Wind power generated electricity is neither free, nor economical, nor a reliable energy source

By Dr. Klaus L.E. Kaiser,  Canadian Free Press

Alternative energy is in vogue these days. Our politicians are willing to spend megabucks to subsidize wind turbines, their manufacturers, installers, and owners to produce alternative electric power that way. Of course, any manufacturer or vendor will provide you with “generating capacity” numbers, and they sound great. The politicians, journalists, and green lobbyists love them; numbers with megaW of installed or planned new capacities are touted in all kinds of pamphlets and announcements. There is just a little fly in the ointment. The term CAPACITY no longer has the meaning it used to have.

Conventional (coal, gas, nuclear)

When you read about the electricity generating capacity of a coal or natural gas-fired power plant, or that of a nuclear power plant, the term capacity refers to what such a system—if fully functioning—can deliver on a 24 hour – 7 day a week basis. This is widely understood and we expect the electric power we wish to use at any given time to be there—on demand.

Alternative (wind)

Manufacturers and vendors of alternative electric power systems, such as wind turbines, also use the term “generating capacity”, but with an entirely different meaning. What they mean with “capacity” is in reality “NOMINAL CAPACITY”, and that differs substantially from the real life output or the actual power available. The main reason is that the power function depends on the CUBE (not SQUARE) of the wind speed. The table below will demonstrate that for a turbine rated for a maximum 100 km/hr wind speed.

Table. Wind speed versus available power (in kW) as theoretical maximum for a given wind turbine of approximately 1 megaW (1,000 kW) NOMINAL CAPACITY, and Beaufort wind scale definitions.


Example Wind speed (km/hour) Power (kWatt) Beaufort wind scale
A 1 0.001 light air
B 10 1 light breeze
C 30 81 moderate breeze
D 50 125 near gale
E 75 422 strong gale
F 100 1,000 or zero storm
G 120 zero hurricane

As seen, up to a wind speed of 10 km/hour (examples A and B), the power delivered is negligible, at most 1 kW. In practice, it is zero as there is always some friction to be overcome and so forth (for larger turbines the minimum wind speed is more like 20 km/hr). At the other end of the range (examples F & G), when the wind rises to 100 km/hr or higher, (depending on the specific turbine), which may happen a few times a year in strong storms, the system has to be shut down in order to prevent physical damage. That speed is also called the cutout speed; the energy delivered then is also zero.

At speeds in between, such as in the examples C, D and E, power is generated, but at much less than the maximum or nominal capacity. Even at a wind speed of 50 km/hr the energy available is only 12.5%, and at a wind speed of 75 km/hr (common in many storms, which typically occur a few times per year), the energy is only 42% percent of the nominal capacity. In order to get anywhere near the nominal or plate capacity of the turbine, the wind speed would have to be just below the turbine’s cutout speed all the time, in other words at storm or hurricane speed (example F). Of course – and thankfully so – this is not the case anywhere.

Bigger = Better ?

Some of the newer wind turbines have cutout speeds of 110 to 120 km/hr, rather than the 100 km/hr claimed for earlier models. While one may think that this makes them more productive at any (lower than maximum) speed, in fact, the opposite is true. A turbine with a rated cutout speed of 120 km/hr (hurricane on the Beaufort scale, example G), would only produce approximately 7% of its nominal capacity at a wind speed of 50 km/hr versus 12.5% for one rated at 100 km/hr. But the manufacturers and vendors of wind turbines like to ride the (political) bandwagon of “bigger and better” and, unfortunately, many of the politicians fall for this myth.

The Ontario example

For example, Ontario has currently nine operating “wind farms”, each of which has a number of wind turbines ranging from a few to about a hundred with a combined output capacity of close to 1100 megaW. Their output is continuously measured and these data are available, on an hourly basis on the web site of the Independent Electricity System Operator in Ontario. The data show that, on average, the output of these wind farms is in the order of only 8% of the stated or nominal capacity.

For Ontario to actually get 25% of its total electricity requirement (~25,000 megaW) reliably from wind power, it would require in the order of 100,000 of such 1 megaW turbines. However, even if that number of turbines were to be installed in wind-prone areas, that amount of electricity could not actually be used in Ontario alone. Much of it would have to be sent to other locations to avoid destabilization of the electricity grid during storms.

The Denmark example

Denmark is widely cited as a great example for electricity generation from wind power. Indeed, Denmark creates approximately 20% of its electricity from wind turbines. However, it cannot safely use that amount. In fact, only in the order of 5% of Denmark’s electricity consumption comes from wind. The other part (15% of its total electricity) must be exported to avoid destabilization of the grid. This is possible only because its nearby neighbours (particularly Germany) have much larger electricity needs than Denmark and can absorb that wind generated power into their grids without problem.

Despite all that “free” electricity from wind, the Danes enjoy one of the highest electricity costs in the European Union, approximately double the rate found in most of the other EU countries. In fact, the Chair of Energy Policy in the Danish Parliament called it “a terribly expensive disaster.” Furthermore, in terms of carbon dioxide emissions, electricity from wind, when accounted for in full, produces more CO2 than other energy sources. Denmark’s CO2 emissions rose well over 30% in the year 2006 alone.

Variability = Need for Backup

One important aspect of wind power is the variable nature of the beast. In order to maintain an uninterrupted energy supply when demanded by the consumer, traditional power plants (e.g. coal, etc.) have to be in continuous operation. When alternative power becomes available, they then have to be operating without being able to sell their energy to the grid during that standby period. That in turn, of course, increases substantially the overall costs of their operation. Therefore, the consumer will not just have to pay for the much more expensive wind energy (at this time highly subsidized by taxpayers in most jurisdictions) but will also have to pay for the additional, much higher running costs of the traditional power systems relegated to standby operation when there is a strong wind.

In summary

The term “Generating Capacity” as used by the wind power proponents is grossly misleading as it would require steady, uninterrupted storm to hurricane force winds to be achieved on a sustained basis.

The variability of wind creates technical problems which make wind power generated electricity both unreliable and costly.

Electricity generation from wind requires full backup by conventional power generating facilities. That creates additional costs attributable to wind power.

Wind power generated electricity is neither free, nor economical, nor a reliable energy source.

21 thoughts on “Wind power generated electricity is neither free, nor economical, nor a reliable energy source

  1. I think the numbers in the chart are wrong — based on the current technology of turbines. The power output at 50km should be about 650 – 800KW depending on turbine design — not that there are many 1MW turbines any more.

    …will look at original article.

  2. That article depends on that table and I think it is just plain wrong.

    I would pull the article and ask the author to take another look at his paper.

  3. I have had some discussion with the author. This story just tells a small part of the tale. I still disagree with the table… I just don’t see how he calculated the numbers but that’s another issue. I will sort that out later.

    Bottom line premise is that Face Plate value is overstated. My calculations support his premise. And that is that.

    I will look at some major manufacturers and the power generating capacity claims in detail later.

    He is also looking at other issues which appear to be right on the money as well. Truly interesting!

    I never checked the claims or did the calculations before…

  4. His conclusions are bang on — I just don’t think his chart is right — or at least I don’t know how he derived it. He does not say exactly.

    I am now embarrassed that I never looked at this the way he did! This much I can tell you, based on the “theoretical” calculations he is clearly correct — the face palate values are overstated — unless there is something is I don’t understand.

    So no — don’t pull it. I am looking at turbine specs right now to see how this was pulled off — or the wool pulled over our eyes maybe.

  5. An article by J. A. Halkema (M.S.E.E.), a Dutch energy expert, called Wind Energy Facts and Fiction: A Half Truth is a Whole Lie.
    provides background on kinetic energy and winds limitations that most could understand. A concave curve similar to the Klaus’s table would be expected. Modern technology is supposed to be able to pitch the blades to produce a more convex curve but this may not be supported in reality. In reality there would be limitations of a turbines ability to efficiently convert the volatile kinetic energy from wind to power or to pitch the blades properly as wind moves around a bit. Kaiser’s article is stating clear points and recognizes the total production for each turbine is volatile and unique with slight changes in wind speed. We don’t get a constant wind but a range of speeds up and down and directional changes which means power production would be up and down. Companies produce charts that indicate turbines operating at 100 % within a wind speed range (e.g. 30 to 50 mph). Wind power production graphs have yet to support those charts as no long stretches of 100% power production has been shown in wind production graphs that are monitored in periods of less than one hour (5 minute intervals). The reporting of the hourly wind production masks the volatile nature of wind power just as wwind turbine capacity gives the impression of available power. Interesting article.

  6. David: Thanks for the link to the wind power formula. Note the efficiency variables of “Ng” and “Nb” would decrease with age and other than knowing a maximum for “A” it would be hard to predict at any moment in time as the rotary sweep may be available but not always exposed to the wind due to the winds ability to change direction. The physics supports the idea that recovery sucks. Not sure that matters to the develop and sell mentality though it should matter to those that buy these white elephants.

  7. Zen2Then:

    Those factors are wiped out — they are 100% efficiency for the load graphs… at least on the Vestas…

    Interesting eh?

  8. Whilst the intent of this discussion is fully understood, it should be noted that the highest actual hourly level of Ontario Wind generation was 1017 MW on October 30, 2009.

  9. Regarding the last post…

    I am no longer certain that he numbers reported by IESO are always accurate. Klaus has sent me some documentation to that effect. We briefly speculated on the information he sent me — but have no conclusions to offer.

    In addition, it is not clear as to how Cp (turbine / blade efficiency factor) is determined in the Vesta charts and whether the face plate numbers are Input power to the generator, or whether they are output capability.

    Now perhaps they have bundled all the “efficiencies” into the Cp number — but that is not normally done. …and therein lies the problem. That which is not specifically stated or measured becomes a matter or debate.

    It used to appear nice and neat — now it appears to be a little messy.

    I will look at this again today.

  10. I can see the room to maneuver in “The data show that, on average, the output of these wind farms is in the order of only 8% of the stated or nominal capacity.” only by changing stated capacity. On average they are between 25 and 30%.
    Is he referring to the mean, or saying the capacity of 1.5 MW is actually a capacity of 4.0 MW?
    I don’t get it.

    “For Ontario to actually get 25% of its total electricity requirement (~25,000 megaW) reliably from wind power, it would require in the order of 100,000 of such 1 megaW turbines.” is confusing to say the least.
    25000MW was our peak over the last 36 months, so to get 25% of peak would be 6750MW and, as that occurs in the summer usually (when the capacity factor averages only 15% and the IESO has previously only relied on 10%), I’d get a similar conclusion. We haven’t gotten 10% during the highest demand hours of the season either, so sure, call it 100000MW requirement. And that would produce too much power on average (20000-30000MW where average Ontario consumption is 16000MW).

    So I agree with the conclusions. My guess is the jargon is the changing part.
    I don’t find the confusion helpful.

  11. I don’t question the relationship of wind strength to output David.

    I appreciate you considering the possibility I could work through the math from the University study.

    I think I followed it just well enough to get the gist of how they determine expected outputs – but the outputs at the installations currently in Ontario aren’t producing at capacity factors much below what the OPA documents showed they were planned to produce at.

    I still think a ‘trick’ of the IPCC variety would be required to make 25-30% an average of 8% – but admit I’m too lazy to pursue it further.

  12. Scott:

    I think University Mathematicians like to dress things up in fancy symbols…

    That paper was of interest for the formulas only — but it is a paper about how many turbines and wind farms (factories) will alter the weather — that math was little more interesting. It is much simpler than it seems.

    WRF is Weather Research and Forecasting — a package they were using to examine the alteration of local climate by turbines…

    Anyway other papers have pointed out the obvious — that the only way to wring more speed out of turbines is to change the pitch of the blade (twist it about its long axis) and hence keep the power output in the “more optimal” range. So I guess we have to get rid of lots of old turbines.

    One of you pointed out that shifting wind direction is a real issue in our local climate as well as the variability in the speed.

    I think it is obvious now as to why we get such dismal performance in Ontario. I cannot see that changing — ever — unless we get high speed pitch changing mechanisms and high speed directional drives for the rotor hubs. I don’t think that is likely unless some of the laws of physics are repealed.

    But then — based on the level of competence of recent Energy Ministers — why would they NOT write such a law…????

  13. Two things of interest.
    The fringe thought is how much any impact on wind affects precipitation – the formula including energy brought to mind an ieso graph showing wind production droping below expectations last September, and then the same graph shape occurring for hydro, presumably due to lower precipitation, beginning shortly afterwards. Probably a coincidence, and likely not caused by human activity.
    But something to look for coming out of those formulas.
    The second is less far-fetched, and that is technologies that become successful aren’t characterized by decreasing efficiency and increased costs.
    Technological failures are.

  14. Remember, the IWT owners only get paid for each MWh produced (albeit at a generous rate). No Capacity payments are offered.
    Therefore whether they produce 30%, 8% or 1% of nameplate capacity, ’tis the owners “risk”/reward.

  15. I think we should have a “tag day” for over-promising, underdelivering, shabbily run, poorly planned and operated Industrial Wind Companies.

    Those poor investors – someone has to protect them from their own, over-reaching greed.

    (It only takes a few to sell out an entire community, by the way, when the magnitude of the sell-out is such that it destroys everyone elses property too!!!!)

  16. “Remember, the IWT owners only get paid for each MWh produced (albeit at a generous rate). No Capacity payments are offered.
    Therefore whether they produce 30%, 8% or 1% of nameplate capacity, ’tis the owners “risk”/reward.”

    Is that true?

    Do they participate in the DACP program or not? Or the DA-PCG program?

    IOW — do we pay if they forecast output but IESO does not wish to take that output due to other more stable base load generators on line.

    You made the claim that we don’t pay unless they produce — I suggest you check it out. Feel free to report back.

    That document should give everyone some idea of how the process works.

    My understanding earlier this year is that wind power would now be scheduled and subject to much the same rules as other operators — but perhaps no penalties. I did not continue to follow the developments on this — but you seem convinced that we do not have a “pay or take” situation — so maybe a letter to IESO is in order. Let us know the results.

  17. Of course Colin Anderson (CEO, OPA)would lather spend his time lauding the WWF than working on ways to provide reliable inexpensive power.

    I wonder if he spends time with pensioners asking them if they can afford his beautiful Green Dreams.

    Maybe he should spend some of that time examining the consequences of his decisions rather than traveling the country lauding them.

  18. It’s amazing that these tax spending “lepers” all use the same language put out by CANWEA in their “WindVision 2025” glossy booklet.

    These guys have never had an original thought in their lives and are probably more dangerous to our existence as a Free Landowner than any major disaster like Floods, Hurricanes or Tornadoes…………..

    Colin Anderson quotes Denmark among others as to the model they are building upon for “Ontario’s Green Future”…….I hope he’s read the headlines this week stating that Denmark is no longer building Wind Turbines on land because of noise and health problems!

    Of course why would he?…………..that would reduce his usefulness as a “bingo caller” for his “Gang Green” investment community!

  19. Dave, your point on the owners of the IWT projects isn’t irrelevant, but it is only relevant in keeping a lid on name calling.

    I had a discussion a couple of years ago, with a friend, about getting into solar installations on corporate real estate flat roofs primarily.
    I did provide him with some figures. From a business point of few, its a straightforward proposition.
    Is the capacity factor knowable (yes)
    Is the cost knowable (yes)
    In other words, the cost to produce a certain output was knowable.
    The FITs, and other OPA contracts, allow the full costing to be done on the revenue side as well.

    The thing is this ‘business’ approach for ‘green’ energy ignores the demand side, and the discussion on meeting demand, in hindsight, was fully expected with a little foresight.

    This weekend Ontario is forecast to have too much supply 51 of the 72 long weekend hours – and today is the last day of September we aren’t expected to have surplus supply at some point in the day.
    David has provided some interesting links on forecasting difficulties, but I think the reality is the IESO always buys too much power because they don’t count on the wind at all – and all the output we purchase at 11 cents ends up exported to New York and Michigan at 4 cents/kWh

    I would expect a lot of the suppliers will lose money in the long run – because they only have a single customer, and that’s a bad situation even if you have a contract.
    Especially if you aren’t providing any value.

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