Potential instability of wind resources

by Ginosar  

Wind energy is getting a lot of favorable attention globally because it is the least costly low-carbon energy source, relatively simple technology and already proven its abilities to generate electricity on a large scale. However, as we plan to rely on more wind energy we need to consider some possible serious problems and study them in depth.

I am concerned that future reliance on wind energy as a major source of electricity may be unwise. I think we must also have human-controlled power in substantial amounts to compensate for the greater uncertainty of wind as GW is changing the climate.

I am a strong supporter of wind energy, and that is why I risked my career at the California Energy Commission, in the late 70' to push for developments in this field against my management. With a lot of work we succeeded to verify with clear, multi year data, the first time any place in the world, that wind can be a profitable commercial electrical source.

Global warming is changing weather patterns all over the globe. The steady patterns of strong winds, suitable for practical wind turbines, may not be relied on in many places in the future.

Here is what Dr. Holdren said  5/27/10:

"Global climate is changing. On average it is warming at a rate that is highly unusual against the background of natural variation that has always characterized the earth's climate. It's warming, on the average, but with that warming come changes in all of the elements of climate and the phenomena related to it. That means rain and snow, atmospheric circulation, ocean currents, storms, all changing in their spacial patterns, in their magnitudes and very importantly changing in their timing."

Temperature differences drive the winds, and the temperatures would not remain the same in the future. That may change the intensity and duration of the winds. You need a minimal amount of wind hours that are both not too low to generate sufficient amount of energy and not too high and especially not erratic, to break the blades.

The increase expectation of erratic weather with more intense storms could reduce the output of wind farms and make it less predictable..

Solar input however, should be a steadier source of energy despite the variations in storms, clouds, and weather patterns. Also, the sun, unlike wind, is not able to generate extreme radiations that may damage the conversion systems. In addition land areas suitable for solar energy systems with very low precipitation are expected to grow, not diminish with increase global temperatures.



Good thought and yet another caution. This adds yet one more risk to siting a wind farms and expecting a thirty year economical project. This will drive wind developers to site in the most energetic sites first and hope that the winds don't change that much while the project is producing so the payback period will be less. That means that a remote site with great wind but an expense to build enough transmission lines to deliver the power will make the site less attractive. That said, I assume that at some point in the not too distant future, electric utility planners will realize this risk, but in the meantime, we have a very long way to go before we even reach ten percent from wind. There's also the nagging question of firm capacity, and that means either an integrated grid, gas fired back up, or as of yet unproven energy storage technology.

I wonder if wind energy climatologists have started to model this. Of course, the uncertainty would be quite large, so the results would be unclear.


Matania  -- I have two thoughts:

1. Not sure the changes in wind patterns would be fast enough to matter: a 20-year life at a site would be good enough, and then part of the investment could be recovered by moving the wind equipment to where new patterns have created more wind.

2. High wind areas would continue to exist, their locations would change and, if the change not too fast, the investment could be recovered well enough.

The way to quantify it is to compare the risk and uncertainties of the changes in wind with the risks and uncertainties of the competing nuclear. Tough to do and do well enough and credibly enough to convince investors and policy makers.

But, it is an argument I had not heard, and it may help to control over-enthusiasm for wind. It supports a more diverse set of energy sources, and avoids the trend toward all wind as the renewable source.


My answer:

It may be that way, but the uncertainty is a killer for business. I wish it would not turn out like that, but how can we get a better handle on that to make practical decisions? And with some modicum of success.

My own assessment is that the erratic aspect would not be slow moving. Storms are unpredictable and without pattern. Take tornadoes, locations and intensity are so unpredictable. So, for damage to blades we can expect unpredictability of force and timing.

And what about  average energy wind flow between the upper and lower acceptable values? How can we say now how that will change.

Up to now, every report I am aware of  shows more rapid change in patterns, not slow moving.

This issue deserves in-depth analyses backed up by results from simulations.


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