Dead Air

[During heatwave] wind was supplying less than one-tenth of one per cent of the province’s demand, which is pretty feeble.

The Ottawa Citizen,

Gord Miller, Ontario’s environmental commissioner, made an interesting observation the other week: The recent reduction in Ontario’s greenhouse gas emissions is due entirely to industry. In other words, individual households have done nothing to cut energy use.

Perhaps ordinary citizens of Ontario are just greedy consumers, but there’s also the possibility we’ve been lulled into believing there’s no energy issue — that pollution-free “renewables” have solved the problem for us. From a myriad of both private and public sources, the message seems to be that clean technology is our salvation.

Time for a reality check. Consider wind power, one of the most celebrated sources of renewable energy. The province boasts that nearly 1,100 million watts (or megawatts) of electricity can come from the many wind turbines scattered around Ontario, and that more is coming. The province has signed a $7-billion deal with Samsung to build and install turbines, and we pay a preferential price for electricity from wind.

All this wind power means less reliance on coal and gas, right? Not so fast.

Remember last Wednesday, that brutally hot day? Around lunchtime, the wind turbines that on paper can deliver near 1,100 MW were actually producing only 14 MW. That still sounds like quite a lot, until we compare it to the day’s peak demand of 24,660 MW. Wind was supplying less than one-tenth of one per cent of the province’s demand, which is pretty feeble. Coal and gas supplied 600 times more.

Wind is fickle. Sometimes it blows, sometimes it doesn’t. And the times it tends to ease off are frustratingly on those stifling summer days when we need it most, the days when Ontario’s power demand is at its highest.

We’re not sure whether there’s a technical term for wind too light to turn those expensive turbines, but sailors have a good word for it. They call it dead air.

4 thoughts on “Dead Air

  1. The recent reduction is not due entirely to industry, and the individual households have continued to cut use (there are an increasing number of households so the total residential use is similar). Regardless, the decline is largely due to industry.

    But flashback to 2003 when Ontario consumed approx 145 TWh and generated 30.3 TWh of that with coal.
    In 2009 coal use was down 20.5 TW to 9.8, and:
    Use was down 10.3 TWh to 138.9
    Nuclear output was up 22 TWh
    Hydro output was up 3.4 TWh

    Thats 33.7 to replace the 20.5. The rest of the difference is in the export/import variance – we now export electricity, in all likelihood well below what we pay for it, because production is increasingly oblivious to demand.
    Wind production, under the Ontario structure of buying it whenever it is produced, exacerbates this issue.

  2. For your readers with a flagrant disregard for property rights (or with a Sky subscription), this pirate website shows the Simpsons (or at least Homer) embracing “renewable” technology with a wind-turbine in the garden, and Homer declaring with passion: “From now on, the Simpsons are living… INTERMITTENTLY.” (06’04”, The Squirt and the Whale).

    The fact that viewers are expected to get the jokes about wind turbines suggests a pretty widespread understanding of the myths surrounding alleged alternative energy (although the Simpsons is, of course, pitched way above the heads of what you might charitably call average viewers).

  3. I am pleasantly surprised to see the Citizen pointing out wind power’s obvious deficiencies. They also published a thoughtful letter today, calling on the government to face the need to invest in new realistic electrical capacity. If this newspaper is commenting thus, then the bloom may finally be off the wind turbine rose. Maybe now they will examine the proposed N Gower wind development with a more critical view.

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