Why Can’t We Get All Our Electricity from Wind?

Wind energy advocates often point out that a State, the U.S., or the entire world has enough wind energy to supply all of its electricity needs many times over. Writing in Scientific American, for example, Mark Jacobson and Mark Delucchi note that the world in 2030 is projected to consume 16.9 trillion watts (terawatts, or TW) of power, with about 2.8 TW consumed in the U.S. Total wind flows worldwide generate about 1,700 TW, and accessible wind resources total an estimated 40-85 TW.

Based on such math, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) argues, for instance, that Arizona has enough wind to meet 40% of its electricity needs, Michigan wind resources could meet 160% of the State’s electricity needs, and wind in Oklahoma could provide nearly 31 times the State’s electricity needs. Yet despite ratepayer subsidies, special tax breaks, and renewable energy mandates and goals in 37 States, wind supplied 2.2% of total U.S. electric generation in 2010. Why don’t we get lots more of our electricity from this ’free,’ ‘non-polluting’ ‘renewable’ source?

The chief impediments are wind energy’s inherent drawbacks. First, wind energy is intermittent — at any given time the wind may blow too hard or too soft or not blow at all. Second, wind is non-dispatchable. When Shakespeare’s Owen Glendower boasted, “I can call spirits from the vasty deep,” Henry Hotspur replied: “Why, so can I, or so can any man; but will they come when you do call for them?” Like Glendower’s spirits, the winds answer to no man. The wind is not ours to ’dispatch’ as electricity demand rises or falls.

There are three main ways of compensating for wind’s intermittency and non-dispatchability — pumped storage (pump water uphill when there’s too much wind relative to demand; let it run downhill and drive turbines when there’s too little wind), natural gas backup generation, and wind dumping (idle the turbines when demand is low). Incorporating those techniques to keep supply in balance with demand adds to the cost of wind electricity, which is typically more costly than coal- and gas-generated electricity even without storage and backup.

What’s more, according to a new Reason Foundation/Independence Institute report, the storage, backup, and idling costs become prohibitive as wind’s share of total generation increases beyond 10-20%.

Read more at GlobalWarming.org. By Marlo Lewis.

 

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Comments

  1. Last month Obummer was in Iowa and said that the wind generators here where producing seven times more power in a year than Hover Dam was. So according to him the wind mills are a great success.

  2. Harold Clark says:

    Yes! and if we could contain all the hot air and lies of the government in Washington,D.C. we could supply all the world with electricity also.
    cty.

  3. Yes, we could also use only wind for all seagoing vessels is you are willing to wait on mother nature to decide your departure and arrival dates. Of course if we could harness all of the Hot Air from the wannabe experts and politicians that propose all of our electricity from wind, then we would never have a lack of wind resources.

  4. Michael Goggin says:

    If you read the Reason Foundation's report, it actually says that wind energy can provide a large share of our electricity (at least 50%) and that wind's benefits are roughly as large as expected (9% reductions in pollution when we get 10% of our electricity from wind, 18% reductions at 20% wind, and 54% reductions at 50% wind). That's even after the report uses a seriously flawed methodology that overstates the challenges of integrating wind onto the grid and understates wind's benefits. For more, read the explanation here: http://www.awea.org/blog/index.cfm?customel_dataP

    Michael Goggin,
    American Wind Energy Association

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