Wind power: It’s clean. It’s free. It’s renewable. Google the subject, and you will quickly find fifty articles claiming that electricity from wind is now cheaper than electricity from those evil, dirty fossil fuels. So why doesn’t some country somewhere get all of its electricity from wind?
In fact, despite now several decades of breakneck building of wind turbines, no country seems to be able to get even half of its electricity from wind when averaged over the course of a year, and no country has really even begun to solve the problem of needing full backup when the wind doesn’t blow.
Germany is the current world champion at trying to get its electricity from wind. (It also gets a small contribution from solar panels, but since it is the world’s cloudiest country, those don’t help much.). According to Clean Energy Wire, December 2022, in 2020 Germany got 45.2% of its electricity from wind and sun. Then that declined to 41% in 2021, due to lack of wind. In 2022 they appear to have bounced back to 46%. Germany has enough wind turbines that they produce big surpluses of electricity when the wind blows at full strength. But they still haven’t cracked the threshold of meeting 50% of electricity demand with wind and sun over the course of a year.
It’s no better over in the territory of co-climate crusader UK. Despite a crash program to build wind turbines (also accompanied by a smidgeon of solar panels), the UK’s percent of power from wind in 2022 was 26.8%, according to the BBC on January 6, 2023. Solar added a paltry 4.4%.
Well, maybe this project isn’t as easy as the central planners thought it would be. News of the past week brings to light a few more speed bumps on the road to energy utopia.
At the website Not A Lot Of People Know That, Paul Homewood on June 21 presents a calculation for the UK of how much wind turbine capacity would be necessary to supply the country with all its electricity needs by building extra wind capacity and using it to electrolyze water into hydrogen. The calculation was initially prepared by a guy named John Brown, and provided to Paul. For those interested in reviewing the calculation, it is available by emailing Mr. Brown at [email protected].
For starters, Homewood notes that average demand in the UK was 29 GW in 2022, and it has 28 GW of wind turbine capacity already. As you can immediately see, the fact that 28 GW of “capacity” only supplied 26.8% of average demand of 29 GW indicates an average capacity factor of under 30% for the wind turbines. The total demand for the year came to 262 TWh, but the wind turbines only produced 62 TWh.
Brown then calculates how much wind turbine capacity would be needed to generate enough electricity to supply all of the demand, either directly, or by electrolyzing water to make hydrogen and burning the hydrogen. He comes up with 370 TWh of total production needed from the wind turbines — 262 TWh to supply existing demand, and another 108 TWh for the various losses in the processes of electrolysis and then burning the hydrogen. The 370 TWh is about 6 times the current wind turbine capacity of the UK. Homewood:
The reason why the total generation needed, 370 TWh, is so much higher than demand is the hopelessly inefficiency of the hydrogen process. John has assumed that electrolysers work at 52% efficiency, and that burning hydrogen in a thermal generator works at 40% efficiency. Both assumptions seem reasonable. In other words, the efficiency rate for the full cycle is 20.8%. In simple terms, you need 5 units of wind power to make 1 unit of power from hydrogen.
Brown and Homewood do not go into detail on the costs of this project, other than to note that the cost of the wind turbines alone for the UK would be about 1 trillion pounds (or $1.3 trillion). Since the U.S. is more than five times the population, that would mean more than $6.5 trillion for us. And that’s before you get to the cost of building the electrolyzers for the hydrogen, the costs of transporting and storing the stuff, and so forth. Let alone dealing with doubling the demands on the grid by electrifying all home heating, automobiles, transportation, etc. A multiplying of costs of electricity by around a factor of 5 to 10 would be a good rough estimate.
In other words, this is never going to happen. The only question is how far down the road we get before the plug gets pulled. As I wrote in my energy storage report, the only thing to be said for hydrogen as the means of backup for a decarbonized economy is that it is less stupid than using batteries as the backup.
And in other news relating to the future utopia of wind power, we have a piece in the Wall Street Journal of June 23 with the headline, “Clean Energy’s Latest Problem Is Creaky Wind Turbines.” The first sentence is “The ill wind blowing for clean-energy windmills just got stronger.” The article reports that shares of German wind turbine giant Siemens Energy fell 36% on Friday after the company withdrew profit guidance for the rest of the year and stated that components of its installed turbines are wearing out much faster than previously anticipated. Thus costs of fulfilling warranties will greatly increase; but also, the expected replacement cycle for the turbines needs to be shortened. The writer (Carol Ryan) comments, “The news isn’t just a blow for the company’s shareholders, but for all investors and policy makers betting on the rapid rollout of renewable power.”
Barron’s on the same date (June 23) quotes the CEO of Siemens wind turbine subsidiary Siemens Gamesa as follows:
In a call with reporters, Siemens Gamesa CEO Jochen Eickholt said “the quality problems go well beyond what had been known hitherto. . . . The result of the current review will be much worse than even what I would have thought possible,” he added.
And then there’s the comment from parent company CEO Christian Bruch:
In the call with reporters, Siemens Energy CEO Christian Bruch called the developments “bitter” and “a huge setback.”
Those are by no means the usual types of words uttered by ever-optimistic public company CEOs.
In the short run, don’t expect the climate doom cult to walk away from any of their grand plans. The immediate answer will be more, and still more government subsidies to keep the wind power dream alive. But at some point this becomes, as they say, unsustainable.