Some points about wind turbines

The more one looks into wind turbines and domestic solar power, the more they look like scams organised at the expense of the public.

They do nothing to combat global warming, but play a major part in reducing people who can’t afford to buy into the subsidy racket to fuel poverty.

Here’s a primer:

*Wind power may cost ten, fifty, a hundred times more than they say – nobody knows. This is because they are paid for what they produce, not what they deliver. For much of the time, they deliver only a small percentage of what they’re paid for, and for a large part of the time they deliver nothing at all.

A conventional power station is paid only for what the customer uses. But a wind turbine owner is paid for what is generated – the meter is at the foot of the tower. When they say that “x amount of electricity is generated from renewable sources in order to meet European targets” they don’t tell you that much of it disappears into thin air.

*The commonly repeated formula, that a wind turbine or farm has an “installed capacity of such-and-such, enough to power so many thousand homes” is so misleading as to be almost fraudulent. During 2011, wind turbines operated at about 20 percent of “installed capacity”. Even then, that 20 percent is what was metered at the turbine and paid for, not what reached people’s homes.

*Distance is the enemy of electrical generation, especially at low levels. If you have solar panels on your roof, by the time it has travelled around half a mile from your house it will be unfit for use, according to the government’s Quality and Continuity Regulations 2002. 50 kW wind turbines are stronger, but losses are high and isolation negates any advantage Cornwall might have in terms of higher wind speeds. The 32 kV sub-grid in Cornwall is particularly inadequate and was designed to deliver electricity, not take it in. Solar roof panels may have value in urban environments where there are a lot of houses close by who can use some of the power, but in rural areas they are a particularly expensive failure.

*The lower the voltage, the greater the proportion of electricity that is lost in transmission. The thinner the cable, the greater the resistance and the higher the losses. Feeding electricity back into the Grid was described to me by an engineer at National Grid as “putting two hose nozzles against each other – only one is your little garden hose, the other is a high-pressure pipeline.”

*Electricity cannot be stored, except in tiny amounts. The National Grid does not store any power, it only makes it available for instant use. If it is not used, it dissipates. If generation stopped, the Grid would be dead within three hundredths of a second. Therefore when wind power is produced at four-o-clock in the morning and there’s nobody in the vicinity to use it, it is all completely wasted. But it’s paid for at the point of production, at extraordinarily generous tariffs.

*The money that pays for this comes from a government-mandated ‘green tariff’ on power bills, estimated now to total 19 percent of our bills. Electricity bills are notoriously opaque even before ‘green’ loadings are added, but looking at what’s being spent on wind, the figure seems approximately right.

*No turbines are made in Britain, so currency must be exported to pay for them. So far an estimated £25 billion has gone abroad to pay for turbines and associated equipment, transport and work, at huge detriment to our balance of payments.

*Just because a wind turbine is turning doesn’t mean it is generating electricity. In fact, it may be consuming more power than it produces. Some draw power from the Grid  to turn in low or no wind in order to reduce strain on the bearings, which can be high with some rotors weighing 30 tonnes. Some have powerful electric yaw motors to keep them pointing into the wind. In Denmark, which has the greatest number of wind turbines in Europe (and the highest electricity costs) there are regularly days when the entire turbine fleet consumes more electricity than it produces.

*Turbines start generating meaningful amounts of power when the wind reaches 8 to 10 mph, and reach their peak at around 20 mph. Thereafter, they use various mechanisms to ‘spill’ the wind to avoid overloading the turbine and making it unsafe.

*’Embodied energy’ is the amount of electricity it takes to create a turbine and put it in position. The turbine industry’s claim that embodied energy is paid back in “three to six months” is as trustworthy as its claims on “installed capacity”. Every tower contains hundreds of tonnes of steel, which must be won, smelted and rolled, transported, fabricated, married to its generating components and erected on-site. Melting steel is hugely energy-intensive – even if you compare it to what turbines produce, rather than to what they deliver to make new steel panels, it’s obvious that embodied energy is grossly understated. There are credible claims that some turbines never produce the energy that goes into them.

The turbine industry says that while embodied energy costs can be high, they are small compared to the embodied energy in nuclear power stations. This ignores the fact that when you build wind turbines, you also have to build nuclear, coal or gas-fired power stations to back them up. For example, on December 7th 2010, a particularly cold day, the draw on the National Grid was 60 gigawatts but because it was not windy, wind turbines produced virtually none of this – it came from nuclear, coal and gas-fired power stations. The biggest power companies estimate that no matter how many wind turbines we put up, we will not be able to reduce conventional generating capacity by more than four percent. You can either build wind turbines and nuclear power stations, or nuclear power stations.

*Wind turbine manufacture causes serious pollution problems. Neodymium, a rare earth metal used in wind turbine generating magnets, is an appalling pollutant which is creating vast toxic lakes in China and Inner Mongolia. A large turbine contains more than a tonne of neodymium.

*Hard-core environmentalists are reluctant to admit that as a large-scale renewable energy source, wind turbines are a blind alley. But the billions that are going into the pockets of turbine builders and owners are lost to research and development of genuinely sustainable renewable energy programmes. In Cornwall it would be better spent on insulation grants for the poor, tidal energy research, and in particular geothermal energy.

Too many people are making too much money out of wind turbine subsidies for the situation to change soon. Politicians are happy to spend money which they can claim is not tax, but which they order to be excised through your electricity bill. And European renewable energy generation targets can be met, however pointless and useless they are.

*On an associated issue, while Britain closes old factories because they can not meet pollution targets, those lost jobs and the destroyed manufacturing capacity are exported to factories whose pollution record is even worse. While we despoil our countryside chasing chimerae, China and India between them are building three new coal-fired power plants every week.