Yesterday’s scorcher scorched wind power’s reputation and its bottom line, too. This simple chart demonstrates why no company can make a profit supplying wind power to the electricity system without government subsidies, and why no society can count on wind power when the power is most needed.
The wind blew at its best in Ontario yesterday between midnight and 1 am (the first column in the chart), producing 214 megawatt-hours (1000 kilowatts to one megawatt) that hour. But it only earned $36.85 per megawatt that hour, or one-third to one-quarter the value of power during peak hours.
Over the next few hours, its next best hours for the day, wind continued to fetch very low prices.
Then, when power prices soared along with demand as society got to work, the wind turbines went to sleep. The peak production of 214 megawatts dropped to as little as 11 and never rose above 60. To put these numbers in perspective, when Ontario needed the wind most, wind was producing as little as one twentieth of 1% of Ontario’s needs –essentially nothing. Even in its best hour, wind only met 1.21% of Ontario’s needs, and that’s because other, more flexible forms of generation, scaled back their production (unlike hydro or fossil fuel generation, wind is not dispatchable).
Even had wind been able to continue producing at its rate of 214 megawatts, it would have met less than 1% of Ontario’s peak needs. Not that 214 megawatts is all that good, in any case. In that first hour, wind was operating at under 20% of its own capacity. It has better days, when the wind blows stronger and longer, but not enough of them to make wind economical.
Because wind systems will always have days when they will contribute essentially nothing, and because society will not want power blackout on those days, the only prudent course for the managers of the electricity grid is to value wind’s capacity at essentially nothing. That means other types of generating plants will always be needed to back up any wind that’s built to supply the power grid, making wind even more uneconomical, and more nonsensical as a power source to be relied upon.