Thursday, October 17, 2013

Wind Turbine Controversy?

I was spurred by criticism of wind turbines on a Green Party email list to review the controversy over wind turbines for my blog - something I've been meaning to do for ages.

First, wind turbines are only one component of the renewable energy mix, which includes:

  1. Wind 
  2. Wave
  3. water current
  4. Tidal
  5. Solar PV
  6. Solar heat
  7. Concentrated Solar Power
  8. HVDC supergrid
  9. Storage - pumped water
  10. Storage - compressed air
  11. Storage - hydrogen
  12. Storage - thermal
  13. Grid balancing - Electric vehicle batteries
  14. Grid balancing electricity storage heaters
  15. Biomass
  16. Wood gasification
  17. Anaerobic digestion
  18. Combined Heat and Power - large and small
  19. Heat pumps - ground and water
  20. Geothermal
  21. Conservation 
  22. Increased appliance efficiency
  23. Anchored seaborne multi-modal energy platforms (ask me for details) 
  24. Other things I haven't thought of here
  25. Other things nobody knows about yet
The great advantage of wind is that it is cheap and is ready for deployment.
Like every energy source (including the good old wood fire), wind turbines have their downsides.

Bird and Bat kills

from Climate Desk

We must keep things in proportion. Bird kills are a tiny tiny fraction of one % of the total kills made by humans, mainly by our cats, but also by cars and glass windows.

Having said that, every dead bird is a tragedy for its loved ones and dependents, and we must reduce them, chiefly by not siting wind farms in major bird migration routes.
Emission of distress calls from the turbine in response to radar detection of birds in the vicinity is a possibility. Starling distress calls have been shown to be effective on many species.
Silhouettes of raptors on the blades might be worth a try.

Bats are attracted to smaller, but not larger installations. It is not so much strikes as pressure changes that kill bats. I have a theory that bats' echolocation mistakes the tip vortices for clouds of insects (otherwise why would they approach them?). In that winglets reduce tip vortices (thereby increasing efficiency of the blade by 5%) they will reduce bat deaths.

Even simple addition of red bands to turbine blades can reduce bird kill.

Vertical Axis wind turbines claim to have minimal bird strike record and to be quieter. Though that is disputed.

Electromagnetic fields of subsea cables
These do affect some species in different ways. Notable is the propensity for some fish to attack cables.
There is a 2010 review here:

I did not see anything unduly alarming, given that cables cover such a tiny area of the sea bed.
More knowledge (for instance, about fields surrounding HVDC cables, and influence of sheathing and burial) should mitigate this problem.

Neodymium is a rare earth metal used in turbines (and many other applications) because it can create very strong light magnets.

97% comes from China, where there is no care taken about pollution from extraction.
Here is the Daily Mail on the topic. How nice to see the Mail taking an interest in pollution for once.

The answer here is to help the Chinese with their approach to cleaner extraction techniques, not to abandon any technology that uses magnets.

The variability or intermittency problem has been dealt with in many other places, so I will not go into it in detail here. It is to be met with by normal balancing procedures, amplified by HVDC , dispersed storage in domestic and Electric Vehicle batteries  and  electrolysis.

We should be pushing Government very hard to implement these storage solutions. Storage heaters are back in. They can store excess electricity by diagnosing overproduction (frequency increases) and storing it as useful heat. Otherwise electricity is wasted as grid overheating.

This was put forward on the list. My answer - Yes. Next.

"Health Problems"
The correspondent on the email list did not mention this, but there have been claims in the UK about health issues from extra low frequency sound. These issues are higher when there has been a big anti-wind campaign, and they do not occur on the European mainland. The claims are discredited.

Anti-wind prejudice
We should not be naive about turbines. There is a massive campaign against wind turbines in the denialosphere, in the Mail, Telegraph and Murdoch organs. It is an extension of the climate change denial campaign of the fossil fuel companies. Despite their sustained propaganda campaign, polls show consistently that 60% of Brits quite like wind turbines. 

Acceptability will be improved when anyone living within certain distances (determined by local topography) of wind turbines should be given lower electricity bills in compensation for visual and sound amenity losses.

Let us be clear. Greens oppose coal, oil, and gas. Greens oppose nuclear. Greens oppose the tidal barrage. If we oppose wind - the cheapest, most available flagship technology - what credibility do we deserve? None.


weggis said...

I've forgotten what I wanted to say now ...

weggis said...

....but I do note that the last comment on your blog before the one above, according to my RSS feed, was 182 days ago.
I do hope this application of the plunger will unlease a torrent of intellectual discourse on the many issues you have dealt with in that time ....

Richard Lawson said...

Hi Weggis
Now you mention it I have noticed it has been a bit quiet recently. I thought it was just that all my posts were a bit crap or something.

weggis said...

Well, you do tend to post on subjects like compostable toilets but that is no reason why readers should sit and ponder but not excrete their cerebral effluence into your comments section.

Richard Lawson said...

I'm glad you mentioned that. There is every reason to defecate into a composting toilet, and every reason also not to do same into drinking water. Which is what these WC thingies are doing. And then squirting it into the sea, producing eutrophication, algal blooms and hypoxia, thus exacerbating acidification and warming.

Less throughput, more poo put in other words. Now where was I?

weggis said...


Richard Lawson said...


weggis said...

Ah yes. One of the arguments I have seen and heard from the anti-Wind lobby is that you can't store electricity. This is one of those statements that is absolutely 100% correct but totally meaningless. It's like saying you can't store fire. We store fuel to make fire and we store energy to make electricity - that's what fossil fuels are, stored energy.

The trouble is that there are gullible people out there who believe all this DfM nonsense.

weggis said...

Oh, and have you seen this?
Looks like fun ...

Adrian Windisch said...

For me the controversy is offshore wind. Popular for political reasons, fewer people object to them. But more expensive to build, maintain and transmit the energy to the shore. I think if offshore wind is included in the stats it may explain why wind is seen as expensive.

On the lack of comments, I think people are mostly reading blogs as part of social media now and comment there, not directly onto the blog.

Richard Lawson said...

Hi Adrian
Me, i just say Yes to everything. Yes please. You didn't quite ask about Anchored seaborne multi-modal energy platforms but it's close enough.

Offshore wind costs bcz of the towers. So leave em out. Get a mothballed merchant vessel for 2/6d, anchor it offshore, and festoon it with wind turbines, current turbines, yaw, pitch and roll flukes, pendulums in cargo space and PV and generate, baby, generate.

Oh, and use electrolysis to create H2 and O2 as fuel for passing ships.

Thanks for asking