Evolving Trends in Wind Power Generation

Posted on December 15, 2009
Posted By: Harry Valentine
Wind power generation is expanding worldwide with the tower-mounted 3-bladed design being the most popular wind power conversion technology. However, the variation of designs and range of output level is expanding as researchers and developers continually seek innovative ways to reduce the cost per kilowatt. Small-scale designs that cover the range of 200-watts to 5-kw is the fastest growing segment of the wind power market. Much of the technology in this power range can be mass-produced, including the bladeless solid-state piezoelectric device where wind-induced vibration produces electric power.

Many homeowners worldwide are installing various small-scale wind power devices on their properties. Developers of tower-mounted and roof-mounted small-scale wind power systems have sought ingenious ways to raise output by improving the conversion efficiency. While many of these technologies are being mounted on towers of 30-feet to 60-feet in vertical height, many home and building owners are installing various small-scale wind power devices directly on to buildings. While some newer buildings have been purposefully designed to carry a wind power technology, the structure of most homes and buildings were never designed to withstand the static and dynamic stresses imposed by wind power technology.

Internationally, there are numerous developers of small-scale wind power who are seeking to access energy more powerful winds that blow at higher elevations of up to 3000-feet or 1000m. Research into high elevation wind power and the construction of various prototype technologies has been ongoing for many years. Most small-scale airborne wind power technology combines a kite that flies between 500-feet and 3000-feet elevation with ground-based electrical generating equipment. The kite converts wind energy to a cyclical force that repeatedly pulls a tether that rotates a generator while winding up its powerful return spring.

Ampyx of Holland has developed a wind-powered glider that continually flies in a figure-8 loop and produces a cyclical force that activates a spring-loaded, ground-based generator that produces up to 10kW output. Kitelab in the U.S. uses a kite that flies side to side and pulls on a tripod tether system that divides into 6-cables near ground level. The cables are routed around a circular arrangement of pulleys that are secured to the ground. Regardless of wind direction, the cables can almost continuously drive either a vertical crank lever or a series of one-way clutches to continuously rotate a generator capable of up to 20kW output in rural settings.

Large-Scale Wind Power:

In large-scale wind power conversion, the 3-bladed Enercon E-126 with the hub at 100m elevation and blade diameter of 126m (413-feet) presently provides the highest output at 7MW. The 3-bladed design is known to produce a low-frequency sound wave whenever a blade passes the tower and there is the danger of birds being struck and injured by a moving blade. Residents of coastal neighborhoods oppose the offshore installation of the turbines for aesthetic reasons.

Despite growing opposition from neighbors to tower-mounted 3-bladed wind turbines, there are plans to install many new such turbines at wind farms over the next several years. At many locations around the world, government programs encourage the development of renewable energy and the tower-mounted, 3-bladed turbine is often the only design of megawatt-size wind turbine that is readily available. Despite the popularity of the tower-mounted 3-bladed wind turbine, wind energy researchers are developing competing designs of wind power technologies.

Such technologies include large vertical-axis wind turbines and even include a transverse-axis turbine from BroadStar Wind Power. One British wind energy group has illustrated a tower-mounted vertical-axis wind turbine that can extend to a height of 450m above ground level. A research group in China has revealed a mega-scale vertical-axis turbine that is mounted on magnets and is believed to be capable of up to 100MW output in powerful winds. Other wind power technologies include airborne and various forms of hybrid concepts.

Large-Scale Airborne Wind Power:

While developers of small-scale wind power technology seek to access wind energy at elevations of 500-feet (150m) to 3000-feet (1000m), there is a growing group of researchers and developers seeking to access wind energy from much higher altitudes. Groups such as Makani Wind Power, Magenn Wind Power, SkyWindPower and JobyEnergy seek to generate electric power at high altitudes and transmit that power to ground level using specialized tether technology. The LadderMill group from Delft University in the Netherlands seeks to combine ground-level generation with kites attached to an airborne conveyor system.

SkyMill Wind Power (USA) is apparently exploring the relative merits of both systems. A research group in the southern U.S. seeks to develop a reciprocating kite-balloon that would tap energy from the jet stream and activate a ground-level electrical generating system. SkyMill, SkyWindPower and JobyEnergy seek to use rotors that will simultaneously keep the technology aloft while driving electrical generation equipment. Magenn's technology is an inflatable balloon that spins on a transverse axis while Makani Wind Power uses a kite to keep rotors and generating equipment aloft.

Several of the aforementioned groups have built prototypes of their technology that have flown and produced electric power. While much of this technology is still in the prototype and developmental stage, it does show potential for future power generation at competitive cost per megawatt. It will likely be several years before commercial development of large-scale installations of airborne wind power. Such technology would likely have to operate in designated "no-fly" zones so as to assure the safety of commercial air transport operations.

Terrain-Enhanced Hybrid Wind Power:

The nature of the terrain where wind power is installed or could possibly be installed can increase output while reducing cost per megawatt. The roof mounted wind turbine is an example of a terrain-enhanced form of hybrid wind power as the slope of a roof can accelerate wind velocity. On a larger scale, the nature of ravines and valleys in mountains can increase the output and cost effectiveness of tower-mounted and other possible designs of wind turbines.

There are coastal mountains where cable-suspended aerial tramways and/or cable cars carry passengers between stations at vastly different elevations. Powerful winds often blow from the ocean and up the many ravines that occur along the sides of coastal mountains. The nature of many ravines can accommodate the installation of the cable systems for an aerial tramway. There is scope to modify the design of an aerial tramway cable system to allow for the operation of the LadderMill wind power system developed by researchers at Delft University in the Netherlands.

The LadderMill is essentially a conveyor system of kites that keep the system aloft while capturing wind energy to generate electric power. When the LadderMill is positively secured to the top of the sidewalls of a ravine, the kites can be redesigned to transmit more energy through the cables of the conveyor system to the electrical generator. Turntable systems may be installed at upper and lower elevations to allow the modified LadderMill to be steered so as to capture wind energy as wind direction changes.

Coastal mountains often have valleys where powerful winds may blow. At some locations, the valleys may be very wide or of low height and allow for the installation of tower-mounted, 3-bladed turbines. A boundary layer effect at valley entrances can often steer prevailing winds into the valley. Those winds can accelerate to higher velocity as the valley cross-sectional area reduces. It is possible to install the suspension cable systems of bridges across valleys of sufficient height and appropriate width.

That cable suspension system could support the weight and operation of a modified LadderMill that has been tilted by 90-degrees to operate on a vertical axis across a valley, at an elevation of over 250m (800-feet) above the valley floor. The top of the 60m (200-ft) high airfoils could reach an elevation of over 300m (1000-feet) and convert energy from a wind stream of 4000-feet (1200m) width blowing at 45-mi/hr (66-ft/sec or 20m/s). At a conversion efficiency of 35 percent, the installation could generate up to 125MW on generators mounted into the valley walls.

The transverse-axis turbine from BroadStar Wind Systems is an existing wind power technology that can also be suspended by cables at high elevation across a valley. The transverse axis system allows multiple turbines to be coupled into a group of 10-turbines that drive into a single electrical generator mounted near the valley side. Several rows of turbine groups that operate at different elevations may be linked via a drive system to allow up to 30-turbines to drive into a single generator. There are many locations around the world where such technology could operate at competitive cost per megawatt of output.


While most wind power installations use the classical tower-mounted 3-bladed turbine, other designs that promise greater output at lower cost, that produce less noise and that are less harmful to birds are beginning to appear. There is expanding home-based application of small-scale wind turbines where homeowners seek to reduce dependency on often over-taxed power utilities. Within the next few years, that segment of the market would likely expand to include airborne kite-based technologies.

Commercial development of terrain enhanced wind power generation is a possibility as some of the technology that is required for such installations exists and is already proven. Commercial application of large-scale, low-altitude (1000m or 3000-feet) wind power conversion may be possible within the next few years. Similar application of high-altitude airborne wind power technology may be at least a decade into the future and will depend on the willingness of aviation regulators to declare designated no-fly zones to allow such technology to operate.

Authored By:
Harry Valentine holds a degree in engineering and has a backround in free-market economics. He has undertaken extensive research into the field of transportation energy over a period of 20-years and has published numerous technical articles on the subject. His economics commentaries have included several articles on issues that pertain to electric power generation. He lives in Canada and can be reached by e-mail at harryc@ontarioeast.net .

Other Posts by: Harry Valentine

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December, 15 2009

James Carson says

It's just too bad that they can't find a way to get the wind to blow more during the day than during the night.

December, 15 2009

Mathew Hoole says

In an average country how do we deal with the following problems with wind energy.

Studies show that a nation's wind farms can frequently fall well below 10% of capacity daily even during peak periods. Where would baseload energy come from in these events?

A nation's windfarms operate at 10% capacity at 6.00am, 60% capacity at 12.00pm, 40% at 6.00pm and 5% at midnight. Assuming wind energy controls supply, and without the benefit of hindsight, how readily and how easily can other baseload (fossil fuel) suppliers adjust their energy flow for wind energy's peaks and troughs, and how much oversupply must a fossil fuel baseload energy provider have available for sudden changes in wind levels?

If a source of baseload energy is unreliable and requires 100% immediately available backup, and a regular oversupply, which in anyone's language is horribly inefficient, why would you bother with that source of baseload energy?

Properly working solar and wind farms are as usefu/useless to society as a gas, coal, nuclear, hydro power station that constantly breaks down.


December, 16 2009

James Carson says

Matthew: Your concerns are on point. Wind advocates often say that wind is not a baseload source of energy and therefore does not replace or compete with baseload technologies like coal and nuclear. However, that is exactly wrong. Because the wind is most likely to be blowing hardest during times when baseload is the marginal supplier, they are supplanting baseload.

Then, in order to accommodate wind variability, we have to add natural gas or fuel oil generators. We can't even use the efficient combined cycle plants for that because they are not flexible enough in their output to follow the wind. That's why we don't use them for load following applications.

December, 17 2009

Jim Beyer says

Matthew and James,

The wind advocates (not me!) would say that multiple wind farms in different locations will complement each other such that the wind is more likely blowing in at least one or two of those places, even if its not blowing everywhere. I could see that this might be true in theory, but I think this notion should be supported a bit better factually. It would seem to me that in the least it means that one needs 5-10X (or so) nameplate in different places just to get that level of energy on a more regular basis. This would raise costs but according to advocates (again, not me. Have I said that enough?) this costs are already included in the prices cited.

December, 18 2009

Jeffrey Anthony says

Wind power does not require 100% back-up any more than any other generator. In reality, ALL forms of electricity generation are backed-up -- it is called "reserve margins" for those people who understand how the electric grid operates in this country. When a 1000 MW nuclear power plant trips off line in a fraction of a second (which happens all the time across the U,S,) do you think thousands of customers lose power every time that happens ? No, of course not, ALL generators have back-up in place as contingencies. Makes sense, right ? The same thing applies to wind generators -- expect instead of tripping off-line in a fraction of second, almost instaneously, they have variable output over a period of hours and days. Operators need to have additional flexibility on their systems to deal with this increased variability in terms of output, but it is false to assume that a new natiural gas plant must be built everytime a new wind project comes on line. That is a misunderstanding by people who do not how the grid operates (and is also a form of misinformation by some people who want to spread mis-information about wind power).

Learn more here: http://www.nrel.gov/wind/systemsintegration/system_integration_basics.html

Jeff Anthony And here:

December, 19 2009

Ferdinand E. Banks says

I'm sorry Jeff, but even if you are correct, I wouldn't believe you. The head of the Naturvårdverket here in Sweden - a complete energy economics ignoramus - produced some calculations a few months ago that completely soured me on paying any attention at all to wind enthusiasts. At the same time let me say that I don't see why it wont be possible some day - and maybe it is already possible - to switch wind-based electricity into the grid when it is available.

AND, on the basis of the other comments above, I can't understand why people working your side of the street want people like me to believe nonsense. Some wind is of course desirable, if only because it makes many voters feel comfortable, but the key word here is SOME - and not a kw (on the nameplate) more.

December, 21 2009

Jim Beyer says


You've been drinking the same stuff served to Amory Lovins, because he says the same thing. But perhaps you can educate me.

I don't see how a nuclear power plant which is on-line 90-95% of the time compares with a wind farm which is producing (annually) at 20% of nameplate capacity. Doesn't this raise the price of wind by 5X, to 25-30 cents per kw-hr, at least? I've been told that wind economics includes this diminished capacity, but I'd like to see the numbers on that.

According to wiki, wind power costs about $1800 per kilowatt installed in 2007. At 6% and 20 years, that could be financed for about $150 per year per kw. Over the course of a year, that wind turbine could make 1754 kw-hrs, at 20% capacity. To break even, you'd have to sell it at 8.5 cents per kw-hr. That doesn't include transmission costs, or profit, or land rents, just paying for the turbines.

I guess I'm a little less concerned about the availability than I am about the costs. I appreciate the waste storage concerns of nuclear power (well, not really...), but you could basically double the price of nuclear power (to address storage) and still be less expensive than wind.

December, 21 2009

Bob Amorosi says


Windmills have only fixed up-front costs to build and some maintenance costs over their lifetime. Running at 20% or less of nameplate capacity makes little or no difference to their operational costs, other than perhaps a bit lower maintenance costs and longer lifetimes than if they ran at 100% all the time. This is why I think the wind generation people view windmills as energy providers, not as power capacity providers to the grid.

The cost of wind power measured in watts probably doesn't change much as a function of percentage capacity utilized because it probably stays fairly flat until they reach 100% rated nameplate output. So over their lifetime, windmill cost recovery boils down to how much output power is sold integrated over time, which is precisely energy measured in watt-hours. To determine an accurate break-even kw-hr selling price depends on wind averages over time, which I believe are very "nebulous" given the world's unpredictable changing climate patterns.

December, 21 2009

Jim Beyer says


You said: "The cost of wind power measured in watts probably doesn't change much as a function of percentage capacity utilized because it probably stays fairly flat until they reach 100% rated nameplate output."

I disagree. In my example, I assumed 20% nameplate capacity and came up with 8.5 cents per kw-hr. If the utilization was only 15% or 10%, the costs would rise to 12.5 and 17 cents respectively. I understand that after 20 years, the bill is paid and the energy is "free" of the up-front cost, but there is still a bill to be paid somewhere.

In some ways, nuclear is the same thing. Huge up front costs which, when finally paid off, creates a cash cow for the utility. Assuming wind turbines can last a long time with adequate maintenance, the same could be true of them. But I wouldn't site a farm with anything less than 20% expected utilization.

December, 21 2009

Bob Amorosi says

I suppose you are correct assuming the up front costs are amortized over their entire lifetimes. I know practically nothing about power generation cost analysis but I learn something new every time I read yours and other comments on this website. I agree nuclear is virtually the same thing.

The numbers for nuclear however are in outer space with multi-gigawatt plus nameplates possible, as compared with renewable sources. High nameplate capacity though is not so golden in my view because among other things it lumps a huge number of customers depending on a single generating plant when it's running, and although disruptions may be rare, when they do happen it takes out a huge capacity from the grid. It's kind of like when an OPEC nation stops delivering oil, it tends to need lots of backup supply to prevent major price escalations if demand is near capacity to start with. And the latter is threatening to happen more often than not in many places in North America.

December, 22 2009

Ferdinand E. Banks says

Hmm. Rather than talk about free electricity after 20 years, in return for high present costs, it might be more useful to extend the amortization period for those gorgeous wind turbines, which - in theory at least - would bring down present costs.

Anyway, about nuclear, when the oil price went through the ceiling in the 70s, the Swedes decided to build some nuclear plants. They constructed 12 in 13 years which eventually meant about 45% of capacity, but more than 50% of energy. The important thing though is that thanks to the speed at which those plants were constructed, Sweden occasionally had the lowest cost electricity in the world - about as low as Norway, which had about 95% hydro. And they would still have the lowest if a law had not been passed somewhere saying that the head of the Swedish government had to be the dumbest person in the country. (They apparently have the same law in the UK now.)

Some other countries did approximately as well with individual nuclear installations, and so the question is why can't they do that today. One reason is that ignoramuses and fools play a larger part in governments today than earlier. For instance, with a famous Swedish company (Saab) going into the tank, the stupid Swedish prime minister goes to Copenhagen to listen to stupid appeals for money from stupid delegates from stupid countries.

And Jim Beyer, 20% might not be a good estimate of the capacity factor. I prefer the figures given above by Matthew Hoole, which - if I remember correctly - are similar to some given once by Kenneth Kok (or someone). And one more thing about that Swedish construction of plants, the key factor was constructing a large number of units rather than just one, as is being done in Finland today. You know, they got into a rhythm where the construction of reactors is concerned, while the construction of the plant itself was easy-peasy. My estimate is that when they get really serious about a nuclear revival, plant construction time should be reduced to about 3.5 years...with luck.

December, 22 2009

Jim Beyer says


I agree with you. I think 20% is being generous. Imagine if we could get "in the rhythm" of building nuclear plants in the U.S and China and India? It would turn around the entire climate debate issue, without injuring the economy! Long term, it would save in the huge rail infrastructure needed to support coal.

All that really keeps this from happening is a recognizably (by the public) reasonable strategy for dealing with waste storage. You do this by setting up places designed to last 1,000 years (not 10,000 or 100,000 or a million) with the notion that 100 years or so from now we will have figured out an even better way of storing it.

And to be fair, it's NOT just the environmentalists that are pushing back on nuclear. It's also the entire coal industry. I'm sorry but they may be the 21st century version of the buggy whip. Just like with mercury fillings (which dentists have quietly abandoned) we need not point fingers, but let's move on. With a little effort, we can make nuclear as cheap as coal. (In Google parlance, instead of RE I don't hate wind. Actually the numbers are not as bad as they could be. I think an advanced grid dealing with intermittent power flows would probably actually work. But for the numbers to be reasonable, you need to build many very large turbines at each farm. Which is a centralized power plant! Given you are doing that, you might as well go nuclear.

December, 22 2009

Ferdinand E. Banks says


About the cost of nuclear and coal. When Sweden constructed those 12 plants in 13 years, they produced the lowest cost - i.e. COST - electricity in the world, together with Norway and its hydro.

That can't be done today because of the length of time required to build a reactor, but eventually that will change. I wish that I could say when, but nobody knows that, least of all my good self.

Speaking of people not knowing things, I am circulating a short paper about the Copenhagen circus. In that paper I said that Lord Browne - the former CEO of BP - declared cap-and-trade sub-optimal. I just received a mail from a gentleman in Texas telling me that I was wrong, and I had better straighten this matter out "pronto". He provided me with some sort of reference, but that reference was meaningless. That's why we have problems with this wind things. There is a lot of information, but the colleagues are in the habit of trying to exploit the wrong part of it.

December, 22 2009

Jonathan Beers says

This article from the Nov./Dec. 2009 IEEE Power & Energy Magazine, "Wind Power Myths Debunked" may answer some of the questions raised above:


The whole issue is devoted to the technical challenges of integrating renewables.

December, 22 2009

Bob Amorosi says


You can add a third group pushing back on nuclear in addition to enviros and coal people - government policymakers. Nuclear waste disposal is a problem but it is not the one cited most often, it's the astronomical up-front cost to build them over several years. Few governments running huge deficits, which is most of them today, want to risk putting most of their eggs in the nuclear basket, in spite of nuclear's advantages. Same thinking prevails for many private investors and banks. So what we get instead is government intervention to favor renewables, and the belief they can stave off growth in demand over time by forcing energy conservation and efficiencies on the public. Hence the belief there is less of a need for many new large central generators of any kind.

Do I think this will work? I have some doubts. Substantial cuts in total consumption growth won’t come easy with the public. Minor ones will, but not large cuts. So in time my belief is they will wake up and realize we need some nuclear, and probably more than just token numbers of plants. However I suspect we will wait many years for this to happen, and during this time as the nuclear construction industry goes begging for work, they will be forced to lower their costs, and come up with smaller size plants that have more palatable construction price tags. I suspect this will unfold over the next 10 to 20 years or so.

Seasons Greetings to all you faithful ones who care to write on EP. Bob

December, 22 2009

Don Hirschberg says

Don’t expect any great improvements in windmill efficiency. In recent years prodigious computing power has been applied to airfoil and propeller design. It is unlikely there are any significant improvements possible.

I have long held the Wright Brothers in great esteem. Operating in areas where they had to blaze their own trails - they did so many things very well. It turns out their propellers are very close to what super computers, with sophisticaled wind tunnel input data, would be designed for their planes today.

December, 22 2009

Don Hirschberg says

Bob, I am far off subject (for which I apologize) but why not wish us a Merry Christmas? I’m a lifelong atheist (also on the books a confirmed Evangelical Lutheran) but I will not be politically correct. The response to good morning is good morning. The response to Merry Christmas is Merry Christmas. I’m with Mark Twain, “Faith is believing what you know ain’t true.” Face it: Christmas today is the creation of Charles Dickens, Prince Albert (Queen Victoria’s German consort) and Coca Cola. It is a great holiday so don’t screw it up with religion and being politically correct.

December, 23 2009

Ferdinand E. Banks says

Religion is OK with me Don because it is a part of my culture, the traditional culture in which I grew up, and which is miles ahead of the lies that we are asked to believe today by people like Bill Clinton and George W.

The optimal approach to this wind thing, and probably a few other renewable things, is to say that you are going to transform the energy picture, but to do as little as possible. You know, the way they handle this in Sweden. In a far northern country, where engineers still count more than bit players in mid-day soap operas, you will not experience the realization of too many crazy ideas. Of course, the biggest fools in the country still have access to the highest political offices, but I have a feeling that the voters are getting tired of being tricked.

December, 23 2009

Bob Amorosi says

OK Don, Merry Christmas to you and anyone else who prefers tradition in the US and Canada, including myself. There I said it and feel better too.

Just goes to show you how we all get pressured to be politically correct too often nowadays.

For those of you who find government interventionism repulsive, here's a news story for you. Those new LED lighting technologies that are being heavily promoted for energy efficiency are coming back to bite public officials in municipalities. Their much lower energy consumption has a down side. LED traffic lights now used by many cities run so much cooler than the old incandescent bulbs that when they get clogged with snow and ice during winter storms, the snow doesn't melt making them impossible to see. The old incandescent were hot enough to melt the ice and clean themselves. Apparently in the US this has led to several traffic accidents and even one death.

I wonder if we will discover a downside to windmills some day. I suppose compared to any other form of generation they are much more vulnerable to hurricane force winds blowing them over. I can just imagine the potential nightmares that severe weather will cause the new kite-based wind generators described in Harry's article here. Up here in Canada we don't get hurricane force winds very often but we do get lots of ice storms that tend to bring down power lines, and I'll bet kite tethers won't have heaters on them to melt the ice.

Happy Holidays everyone.

December, 23 2009

Jim Beyer says

Happy Hanukkah!

Happy Al-Hijra! (Islamic New Year, Dec. 18)

Happy Kwanzaa!

And Happy Life Day for all you Star Wars Holiday Specialfans.

And of course, Happy Festivus!!!

The only rational religion is agnosticism, but that's another story.....

December, 23 2009

Jim Beyer says


I completely forgot about the holiday for the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, known as 'holiday'.

December, 23 2009

Jeffrey Anthony says

Jim Beyer -- sorry for the delay in responding to your posting above and your invitation to respond to your inquries -- I am only too happy to debate this issue with you and other readers of this column -- as opposed to Ferdinand Banks, you is quite obviously close-minded when he states above that "I'm sorry Jeff, but even if you are correct, I wouldn't believe you."

For those of you who are willing to understand how wind energy projects are being installed in the U.S. and contributing to a cleaner energy future, he is my response to Jim's questions from 12/21, above, where he states/asks:

"I don't see how a nuclear power plant which is on-line 90-95% of the time compares with a wind farm which is producing (annually) at 20% of nameplate capacity. Doesn't this raise the price of wind by 5X, to 25-30 cents per kw-hr, at least? I've been told that wind economics includes this diminished capacity, but I'd like to see the numbers on that."

You actually answer your own question in the last sentence. Most wind projects produce close to 30% of rated capacity year-round (a 30% capacity factor), the range is actually 20% to 45% by region, by wind turbine model/vintage and by annual reporting period (see link below for DOE data). But is it false to multiple wind energy costs by a factor of three if you assume a 30% capacity factor, for example, and compare it to a nuclear plant operating at 90% CF. For, as you surmise, the reported costs of operating a wind project assume it will be operating 65%-90% of the time at some power level, which averaged out over the year might work out to be 30% (most wind turbines produce some level of energy output 65-90% of the time, just not at full power output most of the time).

This whole variable-output aspect of wind energy is entirely factored in to: a) where and how wind projects are sited; b) how wind projects are financed (banks are ALWAYS very much aware of the capacity projected for a given project -- they base their entire financing decision on the expected energy output over an annual period, based on wind resource measurement and predicted output levels for the next 20 years); and c) how utilities and grid operators integrate variable output wind energy projects into the grid and the day-to-day, hour-to-hour, minute-to-minute balancing needs of their system.

And the reported wind energy cost calculates all the costs of the project, divided by the energy output -- so the reported wind energy costs you read include DE FACTO the fact that wind energy projects do not run at full rated nameplate capacity 24x7. The energy costs of wind projects that are reported fully account for the energy output from the projects while fully recognizing that they operate at variable output levels over time.

These are the facts. If close-minded people cannot accept that this is how wind energy is being made to work in the U.S. and Europe and many other countries, there is not much we can do to convince the close-,minded among us !!

For current data on U.S. Wind Energy capacity factor trends, wind energy costs and other data that might be useful to those of you with an open mind -- go to this U.S. DOE Report and check out section 4, in particular:

U.S. DOE Annual Report on U.S. Wind Power Installation, Cost, and Performance Trends: The report itself can be downloaded at: http://eetd.lbl.gov/ea/ems/reports/2008-wind-technologies.pdf Presentation slides (PDF): http://eetd.lbl.gov/ea/ems/reports/2008-wind-technologies-ppt.pdf

December, 23 2009

Don Hirschberg says

As long as I am already completely off the tracks I’ll mention why “the reason for the season” as I have heard people chirp about it to put Christ back in Christmas. The “reason” is the winter solstice recognized long before being expropriated for the “Christmas Story.” There seems to be no other reason to pick December 25th. I understand the Romans would not have been taking a census at this time of year. So “Happy Solstice” covers it all.

December, 24 2009

Ferdinand E. Banks says

Jeff, baby, this is Fred - you know, Fred Banks - and where this kind of thing is concerned, he's nobody's fool. If you read German you would know that there have been all kinds of complaints about wind installations in that country, and the only large scale future that wind has in Sweden is the future that wind lobbyists and fanatics are buying it with the money of taxpays.. Incidentally, the average CF in Germany is about 0.21, which means that at times there isn't enough wind to keep the red lights on the Reeperbahn at full glow.

But that is A-OK with me. The TV audience wants wind, and they should be given it, but as little as possible. As long as the nuclear revival is under way, playing games with wind is copesthetic with this guy. Groovy. Anyway it is Christmas morning, and if I remember correctly, back in the barracks at Fort Lewis one wonderful Christmas, about half of the company was drinking or drunk.

December, 24 2009

Kenneth Kok says

Since someone mentioned my name earlier I thought I would give you an update on TVA's wind power numbers. The capacity of the Buffalo Mountain site is 29 MW. The amount of poer generated as reported by TVA was 6,762,326 kwh from July of 2008 through September of 2009. This gives a capacity factor of 2.1%.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New year to all.

December, 24 2009

Jim Beyer says


I think we can agree it's all about the costs. Reasonable people can debate what they really are. I think determining a realistic capacity factor is important. I haven't seen your 30% figure well-supported from 3rd party sources. If the real-world number drops to 15% (for example) then the cost of the wind power has effectively doubled.

If wind achieves higher penetration (over 20-30%) then you'll be facing the added concern that the wind may be blowing when there is no demand. This power would either be lost or sold off at a very low price. This could effect the bottom line on wind as well.

I also don't know what area (in square miles) is needed to mitigate wind variation. The Sci. Am. proposal of shipping energy hundreds (or thousands) of miles over transmission lines is ludicrous. I know power companies bristle if they have to import power more than 200-300 miles, because of the transmission costs.

I'm less pessimistic about wind than Fred. Costs are still problematic, but much less so than 20 years ago.

December, 26 2009

Ferdinand E. Banks says

My pessimism about wind is about how much will be used, and will it give the completely ignorant the idea that wind can replace nuclear, as is the case among certain ignoramuses in Sweden. But as for the employment of a small amount of wind, that doesn't bother me at all-

In the long run - unfortunately maybe the very long run - nuclear will be recognized as the most inexpensive source of large amounts of electricity. It could happen in the short run, but I don't think that the voters are smart enough to allow that to happen, and their political representatives certainly are not.

The key thing to work with today and perhaps a few weeks in the future is the COMPLETE AND TOTAL MISTAKE of Mr Jeff when he runs around trying to convince people that capacity factors in the US are about 0.30. Jeff, maybe you should spend a little time trying to explain what capacity factors are, using examples from primary school math texts.

December, 27 2009

Len Gould says

Merry Solstice and a Happy New Year everyone. (Though I'd rather it were called Festivus, the festival for the rest of us.).

December, 28 2009

Ferdinand E. Banks says

This discussion is unfortunately collapsing before we absorb the bottom line: wind is not going to give us what the good Jeff and the wind power booster club say that it is going to give us. THERE IS for example A BIG DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A CAPACITY FACTOR OF 30% AND 10% OR EVEN 20%. Measured in dollars you are talking about billions and billions of dollars.

Sure, some wind probably fits nicely into the diverse package of renewables that is going to be necessary to keep countries like the US and Sweden from going out of business when the oil price picks up speed, but WE - MEANING MY GOOD SELF - don't want the sub-optimal bill of goods that Jeff and his lady friends in the US Energy Department are trying to sell. Needless to say, the situation here in Sweden is hopeless, because the top energy bureaucrat is a PhD in physics who is resolutely anti-nuclear ignoramus where energy economics is concerned.

December, 28 2009

Jim Beyer says

I heard an interesting talk by a wind farm concern. The only way they could make the numbers work was to build large installations off the East Coast of the United States. The numbers then worked because: a) Electricity is already expensive ($0.15 per kW-hr), b) Off-shore wind blows more often and more steadily, c) large off-shore turbines are more economical, and d) (the kicker) the added transmission lines (to and from the farms) can be used to augment the limited grid transmission that plagues the Northeast.

It's left as an exercise for the reader to contrast this with an offshore nuclear power installation.

December, 28 2009

Don Hirschberg says

Len, I have no problem with your “Festivus.”

Professor, Maybe you could enroll this PhD physicist bureaucrat in one of your classes and do us all a favor. Perhaps he should be allowed to audit the course so he could make a graceful exit lest he fail.

Jim, interesting points. A few months ago Gail at the Oil Drum suggested the costs for new offshore wind at 22 cents per Kwh vs 13 cents for onshore wind, this is one heap of a difference, even assessing some benefit to the grid.

December, 30 2009

**** **** says

Septimus van der Linden 12.30.09 FPL huge windpower supplier, have just used up this valuable resource and were unable to meet their Projections: " FPL Group is continuing to experience slower wind resources across its fleet of wind turbines. The company believes the wind resources are being affected by the El Nino weather pattern currently being experienced in North America. "

"Wind resources have remained below expectations during the fourth quarter, with a quarter-to-date actual versus predicted output of approximately 81%, and is contributing to the company's reduced 2009 adjusted earnings expectations."

January, 03 2010

Jack Ellis says

In some parts of the world like China, leaders (really dictators) can do as they please. In others, leaders have to worry about being re-elected, which makes them a bit more responsive to the wishes and whims of the electorate.

The reality in America, at least, is that building anything is pretty damned difficult. Everyone wants a reliable supply of electricity but few people relish the thought of having the required infrastructure anywhere near their homes or schools, though some types of infrastructure are perhaps marginally less unpalatable than others.

Nuclear plants may indeed be the lowest cost source of base load supply, if they can be built and operated at reasonable cost and in reasonably sized (300-750 MW) increments. Until the public is willing to accept them, however, any discussion about building them is purely academic.

February, 18 2010

Mathew Hoole says

Here is an interesting take on wind energy, one that I have not observed other commentators make about wind energy.

The Australian Prime Minister and his Environment (Activist, Rock star, anti nuclear compaigner - in other words blatant liar) Minister Peter Garrett attended a public meeting in a large regional Australian town called Ballarat.

The discussion was the wind energy farms in the area, and how it is affecting those living near them. It should also be noted that the township is largely left leaning politicically.

The town meeting was covered by our the Australian National Broadcaster and the link is here:


Some quotes of interest:

"My name is Belinda Wheel. Mr Rudd, residents are suffering from sleep deprivation, ah, health problems due to wind turbines sited too close to home."

"DONALD THOMAS: Mostly ear pressure, headaches, heart palpitations, high blood pressure."

"ROD NEAL: I go out there and work and I'm lucky to work out there for half a day before I'll, oh well I'll get a headache pretty much straight away."

The Australian Prime Minister is renowned for his political spin. Unfortunately and to my embarrassment (as I am Australian), Mr Rudd's comments are rich in spin.


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