Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Yesterday's Challenge

Yesterday Josephus posted an interesting challenge, and it's one I am giving some thought to. Trouble is, it needs quite a bit of research to do it justice, so it will be a while before I can pull all of it together with the references I need.

The challenge is to write a refutation of the "benefits" of switching from our present electrical generating plants to "renewable" energy, specifically, energy from wind farms. There are a very large number of things that can and should be used against them, but, as I said, I need to pull together all the facts. Here are some of the issues I think have been buried in the rush to close down nuclear stations, coal fired stations and even the gas and oil ones -

1. Cost. The cost of generating electricity with wind turbines is anything but a straightforward argument. There are a lot of hidden costs in this, far more than in any of the 'old technology' they replace. Apart from the cost of building these things and the cost of extracting the rather expensive metals required for the fancy gearboxes they need, plus the control units and so on, there is a maintenance cost. The 'life' of one of these units is given as 25 years, and then it must be dismantled and replaced.

2. Environmental Impact. This is largely ignored or swept under the carpet, but already, here in Germany, there is a resistance movement building against the building of any more of them. They are noisy, one protester describes it as living next to a perpetually idling helicopter. A recent study of this problem has turned up the fact that it affects a lot more people than originally thought. They vibrate, and animals don't like being near them. Already there are studies reporting that shell fish, bottom feeders and crustaceans are decamping from the offshore wind farm sites. And they are taking a terrible toll on the birds of prey.

3. Distribution of the Power. It isn't simply a matter of connecting these infernal eyesores up to the power grid. The problem is that the National Grid in any given country is configured to supply a permanent load from certain fixed sources and distribute it through a range of sub-stations and transformers to the point of use. Switching off a 'normal' power station leaves a 'hole' in the grid which means that the power has to be shunted into that part from somewhere else. Now project this onto windmills. They don't function all the time, in fact, they can't and if the wind is too strong or to weak, they shut down. To compensate for this you actually need an 'intelligent grid,' one able to detect a weakening of supply from one source and switch to a compensatory over supply somewhere else. It gets even more complex when you add in the variations in power demand between day and night, hot weather and cold, week days and weekends. Add to this the fact that bringing a generator 'on stream' when it is 'out of phase' with the grid is likely to cause a major blackout ... At present, the only way to ensure continuous supply is to keep several coal or gas burning power stations 'spooling' but offline until they are needed.

4. Maintenance. Maintenance is a major issue. It is costly enough when all your turbines and generators are in one or two buildings on the same site, scatter them across the landscape and across large stretches of the ocean and you introduce a whole new range of problems and costs. Recently reported is the fact that all the turbines in the North Sea are suffering from problems of shifting foundations, crumbling concrete and corrosion. To Quote -
"Putting the things offshore may avoid objections from the neighbours, but (Chancellor, beware!) it makes even less sense, because it costs you and me — the taxpayers — double. I have it on good authority from a marine engineer that keeping wind turbines upright in the gravel, tides and storms of the North Sea for 25 years is a near hopeless quest, so the repair bill is going to be horrific and the output disappointing. Already the grouting in the foundations of hundreds of turbines off Kent, Denmark and the Dogger Bank has failed, necessitating costly repairs."
Why should this be so? Easy, the seabed is shingle, mud and not a lot of rock, so the foundations have had to be built on "piles" and the piles are transmitting the vibrations into the mud and shingle. It is now suggested that the maintenance costs are likely to become so exorbitant over the next ten to fifteen years that it will be completely uneconomic to continue generating power from these turbines.

5. Subsidies. At present the electricity generated by these monstrosities is viable only because of massive subsidies. But, here again, the 'transparency' is lacking. the level of subsidy varies from country to country but figures I have recently seen suggest that the real cost per kilowatt from a Wind Turbine is of the order of £1,200 per kW/hour. So tax is subsidising this folly, which means everyone is being forced to pay into the profit Greenpeace among others makes from it. (Greenpeace gets funding from the Wind Turbine lobbies and manufacturers). Figures from the UK's Power Distribution authority shows that wind turbines contributed less than 4% of the power consumed and averaged under 1% per day over the last months of 2011. Hardly an economic situation given the vast amount of money invested in these things.

Greenpeace, WWF and other 'ecology' activist groups have been running a scare scam for years, blaming "Atmospheric CO2 for the "Anthropomorphic Global Warming" which, according to them will cause sea levels to rise by anything from 1 metre this century to over 60 according to one report. The truth is somewhat different. CO2 is a trace gas in the atmosphere. Depending on where you are in the world it can be between 0.2% of the atmosphere you breathe or as high as 0.4% if you live in a large urban city. Plants actually love the stuff, it stimulates growth and makes gardens, crops and forests  flourish. This is why Green House cultivation works so well!

As for it retaining heat in the atmosphere, again, that depends on where and what you measure. Yes, it can cause rapid heating, but in order to demonstrate this effectively in a laboratory you need concentrations above 10% by volume. At that level, guess what, we wouldn't be worried about the warming, but reaching for the breathing apparatus!

Interesting. Even without all the figures to hand, I think I may have qualified for the Spectator's entry criteria ...

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