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Denmark — The Inefficiency of Wind Turbines — Why they probably use more power than they create

(Editors Note:  It never hurts to repost an excellent article, like this one written by Eric Rosenbloom from Denmark, about the inefficiencies of wind power. — Donna Quixote)

Eric Rosenbloom — Denmark

“Wind promises a clean and free source of electricity that would reduce our dependence on imported fossil fuels and the output of greenhouse gases and other pollution. Many governments are therefore promoting the construction of vast wind “farms,” encouraging private companies with generous subsidies and regulatory support, requiring utilities to buy from them, and setting up markets for the trade of “green credits” in addition to actual energy.

A little research, however, reveals that wind power does not in fact live up to the claims made by its advocates, that its impact on the environment and people’s lives is far from benign, and that with such a poor record and prospect, the money spent on it could be much more effectively directed.

In high winds, ironically, the turbines must be stopped because they are easily damaged.  Build-up of dead bugs has been shown to halve the maximum power generated by a wind turbine, reducing the average power generated by 25% and more.  Build-up of salt on off-shore turbine blades similarly has been shown to reduce the power generated by 20%-30%.

For most grid systems, any power produced by wind plants is in practice superfluous. The backup generation (from the grid) is already providing it.

On top of this uselessness, the turbines use a great deal of electricity themselves. Most of them cannot even run without input from the grid. Although they produce electricity intermittently, they consume it continuously.

It may be that large wind turbines use as much electricity as they produce. Whether the wind is blowing in the desired range or not, they need power to keep the generator magnetized, to keep the blade and generator assembly (92 tons on a 1.5-MW GE) facing the wind, to heat the blades in icy conditions, to start the blades turning when the wind is just getting fast enough to keep them going, to keep the blades pitched to spin at a regular rate, and to run the lights and internal control and communication systems.

Pictures from the energy companies show slim towers rising cleanly from the landscape or hovering faintly in the distant haze, their presence modulated by soft clouds behind them. But a 200- to 300-foot tower supporting a turbine housing the size of a bus and three 100- to 150-foot rotor blades sweeping over an acre of air at more than 100 mph requires, for a start, a large and solid foundation. On a GE 1.5-MW tower, the turbine housing, or nacelle, weighs over 56 tons, the blade assembly weighs over 36 tons, and the whole tower assembly totals over 163 tons.

A typical turbine site takes about a 42×42-foot-square graveled area.   Each tower (and a site needs at least 15-20 towers to make investment worthwhile) requires a huge hole filled with steel rebar–reinforced concrete (e.g., 1,250 tons in each foundation).   The hole is large enough to fit three double-decker buses. The foundation of each 323-foot assembly is a 7-feet-deep 42-feet-diameter octagon filled with 25,713 pounds of reinforced steel and 181 cubic yards of concrete.

The destructive impact that such construction would cause is obvious. Erosion, disruption of water flow, and destruction of wild habitat and plant life would continue with the presence of access roads, power lines, transformers, and the tower sites themselves.  For better wind efficiency, each tower requires trees to be cleared. Vegetation would be kept down with herbicides, further poisoning the soil and water.

Each tower should be at least 5-10 times the rotor diameter from neighboring towers and trees for optimal performance. For a tower with 35-meter rotors, that is 1,200-2,400 feet, a quarter to a half of a mile. A site on a forested ridge would require clearing 45-90 acres per tower to operate optimally (although only 4-6 acres of clearance per tower, the towers spaced every 500-1,000 feet, is typical, making them almost useless when the wind is not a perfect crosswind.)

GE boasts that the span of their rotor blades is larger than the wingspan of a Boeing 747 jumbo jet. The typical 1.5-MW assembly is two stories higher than the Statue of Liberty, including its base and pedestal.

The editor of Windpower Monthly wrote in September 1998, “Too often the public has felt duped into envisioning fairy tale ‘parks’ in the countryside. The reality has been an abrupt awakening. Wind power stations are no parks.” They are industrial and commercial installations. They do not belong in wilderness areas.

Wind advocates insist that property values are not affected by nearby industrial turbines, because there will always be a buyer as it’s just a question of taste. That is small comfort to those who already own homes near potential wind-plant sites but whose taste militates against rattling windows and humming walls, flickering lights, 100-foot blades spinning overhead, and giant metal towers and supply roads where once were trees .”

Eric Rosenbloom

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  1. How much wind will a windmill mill if a windmill only uses wind? | Quixotes Last Stand - April 11, 2014

    […] Rosenbloom from Denmark wrote a piece about this a few years ago.   You can read the full article here.  This is an excerpt for those of you who aren’t familiar with Eric’s writings on […]

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