Wind critics are so desperate to be critical, they are promoting nonissues as issues. The latest such nonsense comes from the Reason Foundation with a “study” titled: “Wind power can’t cost effectively be a large grid’s main source of electricity.” The foundation thinks a nation powered 100% by wind is impractical. This is puzzling because the industry does not promote itself that way.
At this time in wind power’s development, it would be difficult to argue the Foundation’s point. There are some 30,000 utility scale wind turbines in the U.S. supplying about 2% of its electrical needs. A simple proportion would suggest that 1,500,000 turbines would be needed for 100% of the nation’s power. Turbine OEMs may cheer, but even wind proponents see the figure as implausible.
However, technical developments do not come linearly (proportionally) – they progress on an exponential curve. MIT Professor Ray Kurzweil has made the observation that the world’s information is accumulating at an exponential rate making the future difficult to predict. Most people think linearly. Fifteen years ago, who would predict the capability of modern phones? Yet, they are powerful computers, information delivery systems, with more changes coming.
A brief recap of modern wind-turbine history shows early 50 kW, fixed-blade units giving way to 100 kW, variable-speed designs, and more recently to 2 to 5 MW models. The economy of scale has brought down the cost of power to $0.05 to $0.06/kWh, according to one PPA negotiator. Technical developments in the pipeline include lighter generators that scale from 1 to 6 MW, more reliable drive trains, smarter blades, and novel towers. That just scratches the surface. Wind is variable so it will need base line backup most likely from thermal plants and more likely powered by natural gas. And even though large power-storage devices are deemed expensive, even conventional power plants could take advantage of such batteries.
By the way, wind critics toss around the word “expensive” a bit casually. Expensive is a $3 billion to $4 billion nuclear plant (discounting inevitable cost overruns) financed by federally guaranteed loans. Even a modern 300 MW, combined cycle gas-powered plant, the most efficient electricity producer, will pencil out at about $1.5 billion.
The study also mentions a model based on 3-year old data suggesting that if the customers in one ISO depended solely on wind power, it would not meet their needs 50% of the time. Wow. That means it would meet their needs 50% of the time.
Of course, the only possible conclusion the study authors could reach is that as wind’s share increases, system reliability will be adversely affected disproportionately without adequate reserve power. Interpretation: We have no ability to learn so technology’s march will halt. Wrong.
This will happen: New power will eventually come from natural gas burned in combined cycle plants with efficiencies approaching an unheard of 60%, because gas is relatively cheap now (Its cost will rise) and the plants cycle up and down more easily than others. Wind power will deliver its megawatts when available. Wind forecasts are getting good enough to predict availability up to four and five days ahead, and that lets conventional-plant operator’s plan staffing and equipment use. Despite all naysayers, the wind industry will improve. WPE
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