Can Wind Power Get the Job Done?
I recently wrote with some intrigue about the Pickens Plan, which seeks to switch a big chunk of electricity generation from natural gas to wind & then use the leftover natural gas to power our cars ... freeing us of our epic addiction to oil imports.
On the surface, the plan seems like it could potentially work. Then you read a story like this one, titled "Wind won't solve energy crisis". Here are some of the issues called out:
The disadvantage of wind-generated electricity is poor reliability because the weather doesn't always cooperate. The most demanding need for energy is in the afternoons and during air-conditioned summers, but wind works best at night and during the other seasons, though intermittently. Even when the wind is blowing, it takes a 13 mph wind to power a large turbine.
I have heard of this before, of course. The primary issue seems to be around storage. There is currently no good way to store energy (in massive quantities) when the wind blows for later use. So the current fact of life is that wind energy comes when it wants to, not when the electric demand calls for it. That's definitely a non-starter.
Last year wind generators nationally produced only 30 percent as much energy in a year as they would if they ran at full tilt, every hour of the year, a measure called "capacity factor." Unlike nuclear power plants such as Wolf Creek, which achieve capacity factors of 90 percent or more, the wind operator cannot decide when the wind generator will run.
So it's 30% nationally. I wonder what that rate looks like in the wind corridor that Pickens talks about, stretching the length of the plains from Canada to Texas. It has to be higher, right?
Another problem with wind farms is their location. Where the wind is best is often hundreds of miles from cities that most need the power, so high-cost transmission lines must be built to transmit the electricity.
The author's point here is to underscore the hidden cost of wind power, which is the transmission line/grid side of the scheme. The writer obviously doesn't think wind power is the answer -- he is interested in nuclear power. Regardless of where his loyalty lies, I think he makes some good points. When he ends by saying that Gore & Pickens may be counting on wind power too much, it seems he may be right. There is a lot to this issue & it's hard to know which position is the right one. I personally have more digging to do on thsi topic.