2007: record year for US wind industry

This is impressive news:

Shattering all its previous records, the U.S. wind energy industry installed 5,244 megawatts (MW) in 2007, expanding the nation's total wind power generating capacity by 45% in a single calendar year and injecting an investment of over $9 billion into the economy, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) announced [Thursday].

Disclosure: I am working for the wind industry - I finance wind projects in Europe. update: A first estimate of global numbers puts total new capacity built in 2007 at 20 GW

This was widely expected to be an excellent year, after an already good year in 2006, when more than 2,500MW were installed in the US. hopes were that 3,000, or even 3,500MW would be installed in 2007. With more than 5,000 MW built and connected to the grid, the record for any country is shattered (the previous one was Germany with 3244 MW in 2002). And 2008 is looking good too.

As the AWEA notes, wind power has several advantages:

  • Helps protect consumers from increases in electricity costs due to volatile fuel prices and supply disruptions:  by reducing the use of natural gas and other fuels used for electricity generation, and lowering the pressure on their price, wind can save consumers money, even in regions with low or no wind resources.

Wind power prices are quite simple: there is no fuel cost, just a little bit of maintenance, so each additional kWh of power provided when wind blows is almost free once the turbines are installed. Which means that the only cost is the amortization (or financing) of the initial construction. And the good news is that this cost is set in stone from the start, and will not change for the next 20 years: you know how much interest and principal you need to pay, and that's it. Compared to gas-fired plants or even coal-fired plants, whose main cost is that of the fuel, it's becoming a huge advantage, and an incredibly safe bet.

Even better, as the AWEA notes, each time wind blows, power with zero marginal cost is sent into the network; with electricity market prices set at the highest marginal cost needed to satisfy demand at any given moment, the more ultra cheap power you have, the lower that market price will be, as there is less need to tap the more expensive producers (like diesel plants or gas peaking plants). That reduces the price of electricity for everybody. The Economist noted that studies in Denmark have shown that the savings to electricity consumers thanks to that effect are now larger in that country than the cost of subsidizing wind power production - which means that this is exactly the kind of things that governments should do, ie bear an expense that creates a larger gain for the overall population.

Today, wind power, while still more expensive than existing coal and nuclear plants, is cheaper than gas-fired power and, thus, most of the time, cheaper than market prices which are driven by gas prices. The trouble is that investors are not yet convinced that this will be true for the full next 15 years, and are still reluctant to some extent to support wind construction without some form of support. In the US, that support takes the form of the PTC, or production tax credit, which allows investors to deduct, for ten years, an amount equal to 2cents/kWh from their tax bills, which can thus be added to their income coming from the wind project.

The PTC is pretty low compared to European support mechanisms, but given that the US has a generally better wind resource, it's been more than enough to support the industry. The problem is that it is a temporary mechanism which is only extended for a year of two by Congress each time it lapses, causing huge uncertainty. In fact, several times in the past few years, it was not renewed in time and killed the industry for that year, creating havoc for the industry worldwide (some manufacturers almost went bankrupt).

Oddly enough, the problem with PTC is not that it's unpopular in Congress, but the opposite: that it's hugely popular. That means that any law that includes it is likely to be supported by a strong majority, and then gets larded with more disputable - and disputed - items, which are then opposed. The PTC gets taken hostage, effectively... Crazy, but true.

  • Reduces global warming emissions: To generate the same amount of electricity using the average U.S. power plant fuel mix would cause over 28 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) to be emitted annually.

This is pretty obvious too. Each kWh of wind is carbon-free, and reduces the need for the same kWh to be generated by a hydrocarbon-burning plant. Some contest that effect by saying that wind power is intermittent, and thus unreliable, and requires fuel-burning plants as back-up for times when there is demand for power but no wind. What is true is that wind power cannot eliminate the need for coal-fired and gas-fired plants, but it does eliminate the need for these plants to actually burn fuel: having these plants around, but functioning at a lower capacity is a net plus for carbon emissions. A lot of gas-fired plants are designed not to be used for permanent use (gas peaking plants can be profitable even though they function less than 5% of the time), so this is technically feasible and imposes minor costs - and it DOES reduce emissions (for a discussion of a more detailed study, see this diary: No technical limitation to wind power penetration).

The problem today is certainly not that of too much wind in the system, it is that, despite recent growth, wind investment is still dwarfed by investment in the traditional power sector, as this table from the US Energy Information Agency shows:

Just under double the capacity in gas-fired plants was built than in wind. And, with wind power's lower capacity factor (30% for wind, which means that a wind power will produce, on average over the year, only 30% of its maximum potential capacity, as opposed to 70-90% for gas) that means that capacity additions in 2007 still translate in 5 times more kWh coming from gas than from wind just for the new capacity.

The problem is that gas is no longer plentiful: production in North America (ie US and Canada) is declining, which means increasing LNG imports - a sector where there is heavy competition from other markets:

Even if there is enough gas, the massive requirement to invest in the LNG infrastructure, and likely bidding wars with European buyers, are going to keep gas prices high - and thus power prices.

  • Conserves precious water resources: Wind farms don't need water for steam or for cooling, a benefit that is increasingly valuable in arid areas and in times of drought.

This is a less obvious argument, but a vital one in many areas, as steam-based power plants (which also includes nuclear ones, in that instance) require access to plenty of water to function.

So, some may ask, why subsidize wind power if it's so great and so damn economic already? As I noted above, its competitivity in the short term has not yet convinced investors that this will be the case over the next 15 years, the usual duration to finance the investments. The good part of having fixed production costs is that they cannot go up; but the downside, of course, is that they cannot go down which means that, should there be any period of lower gas prices, wind power plants would not be able to repay their debt during that period - and banks absolutely hate payment defaults, even temporary.  The risk is low, but enough to give cold feet to lenders without some additional revenue source, and the lack of financing makes projects much less attractive for investors.

Also, wind is almost competitive despite the massive subsidies received by its competitors (all the tax breaks received by the oil&gas industry, no accounting for pollution and carbon emissions, etc...), and the PTC only levels the playing field to some extent.

But there are other reasons why more support for the industry would be worthwhile, even given prevailing price conditions:

  • wind power creates a lot more jobs per kWh produced than all other technologies. Good manufacturing jobs, good construction jobs, and long term maintenance jobs. Even better, apart from the manufacturing ones, these jobs are not offshoreable, and are usually located in the communities near thewind farms, often providing a much needed boost to areas with otherwise few prospects;
  • wind power does not require the control of the Persian Gulf by US Navy aircraft carriers nor grunts in Iraq;
  • wind power is local, is plentiful, and will not be depleted;

Some will say that wind farms are ugly. I don't have an argument against that, but would suggest that there is enough space for wind power projects without needing to put them in the most spectacular spots.

And as a final note about my partiality here: as a financier for the industry, I have to make sure that we do not take inappropriate risks. In particular, that means making sure that performance claims are not inflated, that costs are as announced and, a very important thing, that each project is well accepted by the local community and that there is no hostility (as this can lead to judicial procedures, delays, and bad publicity, all things which cost money and can compromise debt repayment). So bankers - when they do their job - have to remain clear-eyed about the industries they work with...

wind power is local, is plentiful, and will not be depleted

- can be local but not necessarily optimal - economically, environmentally
- plentiful in places not necessarily local
- may not be depleted in any chosen site but still can render the turbine useless if the wind pattern changes significantly which is likely as the climate change accelerates.

vessel based wind harvester with ammonia production capability might be the way forward with least risk of wasting the remaining limited resources.

While an impressive amount of total new wind power capacity had been installed in the US last year, proposed offshore wind projects have not fared so well in the US. As a result, the US currenly has no full-scale offshore wind installations (that I'm aware of).

In New England we have the NIMBY effect hard at work.

In the mid-Atlantic, a 150-turbine wind farm proposed by Bluewater Wind, and which would have been located 11 miles off the southern part of the Delaware shore, is currently the victim of some rather unseemly political intrigue and probably has a less than 50/50 chance of ever being built. The local power provider, Delmarva Power, wants no part of any long-term contract that would force it to buy power from Bluewater Wind and has been using its influence in the Delaware Legislature to scuttle the project. To add insult to injury, it wants to pass along to its power customers all the money it has spent on consultants and lawyers in its attempts to discredit the project.

So, not all is not rosey on the wind front.

Offshore wind is probably less of an urgency in the US than in Europe, which is smaller, a lot more densely populated, and, in several countries, already widely equipped with onshore wind turbines.

As offshore is still significantly more expensive than onshore wind, it makes sense to focus, for now, on onshore installations.

As offshore is still significantly more expensive than onshore wind, it makes sense to focus, for now, on onshore installations.

that's true if one merely moves the turbines designed/optimized for onshore operation offshore. for any application that does not use the electricity directly, the ocean vessel based wind harvester (carrier group) designed/optimized for such operation may not be more expensive given the (2X+) wind speed and much higher consistency.

The current European experience is that kWh are still at least 50% more expensive offshore, despite the advantages you mention. Net production is probably 50% higher than onshore, but as costs as almost double, the economics, for now, are worse. It may change as we move up in scale and start looking at 1,000 MW wind farms, but it's still unproven.

guess no one with a "sane" mind has seriously looked into harnessing the gale force wind on the high seas.


A portion of the cost for onshore wind is the rent paid for land where the turbine is located. Offshore should avoid this cost. Can you see a time when the rent catches up with the extra expense of working offshore? Would the reuse of portions of the equipment over a century or so bring the long term costs in line or does in just not converge?



Rent costs are minuscule, all considered.

What makes offshore more expensive is the following:
- foundations: the deeper you are, the bigger they need to be, which costs more to manufacture, and then to transport;
- grid connection: the further away, the more expensive (this is a really big issue)
- installation requires special vessels and cranes, and is dependent on weather, so takes more time
- operations and maintenance similarly requires specific transportation (vessels and cranes), which tales more time and is a lot more expensive, and a lot harder to make on time when the weather is bad (for health and safety reasons); as turbines are under bigger strains than onshore (stronger winds, salt corrosion), the needs are actually greater.

Against that, you get the ability to put bigger turbines, and much better and stronger wind, so higher capacity numbers on bigger turbines. As I said, for the time being, the overall cost per kWh is still higher, by about 50%. It might go down faster than onshore costs will (both are currently increasing right now, due to supply chain tightness and higher commodity prices, althoguh probably slower than for other sectors of the energy generation world)

an insanely out-of-box idea: a flotilla of floating VATs with minimal height positioned around and with electrical connection to a carrier with an on-board ammonia plant and storage.

What makes offshore more expensive is the following:
- foundations: the deeper you are, the bigger they need to be, which costs more to manufacture, and then to transport;
- grid connection: the further away, the more expensive (this is a really big issue)
- installation requires special vessels and cranes, and is dependent on weather, so takes more time
- operations and maintenance similarly requires specific transportation (vessels and cranes), which tales more time and is a lot more expensive, and a lot harder to make on time when the weather is bad (for health and safety reasons); as turbines are under bigger strains than onshore (stronger winds, salt corrosion), the needs are actually greater.

all eliminated.

and you can move these carrier groups to wherever the wind is most favorable.

want strong winds? in Arctic ocean right now - 60+ kn. place them close to the ice cap, the excess capacity can be used to pump water through the thin ice to make the thicker ones. now the return on the investment is not only the clean fuel produced but also the side-effect-free ice cap fixing. what price-tag should one put on a vanishing ice cap and the risk of THC shutdown?

Unconventional offshore wind has a lot of promise, but it's still not even at prototype-level.

Most of the issues with offshore wind could be mitigated using a combination of any of the floating oil-rig type technologies, featherweight carbon fiber towers and blades, and some type of energy storage taking place in a fleet of ships.

The shipboard energy storage could be any number of things.

Lithium borohydride
Flow batteries
Compressed air (the Coselle CNG concept is nice here)
Liquid nitrogen from air (LNG containers, likewise, are already well-proven)
Ethanol distillation
Hydrogen electrolysis
Any of a dozen reversible fuel cell technologies

None of these would work. A simple calculation:

- let's have a 3MW wind turbine installed on a floating barge, operating at 40% capacity factor
- let it need to go and "offload" its energy once a week (I don't think less than that would be practical).

During that time the wind turbine will produce:
3MW * 0.4 * 7 * 24 = 201.6 MWh

Using batteries with a typical power to weight ratio of 200Wth/kg will require:
201.6 10^6 / 200 = 1 mln.kg = 1000 tonnes of batteries only... forgetting about cost for a moment this will be some 10 times the weight of the turbine!

Compressed air stores typically 75 to 300kJ/kg, which translates to 20 to 83Wh/kg, so you will need around 3 times more air as weight than batteries - imagine a 3000 tonne compressed air bottle, waiting to blow up!

IMO the only close to feasible energy storage from those would be hydrogen, as it stores around 40kwH/kg, so it will require "only" 5,000 kgs of hydrogen. With roundtrip efficiency of 50% though (electrolysis + fuel cells) or 40% (electrolysis + NG powered plant) we would end up as though we have only 1.5 or 1.2MW wind turbine for all those investments... it will be hugely inefficient and expensive enterprise.


Thanks. Sounds like there is always something to rent. If not the land then the boat. I hope it pulls together well.


Methanol synthesis is not particularly difficult. Since you take the CO2 out of the air or water it's carbon neutral.

take the CO2 out of the air or water

any idea how much would that cost?

I made an estimate of the power required using zeolite as an absorber and it is not a lot. Others are working on this pretty hard. You can read my estimate here. I think the Navy considers dissolved carbon dioxide easier to work with.


i know nothing about zeolite. for the type that can trap CO2, what would be the cost, size and weight that can produce a tonne of CO2/day?

Well, as far as the situation in Delaware is concerned, if a wind farm isn't built offshore, it's not likely to be built at all. The value of coastal and near-coastal property in Delaware's seaside resort areas is so high that I very much doubt one could find the several square miles of contiguous property required for a wind farm at anything even close to a reasonable price. And once you get further inland, potential wind power drops off quite rapidly.

And perhaps this is the way it should be. High coastal property values send a clear market signal: the general public wants these areas for recreational use: not energy production.

Overall, I'd have to say that the prognosis for offshore wind power in the US is not particularly encouraging.

quikSCAT map shows where the real wind (30+ knots) is


click on any area to see the detailed distributions

30+ knots (about 35mph)?????

Who needs wind that strong? Most wind turbines work in 8 to 10 knot wind (10 to 12mph).

I have lived in various places across the middle and western US. In many places such as North Dakota and central Texas the wind blows most days although the speed varies a lot. I have been in ND in January and witnessed 20 mph plus wind contant for two days straight during temps of 0 to -20 deg. F. The power in that wind could easily have provided everyone's heat in the area of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota if the power Co. had wind turbines.

Who needs wind that strong?

the simple, cheap and robust underdog VAT.

VAT is, to me at least, Value Added Tax - a version of sales tax. Can you please let us know what you meant by VAT?

in the context of wind turbines, it's vertical axis turbine.

Most large wind turbines cut in at around 9mph and reach stated capacity at around 25 mph. Energy output at 9 mph (4m/s) for a 1.5 MW turbine is around 100 KW, 12mph (6 m/s) = 300 KW, 17 mph (8 m/s) = 600 KW, 19 mph (10 m/s) = 900 KW, 21 mph (12 m/s) = 1.2 MW, and 25 mph = 1.5 MW.

For a look a total world wind resources, take a look at this NASA survey. Ocean resources are huge. But you still find some pretty strong average winds in the great plains, the Sahara and Gobi deserts.

some pretty strong average winds in ... the Sahara and Gobi deserts.

if one is to turn wind into liquid fuels, abundant water is also needed.

As many have noted, the strongest average winds speeds are over the oceans -- so for liquid fuel that's not a constraint at all. I think most wind plans will, eventually, include land and water based resources with liquid storage in ocean wind farms being a possibility. One other point, you don't need anywhere near the kind of water resources for wind/electricity storage that you do with fossil fuels. If there were abundant resources in a given area, I don't think it would be too difficult to store water/liquids underground in the volumes needed.

if the wind pattern changes significantly which is likely as the climate change accelerates.

The volume of the resource might change slightly, but a good windy site will stay windy.

The Great Plains have nothing but barbed wire between the Arctic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, this will not change. The Arctic will still be colder than the GoM. This is also true of more localized windy places as well.

Best Hopes for Wind to continue transferring heat & cold,


The Great Plains have nothing but barbed wire between the Arctic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, this will not change. The Arctic will still be colder than the GoM. This is also true of more localized windy places as well.

there is also the not so obvious subtropical high which can shift as the tropical region expands and the polar region shrinks.

Properly located they are fine , we have a wind farm zone near our city of 75,000 (Palmerston North, NZ )with several hundred turbines from the smaller ones to giant 3MW. The 31 3MW have been up for almost a year and at any one time about a quarter are out of action due to mechanical problems, bearings usually, blades delaminating and in one case a blade simply falling off.At 45m I bet that sure made a dent in the ground. 8 were out of action yesterday. The wind appears to be too strong with violent swings in direction. The wear and tear is a significant ongoing cost. This may well be that the Manawatu has the wrong turbines and that the ridge tops of the Tararuas, only a few hundred metres from an active fault line, is simply the wrong place for them. Whatever, I hope this tempers some of the optomism held by those who think they are a magic bullet.
This was in our local paper recently.

Wednesday, 02 January 2008

Energy strategy risks power shortages
There is a significant risk of power shortages from the Government's aim for 90 per cent renewable power and prices will rise, according to former Electricity Commission chairman Roy Hemmingway.

The Government's Energy Strategy, announced in December, will also impose a 10-year ban on building new fossil fuel power stations in an effort to cut carbon dioxide emissions.

Hemmingway left the job as Electricity Commission chairman at the end of 2006, at the end of an often turbulent three years. At that time, he openly criticised Energy Minister David Parker as an "interventionist" who appeared to think he was nearly always right.

Now living in the United States again, Hemmingway told BusinessDay the original Energy Strategy drafted by government officials was "fairly well balanced". But Hemmingway said he understood that the more "extreme reliance" on renewable energy was substituted by Parker himself.

"More renewables are necessary if New Zealand is to meet climate change targets. However, in my opinion, the government's policy puts so much emphasis on renewables to the exclusion of other generation sources that the power supply is at risk," Hemmingway said.

He warned against an over-reliance on wind power.

"The most likely and abundant source of renewable electricity is wind, and wind is unpredictable," Hemmingway said.

It was possible to predict the amount of wind energy available over the course of a whole year, but it was "very difficult" to predict how much wind power might be possible at the exact time it was needed to meet demand, he said.

"Given that New Zealand has begun to experience issues around meeting peak demand, there is a very serious problem with relying on wind," he said.

There were not enough other forms of renewable power such as hydro and geothermal stations that would provide a more reliable power supply.

"Power prices will rise, simply because new sources of supply, of all kinds, are more expensive than the old sources," Hemmingway said.

Banning non-renewable power from coal or gas fired stations potentially meant generators would have to turn to more expensive sources driving up prices.

Hemmingway did not estimate the potential impact on prices from the policy. However, independent electricity consultant Bryan Leyland has recently estimated the price of power could rise 30 to 40 per cent within a few years as a result.

Previous Electricity Commission figures suggest wind would cost 11 cents a unit, about twice the present cost of coal or gas. The Wind Energy Association says wind would cost between 7c and 10c a unit.

Bank economists have estimated government policies will see the price of petrol rise 4 per cent and electricity rise 7 per cent, at least, adding to the risks of inflation for the Reserve Bank.

New Zealand is already a world leader in renewable power, producing about two-thirds of its electricity mainly from hydro power, with smaller amounts of geothermal and wind power. Most Australian electricity, by comparison comes from coal-fired power stations.

About half of all New Zealand's greenhouse gases are methane from farm animals.

New Zealand produces about 200g of CO2 for each kilowatt of power produced, about one-fifth of the average CO2 of Australian power. France, which relies heavily on nuclear power, is one of the few countries with lower CO2 emissions from power generation.

If more wind farms were built, they would have to be "where the wind blows", and not necessarily near where people use most power, such as Auckland. That meant more transmission lines would be needed than for a power plant in Auckland.

Hemmingway pointed out it would be easier to build another gas-fired power station at Contact Energy's Otahuhu plant in Auckland, which already has consents as an operating power station, than seek consents for new generation.

The power system would also need more back-up power stations to meet peak demand when the wind was not blowing, Hemmingway said.

State owned Genesis Energy was told by Parker in October not to proceed with any plans for thermal power generators.

However, a recent Court of Appeal judgment said the application for the proposed gas-fired Genesis station at Rodney, north of Auckland was still alive. Sources have indicated the station could yet be built to handle peaks in demand, rather than a base-load station operating almost full time. Genesis has said it was "still reviewing" the Rodney plant, but if it went ahead it would meet the requirements of the government's Energy Strategy.

Hemmingway said security of supply was always an issue for New Zealand's power system because of the unpredictable nature of water running into hydro lakes. That would be made worse by an even greater reliance on hydro and wind, as against the more predictable power from gas or coal.

For most of this year, hydro lake storage levels have been running under the long-run 80-year average.

Wholesale power prices started to rise from extremely low levels of just 2c a unit in early November as storage levels dropped, to more than 8c a unit in mid-December.

Prices have since fallen back somewhat, with rising lake storage levels, now about 90 per cent of average, up from 78 per cent full a month earlier.

It had been expected to be a dry summer and lake levels had reached a level where operators should be cautious, according to electricity consultant Leyland.

Low lake levels showed the importance of having gas and coal-fired power stations that could be brought on when needed, Leyland said.

He pointed out Contact Energy has now permanently closed its old 300 megawatt New Plymouth power station, at a cost of $25 million, reducing available generation.

In September, asbestos was found in areas of the 31-year-old plant where it had not been previously recorded and the plant was immediately shut down. The loss of New Plymouth meant the system had less back-up generation than before the introduction of the emergency supply Whirinaki station in Hawkes Bay.

And that increased the risks if there was a station failure.

"We are always at risk of the major failure at one of the big gas turbines and it is not a risk we should underestimate," Leyland said.

There is also reduced transmission capacity on the Cook Strait power cable, down by about a third, adding to concerns about power supply.

On the other hand, Contact will get a fast-track consent process for its planned $500 million Te Mihi geothermal station near Taupo.

Leyland said if the summer was dry the system could be "easily be in serious trouble next winter".

Our past--and future?--transportation solution:

San Angelo, Texas, circa 1908 (population about 20,000 at the time)

Yet plenty of horses can be seen in the picture.

People are going to go to electric cars, scooters, and other small vehicles that take them where they want to go. Mass transit is not sufficiently personal.

Mass transit has never been the dominate form of transport. As you note horses and walking were the dominate forms of transport the the hay day of trains and street cars.

Here is a quote from West Point's Systems Engineering Department.

In fact, one of the most significant failings of the current U.S. transportation system is that the automobile was never thought of as being part of a system until recently. It was developed and introduced during a period that saw the automobile as a standalone technology largely replacing the horse and carriage. So long as it outperformed the previous equine technology, it was considered a success. This success is not nearly so apparent if the automobile is examined from a systems thinking perspective. In that guise, it has managed to fail miserably across a host of dimensions. Many of these can be observed in any major US city today: oversized cars and trucks negotiating tight roads and streets, bridges and tunnels incapable of handling daily traffic density, insufficient parking, poor air quality induced in areas where regional air circulation geography restricts free flow of wind, a distribution of the working population to suburban locations necessitating automobile transportation, and so on. Had the automobile been developed as a multilateral system interconnected with urban (and rural) transportation networks and environmental systems, U.S. cities would be in a much different situation than they find themselves in today.

What is important here is not that the automobile could have been developed differently, but that in choosing to design, develop and deploy the automobile as a stand alone technology, a host of complementary transportation solutions to replace the horse and buggy were not considered.

The lessons of Just-in-time manufacturing and Six Sigma can be applied to the transporting process.

  • You cannot control quality in a batch.
  • Each product/trip/service must be produced within desired specs.

I rode Minneapolis' Light Rail to show it to a friend a couple of weeks ago. Despite help from other passengers, a family with luggage got separated trying to get off and the train operator did not answer the call box until we had left the station.

Coming back at bar close one guy was passed out and peed his pants.

There is a very good paper on applying Just-in-time to the transporting process.

Based on riders per day, the most successful form of public transport is the elevator; an on-demand, nearly just-in-time device.

It is the reason Morgantown's PRT is a success. On this video you will hear it explained as a horizontal-elevator.

The analogy between mass production and mass transit is not complete.

How do you double the fuel efficiency of a car? You just add another person. Nearly all the fuel consumed by a car is for transporting the vehicle, not the people in it.

This is true of most traditional vehicles. Rolling friction is almost linearly dependent on the weight of the vehicle and air friction is proportional to the square of the speed of the vehicle at reasonable speeds; the aerodynamics and cross section of the vehicle is also of great importance. Until it becomes acceptable for vehicles to be shaped like a bobsleigh with wheels and until we can make vehicles out of lightweight composites, mass transit has better fuel economy than you can reasonably hope to accomplish with a personal vehicle.

You can compare this with nuclear, coal, natural gas or other generation methods. The cost is up front and the fuel costs and repairs are downstream. On a 30 year basis, this is probably cost effective. In our economy, it has to make sense for investors to do this if they want to make money. Pumped hydro, molten sodium and other methods can store the energy for use later. A better transmission grid can make getting it there more efficient and reliable. This is a good trend. I can remember 30 years ago, lots of people scorned the Altamont Pass wind farms between San Francisco and Sacramento as a boondoggle, now they are going up everywhere.

Since the original cost of the wind turbines is amortized over a 15-20 year period, there is no doubt that as the years pass the cost of the energy generated will decrease in relation to other energy sources. With that understanding in mind, it only makes sense for the government to provide low interest, long term loans for companies looking to install more wind turbines.

We can't lose with wind turbines - it doesn't foul the air with carcinagen particulates or greenhouse gases, and the more we have the less oil we will be dependent on from OPEC. Keep installing those suckers at break neck speed!!!

growing at nearly 50% or even 25% could quickly bring wind up to 3-5% in the US. I wonder how fast micro wind is growing? in the future I bet many people plug their PHEV into their wind and solar energy systems. if we get solar paint and shingles homes could be power plants. a big wasteful mcmansion in the subrurbs could be a power plant and a small home might not be able to produce enough of it's own energy.

"capacity additions in 2007 still translate in 5 times more kWh coming from gas than from wind just for the new capacity.

guess wind has to start growing even faster or we need to not add as many plants.

... wind is almost competitive despite the massive subsidies received by its competitors (all the tax breaks received by the oil&gas industry, ...

This seems like an unfortunate misunderstanding based on an ambiguous use of the word "massive". Aren't royalties and consumption tax revenues on oil and gas several times massiver, so that those industries, together with their customers, are net subsidizers of government rather than the other way around?

The ease of getting regulators' consent for new natural gas combustion turbines suggests that natural gas, at least, is allowing more regulators to draw salaries, or for those salaries to be larger, or some combination. If natural gas were subsidized the opposite effect would occur: fewer and/or poorer regulators -- and long, difficult licensing processes.

The truth appears to be that petroleum and natural gas revenues subsidize all government spending -- including the wind power PTC.

How shall the car gain nuclear cachet?

Aren't royalties and consumption tax revenues on oil and gas several times massiver, so that those industries, together with their customers, are net subsidizers of government rather than the other way around?

Not if you count the whole road construction budget, the whole DoD budget (whose main purpose seems to be the protection of oil imports), road patrol, emergency services, and the huge externalities which are not paid for by the industry.

Not if you count the whole road construction budget,

Why would you assign the cost of these to the non-wind energy sources, given that roads are used by almost all parts of an economy?

the whole DoD budget (whose main purpose seems to be the protection of oil imports),

Well, perhaps you have an alternate agenda here, but this statement of yours seems to be quite extreme. The entire DoD budget covers quite a large span of services as well as entitled payments. Other than the actual operational cost of maintaining forces in the Persian Gulf region, I don't think you can ascribe other (significant) portions of the DoD budget to non-wind energy source protection.

road patrol, emergency services,

Are you implying that these services ought not to be provided? Again, why would you ascribe these costs to belonging to non-wind energy supplies?

and the huge externalities which are not paid for by the industry.

Such as....?

Perhaps you are trying to force a conclusion, without the argument's particulars being supportable?

I will agree that essentially half the Defence budget is involved in oil security. The other half is necessary to monitor other threats. Possibly more than 90% of the defence budget is unnessary, but while many would agree with me on the percentage, who would agree with me about which particular parts are unnecessary?
There is a game theory problem. If the US replaced oil imports at 100$ per barrel using synfuels or other solutions, the price of oil would decline to the point where the other countries that are doing oil replacement would be disinclined to continue their oil replacement policies.
We pay, they benefit, with oil the way we do with entertainment and software and pharmaceuticals.
At least this way they share half the pain.

I wouldn't go so far as to say the main purpose of the U.S. military is to protect oil supplies, but it does seem to be easy to find a military installation near a pipeline or oil producing facility. Coincidence? Or simply a rational response when 22 million barrels of crude must somehow get to the U.S. each and every day without interruption?

This map is a little old , but it shows that in 2002 the U.S. had troops in 156 countries around the world. 63 countries had bases and troops.


And this page looks over the entire global U.S. military establishment:

Map 6 (Petroleum and International Theatre of War in the Middle East and Central Asia) and Map 7 (American Bases Located in Central Asia) are particularly enlightening, I would say.

Best Of The Oil Drum Index

Do you have an opinion on the Advanced Renewable Tariffs as proposed by Paul Gipe? The PTC is for those with tax liabilities large enough to use it, while the ARTs will benefit anyone who can roll up enough cash to put a turbine in place.

And wind farms are not ugly, here are a pair of beautiful Suzlon 2.0MW units just south of my favorite kayaking place, part of a private farm of ten units. I'd be happy to see them lining the entire shore of Virgin Lake ...

Virgin Lake south shore wind turbines

PTC was designed for industrial wind power, and works well for that - it's easy enough to bring in tax investors that get the PTC and re-inject most of it in the project for a small fee. I don't really work on the small scale projects, so can't really comment on the ART, but it probably makes sense to have a mechanism that could be used without requiring sophisticated financial (fiscal) engineering.

As to ugliness, I agree - I always find wind turbines a fascinating, spectacular sight. But there's no easy argument against people that find them ugly, other than to say that it's a different kind of price to pay than what we pay for other forms of energy.

You know, wind turbines make energy use visible. Fossil fuels distribute the cost of energy use in the most subtle and universal form... throughout the atmosphere. The ugliness is everywhere, but so distributed that we can't see it with our naked eye... only through the measurements of scientists.

I prefer the costs (aesthetic, environmental, etc.) of a high energy society to be highly visible, and highly local. A local wind turbine speaks that truth... energy being captured and used here.

Wind turbines help avoid illusions of cost-free no consequence energy use. They make explicit the hidden.

I think they're majestic. In any case, no where near as ugly as a coal fired plant.

and no where near ominous as nuclear cooling towers...


That is over 200% growth between 2006 and 2007. Solar also saw good growth in installation in the US at 84%. It will be interesting to see what 2008 brings. I notice that GE, which makes a lot of wind turbines, met expectations on earnings recently. Perhaps the green collar job movement will start to see some economic impact this year.


I'd be a lot more impressed by the growth rates of solar and wind if prices were falling. To sustain these growth rates prices must fall.

Not really. Prices for both solar and wind have increased over the last two years, while both industries posted annual growth rates in excess of 35% per annum (and that's the low end!). The main growth stimulus right now is a massive overhang of demand, in part owing to renewable portfolio standards (RPS), which are cost-agnostic.

Any recommendations on a 2kW wind turbine for my property ?


A fantasy of mine is to see small wind generators on top of all power poles

Speaking of off-shore, what's to stop us from installing wind turbines on some existing offshore structures such as oil rigs?

Slight nit for Jerome: A disclaimer says the information you present may not be factual or true. The word you want is "disclosure."

SCT has proposed the same for the declining rigs on north sea. ammonia plant on rig. add a flotilla of floating turbines around can further improve the cost effectiveness.

Thanks for the nit: corrected.

The problem with existing offshore platforms is that you cannot put a lot of turbines on each, and that they are often pretty far from shore, and not necessarily in the best places (for wind or for sea conditions) as it was the oil resources driving that... Operations and maintenance would likely be very costly.

On the other hand, the project I'm working on right now, Eclipse (you can google stuff on it) has plans to build an offshore wind farm on the site of a small gas field, and put up a gas turbine offshore, to use the gas from the field and produce power to complement the wind farm's output.

This is something that I hope to be able to write about more in the future (probably not before next year, though)

Hey Jerome.

We've, been informed that austin tx shut down usual power sources for maintenence in the spring in anticipated supply of wind energy.

No wind.

A brownout.

Any comments?


I would think that no power company in the world could possibly be stupid enough to think that the wind always blows and that they would not need to arrange for power supplies.
But that was before I found out what happened in Auckland a few years ago.
Some financial types took over the city power supply and cut expenses by firing all the sensible people (who tended to make more money and be more difficult to deal with) and put some empty suits in charge. When they skimped on maintenance the power lines kept getting older and older, and then the first of one of the four power lines into Auckland went down. Insulation gets old and when the power goes up, the temperature goes up, so the resistance goes up, so they send more power, so the temperature goes up...
They sent all the power through the other three and started arranging repairs. A few days later, the second went down. They sent all the power throgh two power lines. No rotating blackouts, just kept sending the power. Several hours later the third line fried. They kept sending the power, no blackouts, and a few minutes later the last line fried.
Auckland's CBD was out of power for days while they strung power lines through the streets.
So it is not impossible for a Texas power company to do something that stupid. Unlikely, probably Liberal propaganda trying to show that all those Conservative executives should be replaced by political appointees, but after Auckland I won't say impossible.

An unfounded rumor !

I am hosting two transit friends from Austin Texas (one is editor of Light Rail Now) and asked that question at a farewell breakfast.

I know Austin has a minimum demand (4 AM spring weekend) in the 1 GW range and just over 200 MW of wind under contract.

Irresponsible BS.


If true, that would be pretty damn stupid. Wind is intermitten. That can be managed on a systems-wide basis to a good extent, but certainly not locally and over very short periods.

But running any electrical network without backup sounds insane.

I sent an e-mail to one of my contacts at Austin Energy, with a link to your comment.

The most recent news item I could find regarding Austin Energy & wind power:


Regarding billp's comment, the response from Austin Energy:

Jeffrey, the story and the resulting brown out never happened.

Jerome, good article! One nitpick: we should point out that load factors for wind are not 30% everywhere and for all time, but rather begin at 35% or so, and as more and more capacity is installed, decline to 20%.

Just as with oil the biggest and easiest-to-get-to reservoirs are drilled first, and with coal the richest seams closest to the ground, so too with wind turbines, when a country first begins installing them, they put them in the windiest spots, getting 35% load factor. But as time goes on and they install more and more, they have to choose less perfect spots, and the overall load factor trends down towards 20%. (In this I'm looking at the reported experiences of Denmark and Germany.) It doesn't drop lower than that because at this stage wind is such a young and untapped industry that no-one needs to bother with poorer resources, those looking to invest can go for better spots somewhere else, even in another country.

With a few wind turbines here and there, we can expect load factors of 30-35%. But unless you have a sparesely-populated country like Australia, what you'll find is that as win turbines start supplying a large part of your energy needs, the overall load factor trends towards 20%.

From an investment perspective, if you're going to invest in wind turbines, you should get in early. The difference between an ROI for a 35% load factor turbine and that for a 20% one is going to be significant.

From a public policy perspective, it'd be best to count on the lower load factor of 20%. Governments have to plan for the worst.

Kiashu: its both better -and worse than your stated case. The good sites are developed first, and with early crappy technology like Altamont pass here, which is littered with falling down first generation turbines. Then when good highly efficient turbines are developed they have to find less ideal sites. So in that sense it is worse than you stated while the good sites never produce much power because of the outdated technology. In another way it is less bad, as wind turbines become larger and taller they are able to benefit from the stronger more steady winds at higher elevation.

I saw something last week about wind turbines proposed for the great lakes, freshwater offshore. Some of the offshore porblems should be lessor (no salt corrosion), and generally less active sea(lake) state. Plus water depths are pretty moderate. I can't find the source of the report (durn it).

I'm originally from the area that is mentioned as the site. The NIMBY along the Lake Michigan coast will be as strong as anything seen in any other resort area.

Most people outside the surrounding states don't realize that the Great Lakes shores are big-time, long-time vacation spots. The industrial mogels have been coming to the Lake Michigan shore for over 100 years.

And there's a reason for it--it's beautiful according to my friends from the East who have seen it.

A goodly percentage of the shoreline is devoted to public parks: city, township, county, state and federal. All are jammed all summer, so we're not just talking private cottages, of which there are also many and some very fancy. It is not possible to underestimate the value of the tourist trade to the local economies, many of which have been gutted by deindutrialization.

The areas are also close to major population centers like Chicago, Indianpolis, and, yes, still, Detroit. As transportation becomes more expensive and difficult, I expect these areas to retain their appeal because the driving distances, at low speeds in small cars, may still be doable, and many areas are on or near still-used rail tracks. Many have harbors usable for ferry or small cruise traffic, and two, Muskegon and Ludington, still have ferry service to Wisconsin for and passenger traffic. Restoring summer service to other harbors is probably doable.

The big advantage here is that there is a very large pumped-storage plant just south of the aforementioned Ludington that is in use and probably could be hooked up to whatever grid would carry the wind energy.

I think that it is possible that windy areas away from the shoreline will be used, but the just offshore winds are the best. Nonetheless, I think that the offshore sites will be the last to be developed.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

We've got exactly the same problem here in the Southern Appalachians. The best wind potential in the whole SE US is right here, up on our ridgetops.

Unfortunately, the tourists and vacationers come here for the view, just like they come to your lakeshore.

In NC, we have pretty good ridgeline protection laws, which prohibit all development -- including WTs.

We really do need those WTs, though. It is a tough, tragic situation.

20% is indeed the reality in Germany and some other countries; I understand that the numbers are quite higher in the US given that the wind resource is a lot better - and there are a lot more sites.

I was just giving the number as order of magnitudes to remind people what the capacity factor means, and that MW and MWh are not the same thing - which the regulars of the site surely know, but that more casual readers may confuse more easily (as can be seen in the media and in some of the arguments used against wind).

Have good onshore sites in Europe been exhausted? Are the newer sites all running at lower capacity factors?

Similarly for America: Are new sites in America running at lower capacity factors?

If new capacity factors in America aren't declining yet how many gigawatts of new capacity are we away from before capacity factors start declining and how rapidly will they decline?

No, there are plenty of places still left.

Only Denmark so far has shown a certain trend of load factor decline, and Germany some trend but not so strong and obvious.

In Denmark's case, they are a physically small country, densely-populated. So they've not a lot of space to put power plants of any kind.

A load factor decline from saturation is likely to be far less extreme in the US, Australia, Algeria, and just as strong in somewhere like Singapore.

However, I think that because of NIMBYism, pork-barrelling of marginal electorates and plain old corruption and incompetence, it's likely that the best sites won't always be chosen even in our less densely-populated countries like Australia and the US. If there's a 30% site near some mansions, and a 15% site near some old industrial suburb, there's no question where the things will be built.

In a relatively untouched market I'd expect 30% or so, in an older market or place with a relatively corrupted political process I'd expect 20% on average.

Supposing we survive the coming fossil fueled decline bottleneck (along with all the other problems we face) and wind power development is a large part of this success, the question arises as to the longevity or fate of these turbines and their related infrastructure -- i.e., the towers. In other words, what happens to them when they stop functioning or they are otherwise become obselete? Is it envisioned that the towers be reused with newer models? And if not, who is going to be responsible for dismantling these arrays of unused towers?

I ask not because I'm against wind power, which I am not -- in point of fact I have a Bergey 1500 spinning in my backyard and I'm working on a local town board to try and see installed three 1.5+ MW windmills on town owned land -- but entirely out of curiosity as to what Jerome or any one else can tell or offer toward these sorts of questions. In this I am always reminded of Garret Hardin's question: What then?

Thanks, and i am glad for this positive report.

Picking up an aluminum can is too expensive in time and money to be profitable. Picking up a fifty ton aluminum can is very, very, profitable. Leave one alone on the street for a week and see if it is still there the next week.

Wind power is one of the very few industrie in the world where governments require that you pay upfront the decommissioning costs, in the from of bonds, or deposits, for amounts decided by public authorities. So the money is there, paid for, to dismantle structures at the end of their useful life (25 years).

It would be nice if all other industrial (and non-industrial) activities were asked to do the same.

In practice, sites with old turbines are expecte to often be used for "repowering", ie replacing them with larger models. In some cases, the exisitng foundations can bear larger turbines and are re-used; most of the time they will be taken down and replaced.

It's just a big box on top of steel or concret towers, it's not very difficult to dismantle.

Jerome, despite the technology being very successful, what happens if the credit markets completely seize up? Don't argue whether that can happen or not, let's just make a general assumption that it did. What would happen to wind power in that scenario?

Good question - and one that, being in the right middle of it, I ask myself daily.

The hope we cling to is that this is a business with highly predictable and understandable revenues, especially in countries with feed-in tariffs (or projects with PPAs - power purchase agreements), so they will actually be even more attractive to investors looking for safe havens for their money. Also, risks are in plain view and well understood, so there is no downside to the sector. A lot of the crisis had to do with poor risk analysis and exuberant revenue projections in the future, and these are mostly absent in the sector, as least on the debt side.

So far, business is still trneding up rather than down, but we'll see how it goes


If I were you, one of the principal arguments I would use is the Export Land Model (ELM). This is a link to a discussion of net exports over on the Drumbeat thread:


I am using a modified version of the Reserve to Production Ratio (R/P). I call it Exported Production to Export (EP/E) Ratio. Our middle case, in our paper on the top five net oil exporters, is that at their 2005 rate of net exports, the EP/E ratio for the top five is 12 years, i.e., at their 2005 rate of net exports, the top five's remaining net export capacity would be depleted in 12 years (2017). Of course, we don't produce, or export, at maximum capacity and then go to zero, but it gives one a pretty good idea of the problems the importers are facing.

If you start from a low base growth always looks impressive. Us electricity production 4,000,000,000,000 kwh (2005 CIA world fact book) and in 2007 wind installations were say 6,000,000 kwh.

Oh right we're saved. As the so called "economy tanks", oil, coal and gas depletes we are just going to build enough wind capacity to run the current electricity grid, maintain growth, run cars on electricity, crack shale oil, TDP, CTL plants etc...

I feel really comfortable now I get to go to the wind party. Wakey wakey ships going down folks wind ain't going to save it.

Failure to understand the exponential function...

As the quote says in the upper right corner,

We are just going through the maturing of the technology and industry, finding out what works and where the problems are. Soon "we" will be able to get serious and start to have a significant impact.

10% of US electricity from wind in a decade is a very doable goal. And 50% in 25 years is doable.


If there were no limits to growth you would be right. I would take a $1000 bet that in 2033 there will NOT be 50% or greater power coming from wind in the USA. Might not be alive then so arrange to pay it to some worthwhile charity.

If anyone is curious, I took a look at the growth rates the world would need from wind/solar if business as usual were to continue out to 2050. I then plotted this growth rate against the historic growth rate of various fossil fuels.

You can read the whole write up and see the other graphs here:

One criticism is that electrified rail trades 20 BTUs of oil for 1 BTU of electricity.

The power sources of wind, solar, hydro & nuke electricity have no other large scale economic uses. (OK roof space has to compete between solar hot water heaters & solar PV). But it takes 3 BTUs of coal to make 1 BTU of electricity, so your analysis shows that BAU does not need a flat energy supply. We can get by with less by simply switching freight from truck to electrified rail, and people into Urban Rail.

IMHO, these are not profound revolutions to BAU (although such are needed).

Best Hopes,


I sort of touched on that in the last section. It was really outside of the scope of my experiment.

IMHO, these are not profound revolutions to BAU (although such are needed).

I agree. But some posters here seem to feel otherwise. The point of the exercise was to get some sort of a scale. Its too easy to toss around big numbers for wind/solar. 50% growth sounds good, but when wind/solar are indistinguishable from the x-axis, does it really mean anything?

Thanks for an interesting comment, and working out those graphs.
Perhaps it is appropriate however to note a couple of reservations to the path you have plotted coming about.
Wind might really be thought of a bundle of different technologies at different stages of development.
What we have at the moment is an ancillary power source, which needs extensive back-up, usually although not always in the form of burning fossil fuels, often at lower efficiencies than could be obtained were wind not part of the mix.
It should also be noted that experience to date is mostly with on-shore wind, and that it makes no attempt to provide secure base-load capability, and that costs in recent years have escalated rather than followed a cost-reduction curve such as would normally be expected in an energy source which was going to continue to expand dramatically.
It should also be noted that to date the low rates of wind penetration are due solely to subsidies, and would be drastically lower were that to cease.Of course, coal in particular also gets a free ride in many respects due to it's externalisation of waste costs.
Furthermore, the exploitation of wind has very high costs in materials, steel and so on, far more than the alternatives.
In order for the increase you hypothesise to occur, a number of breakthroughs would be required, amounting effectively to a brand-new technology.
A massive grid would be required, together with some other means of providing back-up due to intermittency, as as your graphs clearly show the power generated from wind is projected to take off in excess of other sources just as natural gas and coal production plummet.
Presumably a lot of this is to come from off-shore wind in many area, as in many areas such as Europe there are not the places on land available. This is even more expensive, at the moment at least hugely so.
Solar is in many respects rather more favourably placed, since it would not in some guises use quite such vast resources as for wind, and costs, albeit with some hiccups mainly due to shortage of silicon, are sinking fairly well. Problems of intermittency and in particular lower incidence of sunshine in the winter (around 4 times lower even in areas like the Mohave), and problems of getting the power where it is needed via a super-grid or such also make this a very speculative power source.
It's an awful lot easier to generate those kinds of levels of power using nuclear power, and we know most of how to do it, although some further development is needed.
If nuclear if frowned upon, hot-rock geothermal has many advantages over wind or solar, as it would be comfortable producing base -load in most places, and does not vary winter or summer, or diurnally. Of course, this is a glimmer in the eye at the moment, rather than a developed technology, and the same applies to high altitude wind, although if that one works out it would probably be very cheap.
So thanks again for the work you have put into those graphs, which are very informative, and provide one of the most valuable educative resources one could have; the data from which others can draw their own conclusions, even should they perhaps differ radically from those who took the trouble to present them.
From the information you have given my own conclusion is that wind power, at least in the form of wind-turbines, are unlikely to continue to expand so rapidly for long, or provide a decisive amount of energy needed in the years up to the mid-century.

It seems to me that you are comparing scale rather than growth rates here. When I try to estimate the assumed growth rate it looks like it doubles in five years or about 15% annual growth. Thus current growth rates for wind (30%) and solar (50%) are quite a bit higher than this and look sustainable for at least the next 7 years or so.

It seems to me also that since this is really a technology replacement issue, you might want to look at the replacement of home ice delivery owing to post WWII conversion of industrial capacity to mass production of freon based refridgerators. This kind of example will give you a better sense of what industrialization can do in terms of shifting the character of markets. In that case, we were not running out of ice so the motivation would be a little less than in the case of replacing fossil fuels.


It seems to me that you are comparing scale rather than growth rates here. When I try to estimate the assumed growth rate it looks like it doubles in five years or about 15% annual growth. Thus current growth rates for wind (30%) and solar (50%) are quite a bit higher than this and look sustainable for at least the next 7 years or so.

The problem is the exponential growth rate is so hard to predict. I started out with your approach and modeled 30 and 50% growth for x years. The problem with that is the curve hugs the x axis for 7-10 years then explodes, shooting off the scale in a year or two.

That's the whole reason I went at the problem from the other way around.

It seems to me also that since this is really a technology replacement issue, you might want to look at the replacement of home ice delivery owing to post WWII conversion of industrial capacity to mass production of freon based refridgerators. This kind of example will give you a better sense of what industrialization can do in terms of shifting the character of markets. In that case, we were not running out of ice so the motivation would be a little less than in the case of replacing fossil fuels.

Nick also stressed this point. But I disagree, energy is fundamentally different than consumer goods such as cell phones or refrigerators.

I think using a log scale can help you perceive what is happening a little more clearly. That shooting up off the scale is not what will actually happen though we might go to a large over-capacity compared to BAU owing to the need to remove carbon dioxide from the air. But, the initial growth is very important because it sets the industrial capacity for further growth. If we get to the point where we have the capacity to convert 10% of our energy use in a year, I doubt we'll build a lot more fabrication capacity because it will look too risky. But, in a decade, we'll have displaced 100% of fossil fuels with just linear growth because the fabrication base is there.


That was the point of show it in comparison to historic fossil fuel growth.

Is it realistic to expect wind/solar to grow to three times the level of oil in half the time?

I'm planning a follow up where I'm going to try to roughtly calculate the resourses such a build up would require. Unfortunelty I've not had the time recently.

I think it depends on what you mean by level. If you are looking at scale then you might be worried because oil had less to grow into than wind or solar. If you are looking at growth, then both are actually performing above oil I think. Was the growth of oil limited by the number of cars and furnaces available to use it? Wind and solar will also be limited by the number of dishwashers and toasters available. The main thing is that wind is cheaper than gas now and solar is going to be cheaper than coal in much of the world. So, the question is how will the existing market be served rather than how do you establish a market.


"energy is fundamentally different than consumer goods such as cell phones or refrigerators."

That applies to fossil fuels, such as oil and gas - they are analogous to a hunter/gatherer economy. Energy sources which are manufactured, such as wind turbines and solar panels, are very similar to any other manufactured good. They are analogous to a farm economy.

Manufactured energy sources are much easier to ramp up, and don't have the same limits. Potential growth rates are proportional to the installed base (the definition of exponential growth), so high exponential growth rates are sustainable.

Your charts seems to indicate that by 2050 more than half of primary energy would come from wind. There is no precedent in the history for such a rapid increase. For U.S. the transition was as follows: coal moved from 1 per cent to 10 per cent in 25 years; oil went from 1 per cent to 10 per cent in 40 years; and natural gas went from 1 per cent to 10 per cent in 55 years. The average of these three is 40 years. Based on the historical record, we will get to perhaps 10-20 per cent by 2050. What do you think?

best, Seppo Korpela

There is no precedent in the history for such a rapid increase.

Yes, that was exactly my point.

"There is no precedent in the history for such a rapid increase. - Yes, that was exactly my point."

That's not correct. There are plenty of similar manufactured items which grew as quickly. Oil and gas haven't, and that's the flaw in the analysis - it's not the right comparison. Further, oil and gas were historically demand limited not supply limited, so it's doubly not a valid comparison.

Case in point: the mission of OPEC and the Texas Railroad Commission was to limit production to maintain pricing in the face of supply that was greater than demand.

Wind and solar are supply-constrained, but at levels of 50%+ per year, or doubling every 2 years. Wind especially has no special, rare materials, and has a natural resource much, much greater than current human energy production, so the limit to growth is overall industrial manufacturing capacity. Overall industrial manufacturing capacity is much greater than that needed for maximum wind installation rates. For instance, new demand growth in the US is about 8GW (average) per year. At 30% capacity factor that's about 25GW of new wind capacity, or about $40B per year. That's less than 10% of US light vehicle sales, which in turn is only a fraction of US manufacturing (either consumption or production).

I'm working on a follow up article that explores exactly that.

Just a quick reply to your comment though

For instance, new demand growth in the US is about 8GW (average) per year. At 30% capacity factor that's about 25GW of new wind capacity, or about $40B per year. That's less than 10% of US light vehicle sales, which in turn is only a fraction of US manufacturing (either consumption or production).

Your new demand growth is for electricity in the US only. I was modeling all energy growth for the whole world. A very differnt beast.

Please double check these rough numbers.
1 5mw turbine running at a rough capacity factor of .2 will generate 8760 megawatt hours a year.

1 ton of oil equivilant is 12 megawatt hours. This large turbine generates roughly 730 TOE a year.

The world will need (very roughly) 268 million tons of oil equilalent every year at the modest growth rate I used.

268 MTOE / 730 TOE = 367,123 5mw wind turbines. Or a 1000 new turbine installed a day or 41 new turbines installed an hour for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year. Year after year for the next several decades.

By 2050 the world will need to have installed over 16 million 5MW wind turbines.

Last year the world installed a record 20,000 megawatts of wind power. That's 4,000 of our 5MW turbines last year.

I just realized I had my spreadsheet online, so I was able to look up my numbers.

Using the above number of 730 TOE per year from a 5MW wind turbine you will need the following number of newly installed 5MW turbines per year (this ignores the growth in solar).

# of new turbines Starting in 2009,

So in 2009, according to my model,the world will have to deploy 81MTOE in wind. That's 111,032 5MW turbines.

By 2030 the world will need over 600,000 new 5MW wind turbines.

Do you really think the world can build, transport, and install 16.5 thousand turbines a day? Or 685 an hour? or 12 a minute?

I must have made a mistake someplace cause these numbers a ridicoulous.
According to this site
It takes 460 metric tons of steel per megawatt for a wind turbine.
If we are to produce 111,032 5MW wind turbines next year, that would require 255 million tons of steel or 20% of the world steel production in in 2007 (for comparision the US produced 97 million tons of steel last year.
In 2030 we would need 1.4 billion tons of steel. That's more steel than the entire world produced in 2007.

I notice that the world currently produces 12 thousand autos per day so the scale is not so different from what you are asking. There seems to be a odd inflection at 2030 in your model so I wonder if numbers around 2030 would not be a better value to use as estimates? I notice that in you link, the statement refers to a wind system needing 460 metric tons of steel per MW while most estimates for turbines come in at around 100. Perhaps long transmission lines have been included in your estimate? In 2007 wind installed worldwide was 20 GW, or 4000 5 MW turbines by your way of counting. Did you normalize your model to reflect what is happening now? At the current rate of growth (30%), we would expect 114,000 in 2011 rather than in 2009. Projecting the current rate of growth exceeds your curve in 2013. "World crude steel output reached 1,343.5 million metric tons for the year 2007." So, comparing the US production does not help all that much. Currently wind would be using 0.15 % of production and would not reach 20% of current production until 2026. Steel production grew by 7.5% in 2007 so at that rate of growth we'd see 20% in 2033. At that point, turbine production would be 6 times higher than your highest rate in 2030. Most likely, production would not need to be quite so high at that point and growth would have moderated.

I think that the much the more interesting question is: How much coal can we leave in the ground given current growth rates for renewables and can more be left in the ground if we alter our policies?


I notice that in you link, the statement refers to a wind system needing 460 metric tons of steel per MW while most estimates for turbines come in at around 100.

Do you have a source for that? The 460 is just what I found from before. The source seemed a bit biased but I couldn't find anything better.


Here is an LCA for a 3 MW turbine that gets EROEI=20 (reasonable, 52 for the same size turbine off shore) and uses 275 tons of steel for the 105 meter tower (92 ton/MW). I've had another thought which is that your reference might have applied a capacity factor. This is something that you account for in another way so you would want to correct it if that is the case.


That 275 number is just for the tower.
If you add up all the steel in the tower, hub, generator, foundation etc you get 523 tons of steel.

Still less than what I had before.

This seems a much more reasonable number.


No problem, I wanted that for something I'm working on in any case. Did you have any ideas about the inflection at 2030?


After 2030ish two things happen, the decline in oil starts to level off and the population grows more slowly. According to the UN numbers I'm using, pop should level out around 2050.

There's really not much of an inflection. Wind/solar growth just shifts from slightly exponential to something a bit more linear.

In the numbers I see a pretty big fluctuation at 2030 and 2031. Could it be a typo?


I've been looking at these issues in my Ecotechnia series, you might want to take a look. In that, I look at how much electricity we're likely to use in an "ecotechnic" society, and what it'll take to get there.

"Your new demand growth is for electricity in the US only. I was modeling all energy growth for the whole world. A very differnt beast."

Not that different. The world is only about 4x larger. Oil is roughly the same size as the electrical sector.

"1 ton of oil equivilant is 12 megawatt hours."

That needs to be increased by a factor of 3-6x. Electricity will power a vehicle in the US 6x farther than oil, on a BTU basis.

more later, if I can...

That needs to be increased by a factor of 3-6x. Electricity will power a vehicle in the US 6x farther than oil, on a BTU basis.

Good catch. I just used the calorific equivalent.

But 3-6x is much too large. I'd put 3x as the upper limit.
Just compare a tesla to a honda civic. Tesla is 2.18km/MJ and the Honda is .63 KM/MJ.

And in applications where you use the heat, say heating or cooking or industy) the factor is much much smaller. Transportion only uses about 25% of the total energy inputs in the US economy. http://www.flickr.com/photos/41192977@N00/406297431/ Its certainly much lower elsewhere in the world.

So using a conversion factor of 3x, you'll only need to install 14 turbines an hour next year or about 30x the current rate.

Transferring inter-city freight from heavy trucks to electrified rail trades 17 to 20 BTUs of diesel for 1 BTU of electricity. Urban rail offers comparable "trades".

The 17/20 to 1 ratio is the multiple of two factors. About 8 to 1 efficiency gain by transferring from diesel trucks to modern diesel-electric locomotives pulling trains.

And a 2.5 to 3 Btus of diesel to one Btu of electricity trade by going from diesel-electric locomotives to all electric locomotives.

Gil Carmichael, the head of the Federal Railroad Administration under the first President Bush stated in Forbes “A double-stack freight train can replace as many as 300 trucks and achieve nine times the fuel efficiency of highway movement of the same tonnage volume.”


Note that this is double stack containers. Single stack containers are not quite as efficient and “piggy back” trailers are significantly less efficient (perhaps 4 to 1). Piggy back traffic is stable to shrinking slightly as intermodal container traffic is expanding rapidly.

The overall 2002 statistics quoted in the article (below) give an 8.15 to 1 diesel fuel advantage to rail vs. truck per ton-mile. Of course, the freight mix (40% of rail ton-miles are coal) is quite different.

Railroads carried 27.8% of the ton-miles with 220,000 barrels/day while trucks carried 32.1% of the ton-miles with 2,070,000 b/day (2002 data)

In addition, there are issues of circuitry (does rail travel more miles to get from A to B than truck ?) and the relative percentages of empty backhaul. There is concern that 2007 pollution controls will hurt heavy truck mileage. If so, this will increase the ratio.

I believe that nine to one is “best case’, eight to one is a defensible ratio for efficiency gains for truck to rail freight transfers, but seven to one is equally defensible. Six to one is approaching the “worst case” IMO.

US locomotives, except for a few switchyard locos, are diesel-electrics. A diesel engine drives an electrical generator, which transmits power a few feet to an electrical motor.

An electric locomotive draws 25 kV or 50 kV AC power from the grid (specially built for the railroad), transforms it to a lower voltage and drives an electrical motor.

The grid should lose 3% or 4% or so getting to the locomotive and another 1% transforming on the locomotive.

By contrast, a standard diesel engine has a theoretical maximum efficiency of 56% (link below) and is doing quite well to get 40% real world efficiency (Btus diesel in, Btus shaft power out). Add to this the efficiency of generators in the 2 MW class (94% might be typical) and grid power can deliver electricity with s 4% or 5% loss, versus a 62.4% or so loss in diesel Btus to electricity to the motor Btus.

The ratio of 0.95 to 0.376 is 2.52 to 1. This equates well with the “rule of thumb” of 2.5 Btus of diesel to 1 Btu electricity on rural plains quoted in the article.


In mountainous areas and built-up areas, the ratio is higher (3 to 1) due to regenerative braking. As the locomotive slows, the motors turn into generators and feed power back into the grid. Obviously, the more a locomotive brakes, the more power that is “recycled” on an electric loco but wasted as heat in a diesel-electric loco. More recycled power creates a higher ratio. The increase from 2.5 to 1 to 3 to 1 seems reasonable, if 20% of the energy is recycled when braking.

So 6 or 7 or 8 or 9 to 1 multiplied by 2.5 or 3 to 1 gives “about 20”. Detailed studies may show that actual efficiency ratios might be 17.8 to 1 or 21 to 1. In either case, well worth doing !

Best Hopes,

Alan Drake

My assumption with this approach was to consider BAU. While what you say is not impossible, I consider it outside of BAU.

Transportation is only 25% of the US's energy useage and certainly less in other parts of the world. Freight is only a fraction of that.

Thermal elec generation (coal/nat gas) are another 25% and they have a convertion factor of 3 (or even much less than that for modern gas turbines).

On the flip side Residential and industrial uses of NG/oil have a conversion factor much less than 3.

I can't avoid the fact that energy in the form of electricity is more effecient, so I have to include a conversion factor for that. 3 seems reasonable to me.

"My assumption with this approach was to consider BAU. While what you say is not impossible, I consider it outside of BAU."

Conversion of trucking to intermodal rail is indeed BAU. It's easy to do (there's no new infrastructure needed except for miscellaneous expansion of existing rail & rolling stock), and it's happening right now. To not include it is to make one's analysis so conservative as to be irrelevant.

Similarly, much electricity use for home heating nowadays is via resistance heaters, but in the event of a serious shortage of electricity, resistance heaters will become unpopular very quickly in favor of heat pumps. Where they remain they will be used for zoned heating, which is easiliy 3x more effective. To ignore this is to be unrealistic.

"Transportation is only 25% of the US's energy useage"

Yes, but it's peak liquid fuels that we're most concerned about here. Coal is going to be adequate for 30 years in the most pessimistic of analyses, and very, very likely we'll phase it out to reduce CO2 emissions before we reach any real supply limits.

Yes, but it's peak liquid fuels that we're most concerned about here. Coal is going to be adequate for 30 years in the most pessimistic of analyses, and very, very likely we'll phase it out to reduce CO2 emissions before we reach any real supply limits.

Check out figure 1. Without wind/solar we reach peak all energy in 2017 according to GG's model. We're not phasing out coal or any energy source for CO2.

I wish I had time to go into this in detail at the moment. However, here are a few thoughts.

1st, "without wind/solar" is an enormous caveat. I haven't had a chance to analyze your estimate of wind turbines needed, but you need to go further than saying "that's an awful of turbines!".

2nd, I would note that GG's model has a very flat plateau out to at least 2025. Given the uncertainties involved, your could reasonably say that GG's model doesn't show significant declines for 20 years (until 2028 - see http://www.paulchefurka.ca/WEAP2/WEAP2.html , figure 13), which is within the generally accepted period of mitigation.

3rd, I would note that Paul's model is extremely conservative. I have, for the sake of argument, occasionally used his model to represent the pessimistic's projection, but the assumptions for coal are very questionable, and those for wind/solar are just guesses, based on his pessimistic assumptions and put into mathematics (he partially acknowledges this).

Nick, I wish you would actually read what I wrote before you comment.

1. Without wind/solar is not a caveat. Its a baseline.

2. Look at figure 1
Do you see a plateau there?

3. I agree Paul's model is conservative. I don't expect the energy curve to be as nice as his. For example he assumes coal is 100% fungible. He also assumes that energy sources are 100% swapable.
I don't care about his "guess" for wind/solar because I'm not using them.

"Without wind/solar is not a caveat. Its a baseline."

But how is it useful?

" he assumes coal is 100% fungible. He also assumes that energy sources are 100% swapable."

so we're back to a liquid fuels crisis?

Are you being intentionally obtuse?


Look at the growth curves for coal and NG and tell me again its only a liquid fuels problem.

Better yet, tell these guys its only a liquid fuels crisis.

"Are you being intentionally obtuse?"

Are you taking this excessively personally?

Seriously, I thought my meaning was clear. First, I wasn't evaluating your model, where a baseline is a useful starting point, I was evaluating coal, which can only be done in the context of all other energy sources. How much of each we can expect is a valid question for analysis, but to exclude them makes the chart/analysis irrelevant. 2nd, coal is primarily used for stationary applications. If it were considered not very fungible with oil, that would reduce the possibility of stationary supply problems and increase those of liquid supply for transportation.

"Look at the growth curves for coal and NG and tell me again its only a liquid fuels problem."

First, the growth curve for coal is highly speculative. As just one example of the problems with "peak coal", many analysts have made the incorrect assumption that the declining average BTU content of US coal is a sign of peaking supply. In fact, it's a shift to lower-sulfur western coal - there's plenty of higher BTU coal left in places like Illinois, if we're willing to pay to scrub out the sulfur. As another large one, oil shale in the US is likely to be a very expensive & dirty way to get oil, but as a primitive form of solid hydrocarbon (kerogen) it works perfectly well as an electrical generation feedstock - it's been used that way for many decades in Europe. And, as you know, there is an enormous amount of it.

So, in North America at least, it's not realistic to expect a coal supply shortage.

I would also add that GG's projection for nuclear was also excessively pessimistic. Nuclear has a long planning period, but over decades it can grow quite quickly.

"tell these guys its only a liquid fuels crisis."

There's nothing in the article that allows us to conclude that this is more than a problem with rail infrastructure and price-control induced shortages.

Rethin, let me be clear. I don't intend to be difficult, I just don't want people to see problems where they don't exist. We have plenty of problems to deal with: climate change and the transition away from liquid fuels (as just two of several) are going to be painful and hard. They're where we need to put our attention.

Thank you for a more thoughtful answer.

I think the fungability of energy is a very big problem that is often overlooked. Sure, there won't be a coal shortage in the US or Australia. But how to move that coal to places that need it? Look at the 30 day pile up of coal ships in New Brisbane (world's largest coal terminal). The problem in China is chronic. And rail infrastructure is very much a component of fungability.

Look at North America and review Dave's Red Queen article. Sure world NG production still has a long way to go before peaking. But a NA NG gas peak is much closer. If you can't get the gas in sufficient quantities from say quatar to Minapolis, that's a big deal.

I think if you take a more careful look at the numbers you'll see its much more than a liquid fuel crisis. Granted that's how it will initially present itself. But china is already suffering from chronic coal shortages (even if they have sufficient reserves). N America is in line for a NG crisis. England is going to have an electricity crisis in a few years. Even climate change is effecting hydro generation and starving some regions of a significant chunk of their base load generation.

Mind you, this is all very hard to quantify numerically. GG admits his model falls short their, and subsequently does mine.

But to get back to my original point, even if you assume 100% swapability and fungability on the part of all energy sources, starting in about 2017 total energy supplies will start to fall. That means if you want any new energy (and the pop is still growing so you will in a BAU scenario) you'll have to make it up in wind/solar (that's the premise of my article). You want a stationary power supply, wind/solar. Mobile power supply, wind/solar. Heat your home. wind/solar etc etc. I thought that was obvious from the graph. When world coal production peaks nobody is going to build a new coal fired elec plant. When NG peaks, no new homes will have a NG furnace.

I'm not excluding wind/solar like you claim. I'm just getting a baseline and that's very relevant.

You also seemed to be fixated on N America. I'm looking at the world in aggregate. If you concentrate just on N America, sure the problem doesn't seem so bad. Mostly climate change and liquid fuels. N America is resource and money rich. Unfortunately the world in aggregate is not. We can see this even today with chronic power shortages in many poorer countries. Leanan just posted a drumbeat link to an article about S Africa shutting down its copper mines due to elec shortages.

I can see our differences are based mostly on our reference frames. You are focused on the US in the short term and I am looking at the world over the longer term. Different parts of the elephant and all that.

"Thank you for a more thoughtful answer."

Your welcome. Sometimes I run out of time for detailed answers.

"I think the fungability of energy is a very big problem that is often overlooked. "

I agree. It's an enormous problem. It's the main supply problem with energy supplies, in the short run. If coal could be converted effortlessly into oil, oil would be below $30/barrel, and would stay there until coal ran out.

The other big problem is the time it takes to turn capital expenditures into new facilities & infrastructure (oil wells, EV manufacturing, wind turbines, rail lines, etc), AKA capex lag. Historically capex lag has been the main cause of commodity shortages, as well as the boom & bust commodity cycle, as well as business cycles in general.

Peak Oil is different from most commodity shortages, as it's due more to a true supply limit than to capex lag.

My main point is that in the longterm, we have a large oil supply problem, but only a small fossil fuel supply problem, and no supply problem at all for energy overall.

I used the US coal situation as an example, because I know it better than the rest of the world, and it demonstrates the serious flaws in the peak coal projections one sees.

I talk about the short term being more important, because it is. In the long term, we'll transition to renewables, and nuclear to some extent, which are both cost effective and have no serious supply limits.

more later....

I talk about the short term being more important, because it is. In the long term, we'll transition to renewables, and nuclear to some extent, which are both cost effective and have no serious supply limits.

So tell me why you objected when I looked at renewables replacing total energy?

and have no serious supply limits."

except capacity expansion lag. But that will be the focus of my follow up article.

"tell me why you objected when I looked at renewables replacing total energy?"

I didn't - that was just a misunderstanding. I suggested that coal would be demand limited, not supply limited, and you directed me to your figure 1. I objected because that excluded renewables, which need to be included in an analysis of possible surplus energy which can be directed towards reductions in coal useage.

Capex lag is a problem in the short term due to the several year delays involved. In the long term large annual % growth is possible - much larger than the roughly 13% annual growth rates involved for wind in your model. Only fundamental limits, or satisfaction of demand, can stop that rapid growth, and there aren't any for wind.

Of course, coal, solar & nuclear can also grow as well, and they very likely will. Hopefully coal won't be needed so much.

Update for global numbers:

Continuing boom in wind energy – 20 GW of new capacity in 2007 (GWEC)

Record installations in US, China and Spain

The global wind energy markets have seen another record year in 2007, with 20 GW of new installations. This figure, which was released today by the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC), is up by 30% compared to the new installations in 2006, while the sum of the world’s total installations has increased by 27% to reach over 94 GW by the end of 2007.


Wind energy has now become an important player in the world’s energy markets. In terms of economic value, the global wind market is estimated to be worth about 25bn EUR or 36bn US$ per year in new generating equipment.

“Wind power is increasingly economically competitive with conventional sources of electricity. Increasing volatility in fossil fuel prices and increased concerns about energy security mean that wind power is often the most attractive option for new generation capacity, from any point of view,” said GWEC’s Chairman, Prof. Arthouros Zervos.

New developments in 2007 have seen the USA continuing to lead as the biggest annual market with 5.2 GW of new installations, followed by Spain and China, which added 3.5 GW and 3.4 GW to their total capacity respectively.

Detailed European numbers are expected next week.

This looks similar to the solar situation with world growth lagging US growth. Solar manufacturing grew by 50% worldwide but installations in the US grew by 84%. Clearing supply chain limitations would seem to be important for both industries or the US could induce a bidding war and we won't see the reduction in electricity prices that these industries promise as soon as we might otherwise.


We are still a ways from reaching what I would consider to be the first inflection point for renewables: the first year when total new renewable capacity equals or exceeds the total increase in worldwide generating capacity. We are still a few years away from that. Then things get tougher, as new renewables are not competing with new FF generation, but must force the premature closure of FF plants. This is a tougher economic environment for growth. Also at least in the case with wind, the ability to find suitable sites will increasingly become an issue. I doubt wind will ever become more than maybe 30% of supply. That still leaves decades of potential high growth for the industry. Its just that we shouldn't become complacent about the need to develop other technologies -we still need to cover the other 70%.

I think that the plants that will face early closure will be those with the highest relative operating expense other than fuel. Gas plants will see less use, but they will actually last longer because of this. Coal sees some cost in shutting down and starting back up but saves a lot on fuel when shut down so it may also linger. Nuclear plants, especially those that have not yet repaid the cost of construction, have high overhead when they are not operating and restarts are also costly. These would seem to be most at risk for early closure. This is actually a good thing because we'll be able to shift the intellectual capacity currently being used there over to more productive pursuits with a higher energy payoff.


Hardly. Existing nuclear power plants will be the last ones shut down prematurely. Their cheap cost of fuel (almost as cheap as wind or hydro) and stable generation make then too attractive.

Mothballed FF plants, waiting for an emergency every few years, do little harm, and cost little. Good as gone IMHO.

One cannot build a non-GHG grid for North America without nuke. The numbers (even with conservation) just do not add up.

My idea for Florida (decent solar despite clouds & haze but poor wind other than the Keys) is as follows.

HV DC transmission triangle between western Oklahoma, Chattanooga (pumped storage) and Florida (say Orlando & Miami).

Enough nuke in Florida after midnight to generate surplus, sent north to Chattanooga for storage. Enough nuke + solar PV at solar noon to generate a surplus almost every day (also sent north for storage).

Early morning and 6 PM evening peaks are meet by Florida resources (minimal solar PV at those hours) plus either/and storage in Chattanooga and wind from Oklahoma. After midnight, OK wind goes to storage (also during solar noon).

More details beyond this, but this is the outline.

No GHG (except in emergencies), but nuke is PART of the solution.

Best Hopes for stopping FF use,



I think new plants would be at the greatest risk. It is true that storage might help to keep legacy nukes operating at a steady rate. If they need to go off and on though, I doubt they'll keep operating. They don't save much on fuel when they are down but they still need to make payroll.



Recent studies have found that offshore wind near Florida is much better than was thought until recently.

wind power creates a lot more jobs per kWh produced than all other technologies.

This isn't a good thing, and is a symptom of makework bias.

I think that depends on what the extra work hours replace. If they replace costly fuel and or waste product externalities, that is a good thing. But I agree that we have to be careful with the "creates local jobs" promotional theme. It is often used to obscure bad economics.

About intermitency:

In the infancy phase of wind energy development, intermitency doesn't matter so much. When it is only supplying a fraction of a percent of the total to the grid, and there is plenty of surplus capacity to make up the difference if it drops offline, then it doesn't really matter.

We are thinking ahead right now to the second phase, when wind starts to make up an increasingly important slice of the pie. Our thinking is that the intermitent nature of wind is a negative. We are used to power sources that can respond to demand and be up as long as we need them. Much of our thinking about and development of wind is oriented toward getting around its inherent intermitency: batteries, pumped storage, etc. This is an inevitable concern during this second stage, when FF and nuclear are still available to provide most of the generating capacity. During this stage, wind is really needing to make the case for itself.

This second phase is only transitional, though, for it will inevitably be followed by a third phase. In this third phase, FF will be in steep and irreversible decline. Nuclear will probably be unable to make up very much of the shortfall. Thus, it will increasingly be up to wind and solar to provde more and more of the total generating capacity. Both of these are intermittent resources. As they move from the margins to center stage, our thinking and expectations are going to have to shift. Instead of expecting our electrical generating resources to conform to our expectations, we are going to have to start adjusting our expectations, along with our lifestyles and our economy, to accomodate ourselves to the reality of intermittency.

Thus, the deeper, longer-term question becomes: how do we adapt ourselves and our economy to a wind energy source that blows some, but not all, of the time?

A few hints can be found from the way in which societies used wind and other intermittent energy resources in the past.

For example, those famous Dutch windmills were there to power pumps, to drain land that the Dutch were reclaiming from the sea. The wind didn't turn the windmills all the time, and they didn't need it to. As long as the wind blew often enough to pump out water occasionally, that was good enough. Lesson: Does the task really have to be done at a specific time, or just sometime? If just sometime, then set things up so that it can be done by the power produced by the WT whenever it does happen to be available. Application: Maybe some devices that don't absolutely have to run all the time, like refrigerators or washing machines or dishwashers), could be placed on some sort of wireless control that would allow for their remote shut down if the winds were calm. If the wind didn't pick up after a certin number of hours, then a backup power source would kick in.)

Another example: wind grain mills don't run all the time, and water-powered mills freeze up in winter. Grain milling was done when there was power available to do it, and flour then stored for the rest of the year. Lesson: Electricity or water are not the only things that can be stored; raw materials and finished products can too. Sometimes it is more economical to design a process around storing those instead. Application: We might have to abandon JIT and instead use inventories as an energy management tool.

A third example: Sailing ships would sometimes become becalmed - a potentially disasterous situation. The ancients avoided this by also having oars and oarsmen. Steam power was introduced onto sailing ships as soon as it became available - but did not immediately replace the sails. Lesson: When you have to rely on an intermittent, unreliable energy source, have a backup. The backup need not be economical enough to use as your primary energy source. Application: It might be smarter to ramp down FF fired power plants and ramp up WTs faster than absolutely necessary, but maintain those FF plants in reserve with an inventory of FF to provide backup capacity. Eventually, when the FF completely run out, they can be retrofitted to biomass. Such a plan might be a lot less expensive than trying to build in the battery or pumped storage capacity necessary to deal with wind's intermittency.

In the long-run, people will likely look back and wonder what all the fuss was about when it comes to intermittency. They will have adapted themselves to that reality, just like we've adapted ourselves to a world that has sunlight for only part of a 24 hour day.

WNC: I had been thinking along similar lines. Trying to prepare people for a future with significant intermittancy of the power supply. The following story makes me think there could be a real game changer on the horizon:


Basically Abu Dhabi plans a carbon free future, using the hydrogen in methane, and capturing and sequestering the carbon. Supposedly methane plus steam can produce hydrogen, and sequesterable CO2.

If indeed it is practical to remove the carbon from methane, and if it is indeed also possible to exploit the seabed methane hydrates, then we would have a very large carbon free FF energy source. I realize this is IF to the second power, but these potential developments could be revolutionary. The amount of methane hydrates available being several times greater than all the coal&oil combined.

People seem unaware that our power supply and demand is already intermittent, and engineers and managers are always having to get more supply from here, turn down supply from there, raise it from here to match a drop somewhere else, etc.

It's called a "grid" and entire continents are connected in this way.

We already have a grid which adjust to varying and only slightly-predictable supply and demand.

Anyone who imagines that the air will be still and the sky overcast in every part of an entire continent on any particular day ought to watch the weather report at the end of their national news with more attention.

If you have just one wind turbine or solar panel system feeding your town, then of course you're going to have troubles. What you need is all that to be connected in a national grid - exactly as we do now.

The bulk of Texas is in an isolated grid called ERCOT, with a single HV DC connection in the east of just 600 MW.

The rest of the USA & southern Canada are linked in two separate grids. And within these grids. conectiosn are fairly poor. AND HV AC does not travel much more than 500 miles (800 km) without significant voltage support by generation along the way.

So your "national grid" is a myth. Regional calms will reduce to zero the accessible wind power.

Best Hopes for a national grid of HV DC transmission lines,


Alan has a real point. And yes all current grids, regardless of geographic span are built to deal with variable supply/demand. But as we add more intermittent sources, the scale of the variablity that they have to deal with increases. That creates issues of stability, and the need to be able to manage load (i.e. turn off some major consuming equipment sometimes).

Texas... USA... southern Canada... So your "national grid" is a myth.

a) When I said, "national", who said I was talking about the USA? Countries do exist outside yours, you know.

An excellent example of grid connectivity is Germany, Denmark and Sweden. Denmark makes up for wind shortages with Swedish hydro, and Sweden uses Danish wind off-peak for pumping. Germany steps in when both are quiet.

2) Just because a grid is inadequate today does not mean that it need be inadequate tomorrow. If we can suppose the building of millions of wind turbines or thousands of nuclear reactors, it's not really a stretch to suppose the development of a few long power lines.

They are in process of installing several wind machines here in Western NY, at the old Bethlehem Steel plant near Buffalo NY. Ugly? You should have seen it when Bethlehem was making steel. Sulpher in the air made the sky yellow. The stench was horrible. The local homes were brown with airborne dirt stains. I would sit happily with my children under these huge machines and eat a picnic lunch today... except for the poison a few feet below the surface from past practice. I welcome this change for my friends, family, and strangers. Lets build more!