October 31, 2014

Emerging wind industry meeting economic, technological challenges

Bill Lucas
Gardner
This is in response to Bill Gunderson case against wind energy published on March 20, 2013.
All forms of green energy face both technological and economic challenges that almost every emerging technology has faced thorough out history.  In addition to these, there is the energy industry’s barrier to new entrants.  The carbon based energy industry does not want to compete on a level playing field and oppose any form of government subsidy for new forms of energy.  Ironically the oil industry has been subsidized by the American tax payer ever since 1916, according to the Chemical & Engineering News.
Mr. Gunderson cites Kamaoa Wind Farm as an example of failure because the wind turbines were in so much disrepair.  Mr. Gunderson purposefully left out of his story that the 37 turbines in question were installed in 1987 and operated until August 2006 when they were shut down.  At the time, they were scheduled to be removed in April 2012 (6 years later).  By 2007, 14 new turbines were installed at South Point about 1.5 miles from the Kamaoa Wind Farm.  The 37 (1987 vintage) turbines operated at peak output of 9.3 megawatts.  They were replaced with 14 modern turbines having a total output of 20.5 megawatts.  So 14 new turbines produce over two times the energy of 37 old ones, according to a July issue of the Star Bulletin.
Mr. Gunderon also cites the Altamont Wind Farm in California as a failure presumably because it kills birds and is shut down 4 months out of the year because of bird migration.  Again he fails to inform the readers this farm was built in the early 1980s.  Its turbines are scheduled to be replaced with more cost-effective new ones.  All old turbines will be shut down by 2015. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, The entity that runs Altamont Wind Farm reached an agreement with the Audubon Society to use better siting and blades that turn more slowly to protect the birds. This will eventually avoid the shutdown.
The University of Edinburgh report on the degradation of load factor of wind turbines over time simply points out  technological, engineering problems similar to what every new technology has experienced. It should be obvious to readers, that one cannot ever achieve the max load factor because the wind does not blow (hard enough) 100 percent of the time.
So how well do Mr. Gunderson’s two wind farms accurately describe the state of the wind industry in the United States, 100-plus wind farms?  As pointed out above, he was not honest in his descriptions.  Also a recent Bloomberg article, describes a completely different reality than imagined by Gunderson.  The article states, “Wind economics have improved dramatically in the last several years  . . . The 2012 numbers are especially striking in light of the attractiveness of competing options, specifically natural gas.”  So the wind industry is updating old turbines and aggressively installing new ones, according to a January article in the Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
I have a lot a faith in our scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, and workforce. But I doubt wind energy is the solution to all of America’s future energy needs. (Also, no one has ever claimed that).  But overtime these brilliant people will make all forms of green energy better, more efficient, and more affordable. This is the way it has always worked in America.
By the way, there are 20 wind farms in Kansas.  Eight became operational in 2012 and over 50 more are proposed.

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