The DOE has published a 248 page document “20% by 2030” providing a technical background of wind power and a roadmap for creating 20% wind energy supply in the US electrical energy mix. At last week’s Renewable Energy conference there was an update from three of the consulting firms that have been providing input for the Department of Energy. The firms are highly qualified engineering and technical firms with excellent credentials in the electric generation industry. The update included trade-off analyses based on the cost trends over the next ten years and how the mix of costs will impact the US energy picture. Another topic was to identify supply chain issues in the wind energy sector so that the needed resources will be available to produce horizontal wind turbines.
The studies were all quite well done and very informative. The top line result is this; in order to achieve 20% wind power by the year 2030 we will need to create 280,000 megawatts of new wind power. If the projected average size machine is 2.6 megawatts, then that means 108,000 horizontal wind turbines will be needed over a ten year period. That’s a lot of turbines. And good news for GE and Siemens. Maybe not so good for US workers if the majority of the turbine content is sourced outside the US.
At today’s cost for land based wind power, $2.47 million/megawatt, it will cost $691.6 BILLION dollars over twenty years. And if wind turbines actually produced their rated power, that might be OK. But the fact is they do not. The industry average is in the 22-28% range of productivity, with some hope of achieving 35% due to forecast improvements in the technology. The utility factor takes into account the number of hours per year of wind blowing, down time losses, parasitic losses, etc. The utility factor is also impacted by the poor system efficiency at anything other than the ideal wind speed.
If the electronics industry ran at this level they would have shut down years ago. In response to this, the wind industry is moving offshore. Why? Because offshore winds blow more frequently. So the expectation is that by moving the wind turbines to the sea, the utilization factor will increase to 65%. Great!
One small problem. How do you make one of these things float? Are they safe during a hurricane? It’s like putting up a drilling platform, only harder because instead of drilling down, you have to go up with 20 tons of equipment suspended 250 feet above the platform. The best estimates for this feat of engineering put the cost at $5.94 million per megawatt. Pushing the price tag for 20% wind power to $1.66 TRILLION. And we haven’t begun to find out about the technical problems at sea compared to the problems we are discovering in land based wind power.
But here’s the scary part; you’ll never get to vote on it. US energy policy is being implemented without Congress or legislative oversight. The DOE has paid for a road map and by virtue of it’s $9 Billion per year budget, is spending that money and incentivizing businesses with matching grants. R&D resources are being committed to achieve a goal that is, at best, very controversial. We’ve had a lot of press, a lot of campaigning, but no real discussion and no real performance review. But the DOE seems committed to the wind power roadmap, regardless of the cost or how long it takes.
Creating policy with your tax dollars. With no input from you and me. Now that’s scary!