Wind Power Fail – 2012 – Same As Always

Posted on Thu 12/13/2012 by



While this looks to be a questionable and emotive thing to say, it is in fact the truth of the matter. Currently, in the U.S. there more than 40,000 Wind Towers. The total power that they generate for consumption is the same as that being generated by just 9 of those Nuclear Power Plants. Some readers might think this is pretty hard to believe, and it must obviously be untrue, just something to say to make Wind Power look bad, but as you read on, I will show you that this is in fact quite true.

While this Post quotes statistical data that is specific to the U.S. the data is indicative of Wind Power Generation wherever it may be in use. For the purpose of this exercise, I have used a comparison between Wind Power Generation and Nuclear Power Generation. Few Countries do have electrical power that is generated from Nuclear sources, and for those Countries, it is reasonable to substitute large scale Coal Fired Power Generation for a similar indicative result.

Stetson Mountain

Stetson Mountain Wind Plant – Washington County Maine

We are constantly being told that Wind Power Generation is reaching the stage where it is becoming a large scale producer of electrical power, and just looking blandly at some of the data, this may seem to be the case for the U.S. However, as I have always said in all my earlier Posts on the subject of Wind Power, that reference to the up front power that these towers can generate is not whole story. That big picture statistic is not that total up front power figure, but the power that is actually generated for consumption.

This up front overall total is referred to as the Nameplate Capacity, and to explain that, let’s then look at just one theoretical Wind Plant in isolation and explain the process. There are the huge towers, and sitting on top of each tower is a nacelle. Inside that nacelle is the generator itself. The huge three bladed ‘fan’ device attached to the front of the nacelle is driven by the Wind, and as it rotates, it then drives the generator inside the nacelle, through a constant speed drive device, basically a gearbox that drives the generator at a set speed, although some of the most recent advanced generators are in fact directly driven by the blades themselves. It is the generator itself that makes the power. While some of those generators can generate up to 6MW, (MegaWatts) currently, the average sized generator ranges in size from between 2.5 and 3MW, and the larger the generator, the larger the fan blades and because of that, the taller the tower.

So, if this is a large scale Wind Plant, then it could have as many as one hundred and fifty of these huge towers, and while that may seem a lot, on an overall basis, it is cheaper to build a lot of them than just a couple of them on a per tower cost basis. Some plants have more towers and some have less, but that figure is around the average for a large scale wind Plant.

So, using an average of a 2.5MW nacelle on top of each tower, then the total power for all 150 towers comes in at 375MW. This is called the Nameplate Capacity of the Wind Plant. What is not quoted as often as that relatively large number for the overall total power is the fact that these Wind Plants generate not that full amount of power but on average barely 30% of that total. That 30% is referred to as the Capacity Factor, (CF) and while this seems to be a number I have just quoted without much reference, I will get to that point and show you exact statistical data. That variability is due to the fact that, well, the wind is variable and does not blow at the required level to keep the blades turning all the time. In fact below a certain wind speed, the blades stop rotating, and as well as that, above a certain wind speed, the blades also stop rotating as well.

That’s the fairly basic explanation as to how one of these wind plants operate, so let’s then look at some actual figures, and I’ll show you just how little electrical power these wind plants do actually generate in the way of actual power for consumption.

Here, I am using the Wikipedia site as a reference for total Wind Power plants in the U.S. While I am sometimes reticent to use that Wikipedia site as a reference because of the inherent bias against any form of power generation not in current favor, it is regularly updated when data is needed for these types of renewable power that are in favor.

This link quotes the total Installed Nameplate Capacity for all Wind Power in the U.S. as 51,630MW, and just blandly looking at that total gives the impression that this is indeed quite a large total. That can be explained with a reference to a large scale Nuclear Power Plant (or large scale Coal Fired Power Plant) where the average Nameplate Capacity is 2000MW. So, that figure of 51,630MW is, in effect, the equivalent of 26 of those large scale Nuclear Plants, and that indeed is a large power total. This overall Nameplate Capacity can now give us a guide as to how many of those actual towers there are. While some of the most recent generators for wind towers can generate as much as 6MW, and some even more, earlier towers were only capable of generating less than 1MW. An example of this is the huge Wind Plant at Altamont Pass in California where there are 4,930 towers, and each tower has a generator barely able to generate 125KW. In recent years that generator size has increased in size, and a lot of plants have generators capable of generating power between 1.5MW and 2MW, The current average size is towers that are capable of around 2.5MW to 3MW, so while there are many differing sizes of generators on top of each tower, I have used an average generator size of 2MW, and with an overall Nameplate Capacity of that 51,360MW, that gives us a ballpark figure of 26,000 wind towers. Now, here I am using an averaged figure of 26,000 because, as newer Plants are being constructed, the average sized generator inside those nacelles is around that figure of 2MW, giving us a ballpark for future construction of wind towers. I mentioned earlier that some of those older towers had much smaller power generators attached to them, so the actual number for wind towers in the U.S. is in fact more than 40,000 as shown at this link, which also backs up the same total for Nameplate Capacity (54,630MW) for Wind Power in the U.S. that Wikipedia states as the total.

So, because this comparison is with Nuclear Power Plants, let’s then look for a total Nameplate Capacity for them, and for this, I will use the Government’s own Energy Information Administration (EIA) site, and that is the chart at this link. (This is a pdf chart and will open up at a relatively small size, so along the top of that chart you’ll see a document sizing percentage number, so just change that to either 100% or 125% to see the chart in a larger size for easier viewing.)

This shows the Nameplate Capacity for all electrical power generation in the U.S. This shows us that the total Nameplate Capacity for Nuclear Power in the U.S. is 106,731MW.

So, from That, we can now see that Wind Power has almost half the Nameplate Capacity as Nuclear Power. (51,630MW and 106,731MW) When this is viewed in isolation, it may actually seem that Wind is a large contributor, and that is why this Nameplate Capacity total figure is used when hyping up Wind Power.

Now, some of you may be curious as to why I used a Wikipedia reference for Wind Power, while this EIA site is a more accurate reference to use. However, note the date at the top of this chart, that being 2010, so this is two years old and out of date when it comes to the totals for Wind power, as so many new Wind Plants have been constructed in those intervening two years.

Having said that, some of you might wonder why I am using this chart for the Nuclear Power totals. That is because in those intervening two years, no new Nuclear Power Plants have been constructed, and in fact, no new Nuclear Power Plants have been constructed for Decades.

Now, while you are at that same chart, look at the total for Overall Nameplate Capacity. That comes in at 1,138,638MW, and again, that’s the closest actual total I can find for the total Installed Capacity for electrical power in the U.S.

From this we can work out the percentages of the total Nameplate Capacity for Wind and Nuclear Power.

Wind Power comes in at 4.53% of the total and Nuclear Power comes in at 9.37% of the Total Nameplate Capacity.

See now how those figures make it look like Wind Power actually is starting to make some major inroads into total U.S. power generation.

In the nearly 5 years I have been writing about this, I have always said that this (up front) Nameplate Capacity data should not be used as an indicator. What is important in all this is not that Nameplate Capacity, but the actual power that is being generated for consumption, the power actually delivered to the grids.

We have accurate data for that, from that huge EIA database, and this information is only two months old.

So then let’s compare the actual power delivered for consumption from both Wind and Nuclear Power.

There are two pages for you to look at here, and you can open up both pages in new windows by just clicking on the links and then navigating between the pages for those of you may wish to check my maths to see that I’m not fiddling the figures to make my point.

This is the link for the page that shows the overall data and at that page I will point you to the figures for Nuclear Power, and also the Total overall power figure.

This is the link for the page that shows the data for Renewable Power, and at that page I will point you to the figures for Wind Power.

At that first page look at the figures for the actual total generation (power delivered to the grids) for Nuclear Power. Scroll to the bottom of the chart and it’s the figures along the line that is headed Rolling 12 Months Ending in September, and it’s the 2012 line, and the figures for Nuclear Power are the sixth from the left, shown there as 783,940. This is expressed in Thousand MWH (MegaWattHours) which is GWH (GigaWattHours)

Look across at the far right and you’ll see the Total Power delivered to grids for consumption from every power source in the U.S. That total is 4,051,044GWH.

Now, from those two figures, we can work out the percentage of power delivered from Nuclear Power, and that comes in at 19.35%.

Compare that now with the percentage when it comes to the Nameplate Capacity, and that percentage was only 9.37%.

See now how using that Nameplate Capacity figure is erroneous, and vastly understates the actual level of power generated by Nuclear Power. Use that smaller Nameplate Capacity figure and it gives the impression that Nuclear Power is not much of a contributor, when in fact it is the third largest electrical power delivery source in the U.S. after Coal Fired Power and Gas Fired Power.

Now, do the same exercise for Wind Power. At that second link, you will see the same rolling 12 month figure for Wind is 135,506GWH, and comparing that to the total power delivered the percentage for Wind comes in at only 3.34%, compared to the Nameplate total of 4.53%.

What is interesting here is to compare both overall Nameplate figures  to power delivered figures.

See how when you compare Nameplate, you see that Wind is almost half the total of Nuclear Power. Compare the power delivered now. Nuclear power delivers almost six times the power. (5.79) while only being twice the size in Nameplate Capacity.

I mentioned the variability of Wind Power, and this is expressed as the Capacity Factor. (CF) Wind CF going on this data is currently running at almost 30%. (29.9%) While this is the 12 Month CF, that could be averaged out to around seven and a quarter hours a day, and again that figure can be misleading as some days it is considerably less than that. Because of that variability Wind Power is more often than not unavailable for when it is actually required, so other plants, mainly gas fired Peaking Power Plants, are called on to provide power for when Wind Power is low.

At the opposite end of the scale, Nuclear Power Plants have the highest CF of all power sources. While they are currently running at around 84.3% for the last year, that figure has been as high as 87%, and that can be seen at that first link by looking at the power delivery for the last ten years, shown at the top of that page. Virtually, the only time Nuclear Power Plants are not running at their full Capacity is during the scheduled down time for refueling, usually also the time when maintenance is carried out. Carefully scheduled across the whole U.S. Nuclear fleet, this has become an art form now, as that CF for the whole fleet has risen over the years to the high CF it has now. Again, for those periods of time when huge amounts of power are required, those Nuclear Power Plants regularly deliver at a 95% CF for the Summer Months. Huge amounts of power for the times when it is actually required, the exact opposite of Wind Power.

So then, let’s go back to the emotive claim right at the top of the page, those more than 40,000 Wind towers deliver the same power as just 9 of those Nuclear Power Plants.

There are currently 104 nuclear reactors in the U.S. for the generation of electrical power. Each one of those reactors provides the driving energy for one turbine/generator complex, and there are (in the main) two reactors to each one Power Plant. So, with 104 generators, that means that this is the equivalent 52 Power Plants.

If the total power generated for distribution to the grids comes in at 783,940GWH then, on average, each of those plants is delivering 15,076GWH each year.

So, if the total power delivered from every Wind Tower in the U.S. comes in at only 135,506GWH, that effectively means that the same power is delivered from just 9 of those Nuclear Power Plants, and in fact those 9 Nukes deliver a little more than that Wind total, which effectively means that just one sixth of the U.S. Nuclear Power fleet delivers more power than every Wind tower in the U.S.

While I contribute to this U.S. based blog site, I live in Australia, and this Wind Power comparison bears heeding for all Australians as well.

Australia is almost the same size in area as the Continental U.S. While the same size in area our population is considerably smaller, at just a tick under 23 Million, while the population of the U.S. is 311 Million. Because of that our electrical power consumption is lower.

Currently, the total Nameplate Capacity for every power plant in Australia is almost the same as for the total Nameplate Capacity for all Wind Power in the U.S. close to that 52,000MW.

However, the total power consumption for Australia comes in at 245TWH, (TeraWattHours) which is 245,000GWH.

If the total power delivery from those 40,000 wind towers is only 135,506GWH, then that equivalent Wind Power would only be supplying 55% of Australia’s total power consumption. Currently those almost 1000 wind towers here in Australia are only supplying 2.2% of all Australia’s consumed power.

Australia currently has just under 1,000 wind towers, so you can gain an idea of what might need to be done to get that up to the U.S. Nameplate Capacity of nearly 52,000MW, and here, because these would be recent new constructions the average power for each would be 2MW, hence that would mean around 26,000 towers, and even then, they would only supply a little more than just half of Australia’s total power consumption.

What is interesting is that U.S. Capacity Factor (CF) for Wind Power is currently running at just a tick under 30%, which is almost the same as the CF for Wind Power in Australia, which is also running at that 30% figure.

Now, while this whole Post might give the impression that I am an advocate for Nuclear Power, that is a long (very long) way off here in Australia, which has no plans even to discuss that option, let alone plan for its introduction.

What I am saying here is that Wind Power fails utterly to deliver the levels of power that are an absolute requirement, and to specifically highlight the difference between using Nameplate Capacity of those Wind Plants when the most important thing is the power that is actually delivered from all those wind towers.

I haven’t even bothered to touch on Wind Powers many other failings, their huge construction cost by comparison, the huge cost of the generated power, the large subsidies paid at the construction phase and also at the power delivery phase, the longevity of those Wind Plants, (20 to 25 years at best, while the average longevity for a Nuclear Power Plant is 50 years and that’s the base lifespan) the impact upon bird life and other animal life of those wind towers, the loss of the visual environment, and the now apparent serious human health problems associated with proximity to wind towers.

While each of these problems associated with Wind Power is significant in its own right, by far the largest problem that should be concentrated on more than any of these is the fact that they actually fail to deliver electrical power. This is the actual reason these towers are constructed in the first place. To deliver electrical power, something that they fail so utterly to do on the scale required.

Some people may say that I write specifically to make Wind Power look bad. I don’t need to do that.

The actual power delivery data does that for me without my saying one single word.

All I have to do is to point that out and explain it.