Whether you like the Royal family or loathe them, Prince Phillip is a man who has never been afraid to diss the trendy in order to make valid, sensible statements, even though it may be classed as politically incorrect to do so. Case in point? Yesterday it was reported by the Sunday Telegraph in London that upon meeting Esbjorn Wilmar, CEO of wind turbine company Infinergy, the aging Duke of Edinburgh said to his face that “[Wind Turbines] were absolutely useless, completely reliant on subsidies and an absolute disgrace.”
“I was surprised by his very frank views.” said Wilmar.
Prince Philip made it clear he was not about to be won over, asking Mr Wilmar if he believed in fairy tales and warning him to “stay away from my estate, young man”, when he suggested putting a few turbines on the prince’s land.
The media is calling his comments inappropriate. Inappropriate would be if his statements were false. However, the man may be, sadly, correct. You won’t see this become a popular stance, least of all in Britain. He is going directly against the UK government‘s decisions, after all, which heavily subsidises wind turbines in order to make them profitable as part of their Renewables Obligation policy.
In theory, the Renewable Obligation policy is a positive effort, a standard set which forces energy companies to source electricity from renewable sources. If an energy company meets it’s obligation, it doesn’t have to pay a penalty fee, instead, it gets a cut of the penalty fee money that shortfalling companies have to pay. Wind generation gets 40% of that cut, far more than any other renewable source.
Energy companies also receive a huge subsidy from the government, who have to be seen to be strengthening the incentive to build more turbines. After all, the UK is on a tight schedule: they’re bound by green laws with the EU that 20% of the continent’s power should come from renewable energy by 2020 – eight short years away.
This sounds good in theory, however when it comes to windfarms, over half of the revenue generated by a wind turbine comes from Renewable Obligation payouts. What this means is that without this huge subsidy from energy companies continually failing to meet their renewable energy quota, and without help from taxpayer money, the Wind Farm industry cannot be profitable.
The greatest danger to the future of the Indiana wind energy industry may be the possible loss of federal government subsidies.
Frank Hoffman, a partner at the Indianapolis law firm Krieg DeVault, who has landed more than $53 million in financing for Indiana wind turbine component manufacturers in the last two years, said Indiana’s wind industry is mostly growing in response to federal incentives.
“We’ve got to face it, it’s a subsidized business,” Hoffman said. “If you don’t get the 30 percent subsidy, it’s not viable because coal and natural gas are cheaper.”
What this also means is that more than half of wind turbine industry profits currently come from: you guessed it – non-renewable energy sources.
The sad reality of wind power
According to a Stuart Young Consulting study, the average output from wind was 27.18% of metered capacity in 2009, 21.14% in 2010, and 24.08% between November 2008 and December 2010 inclusive.
It gets worse, too, as wind power frequently drops to almost nothing. It tends to do this quite often just when demand is at its early-evening peak:
At each of the four highest peak demands of 2010 wind output was low being respectively 4.72%, 5.51%, 2.59% and 2.51% of capacity at peak demand. During low-peak times, wind farms produce too much energy, which cannot be stored. So in order to avoid a spike in the grid, electricity companies are paid by the government to switch them off for hours at a time. For example, Scottish Power received £13,000 for closing down two farms for a little over an hour at about five in the morning.
Thus when wind farmers have a lot of power they will actually pay to get it onto the grid if necessary, in order to obtain the lucrative ROCs which provide most of their revenue, forcing all non-renewable providers out of the market. If the wind is blowing hard and demand is low, there may nonetheless be just too much wind electricity for the grid to use. As connected wind capacity increases there will come a point when no more thermal plant can be constrained off to accommodate wind power.
And this is when the turbines are running at all.
The sad reality is, scores of square kilometres of coastline are dotted with turbines, many of which are simply not turning. This is the case for three reasons:
- 25% of turbines, at any time, are not turning due to mechanical faults, according to industrial engineering publication Machinery Lubrication. http://www.machinerylubrication.com/Read/395
- For the other 75% of the time when turbines are fully operational, if they’re not facing into the wind, they won’t turn. Most turbines cannot change the direction they’re facing.
- Ironically, if the wind is blowing hard, this can cause the fragile turbines to break down, hence an internal break is deployed deliberately stopping turbines from turning during high wind. This downtime, along with downtime where the government pays the electricity companies to stop turbines turning, is classed as part of the 75% “operational” wind turbine time.
Wind turbines as a renewable energy source are certainly not without their merits and promising future. In their hundreds, when all operating at peak efficiency, they have the potential to compete against a nuclear power plant. However, there are so many ifs and buts …the technology is definitely not there yet. This makes Prince Phillip’s strong stance against the current generation turbines an unsightly disgrace along coastlines, quite understandable.
- Wind power: Even worse than you thought | The Register
- Firms paid to shut down wind farms when the wind is blowing | Telegraph.co.uk
- Royal Slam: Duke of Edinburgh calls wind farms ‘absolutely useless’ (junkscience.com)
- Sustainability Update : ‘Wind farms are useless’, says Duke (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com)
- Switch-off for noisy wind farms (telegraph.co.uk)
- 14,000 abandoned monuments to Green stupidity (junkscience.com)
- Wind Energy Update: Which Comes first? The Wind Farm or the Turbine? (prweb.com)
- Phil the Bubble does it again (charioteers.org)