wind turbines. Of course, in the US that tends to be very difficult to comprehend because of who REALLY PAYS for the installation of PV. When up to 81% of a PV system is paid by somebody else (generally those who cannot take tax deductions/tax credits - in other words, the bottom half of the income distribution) and 73% of a wind turbine installation is (eventually) paid for by somebody else, well, those tend to be some really bent incentives. For some it actually benefits those with a lot of money to have higher priced renewables because that leads to greater amounts of tax avoidance. For wind, at least there is an incentive to generate as much power as possible (the PTC is 2.3 c/kw-hr of electricity sold - no sales, no tax avoidance potential). 

Anyway, how about $2 trillion for turbines and $5 trillion for PV, with roughly $500 billion for pumped hydro electrical energy storage…? The wind turbines/pumped hydro provides job creation and affordable electricity, while the PV provide jobs but jacks up the price of electricity in a steady and predictable manner. This way, electricity is not cheap and is thus less likely to get wasted on useless and valueless things, like that wall sized TV….

Right now this country has many pressing issues, but a closely related set of them is the lack of useful and especially decent paying jobs that really is coupled to a lack of renewable energy systems manufacture and deployment. Without the real wealth creating jobs, economic demand remains pathetic and lackluster, and Federal, State as well as local governments (whose incomes are tied to the performance of the economy and especially the number of people in the middle class) get starved for revenue. In turn, investments in what makes life livable (water, sewer, transportation, schools) do not get made or only get done at a fraction of the rate that they should be done. That in turn minimizes job creation on these public improvements, also helping to minimize economic demand. This gets to be a vicious spiral - also called an economic death spiral. Less economic demand leads to fewer investments which leads to fewer jobs which results in less economic demand…. One of the consequences is a “Sea of Money” that is looking for profitable investments and which generally cannot find them, which is why interest rates for large quantities of money are essentially zero - the ZIRP = Zero Interest Rate Policy. And example of this is explained in this article -

All investments are not the same. A massive investment in energy efficiency and swapping out depleting and polluting fossil fuel usage for renewables actually avoids future price shocks (both up and down) caused when energy prices drastically gyrate (most recessions are initiated to a big extent by sharp price rises in oil, natural gas and/or electricity). Recessions then drop energy usage which crashes prices and slows production of fossil fuels until supply and demand temporarily equilibrate. But since fossil fuel prices are generally unrelated to the actual COST to produce much of this supply, it tends to be things other than the average cost to produce fossil fuels that sets off a price spike. A large investment is renewables - especially those renewables with the lowest energy production cost - provides actual competition to fossil fuels (notably natural gas and coal) and lowers the demand for them and keeps the price and especially the profitability in them low to nonexistent. Renewables also employ more people per dollar invested than does a similar investment in coal and methane production - especially if those renewable systems are actually Made in USA.

We need something like 10 million jobs ASAP in this country to restore economic demand. And we need to restore economic demand in sectors of the economy that do not consume addition fossil fuels. For example, investing in mass transit that is electrically powered (mostly suitable for urban regions) creates a lot of short term jobs (construction and manufacturing), some permanent jobs, creates a demand for electricity and allows people and things to be transported with using petroleum, which we still import to the tune of $200 billion per year. That $200 billion/yr is also probably worth at least a 4 million job net loss to this country in itself. So even if the mass transit projects only knock back imports by 2 million bbls/day, that’s still a good thing. On the other hand, building more roads so that more cars and truck can roll across them consuming even MORE petroleum or at least NOT SHRINKING PETROLEUM USAGE - that is not the definition of a good investment….

The lack of a massive renewable energy effort is a crime in many ways - environmentally, climate, politically and especially economically. In effect, it leaves millions of people in this country as economic roadkill, at best, stalemated, at worst, preying on or hoping to get lucky over a few crumbs of the economic pie that they can grab or obtain. Of course, if they wanted to be successful in a life of crime, they would do the white collar thing - banking, investment, hedge funds, money laundering and financial consulting offer so many lucrative opportunities with a minimal probability of getting caught - the “too big to fail is also too big to jail” con is now a major sector of the US economy. And few of these criminal fraud schemes will produce investments in renewables - most of them actually make sure that long term mild yielding investments in renewables never occur. Or the returns to crime are just so much faster/bigger than those from renewables that renewable investments barely happen at all, and not in the quantity needed, either. It5’s the renewables version of Gresham’s Law ( - bad money drives out good money. A corollary is that bad investments (fraud/money laundering, real estate scamming, petroleum, coal, government insured nukes, suburbia) crowd good ones.

So, despite all the marvelous technological improvements in renewables, we need to stop placing faith in the idea they can undercut pollution based energy on price. Fossil fuels are what we run the military on, and what we go to war over (does anyone go to war over prime wind resource sites, or deserts for solar energy? Did not think so…). Nukes are where the vital part of mass produced atomic weaponry comes from. Prices can be set via crooked means too easily, especially in ways that favor those already rich from and continuing to get rich from pollution based fuel usage. If this generation wants to stop being economic roadkill, it’s going to have to get political about where jobs get created and what is considered valuable to do. As a society, we cannot survive without energy - maybe we can get by with less, but not “none”, at least for the vast majority of people. And the beauty of renewables in general and wind energy in particular is that job creation, wealth creation and energy production all come together at a price that can be afforded. And we don’t even need to go to war to steal somebody else’s energy, either. But that’s a different sort of “roadkill”….., and about as original as Wile Coyote’s sole goal in life, which was to catch that infernal Roadrunner. And how did that work out? Over and over and over again..... Anyone for a new oil and/or natural gas based war....?


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