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Is Wind the Next Nuclear? What the nuclear stagnation tells us about the challenges that lie ahead for wind energy

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Schalk Cloete's picture
Research Scientist Independent

My work on the Energy Collective is focused on the great 21st century sustainability challenge: quadrupling the size of the global economy, while reducing CO2 emissions to zero. I seek to...

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Levelized costs of electricity often dominate the energy and climate debate. Green advocates like to believe that if we only invest enough in wind and solar, the resulting cost reductions will soon put an end to fossil fuels. While this is already a strongly oversimplified viewpoint, a narrow focus on cost makes such simplistic analyses even less useful.

This article will elaborate by example of two clean energy technologies that face very different non-economic barriers: nuclear and wind.


The Nuclear Stagnation

When technology is new and exciting, people only see the positives. It’s only when we reach meaningful market shares that undesired impacts are felt, and public opinion turns negative.

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In the case of nuclear, the global expansion was handicapped by the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, and the nascent developing world expansion was interrupted by Fukushima in 2011. As shown in Figure 1, Chernobyl happened when nuclear reached about 5% of the global energy supply. Today, we are at 4.2%.

Figure 1: Comparison of the global expansion of wind and nuclear from BP Statistical Review data. Both wind and nuclear electricity output are multiplied by 2.5 to convert it to displaced primary fossil energy.

Deaths from Chernobyl are estimated somewhere between 4,000 and 60,000, with 574 for Fukushima. For perspective, it is estimated that one future premature death results from every 300 to 3000 tons of burnt carbon or 1100 to 11000 tons of CO2 released into the atmosphere. Hence, if we assume that the 93,000 TWh of nuclear power generated to date displaced coal at 0.8 ton-CO2/MWh, the 74 billion tons of CO2 avoided by nuclear has already saved 7–70 million lives, not counting the additional impact of avoided air pollution.

Nuclear has already saved 7–70 million lives, not counting the additional impact of avoided air pollution.

Clearly, the public backlash against nuclear was not rational from a big-picture view. But that doesn’t matter. The effects of public resistance are real, whether it’s rational or not.


A Wind Stagnation?

As Figure 1 shows, wind is currently expanding at about half the pace of nuclear in the seventies and eighties. Although wind does not face risks from black swan events like nuclear, it faces its own brand of public resistance, both to the turbines themselves and the large network expansions required to integrate higher wind shares.

As our societies become more advanced, we increasingly demand an invisible energy system. Over here in Norway, the usually reserved population is reacting furiously to onshore wind expansion plans. Turbines dotting the pristine Norwegian landscape are simply unimaginable to this wealthy society, the origin of its wealth notwithstanding. In Germany, resistance to turbines and grid expansions has almost brought onshore wind expansion to a halt at levels around 7% of total energy demand.

Wind’s greatest challenge: It’s the most visible energy technology we have.

That is wind’s greatest challenge: It’s the most visible energy technology we have. As wind continues to expand and turbines grow ever larger, its visibility will only grow while society’s tolerance for highly visible energy technologies continues to decline. Advanced societies also become increasingly concerned with nature preservation, leading to additional hurdles related to bird protection.

Offshore wind can help, but it will need to be built far from shore to be sufficiently invisible, making it more costly. It also faces further economic challenges from wake effects that strongly reduce output as total installed capacity increases. In addition, offshore wind requires large grid expansions to serve inland regions. Making these expansions invisible (underground cables) is very expensive.

Like nuclear, this resistance is not rational from a big-picture viewpoint. Surely, seeing the occasional wind turbine in the wild is worth the climate benefits. But again, the rationality of this resistance doesn’t matter. What matters is the effect it has on clean technology deployment.


The Undervalued Issue of System Complexity

Megaprojects that involve many interconnected technical, economic, political, and social challenges are extremely difficult to execute on time and within budget. Nuclear offers a prime example with many stories of budgets and timelines that were widely missed, increasingly stringent safety regulations being only one reason.

In comparison, the modular construction and installation of a wind turbine is child’s play. For decades, the simple and standardized construction and installation of wind and solar have been a big driver behind their impressive growth and falling costs.

In comparison to a nuclear plant, the modular construction and installation of a wind turbine is child’s play.

But this will not last. Higher wind market shares require vast grid expansions (often into neighboring countries) and lots of integration with other sectors that previously operated independently. In the longer term, this includes a large hydrogen transport, storage, and end-use sector that needs to be built from scratch. Executing this enormous integrated project in a shifting policy-technology landscape with impossibly tight climate timelines and increasing public resistance can easily surpass the scale and complexity of nuclear projects.

As the nuclear example shows, sub-optimal execution is to be expected in such a large, complex, and multifaceted project, inflating overall system costs and slowing the energy transition.

These effects are quantified using a published energy systems model below.


Model Results

The coupled electricity-hydrogen system model is run for different cost assumptions for wind transmission and nuclear plants:

  • Wind transmission costs are increased relative to the baseline assumption of €300/kW to account for the factors discussed above
  • Nuclear costs are varied from €2000/kW (perfectly executed project in a welcoming market) to €8000/kW (complex execution in the West)

Scenarios with and without CO2 capture and storage (CCS) are included. In each scenario, the model optimizes investment and hourly dispatch of all the technologies listed in the Appendix of this article to minimize total system costs. A high CO2 price of €200/ton is assumed in all cases.

The Energy Mix

Electricity production and consumption from the optimal technology mixes for different cases are shown in Figure 2. Starting from the left, we see that higher wind transmission costs strongly reduce the deployment of wind power in the optimal energy mix. With the base costs (€300/kW), almost all required hydrogen is made locally using electrolysis. However, this scenario requires 250 GW of installed wind capacity — quadruple the current installed base in Germany where public resistance is already having a large negative impact on wind expansion plans.

The base scenario requires 250 GW of installed wind capacity — quadruple the current installed base in Germany where public resistance is already having a large negative impact.

When wind transmission costs are tripled, almost all hydrogen needs to be imported as green ammonia. Quadrupling of costs to €1200/kW (about the same as the turbine costs) brings substantially more unabated gas power plants into the generation mix despite the high CO2 price of €200/ton. Solar power is cheap, but its role remains limited due to the large seasonal variation and mismatch with the seasonal electricity demand profile.

Figure 2: Optimal electricity generation and consumption in the different cases. OCGT = open cycle gas turbine; NGCC = natural gas combined cycle; GSR = gas switching reforming; CCS = with CO2 capture and storage; PEM = polymer electrolyte membrane electrolysis. GSRH2 = electricity consumption by GSR when producing hydrogen (Source)

Allowance of nuclear into the system creates a 100% nuclear system when nuclear projects are perfectly executed (€2000/kW). Even at a cost of €6000/kW (triple the technical potential), nuclear still dominates. However, at €8000/kW, costs become excessive, and the optimal solution is the same as the base case in the scenario without any nuclear.

When CCS is allowed into the system, the GSR technology starts playing a large role. Electricity demand is also much lower because all hydrogen is generated using natural gas reforming that only consumes a small amount of electricity using the GSR technology. When grid costs are doubled, wind is pushed out of the optimal technology mix.

In a scenario with both nuclear and CCS allowed, nuclear remains responsible for essentially all the power production up to €4000/kW plant costs. However, GSR is still responsible for generating most of the hydrogen. When nuclear costs are inflated to €6000/kW, nuclear is pushed out of the system, and the optimal mix reverts to the base case in the scenario without the availability of nuclear power.

Total System Costs

The minimized annual system cost of each case is shown in Figure 3. For the scenario without nuclear or CCS, the base case shows that direct costs of renewables account for only about 40% of total system costs, even though they supply 83% of total energy, illustrating the high system costs of integrating such high shares of variable renewables and producing a large quantity of green hydrogen. When grid costs are increased, more hydrogen is imported in the form of green ammonia (included in “Other” costs). The system-scale levelized cost of energy is high in this scenario, ranging from 120–133 €/MWh.

The direct costs of renewables account for only about 40% of total system costs, even though they supply 83% of total energy, illustrating the high system costs of integrating such high shares of variable renewables.

The ideal nuclear case (€2000/kW) reduces costs by more than half. For perspective, the difference between the cases with and without €2000/kW nuclear is about 2% of German GDP — twice the GDP growth rate since the turn of the century. However, total system costs rise steeply as nuclear plant costs increase. The system with €6000/kW nuclear is only about 10% cheaper than the case without nuclear.

Figure 3: Optimized costs of the energy system in the different cases. LCOEH = levelized cost of electricity and hydrogen. “Other” costs are broken down in Figure 4.

The addition of CCS reduces costs substantially when nuclear is not allowed. It also prevents any significant cost increases when wind is rendered uneconomic by rising grid costs. However, a system that is so dependent on natural gas is undesirable, and substantially higher shares of renewables and nuclear would be preferred from the perspective of energy security and long-term sustainability.

When combined with nuclear, CCS can slightly reduce system costs by taking care of hydrogen production via reforming. The benefit of this blue hydrogen becomes larger when nuclear costs increase from 2000 to 4000 €/kW, and CCS also takes over in the power sector when nuclear plants cost €6000/kW.

Other System Costs

More insights about the other (not energy supply) system costs are given in Figure 4. The transmission cost that is increased in the wind cases is the “VRE transmission” component. As grid costs are increased, the system limits this cost by importing more hydrogen in the form of green ammonia instead of generating it from local wind power. Clearly, the cost of these green ammonia imports grows very large in cases with high wind grid costs.

Figure 4: Outline of the “other” costs in Figure 3. T&D = transmission and distribution; VRE = variable renewable energy; PEM = polymer electrolyte membrane electrolysers.

The simplified energy system facilitated by nuclear is also clearly visible. Electrolyser costs are lower due to the possibility to operate electrolysers at maximum capacity factor from the steady supply of nuclear power, and no battery storage is needed. Grid costs are also lower because nuclear plants can be constructed where energy demand is highest. Hydrogen transmission and storage costs also reduce because hydrogen is produced at steady state.

Cases with CCS simplify the system further, mainly because no electrolysers are needed and the electricity grid can be smaller.


Conclusions

An over-reliance on wind can be just as challenging as an over-reliance on nuclear. The socio-political hurdles facing wind and nuclear are very different, but both are highly significant. As wind continues to expand to the level where nuclear peaked (it’s currently about one-third of the way there), public resistance and system complexity will continue to mount, causing substantial headwinds.

As wind continues to expand to the level where nuclear peaked, public resistance and system complexity will continue to mount, causing substantial headwinds.

Ultimately, wind will follow the same S-curve deployment pattern of all other energy technologies, but the plateau may well come earlier than proponents believe. For this reason, nuclear and CCS should be encouraged for parallel deployment, especially in regions with limited and/or seasonal solar availability. The ability to construct these technologies where energy is demanded and dispatch them according to demand results in a much simpler energy system.

An all-of-the-above approach to the energy transition guided by technology-neutral policies remains the rational choice. Each technology class has its limits and weaknesses, and we need a balanced mix to allow each technology to do what it does best. Wind and solar are great at moderate deployment levels, but other clean technologies will be needed to reach net-zero. Nuclear is one of these options, while CCS has an important role to play in system balancing and clean fuel provision.

Each technology class has its limits and weaknesses, and we need a balanced mix to allow each technology to do what it does best.

The global energy transition is a clean energy team effort. All the players deserve our support.


Appendix: Model Description

The energy systems model discussed in a previous article is used in this study to illustrate the large effects of cost inflation caused by the range of techno-socio-economic factors discussed above. The model is loosely based on Germany and is designed to optimize investment and hourly dispatch of a range of technologies, including:

  • Eleven different electricity generators: onshore wind, solar PV, nuclear, pulverised coal, and natural gas combined-cycle plants with and without CCS, open cycle gas turbine peaker plants, hydrogen combined and open-cycle plants, and the novel gas switching reforming (GSR) concept
  • Lithium-ion batteries for electricity storage
  • Three clean hydrogen generators: GSR, steam methane reforming (SMR) with CCS, and polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) electrolysis
  • Two hydrogen storage technologies: cheap salt caverns with slow charge/discharge rates and locational constraints and more expensive storage tanks without such limits and constraints
  • Hydrogen can also be imported in the form of green ammonia that is reconverted to hydrogen in reconversion plants included in the model

In addition, transmission costs for electricity and hydrogen are included in the model. In this assessment, the transmission costs for wind (set to €300/kW in the base case) will be increased to assess the effects of cost inflation caused by factors such as:

  • The need to build turbines in more isolated sites or far offshore to satisfy local stakeholders
  • Avoiding public resistance to grid expansions via expensive underground transmission lines
  • Having to resort to sites with lower quality wind resources
  • Paying fees to local communities to allow the construction of turbines closer to demand
  • A sub-optimal buildout of the complex and highly interdependent systems required to integrate high shares of wind

In addition, the effect of cost inflation of nuclear power will be investigated by changing nuclear plant capital costs between €2000/kW and €8000/kW. The lower bound represents well-executed nuclear projects in more welcoming environments like China and South Korea. The upper bound accounts for the vast complexity and inefficiency of constructing nuclear plants in the West.

These variations are investigated in scenarios with and without CCS allowed into the system using a high CO2 price of €200/ton to incentivize low-carbon technologies.

In all cases, total annual electricity demand is set to an hourly fluctuating profile for Germany in 2012, requiring a total of 515 TWh of production per year. In addition, a flat demand for hydrogen of 400 TWh/year is included. This is equivalent to about a quarter of German non-power oil & gas consumption, implying that much more clean energy will be needed for net-zero emissions.

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Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Apr 15, 2021

"Deaths from Chernobyl are estimated somewhere between 4,000 and 60,000, with 574 for Fukushima."

Sources, Schalk? Here are some reputable ones. The World Health Organization:

"A total of up to 4000 people could eventually die of radiation exposure from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant (NPP) accident nearly 20 years ago, an international team of more than 100 scientists has concluded."

Compare that to 10,000 deaths/yr from coal plant emissions in the U.S. alone. The U.S. National Academies of Science:

"...estimates imply that about 10,000 people die each year from exposure to coal power plant emissions, and about 10,000 from vehicular emissions."

Again, the World Health Organization:

"A comprehensive assessment by international experts on the health risks associated with the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant (NPP) disaster in Japan has concluded that, for the general population inside and outside of Japan, the predicted risks are low and no observable increases in cancer rates above baseline rates are anticipated."

At Fukushima there was a total of 1 confirmed death from radiation, but 2,202 from evacuation. That's right, Schalk - panic was responsible for most of the casualties at Fukushima - irresponsible, irrational fear. Very much like what you're spreading here.

I suppose I should find the increasing desperation of anti-nuclear advocates an encouraging sign, but I don't. Far more dangerous than nuclear energy is unrelenting, irrational fear of it. It's proving to be our biggest challenge in dealing with climate change.

Schalk Cloete's picture
Schalk Cloete on Apr 16, 2021

The source is linked right there on the number you quoted. Indeed, the WHO number is the lower-bound study quoted by the linked source. 

I'm not spreading fear and I'm not anti-nuclear. If you read a little bit further, you'll see that I emphasize how many more lives nuclear has saved than these two disasters have claimed. 

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Apr 15, 2021

Must say, Schalk, I love how the title can be effective at poking the bear depending on how they choose to read it-- provocative eye-catcher at its best :)

But to the substance of the matter, thanks for this in depth look at current trends. If indeed wind might risk falling into stagnation like nuclear before it, what are the key 'hindsight is 20/20' actions that should have been implemented by nuclear plants years ago that the wind purveyors still have time to harness? 

Schalk Cloete's picture
Schalk Cloete on Apr 16, 2021

Difficult question... To give a rather unqualified opinion, I would say that the wind industry should focus on appeasing local stakeholders at almost any cost necessary so that anti-wind sentiment does not spread. It is only a small fraction of the population that will need to see wind turbines on a regular basis and keeping them happy will certainly help. This will come at a cost though, although it's hard to say how much.

The issue with birds and bats should also be handled very carefully. I think wind operators should not fight against bird-related regulations, even though this will reduce their maximum potential market. If they fight and win and their turbines regularly leave bird carcasses on the ground, this will only hurt their cause in the long term. 

Mark Silverstone's picture
Mark Silverstone on Apr 16, 2021

Thanks for this analysis Schalk. I think you make some valid points.  There is always a danger in extending trend lines out into even the next few years.

However, I question the use of Norway as the example that proves the rule regarding growing intolerance of wind power expansion.  After all, don’t people in The Netherlands and Denmark generally accept much higher densities of  wind farms? Even the UK seems to be quite amenable. Plus, the future (and cost) of floating wind is far from established. Deployment of 13 MW turbines (even larger?) with much more reliable wind may change the game further. 

And I wouldn’t even want to imagine the push back if the Norwegian government were to propose utility scale nuclear power here. 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Apr 16, 2021

"After all, don’t people in The Netherlands and Denmark generally accept much higher densities of wind farms?"

Only offshore wind is accepted in the Netherlands and Denmark, and its only acceptable as a source of power because they share the best wind resources in the world.

"And I wouldn’t even want to imagine the push back if the Norwegian government were to propose utility scale nuclear power here."

Of course Norway will "push back" on nuclear - it's the only viable competitor with gas (After Russia and Qatar, Norway is the third largest exporter of natural gas in the world).

Norway will continue build a wind turbine here and there, while importing nuclear energy from Sweden. It's all about kroner (whether they're green or not).

Mark Silverstone's picture
Mark Silverstone on Apr 20, 2021

 

Only offshore wind is accepted in the Netherlands and Denmark, and its only acceptable as a source of power because they share the best wind resources in the world.

Complete BS.

I doubt that Norwegians would consider building nuclear before they were reduced to cooking and heating on open fires.  Even then, not likely. 

As for wind resources, while Denmark is the biggest user of wind power per capita, you shouldn´t be surprised to learn than Germany and US are second and third.  And for total wind power generated per year, China is far ahead of everyone else with fully a third of all wind power, followed by the US.

China – installed capacity 221GW

China is the world leader in wind energy, with over a third of the world’s capacity.

It boasts the world’s largest onshore windfarm in Gansu Province, which currently has a capacity of 7,965MW, five times larger than its nearest rival.

But, offshore wind is just beginning.  Check out the "Top 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Offshore Wind Energy." I´ll just name two:

Offshore Wind Resources are Near Most Americans: Nearly 80 percent of the nation’s electricity demand occurs in the coastal and Great Lakes states—where most Americans live. Offshore wind resources are conveniently located near these coastal populations;

Offshore Wind Resources Are Abundant: Offshore wind has the potential to deliver large amounts of clean, renewable energy to fulfill the electrical needs of cities along U.S. coastlines. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that the technical resource potential for U.S. offshore wind is more than 2,000 gigawatts of capacity, or 7,200 terawatt-hours per year of generation.

That´s right. Wind power is coming to YOU!

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Apr 23, 2021

Again you claim "complete B.S.", Mark, with only complete B.S. to back it up.

Q. What does every country with offshore wind fall back on when the wind doesn't blow?

A. Natural gas, already the largest source of CO2 emissions in the U.S.

If you don't believe me, ask your former employer, Royal Dutch Shell. Or is it your current employer?
 

Mark Silverstone's picture
Mark Silverstone on Apr 23, 2021

Not sure what you are driving at here. When wind fails in Norway, they fall back on hydro.

"In a normal year, the Norwegian hydropower plants produce 136.4 TWh, which is 90 % of Norways total power production. At the beginning of 2021 a further 2.3 TWh was under construction."

"Norway is now developing more renewable power production capacity than it has for decades. Wind power currently accounts for 10 % of the production capacity, and is now dominating investments."

For better or worse, the wind rarely fails in Norway. And that´s no BS.  Some other countries have far better wind resources, especially with shallower coastal waters, making fixed wind platforms more feasible. The US is just discovering how best to use its vast wind assets.  It´s a major reason that the future looks brighter now than it has for years.

I thought you knew that!

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Apr 23, 2021

"For better or worse, the wind rarely fails in Norway."

Wherever there is wind, there is natural gas to back it up. Hydropower has nowhere near the flexibility to adjust to gusts or momentary lulls, or voltage fluctuations, or phase errors introduced by wind.

Wind is a major reason that the future looks brighter now than it has for years...for natural gas!

Shell Aims To Be World’s Biggest Electric Producer, Using Natural Gas

Aren't you employed by Royal Dutch Shell?

 

Mark Silverstone's picture
Mark Silverstone on Apr 26, 2021

Norway has survived for many years, generating 90+% domestic energy from hydro, none from natural gas. The gas that is produced and not exported is used to produce methanol, and then exported.  Some  domestic power is imported from the European grid. More energy is exported.

See:

Calculation of the national electricity disclosure

Calculation of the national electricity disclosure is based on Norwegian electricity production. In 2018, 146.8 TWh was produced in Norway. Renewable energy constituted 143.6 TWh, of which 139,5 TWh was hydropower, 3.9 TWh wind power and 0.2 TWh thermal power from biofuels. Fossil thermal production constituted 3.3 TWh. Hence, Norwegian production of electricity is mainly renewable (98% in 2018).

The national electricity disclosure has a different composition than the actual production mix as it takes trading of GOs ("Guarantees of Origin") into consideration. In that way, one avoids double counting of the renewable attributes in the disclosure. When a producer has sold a GO for renewable energy separately from actual production, this electricity source cannot be declared as renewable to the customer. GOs issued in Norwegian energy production are mainly sold abroad, providing an extra source of income for Norwegian renewable energy suppliers.

So, about 2% of electricity used is imported and is officially of fossil fuel origin, as per GO disclosure requirements.

More inconvenient facts. Look it up. Again, I cannot understand why you did not Google this yourself, before making absurd statements?

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Apr 26, 2021

More like inconvenient lies, Mark - the same renewable lies over, and over again. Here's the whopper:

"The national electricity disclosure has a different composition than the actual production mix as it takes trading of GOs ("Guarantees of Origin") into consideration. In that way, one avoids double counting of the renewable attributes in the disclosure."

Why should the "national electricity disclosure" of Norway be any different that "the actual production mix"? Because Norway is using its actual production mix to offset gas production on its national electricity disclosure.

Just like "renewable energy credits" in the U.S.: trading of GOs doesn't avoid double-counting at all - it guarantees it.

Mark Silverstone's picture
Mark Silverstone on Apr 27, 2021

So, you do not accept that Norway gets 90%+ (usually 98%+) from renewables, mostly hydro? I guess nothing will convince you.  But try this, if you refuse to open the link.

Calculation of the national electricity disclosure is based on Norwegian electricity production. In 2018, 146.8 TWh was produced in Norway. Renewable energy constituted 143.6 TWh, of which 139,5 TWh was hydropower, 3.9 TWh wind power and 0.2 TWh thermal power from biofuels. Fossil thermal production constituted 3.3 TWh. Hence, Norwegian production of electricity is mainly renewable (98% in 2018).

The GO calculation actually increases the fossil fuel portion to about 2%. You can lead a horse to water...

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Apr 28, 2021

Mark, are you an employee of Royal Dutch Shell?

Schalk Cloete's picture
Schalk Cloete on Apr 16, 2021

Yes, wind resistance certainly varies by country. Norway is extremely fond of its untouched nature and people who are more used to not having much nature around should be less critical. I used Norway more as an example of an extremely rich society that wants everything to be perfect. As the rest of the world slowly approaches Norwegian standards, I do think demands for an invisible energy system will only increase, counting against wind. For the time being though, I agree. The onshore wind and grid expansion troubles in Germany are more representative than Norway. 

Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on Apr 16, 2021

There is a serious conceptual flaw with large scale windmill electric power generation: windmills directly compete with bird flight paths.

I'm not sure anybody looks at the stars at night or learns anything from nature anymore. But the exclusive focus on CO2 emissions and conceived "climate change" will greatly accelerate wildlife and habitat extinction.

In my area of rural Minnesota there are two types of residents. One type collects old junk cars and trucks on their property. The other type puts up bird houses, etc. My wife has been restoring bluebird, tree swallow, etc. populations for decades and new bluebird houses are now seen over a wide area.

Birds contribute greatly to insect control. Without birds, frogs, dragonflies, etc. those of us in living ecosystems will be eaten alive or forced to rely on pesticides.

Solar panels and windmills greatly multiply the human ecological footprint. At a time when we must greatly shrink the human ecological footprint.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Apr 16, 2021

"Solar panels and windmills greatly multiply the human ecological footprint. At a time when we must greatly shrink the human ecological footprint."

Thank you Rick. Wind advocates come up with crazy statistics to divert from the threat of wind turbines to migratory birds - how many millions of sparrows are killed by cats each year, etc.

The time to stop this insanity is now.

Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on Apr 17, 2021

Indeed, thank you Bob. Schalk wrote another good article.

I spent most of my day struggling to gather sticks from 50 feet into a thick woodland wetland. My wife found our nice bird suet feeder a 500 pound bear stole there, not far from our mailbox. So time to clean that area up a bit.

Schalk's article seems a latter day revision of some work by the scientist J.O.M. Bockris years ago.

Schalk Cloete's picture
Schalk Cloete on Apr 16, 2021

I'm no expert on this topic, but I would be careful in claiming that direct habitat invasion by diffuse energy harvesters like wind and solar destroys more habitats than they save by slowing climate change. 

That being said, I do agree that if the 100% renewable energy crowd gets to put up all the wind turbines they envision, the effects on nature could be severe. Just another reason why we need a balanced clean energy strategy.  

Mark Silverstone's picture
Mark Silverstone on Apr 20, 2021

There are legitimate concerns for the impact of wind turbines on birds.  There is no question that the wind power industry must be forced to perform responsible impact studies at prospective sites for wind farms, just as other developers do.  Some sites, though they may have good wind characteristics, just won´t do. 

The IUCN has guidelines that should govern placement of wind and solar installations:

"To minimise biodiversity risks, solar and wind project developers should avoid areas of high environmental significance such as protected areas and conserved areas, World Heritage sites and Key Biodiversity Areas, according to the guidelines. Other measures recommended by the guidelines include the use of technology that can temporarily shut down select wind turbines to protect birds and other species at particularly active times, or when they are detected in the vicinity by field observers, image-based detection or radar."

As you well know, the are plenty of the type of person in Minnesota who purport to have the right to do anything they wish on their property, regardless of impact on anything or anybody.  There are, however, potential fixes to the problem, such as this.  And the number of birds that are killed as a result of interactions with windmills is greatly exaggerated.

With regard to wind and solar´s  "ecological footprint", you may still be under the influence of the erstwhile Mr. Zinke, our nation´s worst ever Interior Secretary.  Please see this fact check

Coal’s carbon footprint is almost 90 times larger than that of wind energy, and the footprint of natural gas is more than 40 times larger, according to the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

This is only to point out that US politics, in the form of lobbyists and extremists, can ruin any good thing.  And I am afraid they may.

Nuclear sites "only" have large impacts when they are constructed,  go up in smoke,  spring leaks and are demolished.  And those impacts are anywhere from manageable to gigantic.   And the impact of their waste, at best, is yet to be determined.  That needs to be put in order, among other things, for nuclear to have a future.

As for the two types of residents in Minnesota, I hope and believe that there is a third type:  One that participates in civic processes, along with with regulators, developers and other consumers to ensure that clean, safe, affordable energy is available by, among other things, complying with internationally recognized guidelines such as those developed by IUCN.  There is no such thing as risk free, but there is such a thing as minimal risk.  There is a long way to go in order to achieve that. But it is possible.

Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on Apr 20, 2021

I was once a decent Biophysicist. I was payed to do Hydrogen (proton) Exchange Kinetics in proteins in a lab that used a "Gamma Distribution" to try quantify effects of temperature, pH, pressure, etc. I got pretty good at math and tried to learn the origin of the "Gamma Distribution." Turns out the "Gamma Distribution" was used to model failure of complex system in WWI weapons. Going from horses to tanks got people asking.

So now you want thousands of windmills high in the sky over ocean, feeding batteries plus more and more complexity. And now I can't keep a lawn tractor running. Unless you build quality, not cheap, you will have a junkyard in the sky.

I don't waste time here discussing great scientists like Farrington Daniels, or JOM Bockris, etc. The debate here is largely unchanged since the 1960s. I am just glad the world now values forests, topsoil, wetlands, biodiversity. And I wonder where all the young self righteous "Greens" are to help with the hard farm work.

I saw this big junk scenario before. Minnesota was once the "Super-Computer" capital of the world. Good people helped me start a company, "Lightronics, Inc." to push a micro-computer fiber optic "Super-Network." I'm no admirer of ignorant politicians forcing junk science, nor do they like me. So having world leaders now talking farms and forests is a life saver.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Apr 23, 2021

"So now you want thousands of windmills high in the sky over ocean, feeding batteries plus more and more complexity...Unless you build quality, not cheap, you will have a junkyard in the sky."

We'll have to, Rick. The junkyard on the ground is filling up.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Apr 18, 2021

An all-of-the-above approach to the energy transition guided by technology-neutral policies remains the rational choice. 

Yes, and we desperately need to make rational choices.  Unfortunately, our society is currently plagued by the spread of dis-information, the spread of which is aided by  incompetent and/or corrupt journalists.  We tried to ignore this plague when it was mainly hindering acceptance of nuclear power.  It has been a hidden threat to any climate or pro-environmental policy.  Now we are more aware of it, as it has driven up the enormous cost of the pandemic and allowed corrupt politicians and their cronies to loot our economy.

So thank you Schalk for this bit of rational, science based journalism, and the underlying science.  We need more like it.

Schalk Cloete's picture
Schalk Cloete on Apr 20, 2021

Thanks, Nathan. Yes, finding good stuff and ignoring bad stuff on the internet has become one of life's most valuable skills. I'll continue doing my best to add more content to the good side.

Tony Sleva's picture
Tony Sleva on Apr 19, 2021

Thank you for thinking long term.  My experience with nuclear power begins with the Browns Ferry fire on March 22, 1975.  This incident drastically changed the cost of nuclear power as resolving Browns Ferry concerns doubled the cost of constructing nuclear power plants (resolving Browns Ferry concerns, Appendix R, was much more difficult than resolving Three Mile Island concerns after the March 28, 1979 incident).  Chernobyl, Fukushima, and the Great Northeast Blackout, August 2003, further increased the cost of nuclear power plants.

Wind power can be enhanced by converting transmission lines to electric powerways.  This will allow transmission system owners to transmit much more power across existing overhead wires. 

Including energy storage at windfarms will optimize the utilization of wind energy.  In the Pacific Northwest, we have so much renewable energy that holding frequency to 60 hertz in April and May, during the spring snow melt,  is a challenge.

The bottom line is that we need people like you to continue prodding us to think long term.  For that, I thank you.

Schalk Cloete's picture
Schalk Cloete on Apr 20, 2021

Thanks, Tony. About storage, wind is a much poorer match with storage than solar because of the long and unpredictable timescales of its variability. The one solution that can be practical and economic is if you can co-locate high-quality wind, electrolyzers, and underground salt cavern hydrogen storage (and you have a hydrogen economy that productively uses the stored hydrogen for things like industry and transportation). However, this set of conditions is not commonly available. 

Indeed, the spatial mismatch between renewable energy resources and demand will be a key challenge going forward. Improved transmission technologies can certainly help.

Tony Sleva's picture
Tony Sleva on Apr 29, 2021

Wind farms are an excellent location for stored energy.  Each structure can house energy storage modules for short term (peaking) or long term (days). 

For short term,  can turbine assemblies can be modified to include a booster that is powered by compressed air that is stored in the structure.  Is it possible to store 15 minutes of energy in each structure?

For long term, store hydrogen in the structure and place fuel cells adjacent to the structure.  Excess hydrogen can be sold as a commodity for other uses.

For both short term and long term scenarios, the structure is a shell around energy storage modules.

Benefits:

1. Requires very little additional space.

2. Allows wind power to provide spinning reserve and peaking power.

What do you think?  Can windfarms be upgraded to provide peaking power and reserve power?  

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