Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Wind Power Cuts Carbon Emissions: New Data Debunks Claims That Back-Up Power Erases Carbon Reduction

It seems every source of energy has critics determined to kill it.  Wind energy is no different from natural gas in that important respect.

Like gas, no doubt exists that wind has weaknesses as well as strengths. But the partisan critics of wind that seek its demise exaggerate or outright concoct claims to justify their opposition.  For example, some opponents of wind are fond of saying that the carbon or air pollution benefits of running wind turbines are erased by the need to operate increasing amounts of typically gas-fired back up power as the percentage of wind rises.

New actual, operational data from the UK again debunks the claim that more wind means as much or more carbon.  Instead a study of actual data in the UK reveals that one more megawatt-hour of wind reduces total  gas generation by about an equal amount.  www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2012/sep/26/myth-wind-turbines-carbon-emissions. Back-up generation systems are not erasing the carbon benefits of wind, even on a record wind production day.

In fact, the data includes a new record production day for wind in the UK,  September 14th, when wind supplied 10% of the nation's power.  On a typical day, wind provides 6% of the island nation's electricity, as compared to about 3% in the US.

The bottom line of the operational data in the UK is that the amount of carbon displaced rises with the amount of wind generated.  Windy days mean less carbon in the UK system. And that again takes into account the emissions from back up generation!


  1. That wind energy's participation in the electricity grid increases carbon dioxide emissions is one of wind energy opponents most insidious and pernicious claims. They rely on a study done by Bentek that looked at wind dispacth in a very small control area -- Public Service Colorado -- for two very discreet events in which large amounts of wind energy coming online in a relatively limited time fram, in a small control area, forced a coal plant to ramp-up and down very quickly resulting in an inefficient use of the plants pollution controls which caused emissions per MWH to temporarily rise during these two discreet ramping events. Of course the WSJ picked up on this very limited study and data set as final proof validating their ideological opposition to sustainable energy.

    The Bentek study did not report that carbon dioxide emissions, when normalized for fuel usage in PSCO, actually fell for the entire year and that in the vast majority of hours wind energy on their system was reducing carbon dioxide emissions far in excess of the two unique ramping events reported in the study.

    Of course, even the discreet ramping events noted in this study can be easily avoided through the implementation of intra-hour scheduling, larger control areas, and competitive markets. Of course this means that areas of the country that have thus far rejected competitive electricity markets in favor of government control would need to change their views to favor more market oriented electricity systems.

    Eric T.

    1. I appreciate the comment. It is sad to see right wing ideologues become so detached from facts and reality concerning wind and renewable energy. Once driven by ideology, truth becomes beside the point. The power of ideology to distort is seen in discussions about gas, climate, and a long list.