There have been some interesting recent discussions about the overall effect of introducing large amounts of weather dependent wind energy into a complex power grid supplied by more controllable forms of power generation. The conversations have been building on research conducted over several years as countries and states gain experience in integrating ever larger quantities of wind into their power grids. The research has not been widely discussed, partially because the organizations that should be interested in determining how well their investments are performing are not terribly interested in sharing that information with the world.
The conversation, however, should enter the mainstream. Robert Bryce, author of Power Hungry: The Myths of “Green” Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future has been introducing more people to the results of studies questioning the measured effects of increasing quantities of wind generation on fuel consumption and emissions.
On August 23, 2010, he published a column in the Wall Street Journal titled Wind Power Won’t Cool Down the Planet that pointed to results from a study conducted by Bentek Energy of the actual emissions effects of wind power in Colorado and Texas. In the form reported by Mr. Bryce, the results left some room for criticism, partially because Bryce weakened the strength of his argument by using pounds as a unit to produce a big number in one sentence and then using tons as a unit to provide a smaller number in the next sentence.
Bentek found that thanks to the cycling of Colorado’s coal-fired plants in 2009, at least 94,000 more pounds (Aside: 47 tons End Aside.) of carbon dioxide were generated because of the repeated cycling. In Texas, Bentek estimated that the cycling of power plants due to increased use of wind energy resulted in a slight savings of carbon dioxide (about 600 tons) in 2008 and a slight increase (of about 1,000 tons) in 2009.
Unfortunately, mixing units left open a line of attack against the credibility of the study. Another line of attack that has been used against Bryce’s work is that the study he quoted was funded by the Independent Petroleum Association of the Mountain States. Bryce, though often a free lance writer, also has some funding ties to the fossil fuel industry. In the energy world, it is difficult to find a knowledgeable source of information that does not have some kind of ties to one energy source or another, so my advice to “follow the money” usually means recognizing the potential for bias as you evaluate positions and information.
Michael Goggin, Manager of Transmission Policy for American Wind Energy Association (a wind industry lobbying group), took aim at Bryce’s article using all of those lines of attack in a post titled Mythbusting Fact: Yes, Wind Does Reduce Emissions and in a related fact sheet titled The Facts about Wind Energy’s Emissions Savings. Michael uses some loaded words as he casts aspersions on Bryce’s motives with the following statement:
We want to share with you a bit about the latest attack on renewable energy which has been on Fox and in the Wall Street Journal this week. Robert Bryce of the Manhattan Institute, an ExxonMobil and Koch family funded advocacy group has been on discussing his book which, in turn is based on a recent Colorado report paid for by the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States (IPAMS).
The words chosen in that statement are full of special meaning to the choir often associated with renewable energy projects. As Goggin frames it, the primary news outlets interested in pursuing the story are Fox News, often associated with the political right, and the corporate oriented Wall Street Journal.
Goggin also links Bryce to both ExxonMobil (which has a frequently reinforced reputation within the devoted renewable energy fan club for funding climate skeptics and spilling a lot of oil in Alaska) and the Koch family, a not-so-well-known group of wealthy oil men who are the subject of a recent lengthy article in the New Yorker titled Covert Operations; The billionaire brothers who are waging a war against Obama. It is quite evident that the aim of the AWEA’s communication arm is to paint Bryce’s questioning attitude and reported results as simply an effort of the “dirty” fossil fuel energy industry and its media friends from the right.
I crossed paths with this back and forth between different views of the value of wind turbine investments when an Atomic Insights reader sent me a link to a specific analysis of the impact of replacing coal with a combination of wind and natural gas in Ontario, Canada.
According to that detailed analysis, written by Donald Jones, a man who has earned the right to put the designation of “P.Eng.” (professional engineer) behind his name, replacing existing coal stations in Ontario with a wind/gas combination has been an expensive bust if the goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Donald is very careful not to make sweeping statements about wind in general; he limits his analysis to the specific conditions applicable to the Ontario power grid where the electricity supply in 2009 had the following composition: nuclear – 55.2%, hydro 25.5%, gas 10.3%, coal 6.6% and wind 1.6%.
The challenge that wind is giving the Independent System Operator in Ontario is that they have to vary the output of the few controllable generators that they have on the system in order to keep a stable 60 hz frequency on the grid. More often than not, wind displaces already emission free hydro, but in the case where coal or gas fired output is varied to accommodate wind, the stop and start operation reduces fuel economy enough to eliminate any fuel or emissions reductions.
Aside: Though AWEA’s Goggin denies that this fact of life occurs when operating real equipment, most people who drive automobiles will recognize that their fuel economy varies substantially depending on whether they are driving long and steady highway miles or stop and start city miles. A smaller portion of the population might even recognize that city mileage can drop even more if you have a heavy foot on the accelerator and have to break sharply when the light turns red. Wind generation can have a similar pattern on certain blustery days, requiring other generators to do the stopping and starting to keep the grid output matched with demand. End Aside.
The AWEA is apparently monitoring mentions about its technology in social media. Even though Donald Jones’s post was specifically focused on the Ontario grid, with its already low emissions levels due to a majority of hydro and nuclear generation, AWEA’s Michael Goggin discovered the conversation responding to Donald’s post and posted the following comment:
Actually, all of the studies and data that were not paid for by the fossil fuel industry show that the emissions benefits of adding wind energy to the grid are even larger than the amount that is directly offset. We’ve summarized the results of these government-funded studies and data here:
American Wind Energy Association
That comment intrigued me enough to go and read the linked document and do some additional research. (By the way, I admire the way that
the AWEA is using modern techniques to keep up with the public perception of its product. They are almost as good at that important function as David Bradish, Mark Flanagan and their friends at the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI).) Here is the comment that I added to Donald’s post on Wind Concerns Ontario.
This thread has provided some interesting food for thought. Though the initial post was clearly focused on a particular wind development effort in Ontario, and describes the effect of adding a wind and gas combination to that grid, the AWEA jumped in with a link focusing on some carefully selected analysis in Colorado and Texas that blamed questions about wind’s CO2 reduction on the fossil fuel industry.
I suspect that target was chosen because the fossil fuel industry tends to be a good “boogeyman” in public discussions about energy, with wind and solar trying to claim white knight status.
The relationship, however, between wind and the fossil fuel industry includes a large number of different players who have different agendas. In Ontario, there is a choice being made to eliminate coal and attempt to replace it with a wind and gas combination. Interested players – like Energy Probe – are certainly not anti fossil fuel, they are pro natural gas and anti-coal.
The current CEO of the AWEA, Denise Bode, has a deep, lifelong history in the oil and gas industry. Here is an interesting quote:
“Bode dismisses the criticism, arguing her fossil fuel background is an asset. She knows the strategies of oil and gas businesses, she said, and understands how they can partner with wind. Her change of political parties, she said, means she understands both and can bridge differences.
Anybody that knows me knows that I don’t do things I don’t really care about,” Bode said in an interview. “I chose this job because it was something I was passionate about, that I felt like I could use all the experience I had, working 30 years in the energy area.
“I know,” she added, “where everybody’s buried in energy.”
Here is another interesting quote from a political figure who is closely identified with renewable energy mandates – former Senator Tim Wirth. He was speaking to the Colorado Oil and Gas Association in July 2009:
“Many of you have, for reasons that are absolutely beyond me, decided that you are going to oppose the solar and wind industry, just at the time that is the teddy bear of American energy policy. Everybody wants to embrace solar and wind. But what happens when the wind doesn’t blow? What happens when the sun doesn’t shine? It’s natural gas that should be filling in that gap! You should be the closest buddy of the wind and solar industry and all be kissing each other in the neck and walking together into get this legislation passed.”
Wirth is also closely associated with the natural gas industry, so his recommendation indicates that there is a strong faction within that industry that understands that increasing wind penetration also increases natural gas sales, so the two deep pocketed industries often go arm in arm to politicians for mutual benefit.
It is disingenuous for the AWEA to blame the fossil fuel industry for all questioning of the overall effect of larger and larger wind fractions on CO2 reductions. The response paper that Michael Goggin linked to also included a footnote (8) that demonstrated a pretty significant slant with the following statement:
“Electric demand already varies greatly according to the weather and major fluctuations in power use at factories, while electricity supply can drop by 1000 MW or more in a fraction of a second when a large coal or nuclear plant experiences a “forced outage” and goes offline unexpectedly, as they all do from time to time. In contrast, wind output changes slowly and often predictably.”
There is an excellent response to this comparison between wind reliability and nuclear plant reliability at
My position in this discussion is that I favor more nuclear power, which is a technology that has a much stronger empirical record of reducing all emissions from electrical power production, not just CO2. It is also a technology with the demonstrated capability to play better in a grid with varying demand – France uses load following nuclear, and the submarines that I used to operate could change power even quicker than most diesel engines or gas turbines.
Publisher, Atomic Insights
It is quite amusing for me to watch others in the energy industry duke it out over market share and public reputation. I would bet that if the topic was using nuclear energy to reduce CO2 emissions, other air pollution effects, fuel consumption and the cost of electrical power, most other energy producers would join in a chorus to sing about the potential for catastrophic impacts (even if they also mention that they believe that the probability is quite low). They would almost certainly refer to our inability to agree on a solution for our waste challenges.
I am often accused of being completely biased and unwilling to acknowledge the potential utility of other energy sources outside of nuclear. I plead guilty as charged, though I think that sailing is a great sport; I still have a guilty habit of being a bit of a solar collector with a deep tan in the summer; and I harbor no illusions about the potential for the development of fission powered automobiles or aircraft. I hope that at least some people recognize that I moved to my position about energy after dedicated study involving staring at steam tables, learning about fuel source heat content, learning how to predict the intensity of solar energy based the sun’s altitude, determining the relationship between wind velocity, blade area and power output and performing graded calculations.
That formal, classroom study has been reinforced by actually operating nearly every kind of power source on the market today. (I cannot claim to have ever operated a coal fired power plant, but I have toured a number of them to the detail of putting my hands in the coal pile, watching the conveyors, peering into the boilers, and observing operators taking sample readings of the emissions level pouring out of the 200 foot tall stacks.)
Kent Hawkins published a four part series on the issue of wind’s effects on emissions levels on MasterResource. Part IV of that series is titled Wind Integration Realities: The Bentek Study for Texas (Part IV). I recommend the entire series; there are links to the previous parts of the series at the fourth installment. (Note: Having this series on MasterResource, a blog that does not hide its petroleum favoritism, also provides some interesting food for thought about the complex relationship between the “fossil fuel” industry and the non nuclear alternatives to fossil fuel.)
Elsevier Energy Policy Journal (June 2008) – Will British weather provide reliable electricity?
Connexion France (J
une 2010) – Wind turbines: Con of the century
Brave New Climate (September 1, 2010) – Does wind power reduce carbon emissions? Counter-Response (Barry Brook at Brave New Climate has a guest post from AWEA’s Michael Goggin on his blog today. Hat tip to Finrod for the link.)
Update: (September 1, 2010 12:37 pm) Just in case you are like me, a self-admitted technical elitist who believes that people really should study hard and earn some sound credentials before influencing public decisions on complex technology issues, here is Michael’s qualifying background:
Michael represents the wind industry on transmission matters, coordinates member input on the development of policy positions, facilitates the exchange of information between members, handles press inquiries on transmission-related issues, and advocates policy positions that advance wind industry interests. Through these activities, he works to promote transmission investment and advance changes in transmission rules and operations to better accommodate wind energy in the power system while maintaining system reliability. Prior to joining AWEA, he worked for two environmental advocacy groups and a consulting firm supporting the U.S. Department of Energy’s renewable energy programs. Michael holds a B.A. with honors in Social Studies from Harvard College.
Update: (posted on September 3, 2010 at 1712)
MasterResource (September 3, 2010) – Germany: Wind and the Power Pool Savings Myth
Renewable Energy World (September 1, 2010) – The Facts About Wind Energy and Emissions: Anti-wind groups are attempting to defy the laws of physics with their claims
Update: (posted on September 7, 2010 at 0807) – The intrigue continues with a September 7, 2010 article from McClatchy-Tribune regional news titled Wind industry fights to defend its position as clean energy alternative that is posted on Energy Central. Denise Bode, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association and former president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA), is quoted in the article as saying the following:
“We’ve been under attack by the fossil fuel industry for the last six months.”
Ms. Bode also has suggested that America’s future is dependent upon a federal renewable energy standard and said that she is in the fight “to the bitter end.” Her former colleagues at IPPA, however, have worked hard to reject any efforts to tax oil and gas revenues in order to support renewable energy system developments.
Trade groups for oil and gas companies, including the Independent Petroleum Association of America, have not taken a public position on a renewable energy standard.
Jeff Eshelman, a spokesman for the group, said the organization has always cited the importance of all domestic energy sources.
“However, we do take issue with proposals that call for taxing American oil and natural gas companies to subsidize nonconventional energy resources,” he said.