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Green energy?

October 14, 2010

Windfarms (on land and in sea) have been used for energy production for more than 10 years in northern Europe (Denmark, UK, Holland, Germany) and experience there can help us reach some conclusions on the “greenness” of this method of energy production.

First of all, the basic problem is that wind (in contrast e.g. to water) cannot carry much energy. For this reason, while a small size hydroelectric turbine can produce many megawatts of power, to achieve the same result with wind turbines we need many wind turbines of enormous dimensions which are very expensive and carry with them the well-known problems of optical, sound and electromagnetic pollution.

Secondly, the power produced by windmills is in reality just a small percentage of their nominal power, quite simply because they only function when the wind is blowing at a specific speed (approximately between 4 and 8 Beaufort). From measurements done in the Netherlands and Denmark, the yield of wind turbines at sea barely reaches 30%.

Third and most important is the fact that the power produced by wind turbines fluctuates continuously, in synch with the strength of the wind. This can have a disastrous impact on the electricity network. We will go a little deeper into this one. The basic problem of electric energy is that IT CANNOT BE STORED. There exist no batteries that could even remotely store the amounts of energy we are talking about. As a consequence, to keep the electric network from collapsing, the energy supplied to the network must be at all times equal to the energy consumed. So, when demand increases, production must increase and when demand decreases production must be decreased.

The fluctuation of demand during the day follows a more or less predictable pattern and the power supply companies respond to this by adjusting their production accordingly. Thermoelectric plants burning fossil fuels cannot respond swiftly and provide the basic current which is constant, while hydroelectric plants are switched on and off to produce exactly as much power as is needed at any time.

What happens when we add wind turbines to the network? The production of wind turbines fluctuates wildly and unpredictably on a level of days but even hours and minutes, according to the wind. In the graphic we see the combined power production of all wind turbines in Germany over one year.Yearly energy produstion of all wind turbines in Germany

Yearly energy produstion of all wind turbines in Germany

The electric network of Greece can simply not absorb those huge fluctuations. In order to upgrade the network so that it could support all the power that is planned to be produced by wind turbines, investments of billions of euros would be required. In the UK, companies exploiting windfarms are paid by the state to keep their plants inoperable some days, because otherwise the network would collapse. Never in the world has a thermoelectric plant been shut down because of the installation of wind turbines. Something like that is per definition impossible because, as we have seen, wind turbines, due to the fluctuation, can only function supplementary to the conventional power production plants.

Let’s have a look at the cost. The target of the government is to achieve a 20% contribution of wind energy until 2020. The annual total consumption of Greece is 60 TWH, so with an average subsidy of 150 €/MWH, the cost will reach 1,8 billion euros annually! So the argument that “wind is free” also collapses, as this wind will be paid very expensively by all of us, either through our electricity bills or through expensive loans from the EU and the IMF.

Finally, the argument that they want to support electric power production to counter the effects of global warming and climate change is also invalid. Only 20% of CO2 emissions come from the production of electric power. The greatest part of emissions comes from the industry and transportation. If we substitute 20% of fossil fuel electric production by wind power (which is, as we have seen, not likely), we will have achieved a 4% reduction in CO2 emissions. And CO2 is only one of the so-called greenhouse gases. A drop on a glowing plate…

In conclusion, the cost of wind energy is much higher than that of all other sources. This is one of the reasons that wind energy is being challenged more and more in northern Europe. The real issue is not climate change, nor is it cheap and green energy. The real issue is, as usual, who will profit from the billions of subsidies. Great words about green energy and saving the planet are just a pretext for making more money out of the destruction of the planet. The cost will be, once more, paid by us, only this time it’s not just money that is at stake but the very survival of the people and the nature of Corfu.

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