There’s an enduring myth related to wind energy and nuclear energy that needs to be put to bed. That myth is that only nuclear can be scaled to sufficient capacity to reduce the impacts of global warming, and that wind energy is much less scalable so it should be ignored.
Most recently, this appeared as a broad generalization without any supporting evidence in a pro-carbon capture series by a CCS researcher on the Siemens-sponsored Energy Collective, which features this particular myth regularly, being a bit of an echo chamber for it. Of course the nuclear industry’s PR professionals love this line as well.
And there’s another myth related to carbon capture and sequestration being more significant than renewables that has to be assessed as well.
China is the true test bed for maximum scalability of nuclear vs wind. It has a tremendous gap between demand and generation. It can mostly ignore lack of social license for nuclear. It is building both wind and nuclear as rapidly as possible. It has been on a crash course for both for about the same period of time. It has bypassed most of the regulatory red tape for nuclear which sensibly exists elsewhere given concerns about economic fallout of Fukushima-scale disasters, nuclear proliferation and terrorism. And in four years it has built significantly less nuclear generation capacity than it built of wind generation capacity in 2013 alone.
What is the reality of nuclear vs wind built out?
China turned on justover 16 GW of nameplate capacity of wind generation in 2013 according to the Global Wind Energy Council.
- Over the four years of 2010 to 2014 China managed to put 4.7 GW of nuclear into operation. This is not their stated plan for nuclear which is much higher, but the actual generation capacity put into production.
- Modern wind turbines have a median 40.35% capacity factor and exceed 50% in the best wind resources according to the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) who track the actuals on this sort of thing.
- Taking similarly sourced numbers for nuclear capacity factor from the Nuclear Energy Institute, we see 90.9% capacity factors for nuclear reactors. These are apples-to-apples statistics from the same country.
Running the math, that’s about 6.5 GW of real capacity of wind energy in one year vs 4.3 GW of real capacity for nuclear over four years. That’s roughly six times more real wind energy capacity than nuclear per year. 2014 might be better than average as perhaps 2 GW have been made operational this year. We’ll see what reality brings as wind energy is being expanded rapidly as well.
The fossil fuel-funded Americans for Prosperity spearheaded a letter published as a full page advertisement in Politico on June 9, 2014 that was signed by 117 organizations. The letter attacked wind energy and called on Congress to oppose the extension of the Wind Production Tax Credit. The Energy and Policy Institute examined the list of signatories and found the following:
See our full analysis of each organization.
Guest post by Sarah Taylor from Cleveland, Ohio. Cross-posted from Windustrious.org.
There is a growing sense among the public that life on our planet is being threatened by our careless misuse of its resources.
The most obvious evidence of this misuse is climate change. Unexpected dramatic weather patterns are now being experienced everywhere. Along with rising sea levels, due to the melting of polar ice, these patterns have led to increased flooding of coastal communities. Perhaps more insidious is the growing desertification of large continental areas. This is accompanied by a rapid reduction in fresh water supply, essential for food production, in neighboring agricultural regions.
Specifically, it is the burning of fossil fuels, with the accompanying release of carbon dioxide, that is to blame. Those fuels powered up the industrial revolution, but their time has come and gone.
We can replant swaths of landscape to absorb some of the carbon dioxide that humans continue to produce, but our overwhelming need is to transition rapidly to carbon-free sources of energy. Our planet is fortunately blessed with just such non-polluting energy resources - the sun and the wind - which can, with relatively small investments, provide us with unlimited supplies of power into the indefinite future.
There is just one thing that might get in the way - namely the financial interest of those with a stake in our outdated sources of energy. These tycoons may be few in number, but they are huge in influence (i.e. money!). They know that wind and solar power installations can be rapidly built, can threaten the profitability of coal, oil and gas, and can subsequently lead to their mines and wells being closed down. They therefore feel a need to create and sow widespread doubt amongst the public, about the effectiveness of the new sources of energy. This goal is being accomplished, extraordinarily successfully, through the exploitation of a completely unexpected resource - human sympathy.
So how did they achieve this?
Wind farms reduce green house gas emissions in the overall electrical grid on close to a 1:1 basis. Typical grids produce 800 g of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) per KWh generated by their mixes of fossil, nuclear and renewable generation, and wind energy displaces virtually all of that. It's difficult to imagine the mindset in which one would assert that black is white and that wind energy actually increases greenhouse gas emissions or does not reduce them. Yet many anti-wind commentary continues to make this claim based on an overlapping and baseless set of myths.
- It's worth digging into the reality compared to the odd myths that are being spread, but before we get into the details, what does actual grid management data tell us? As the graph above shows, there is pretty much a one-for-one replacement of fossil fuel generation with wind energy, meaning that CO2e is also displaced on a one-for-one basis.
Wind energy is a rapidly growing and profitable business worldwide, usually at the expense of fossil fuel generation revenue and, more importantly, profits. Unwrapping the conditions underlying profitable wind farms is useful when considering getting into the wind energy business or analyzing it, but also in terms of understanding motivations and tactics of those opposed to wind energy.
The factors determining the profitability of wind energy projects are the wind resources available, modern wind turbines, an effective economic regime to sell wind energy into, relatively cheap connections to the grid, highly optimized management and maintenance, and efficiency in getting to operational status.
Source: Utility-Scale Land-Based 80-Meter Wind Maps
By Mike Barnard, Senior Fellow, Wind
Ten major studies in three countries of 1.3 million property transactions over 18 years of data have found no connection between wind farms and property values. Yet the fear of property value loss persists and is exploited by anti-wind campaigning groups in their attempts to turn local populaces against wind developments.
By comparison, only two moderately reliable studies with some statistical significance found property value impacts, and they are both challenged in different ways. Five other often referenced studies are merely case studies with no statistical significance, done by appraisers who show strong evidence of bias, and in one case there is clear evidence that they ignored the reality of the property they appraised.
The evidence that wind farms don't harm property values is robust, methodologically sound and from reliable organizations. The evidence that wind farms harm property values is much weaker, methodologically challenged at best and usually from much less reliable organizations.
On Monday, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder unveiled a new study by the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) detailing how renewable energy is saving consumers money and leading to robust business investment. The new report [.PDF] states that it is feasible for Michigan to achieve a 30% renewable energy standard (RPS) by 2035. MPSC Chairman John Quackenbush said, after the release of this new report, that Michigan is "capable of reaching that goal with resources located right in the state of Michigan..." according to Michigan Live. It also goes on to report that wind energy technology improvements have resulted in a decline in wind generation prices from over $100 per MWh in 2009 to $50 to $60 per MWh today.
The MPSC's latest report cements that the state's clean energy laws are generating positive economic opportunities and creating jobs [.PDF] - a pattern found across the country with pro-clean energy policies like RPS. MPSC's report on renewable energy confirms the findings from another recent report on the implementation of Michigan's Renewable Energy Standard from February 2013. The February report stated the "cost of the renewable energy standard is substantially lower than the cost of new-coal-fired plant, but combined, at a cost of $45.98 per MWh, the two PA 295 standards cost less than any newly built generation including new natural gas combined cycle plants." The Februay report also looked at the cost of service data for Consumers Energy and Detroit Energy, companies with a combined 8 million customers, and found that the weighted average of current overall power supply costs, including purchased power, is more than the combined cost of the renewable energy and energy efficiency standards.
Furthermore, the independent grid operator for all or part of 13 Mid-Atlantic and Great Lakes states, PJM, performed a separate study that found wind energy reduces electricity production costs, wholesale prices, and eliminates carbon dioxide pollution.