Sunday, September 17, 2006

But, how do they feel about coal in Newcastle?

According to a report today from the Associated Press, the Dutch are complaining that energy-generating windmills are "blighting the landscapes that once inspired Dutch painters like Rembrandt van Rijn."

Hmmmm....skates getting a little dull, Hans Brinker?

What do Dutch landscapes contain? Windmills. Hundreds of them. Windmills next to canals, windmills next to people in wooden shoes, windmills next to prosperous farms -- they're one of Holland's most iconic images.

(Also, I should insert a technical note here: Rembrandt mainly painted portraits -- interiors, known for their interplay of light and dark -- not landscapes. In other words, if the Dutch vistas spoke to Rembrandt, they told him to stay inside and close the curtains.)

And, it's not as if the Dutch wind opponents are trying to preserve specific vistas. The organizer of one 15,000-member anti-wind group told the AP, "We're not just NIMBY [Not In My Back Yard] about wind energy. We're NIABY -- not in anybody's backyard."

Indeed, they don't seem to want anything in anyone's backyard -- they also oppose constructing substations that receive cables coming from offshore wind turbines no one on the shore can see.

(These folks are going to love the quaint coal plants and picturesque nukes they'll need for future baseload capacity.)

One bright spot in all this: the Netherlands' Bird Protection Society is not reflexively anti-wind. The group wants to minimize bird fatalities with the off-shore wind turbines, but they see it as a small problem compared to the possible threat of global warming.

Besides, as the society's director told the AP, "Apparently, birds see the turbines and avoid them."

They've got some impressively smart birds in Holland.

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At 9/20/2006 6:07 PM, Blogger KM said...

You incorrectly compare industrial wind turbines to coal and nuclear plants. The latter do indeed provide baseload capacity. Wind, because it is intermittent, variable, and nondispatchable, can provide only peak load energy.

At 9/20/2006 11:22 PM, Blogger Kristen Nelson said...

Hi, km. You're absolutely right about the distinction -- poor wording on my part. I intended to underscore that coal and nuclear provide baseload generation by mentioning it, not to lump wind in with them.

(I certainly wouldn't want to live anywhere with the kind of non-stop gale it would take with today's technologies to turn wind into reliable baseload capacity.)

Thanks for making the point. Keep me honest!

At 9/26/2006 11:21 AM, Blogger Tom Gray said...

You incorrectly compare industrial wind turbines to coal and nuclear plants. The latter do indeed provide baseload capacity. Wind, because it is intermittent, variable, and nondispatchable, can provide only peak load energy.

This is incorrect.

Wind's most valuable contribution is to lower the cost of energy supply by displacing the costs of fuel and emissions. Wind first displaces gas and oil generation, (the "intermediate" units), and when wind is more than 5% of the total generating capacity on the system, the use of coal baseload units is typically reduced. Wind combines with the existing reliability resources (that is, all the flexible generation) to lower the cost of running the system without impacting the reliability of the system.

Thomas O. Gray
American Wind Energy Association

At 9/26/2006 5:44 PM, Blogger Kristen Nelson said...

Hi Tom,

Thanks for jumping in to clarify. You make a great point about wind's economic value in the fuel mix.

Would you describe wind power as being true "baseload generation," though, or is its role limited more to displacing gas and oil as economic/environmental needs demand. (I guess it gets a bit complicated to parse, since oil and natural gas can be either peaking or baseload contributors.)

I'm curious how you define this, because, as my somewhat flippant response to km demonstrated, my impression is that wind's intermittent nature limits the scope of how it fits into an overall generation mix.


At 10/06/2006 11:35 AM, Blogger Tom Gray said...

Hi Kristen,

Sorry for the lag time here--it has taken me a bit of time to consult with the experts, do some translating, and check again to make sure the translation is correct. So:

The terms "baseload," "intermediate," and "peaking" are convenient shorthand, but they are not fully accurate, and in some ways, looking at the utility system as made up of only these three types of systems is an obstacle to understanding how wind fits into power generation.

For example, a "baseload" plant is one that is designed to run inexpensively as much of the time as possible at full output, and utilities commonly plan on having approximately the same amount of baseload capacity as their minimum daily demand. The theory here is that such plants can then basically operate around the clock. However,

- All power plants, even baseload plants, require scheduled maintenance and sometimes experience unexpected outages due to equipment failure. No plant runs 100% of the time.

- While wind power plants are not baseload, they can and do displace electricity from baseload plants for some hours of the day if there is enough wind generation on a utility system and the wind is blowing. This is because utilities use the cheapest power available during the day, and since wind power plants use no fuel, they are often the cheapest option available. As wind farms start up during the day, they first displace the most expensive power being generated (peaking, if peaking plants are being used), then the next most expensive (intermediate), and finally baseload.

The issue, therefore, is not whether wind fits neatly into one of the traditional utility pigeonholes (it doesn't), but what happens when wind power plants are added to the utility system, in terms of how many kilowatt-hours are generated by wind at what times of the day and year. That in turn varies from utility to utility, depending on the times when the wind typically blows and how fast it blows (the "profile" of wind speeds), and how well those times match up with the profile of customer demand.

The question of overall system reliability is similarly confused. How can adding an "unreliable" generator like a wind power plant to a utility system INCREASE, not decrease, its reliability? (It does.) It increases reliability because it reduces the probability that, at any given time during the day or year, the utility will be unable to supply the amount of electricity that is needed--and that probability (formally called Loss of Load Probability, or LOLP), is how utilities measure reliability.

In a typical utility system, the utility will need to have enough power plants that are ready to run to meet 115% or 120% of peak projected customer electricity demand. This is because, as stated above, no power plant runs 100% of the time, and so by having more power plants than are normally needed (a "reserve requirement") utilities reduce the probability of failing to meet demand to very low levels. Wind is a variable source of electricity, and a wind plant runs far less of the time at full capacity than fueled power plants. Even so, if there is a 10% or 20% chance that a wind farm will be producing electricity during a peak demand period, it improves the likelihood that a utility will be able to meet demand.

Hope this helps. (It's been very helpful for me, in any event.)

Our expert says, for shorthand, "We [wind] don't make the system more reliable--we make a reliable system cheaper, cleaner, and more secure." As the brief discussion above indicates, we actually do make it more reliable too, but prefer to downplay that as a selling point because it's not the primary value of wind.



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