What’s the Carbon Footprint of a Wind Turbine?

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Yves here. While this post addresses one of the questions often raised about energy sources meant to replace carbon-generators like oil, I wonder what our readership will make of it. First, and over my pay grade, are the assumptions about wind turbine longevity and disposition costs. A reader recently claimed that in his ‘hood, about 1/3 of the wind turbines were dead, and he claimed they could not be repaired.

A second issue is that my impression is that possibly high lifecycle costs, in carbon terms, is not one of the top reservations about wind turbine technology. A biggie is that they are an erratic power source. However, that defect does add to total carbon costs, in that wind turbines presuppose batteries or other means of energy storage, at least for some (most?) of the output. There are some low tech energy storage approaches like geothermal wells, but again, my impression is relatively few houses and commercial buildings incorporate them.

Not only does the building and installation of large capacity batteries have an carbon footprint which ought to be added into any wind turbine total carbon cost computation, but there is also energy loss when storing and then tapping into energy in a battery which also needs to be factored in to any wind turbine carbon footprint analysis.

A third issue is that wind turbines use rare earths, which while not actually so rare, are nasty to mine and China dominates their extraction.

And finally, environmentalists worry about habitat damage, particularly harm to birds and bats.

By Sara Peach, the Senior Editor of Yale Climate Connections. She is an environmental journalist whose work has appeared in National Geographic, Scientific American, Environmental Health News, Grist, and Chemical & Engineering News. For her reporting on environmental issues, she has earned awards from the National Press Photographers Association, Pictures of the Year International, and the Society of Environmental Journalists. Originally published at Yale Climate Connections

Dear Sara,

Wind turbines are an absolute joke. Has anyone actually figured out the amount of carbon emissions emitted for the entire process from initial construction of the components and land development (construction machinery emissions)? — Mike M.

Hi Mike,

Thank you for this apparent attempt at a “gotcha” question, as it gives me the opportunity to reply with a resounding yes! People have studied, in detail, the amount of carbon pollution emitted during the life of a wind turbine.

In fact, this type of analysis constitutes an entire branch of research known as “life cycle assessment,” with its own handbooks, internationally agreed-upon standards, specialized software, and peer-reviewed journals.

To conduct a life cycle assessment of a wind turbine, or any other product, researchers begin by diagramming each stage of its existence, from manufacturing through end-of-life disposal. Next, they inventory the energy and raw materials consumed at each stage, such as the steel, fiberglass, and plastic needed during a wind turbine’s manufacturing, the diesel burned by ships and trucks in transporting turbine parts from factory to construction site, and the energy used during construction, operation, maintenance, and eventual deconstruction and recycling or disposal.

With this information in hand, researchers calculate the carbon pollution produced during a wind turbine’s life cycle — in other words, its carbon footprint.

Search online for the keywords “life cycle assessment” and “wind turbine” and you’ll retrieve dozens of published papers on this topic. Here’s a non-comprehensive chart of such papers from the past five years:

The carbon footprint of wind turbines

This chart shows how much carbon dioxide, per kilowatt-hour of electricity generated, can be attributed to a wind turbine during its life from cradle to grave. If you’re wondering about those awkward-sounding “grams of carbon dioxide-equivalent,” or “CO2-eq,” that’s simply a unit that includes both carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases, such as methane.

You can see that the results vary by country, size of turbine, and onshore versus offshore configuration, but all fall within a range of about five to 26 grams of CO2-equivalent per kilowatt-hour.

To put those numbers in context, consider the two major fossil-fuel sources of electricity in the United States: natural gas and coal. Power plants that burn natural gas are responsible for 437 to 758 grams of CO2-equivalent per kilowatt-hour — far more than even the most carbon-intensive wind turbine listed above. Coal-fired power plants fare even more poorly in comparison to wind, with estimates ranging from 675 to 1,689 grams of CO2 per kilowatt-hour, depending on the exact technology in question.

There’s another crucial difference between fossil fuels and wind turbines. A coal or natural gas plant burns fuel — and releases carbon dioxide — every moment that it runs. By contrast, most of the carbon pollution generated during a wind turbine’s life occurs during manufacturing. Once it’s up and spinning, the turbine generates close to zero pollution.

What’s more, wind turbines often displace older, dirtier sources that supply power to the electricity grid. For example, after a new wind farm connects to the grid, the grid operator may be able to meet electricity demand without firing up a decades-old, highly polluting coal plant. The result? A cleaner, more climate-friendly electricity grid.

In fact, it’s possible to calculate a carbon “payback” time for a wind turbine: the length of time it takes a turbine to produce enough clean electricity to make up for the carbon pollution generated during manufacture. One study put that payback time at seven months — not bad considering the typical 20- to 25-year lifespan of a wind turbine. Bottom line: Wind turbines are far from a joke. For the climate, they’re a deal too good to pass up.

— Sara

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  1. PlutoniumKun

    Yes, this is one of those boring ‘gotcha’ questions which really is a nothingburger – there have been numerous studies over the years, a quick google will find many of them. The carbon footprint of a wind turbine is very low in comparison with the alternatives, and getting lower as turbines become more efficient and bigger.

    Studies a few year ago showed that the largest carbon impact of a wind turbine in the northern lattitudes was not actually in the construction and dismantling, but in the destruction of upland peatlands from wind turbine construction. From memory, this extended the payback of the worst examples (in Scotland) to around 4 years. The first generation of turbines built on uplands in Scotland and Ireland did horrendous damage to uplant peat – in some cases in Ireland it led to catastrophic landslips. It wasn’t so much the turbine pads as the access roads that did the damage. But the counter argument to this was that if turbines weren’t built on it, they’d have been used for conifer plantations or drained for agriculture instead which is even more damaging. The latest generation of turbines are less likely to cause this damage as they are more suitable for lowland locations and off-shore. In many cases, turbines are constructed now as part of conservation projects on former drained wetlands and uplands so (just to complicate things), there can be a net wildlife/carbon benefit. An example would be the use of turbines on former cutaway bogs in Ireland, which are re-wetted once the turbines are in place.

    A major problem for early turbines was wind blown sand, which reduced their lifespan significantly more than anticipated. This has largely been addressed, albeit through having to make tougher (and heavier) blades in certain locations.

    I’ve no access to figures, but my rule of thumb figure from many walks and cycles on uplands is that at any one time about one in 20 turbines is inoperable. I do know of farms in excess of 20 years old which are still operating without any significant issues and are seeking life extensions (most permissions here are for 20-25 years, and will be bonded so local governments can remove them without a formal extension).

    The industry is moving away from battery storage so far as I can see from whats happening on the ground. Most windfarms now come with battery installations to allow for better balancing, as the biggest limiting factor is usually local grid connection capacity. Even the high cost of batteries is justified by the ability to ‘overbuild’ compared to local grid capacity and the ability to sell on demand power. But on a more network scale the production of hydrogen and ammonia from surplus power and sold directly to industrial users seems to be more cost effective and is now favoured by a lot of developers. But the easiest way to avoid intermittence and storage problems is to simply build better interconnections between markets.

    A lot of the cost figures are commercially confidential, so its hard to assess real costings. However, I’ve seen many farms constructed and operating within 6 months of getting their final permits. This indicates to me that they are super profitable for operators and may well be cheaper to construct than they let on in public.

    The big change is that the industry is moving offshore. Costs have dropped dramatically, and this has opened up vast areas such as the Dogger Bank and the Irish Sea as viable areas for turbine construction. While initial capital costs of the turbines is far higher off-shore, this is to a large degree off-set by the lower cost and regulatory issues with undersea DC cables to connect with wider markets. Ironically, its the oil and gas industry (or to be precise, their subcontractors) who are driving this as they have 50 years of engineering know-how from off-shore oil and gas production to apply.

    The problem with assessing the issue of rare earths is not that wind turbines/EV’s require more rare earths than other forms of energy production, but that they require different types of rare earths from existing energy generating techology. The favoured formulation in electromagnets is changing all the time as technology and market pricing changes, so its very difficult to anticipate what problems will arise. It should be pointed out that there is no necessity for rare earths in turbine magnets – many turbines use straightforward steel/copper magnets. Its simply that modern magnets are significantly more efficient when they use NdFeB (Neodymium) magnets.

  2. Maritimer

    “With this information in hand, researchers calculate the carbon pollution produced during a wind turbine’s life cycle — in other words, its carbon footprint.
    Search online for the keywords “life cycle assessment” and “wind turbine” and you’ll retrieve dozens of published papers on this topic.”
    Back to the studies and researchers again. Who finances the studies? Who audits the studies? Where are they published? In corrupt journals? I would imagine that a deep look into the research/studies would show more than a few trust issues. Even Wall Street funded foundations might be involved. It’s a great business with the final result pushed far down the road like forty year mortgages/MBS and condo foundations. Maybe thirty years from now, the Fed will be buying up last legs wind farms.

  3. marcel

    One comment. Wind energy is *not* ‘erratic’ but intermittent. True, when there is no wind, there is no power. When it freezes, your gaz turbine is out of service also, and if there is a rupture your nuclear power source is not available.
    In general, engineers have quite a good idea of the energy demand over the next 24 hours, and they plan accordingly the power generation capacity to match that demand.
    That capacity can be nuclear, gas, fuel, hydro, bio-energy, solar, imports or whatever else is included in the mix, and may include some surplus capacity to export.
    In real time, the planned capacity matches ~95% of planned demand (if you have competent engineers), and you need to play around with tension, phase or other parameters to have a perfect match.
    If you have little to no windenergy, it plays in the remaining 5%: you take what is available, and do other things to offset its absence, but in no way do you need storage capacity.
    If you have lots of installed capacity, you can include in it the production mix: you know site A will deliver so much energy in the morning, and site B late in the afternoon, …, and again you do not need storage for site A at night or site B in the morning as nobody expect energy from them at that time.
    Everybody will be wrong from time to time, an engine can fail, … so your energy production capacity needs to be >100% of demand at any time. It is a valid question how to manage this surplus capacity (sell as export, save as hydropower…), but it has to exist to avoid frequent power outages.
    So there is a problem in defining a “good” power generation capacity mix, that can deliver the right amount of energy 24/7/365, but the intermittency of solar and wind are not part of that problem.

    1. Polar Socialist

      I read from either Low-Tech or No-Tech magazine an article about how before steam engines Europeans relied on wind energy for about a millennium to grind flour, hammer iron, pump water and transport goods among other things.

      The main difference between then and now is that then the work was done when wind was up, and very little was done when the wind was down. The work culture back then was way more flexible. There are stories about millers working for 48 hours straight on a good wind. And then taking a week off.

      It is still an option. Albeit one that would require some changes in the way we think about work…

      1. jefemt

        That was my first thought reading Yves intro… we demand and expect the convenience of power at the flip of the switch.
        We do not necessarily (if ever) ponder the implications of all that goes on to make that expectation a reality.
        If we shift our paradigms, expectations, and demands, manage our time and activities in a way that recognizes the full life cycle cost of the energy we demand based on our choices, including the full life cycle of the supply side, it might start to make a huge difference.

        For example, I make every effort to walk or ride my bike when I need to go out. I plan ahead for the extra time, the heat, traffic, etc.

        I make every effort to run the dishwasher and washer dryer in peak solar production time and days (we have a pv solar array). I turn things off when not in use.

        I know its fingers in the dike, re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, but I know if I want change it has to start with me and my in the moment conscious intentional acts and deeds.

        Then, I ride my so fun to ride bicycle (Rocky Mountain Sherpa 30- hand made in Vancouver BC Right On !!) into the traffic and marvel at (OK, I JUDGE) how few of my fellow townspeople seem to be thinking through their actions and impacts, then I think about how many first world towns and cities there are , the 8 billions of us, and I get all negative, again.

        Look, every producer talks his or her book, rat-jaws their existential threat opponent, the truth is a hard thing to find these days – even in peer-reviewed science — follow the money—
        Still and all, we all need to look at our individual demand and life style life choices. I can’t control
        the actions of the oil and gas industry, their lobbyists, Congress, Bill Gates and his project du jour nukes. And every power source has a limited life span. And decommissioning costs, seldom if every funded or prosecuted.

        I can control my demand and actions. I can talk to people about my choices, lead by example.
        And go crazy while doing the dither-dance… another lemming in the conga line to the brink.

    2. PlutoniumKun

      Yes, all power sources are intermittent and erratic, just in different ways. Big thermal plants, including coal and nuclear have to shut down – sometimes planned, sometimes unplanned, and so have to have backups built in. Even something as random as jellyfish populations can shut down GW worth of power generation.
      Likewise, demand is highly unpredictable over the long, medium and short term. Wind and solar add complications to the mix, but this is nothing new, its just another issue for grid managers to deal with. As for the demand side, there have always been methods of dealing with this, but they will have to become much more sophisticated as wind and solar become larger components of supply.

      1. Grumpy Engineer

        The “intermittent and erratic” behavior of traditional power stations and renewable energy isn’t even remotely the same. Yes, big thermal stations occasionally have unplanned outages (which have to be covered by spare capacity), but that generally only affects one generator at a time. Having 10% spare capacity is more than enough.

        With renewables, outages aren’t random events that take down a single generation, but are highly correlated events where an entire class of assets goes down. If a long-lasting high pressure zone parks itself on top of your city, every single wind turbine within 300 miles will be idle. If it’s 1AM, every single solar array on the continent will be idle. And being able to see the outages coming isn’t enough. With both solar and wind dead on a cold winter night, what power source will keep heat pumps running? Adding spare capacity won’t help. The new wind and solar assets would be idle too.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          Yes, big thermal stations occasionally have unplanned outages (which have to be covered by spare capacity), but that generally only affects one generator at a time. Having 10% spare capacity is more than enough.

          ‘Generally’ is doing a lot of work there. Lets see how thermal plants deal with heatwaves and droughts that go beyond their design parameters.. The Japanese and French to take two examples have had mass outages of nuclear for unrelated reasons.

          10% spare capacity may be acceptable in the vast grid network of North America. But far, far higher levels are required in most grids.

          1. Grumpy Engineer

            10% spare capacity for thermal is a LOT of spare capacity for even smaller grid. Let’s look at Ireland, where peak demand can reach 11500 MW. If we supply this using 500 MW CCGT setups, we’d need 23 of them. If we built 25 of them (9% spare capacity), we can tolerate not just 1 but 2 unplanned outages on even the coldest winter night.

            And during more seasonable weather, when demand might only reach a daily peak of 7000 MW, we’d only need to count on 14 of them running. Plenty of opportunity for planned maintenance while still having spares on standby.

            And yes, I know that there have occasionally been mass outages of thermal plants. Like the recent ice storm in Texas, heat waves in France, and tsunami in Japan. And when they happened, the resulting power outages cost some people their lives. But they are rare. With renewables, widespread generation outages happen all the time. What will be the backup?

  4. vlade

    “And finally, environmentalists worry about habitat damage, particularly harm to birds and bats.”. So does global climate change. Sometimes there are no good choices.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      This itself is a very complicated area. In Ireland, the EU protected hen harrier is the bane of windfarm developers, as it loves the high open lands. Every few weeks one gets chewed up in a turbine. But their populations have been expanding at least partially because of turbines displacing conifer plantations, which has resulted in the type of mosaic habitat those birds like (they hunt open moorland/peat birds, but they like to nest in heavy scrub). It gets complicated once you look closely.

      I think off shore turbines may be the best thing to happen to fish populations since WWII. They will make very large areas of shallow waters off-limits to dredgers.

  5. fjallstrom

    Regarding load balancing, the first thing to establish is that loa balancing goes on in every grid, all the time.

    Hydro power an fueled power (coal, gas, wood) can be and is used to load balance.

    Nuclear and intermittent (wind, solar, wave) typically need to be balanced as you normally run it on max. You can however over build and spill what you don’t need.

    Usage needs to be balanced because we typically don’t use evenly over the day or over the year.

    So every grid has balancing built in. If you add wind, do you need to add more balancing? Depends on the grid. Say that you are replacing coal in a mainly coal and hydro system, then you might already have all balancing you need in your hydro portion. Say that you are replacing coal in a mainly coal and nuclear system, then you will probably need to add a lot of balancing because of both nuclear and wind needing balancing in different ways. Of course, what balancing you can add – for example pumped storage – depends on where the system is.

    I think it is hard to calculate general numbers, because the impact is system wide, and how a system wide impact impact is divided per kWh dependings on the model, which depends on assumptions. In Europe for example the dash for gas in the 90ies makes repalcing coal with wind easier, but gas preceeded wind, so should part of the gas emissions be counted into the wind or not?

    1. Louis Fyne

      Load balancing also depends on placement of the turbines.

      Stereotypically,offshore turbines = relatively steady, constant energy production. But these sites are generally far away from major population centers.

      Land turbines = all over the map. eg, electricity production turbines in “tornado alley” can vary by a factor of 10 within 24 hours depending on the season, weather pattern.

      If you are in the US, the grid companies publicly provide that info. Just find the “ISO RTO” for your region and look up their “operations” website.

  6. vlade

    I’d like to ask a methodology question, which I never really understood.
    When measuring the CO2E emissions, how _exactly_ it is done?

    As in one of the large inputs into the whole process is transport and “general” energy (by which I mean means to move machinery like engines, drills, etc. etc.). Is that baselined on an assumption that this is fosil, mix, or somethign else?

    That makes quite a bit of a difference, as if we say that with the current energy mix, technology X released this much CO2E. But that technology, if widely adopted, changes the energy mix. If we’d assume that X (whatever is it) replaces the fossil fuels entirely, will that number change and how?

    As an exmaple, if a wind-turbine CO2E is 20g/kWh (or whatever), but that’s based on the current energy mix, the next turbine should have a minusculy smaller CO2E number (because the mix has changed towards lower CO2E emission).

    1. Zamfir

      LCA analyses usually spend some space to describe their assumption in this matter, with multiple scenarios and sensitivity analyses etc.

      For wind turbines, its relatively minor effect – a lot of the CO2 comes from steel and concrete, not from the use of electricity. At a guess, wind power will grow large first, before the CO2 impact of steel and concrete goes down much.

      For other things (including batteries, I think), the grid energy mix can be the main driver of the whole analysis

      1. vlade

        Yeah, but steel/cemenbt also assumes some mix .

        Well, for cement, for example, 60% of the CO2 emissions are from chemical processes, but another 40% are from the energy used (heating, transport etc. etc.). So if your energy is CO2 free, the result is significnatly different

        For steel, it’s even more so, as the unavoidable chemical processes generating CO2 in steel manufacturing are, from what I know, way less CO2 emissive than cement ones.

        In other words, there are manufacturing processes that, by their nature, emit CO2 and that can’t be helped. But then there are other processes where CO2 emissions are not “mandatory”.

        And assumptions play a lot in these.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          There is a positive feedback with having surplus renewable power, not least that you can use it to provide hydrogen or liquid fuels to reduce the CO2 from both steel and cement production.

          1. vlade

            Indeed. That’s why I want to know whether the base assumptions for working out that CO2 do/don’t include it – because the positive feedback can be very very strong. IMO it can be actually more important than the immediate CO2 emissions.

            1. Zamfir

              The base assumptions look at the currently used production processes, so without the potential improvements. Though reports often include some chapter where they show how the result changes under other assumptions. Once you have tabulated the inputs, it becomes relatively straightforward to play with the numbers. Just Google some LCAs (life cycle analysis), you’ll quickly get a feel how they work.

    2. PlutoniumKun

      I’d love to give your question an answer (its not my area of expertise such as it is and its years since I read into it), but the whole area of measuring CO2E depends on making a lot of ballpark estimates on inputs. The deeper you delve into any one particular product the more complicated it gets. With wind turbines in the northern lattitudes the assumptions can vary widely according to, for example, whether peat has been dug out and disposed of to make the access roads, or whether they’ve used geotextiles to protect the underlying peat (which, incidentally, has proven far more robust than many ecologists have assumed.

      The carbon intensity of the electricity I’ve used to type this is significantly higher than the comments I made last week, because it was windy last week and about 50% of the grid power was wind generated. Today its not, so its maybe less than 10%.

      Even with a gallon of oil its not simple as, for example, Saudi crude requires a lot less power to pump and refine than, say, Venezuelan heavy crude. so is (in theory anyway) less CO2 intensive. So you could argue that even the source of your oil or coal can effect your final figures, but nobody really digs into it that deeply.

      This is just another way of saying that I think attempting to dig too deeply into the figures will result in all sorts of anomolies and questions. They should really be treated as general figures for relative comparison, not absolutes.

      This is why, as you imply in your last paragraph, you have to treat policy holistically. And this throws up apparent paradoxes, such as to reduce CO2 emissions, we have to increase electricity supply, even if its not now particularly low high in renewables, as we have to transition away from liquid fuels to electricity, and then transition to renewable electricity, if we are to have any chance of reducing carbon emissions in any meaningful manner.

      1. vlade

        Absolutely, assumptions play a key role here. But that means that the whole output is extremely sensitive to assumptions, which means anyone can get what they want.

        IMO the question to ask is – what significnat processes generate CO2, and which are potentially avoidable? And if we avoid them, how much can we reduce CO2 emissions? (I’m using CO2 broadly here, to stand for all other greenhouse gases).

        So clearly, burning carbon based fuels generates CO2. So does cement production, and I have no idea what other processes, and which contribute how much to the total CO2 emissions.

        Does wind-turbine manufacturing and deployment (ceteris paribus site, which is already a big assumption, cf your peat comment) require that there’s an actual burning process involved? If no, then, at least in theory, we could create CO2-free wind turbine. What is the minimum amount of _hard_ chemical processes that need to be involved in getting from A to B?

        I just feel that with all this “this is so and so CO2 (non)effective)” is just a haggling instead of having a real goal.

        For example, cement production is 8% of CO2 emissions. Of that, almost 5% is from the chemical reaction. Can the chemical reaction be contained (i.e. not exposed to free-air) and CO2 say liquified, so instead of running a process getting CO2 from air we’d produce it as by-product of this reaction? (TBH, it’d almost certainly swamp the liquid CO2 market, but even 1% saving could be useful). This particular case may be a dumb idea, but maybe you get what I mean.

  7. Zamfir

    I have some moderate knowledge of these questions, from work I have been involved in as engineer, and from friends who work in the wind turbine sector. But I am not specialist on wind turbines. I do think I can give some input on 1 of Yves remarks:

    Those longevity estimates are, in my experience, not unrealistic. Most operators have zero reason to install short lived turbines – most of the cost is up-front, after that they want them to keep delivering. Wind turbine manufacturers definitely aim for longevity and maintainability, because it is a priority of their customers.

    There is a clear exception to that rule: “green washing” turbines that are purely placed to generate some good PR for a company or polity. These tend to get placed in highly visible locations, and the buyers tend to prefer multiple small machines over the big, cost-effective ones. I suspect that this contributes to the idea that turbines stop working quickly.
    A s wind power is getting cheaper, those greenwashing machines are becoming a small fraction of the whole, especially in MW terms.

    Another thing to keep in mind: these per-kWH CO2 numbers for wind power are extremely low. Pretty much as low as it gets for electricity. If you do not trust the longevity estimates, you can multiply the figures with a big margin, and they will still be very low.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Again, the CO2 figures do not appear to include battery costs.

      And as indicated, talking about CO2 alone appears to be a bit of a straw man, since there are additional environmental issues. Mind you, I’m not saying wind turbines are a loser when all are considered, but all do need to be included to get a full picture.

      1. Zamfir

        Yes, I agree. CO2 of turbines might be a red herring – the relevant issues are mostly elsewhere.

        The CO2 impact of storage is much harder to get sharp than those of turbines. We only have projections how much storage might be needed at high levels of wind and solar. At current levels it is pretty much zero, but that will not last. I have tried to do a vague estimate anyway, I hope someone else will check the ideas.

        The following paper estimates the CO2 impact of battery storage:
        The relevant table would Figure 5, column “RES support”
        The numbers there are between 100 to 200 g/kWh. An order of magnitude larger than the turbines themselves, though still below fossil fuels. Let’s call it 150 g/kWh as a central estimate.
        That’s for kWhs that actually go through a battery.
        The system goal would be to minimize the fraction of wind kWhs that have to be stored, out of all the kWh produced.

        This is a large study on flexibility needs for 2050 decarbonization in europe:

        They estimate a need of about 2000 TWh/year of “flexibility”, out of a total electric energy consumption about 7000 TWh/year (including electrolysed fuels), with wind and solar producing most, but not all, of that 7000.

        I can’t tell how accurate that is, but it gives an order of magnitude. We would have to store something like 1 kWh for every 3 kWh produced of wind + solar. Sounds at least plausible to me.

        This study assumes that flexibility will mostly be met through electrolysis (in 2050), with batteries only playing a role in vehicles. If we want to focus on batteries, we can ignore that conclusion and assume that all of that flexibility takes the form of batteries, similar as used in the first study.

        In that case, we can estimate (very, very roughly) that battery storage adds (1/3*150) = 50 g, to each kWh of generated wind power. Compared to the 10 to 20 g/kWh for the wind turbines alone.

        If the electrolysis conclusion is correct, it would be lot less.

        1. fjallstrom

          That is a good enough back of the envelope calculation, if you load balance with batteries.

          But it also shows why you wouldn’t choose mainly batteries for a continent, as indeed the authors of that rapport didn’t.

          1. Zamfir

            The authors divide the “flexibility” in 3 categories, daily, weekly and seasonal. Night, weather and winter basically. Their model estimates something like 800/600/500 TWh/year for those 3 groups.

            Batteries might have a role in that first one – 800 TWh/year is a few TWh installed, used again and again every day. They assume that flexible car battery charging will help, but only to a minor extent. It seems plausible that there would be several TWh worth of electric vehicle batteries in Europe in 2050. A TWh would be 20 million electric cars or so.

            The other categories are rather extreme for batteries. For the seasonal load, you’d need to charge those hundreds of TWh all at the same time, the equivalent a dozens Teslas for every person in Europe. I don’t think traditional batteries are plausible for that, even in the most battery-optimistic scenario. Some flow battery design might be, but that gets conceptually closer to electrolyzing.

            1. Steven

              Vehicle to grid (V2G) is going nowhere because of the maze of differing regulatory requirements for putting distributed energy production on the grid. Vehicle to home (V2H) is a different story. With products like the Ford Lightning and VW ID.4 in the wings, V2H is unstoppable unless the nation’s electrical utilities and fossil fuels producers intervene politically to make V2H impossible.

              Energy storage using EV batteries isn’t going to work for everyone and as Yves and others have noted there are severe resource constraints to just electrifying the nation’s transportation infrastructure, let alone transitioning utilities to renewable energy sources. But it is a start. The first step is stopping Elon Musk from using those resources to make PowerWalls and utility-scale batteries – and start making his Teslas V2H/V2G capable, i.e. implement bidirectional charging.

      2. Bob

        Is the “issue” of intermittency requiring batteries for wind power (and photovoltaic power) not a canard ?

        All electrical generation sources are intermittent. Generation sources are routinely shut down for maintenance and in the case of nuclear power for refueling. At present no generation source avoids being intermittent.

        If there is to be a discussion of electrical power generation, the cost of generation must be considered. And in recent years both the EIA and Lazard provide handy levelized cost of generation figures.

        The real issue is that most power generation is a cost plus operation. That is in most locations particularly the investor owned utilities (IOUs) the retail cost of power is set by the local public utility commission by adding say 5% to the cost of generation.. Note that in some areas notably TVA and BPA the power cost equation is a bit different

        IOUs are challenged in that a low cost generation source i.e. wind, photovoltaics, and hydro does not provide the revenue stream that the utilities are accustomed to. Remember that wind, hydro, and photovoltaics have no fuel cost. And this means a greatly reduced cost plus.

        It should be noted that some utilities are struggling to retain nuke plants – notably “2020 political scandal in Ohio involving allegations that FirstEnergy paid roughly $60 million to Generation Now, a 501(c)(4) organization purportedly controlled by Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives Larry Householder, in exchange for passing a $1.3 billion bailout for the struggling nuclear power operator.” The nuke operations are a high cost operation thus a high cost plus.

        The result is that the IOUs are using the intermittency of some power sources as an excuse to suggest that batteries are required. This is a classic effort to muddy the waters, to complicate the issues, and in the case of the IOUs to increase cost. (and profit).

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Grumpy Engineer already debunked this conflation. The inconsistent and unreliable output of solar and wind are considerable and inherent, while interruptions of fossil fuel generated power are rare by comparison.

  8. lyman alpha blob

    There are some big turbines that don’t work in my area. Would anyone be surprised to find out that former governor and current senator Angus King had a personal stake in the projects?

    Wind power isn’t bad per se and it seems clear that the “carbon footprint” (really growing to hate that term) is much smaller than that for fossil fuels. The problem I see with wind power is that like everything else, it’s controlled by corporations and politicians and done on an industrial scale. Much better than these huge turbines would be smaller windmills powering individual homes with any surplus produced being fed back into the grid. Of course whenever the little guy stands to benefit, corporate power will rush in to crush it. I remember reading about this with small scale solar in the southwest, which you’d think would be the ideal place for something like that. Big energy companies lobbied politicians to make it very difficult if not illegal for individuals to sell back to the grid.

    1. juno mas

      For grid system power larger wind turbines are the more efficient producers. Large diameter propellers produce giga-punch power. They are increasingly located on open agriculture areas where consistent wind is assured.

      Smaller (residential?) wind turbines are less efficient and possibly considered a visual nuisance by a neighbor. I’m all for localized power generation (wind/solar) and the conscious control of consumption as identified in jefemt comment above.

  9. bongbong

    I would love to see detailed studies of every facet of the energy costs of the systems for fossil fuel electricity generation.

    These studies probably exist, but how far into the weeds do they go? The ones examing alternative energy generation go deep indeed. Every possible cost is carefully tallied up.

    A quick search shows there are plenty of studies of fossil fuel electrical generation, but are these Studies or “studies”? IOW, did the multi trillion dollar fossil fuel industry have their thumb on the scale of these studies’ summaries?

    It might be a gish gallop situation. The strategy is to produce overwhelming numbers of “studies” with results showing just how awful green energy is versus how wonderful fossil or nuclear energy is.

    Then there is the issues brought up by the movie “Planet Of The Humans” … which now has websites arguing both for its veracity as well as debunking it. More gish gallop to wade thru!

      1. bongbong

        Will check it out … TY.

        Hopefully analysis uncontaminated by Big Fossil’s thumb.

  10. Bob

    No, Battery storage is not required.

    Intermittency of generation is a given for all electrical generation. No man made system is ever 100% reliable or available.

    Changes in electrical demand and changes in generation capacity are usually met by either bringing more generation capacity on line or by shedding demand.

    The battery “issue” is a false issue created by the utilities for their benefit.

    1. Louis Fyne

      Yes, some form of stored energy is absolutely requires unless there is some form of govt-imposed rationing.

      Current electricity usage patterns are not lined up with the peak production of solar (plus/minus solar noon) and wind (the vagaries of season and weather system)

      1. Jokerstein

        At Dinorwig in Wales off-peak power is used to pump water uphill, so that power can come on tap during periods of high demand. Works pretty well, AFAIK.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          Pumped storage stations have been operating for half a century – the first generation of them are still operating very well and efficiently with minimal upgrades. They fell out of favour as large scale networks (i.e. more interconnectors) proved to be a cheaper method of balancing power loads. You can also retrofit existing hydro to have some pump storage by building a smaller secondary empoundment and pumping water back up into the reservoir when there is a surplus.

          The whole issue of batteries is a red herring in the discussion. It will take at least a decade until most grids are under genuine strain from increased intermittency – most grids have sufficient gas power to provide the backup to any large scale roll-out of renewables. You will only need very large scale storage when the current generation of gas generators hit the end of their lives. By then, battery technology will look very different from today. In other words, its a problem we should deal with when we need to deal with it. Right now, the problem is how to cut our carbon emissions while producing more electricity, and fast.

          In the meanwhile, there are very many alternatives, all of which are likely to play some role. Pump storage, gravity storage, thermal storage, flywheels all have potential for some circumstances (the latter for managing rapid transitions), and probably most important of all is turning peak electric power to various other forms such as hydrogen or ammonia (the latter can be added in to diesel or bunker fuel engines with minimal modification).

          1. Grumpy Engineer

            So in a decade “battery technology will look very different from today” to a great enough degree that the whole issue of batteries is a “red herring”? This feels like a rescue by the technology fairy, and Sydney Harris’ classic cartoon comes to mind.

            I haven’t see anything on the radar that points to a new battery technology coming out that will be radically cheaper. Right now everything is far too expensive and requires way too much resource extraction. And gravity, thermal, and flywheel storage have all existed for decades but remain undeployed because, again, they’re too expensive.

            The only one that’s technically viable without insane resource extraction problems is hydrogen, but it’s worth noting that storing energy via electrolyzed hydrogen has a round-trip efficiency of about 40%, which implies that energy taken through that path with be 2.5X as expensive. And that doesn’t take into account the capital and maintenance expenses associated with the electrolyzers, pipelines, storage systems, and gas turbines/fuel cells.

            1. PlutoniumKun

              No, its not a handwave, as I’ve pointed out, there are many alternatives to batteries. They are already being used at specific nodes (such as within wind farms), but the reality is that for most grids, we are a long way from needing a roll out of large scale grid scaled battery storage.

              So making assessments based on current battery design and costings is pointless, especially when there are huge changes occuring in that technology, in particular with solid state batteries. The decision on the best option will be made when it is required, which is at least a decade or more away because, as I’ve stated, nearly all developed countries have sufficient CCGT techology to deal with major drop-offs in power. It may well be that in 10 years time the costings will look very different.

              1. Grumpy Engineer

                Well, it feels like a handwave to me. Most of the alternatives you listed are too expensive (and have little prospect for getting better), and the others are unproven technologies.

                What if they don’t work out? I can tell you what will happen. We’ll get 30% of our power from renewables and 70% of our power from fracked natural gas running through “backup” CCGT. Forever. This is what James Hansen warned about in the Boston Globe: “Tricking the public to accept the fantasy of 100 percent renewables means that, in reality, fossil fuels reign and climate change grows.

    2. hunkerdown

      The problem is at the other end, that windfalls (as it were) of “over” production need some place to go, or they will be lost. Once upon a time, and it may still be so, the “smart” grid was the grand plan to coordinate demand, with “smart” washing machines automatically placing bids for energy and starting their loads in their assigned time slot. As Texas utilities recently discovered relative to “smart” thermostats after their incompetent/malicious handling of the freeze this year, people get understandably tetchy about being commanded from afar for others’ private profit.

  11. solarjay

    Hi Yves, hope you’re feeling better.
    1. Most on shore wind machines don’t use rare earths in the motors as they use asynchronous motors. Most off shore due us RE because they allow for less weight of the motor. Personally rare earths are one of the most amazing products out there.
    2. While it does depend on the area, most wind machines produce what they took to make them ( IE CO2 footprint) and install in about 6 months. Comparing that to solar panels/installation which is about 1-4 years ( depends on if they are thin film or crystalline and what kind of mounting installation, location etc).
    But you don’t have to take anyones word for it. Going from the basics of what does a wind machine weight and figuring its mostly steel with about 500-2000 kWh per ton energy use, and a weight of say 350 tons for a 3.5 MW machine and about 200+ tons for the base ( which i can’t find actual figures on and concrete is about 1000 kWh/ton) you can back into the calculation using whatever amount of wind speed or % run time you want. Just doing 1/2 time at 3.5 MW is about 1.2 million kWh per month. Thats a lot of steel and concrete production offset.
    Battery storage is a whole other issue and well addressed above. But the current tech of lithium batteries is only going to be a shorter term solution. There are many other much lower embodied energy technologies out there and should be coming on the market soon.

    In closing.
    60% of our electricity is fossil fuel ( coal and NG)
    20% nuclear
    8% is wind
    2% is solar

    For solar in the US there is 100GW installed. Meaning we need 30 X what we have now, or 3 trillion watts of solar installed or 300 every year for 10 years to get sort of to 0. Last year the US installed about 15-18GW.

    1. Bob

      So the Hoover Dam, the TVA system, the BPA system and Niagara falls don’t exist ?

      Shouldn’t these numbers include hydro ?

  12. The Rev Kev

    Personally I am in favour of wind turbines but I wish this article had gone more into the full term of life of a wind turbine to get a proper idea of both inputs and outputs. So for inputs, here in a short video showing a time-lapse of a wind turbine being constructed which I found interesting in that it gives you a fair idea of the resources that go into the construction of one-

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SBbBh5xZ1gQ (3:58 mins)

    But then there are the outputs and by that here I mean the disposal of wind turbine blades. They are not easy to recycle and require a lot of energy to do so. In some places they are merely being stacked as they wear out which is not a solution at all. Here is a European article taking about this and it notes that these blades are each 40 meters (120 feet) long and weigh several tons-


    So what I am saying is that in a discussion of wind turbines, that we have to get out of the habit of ignoring ‘externalities’ and examining the full service life of a windmill from the materials that go into them and the fate of those materials long term.

    1. solarjay

      Hi Rev, I’m going to disagree in regards to the statement that blades require a lot of energy to recycle. Mostly at this point they are not recycled at all. The larger blades can weight 20+ tons each with 3 per machine. And for recycling they are grinding them up to reuse in other fiberglass/composite type applications. Grinding is a very easy, fast and very energy small footprint kind of application. Even if you just put them in a land fill, say 60-80 tons of fiberglass every 30 years is just not something that we need to focus on for something that spent 29+ years producing 100% carbon free energy. Most new blades and turbines have a lifespan of around 30 years.

      The last statement is true and false. Yes this has already been done, its on the order of 6 months for a wind machine to produce as much energy as it took to make. What else are you going to use that has the same or better ROIE? ( return on energy investment).
      I spent a year working to get a wind project approved in far north California, Humboldt county where I used to live, my job was the technical accuracies of things. What I learned is that doesn’t matter unfortunately. It was rejected by all the environmental groups for all sorts of crazy reasons. They will fall down in an earth quake ( possible and there are no toxic spills if that happens) they will catch fire ( happens, rarely but so do power plants), they use huge amounts of oil ( no 50 gallons every 5 years) and on and on. The planning department rejected it because the EIS which took 3 years and 10’s of millions of dollars didn’t address invertebrates. I kid you not, yes they didn’t do a study that addressed the worms in the pad location. Meanwhile as I pointed out, look at fracked gas wells. Each well has a short lifespan, and it was calculated at about 5-15 new wells per year. Each well has about the same amount of steel and concrete as 1 wind turbine, and there is no recycling of any of that. So in 3-5 years the amount of steel and concrete in the ground, lost forever never to be recycled ( and not even taking into account the pipelines, water use etc ) could have built 45 x 3.3MW wind turbines producing zero carbon and of which can be almost 100% recycled.

      Meanwhile it had probably the best EIS of any wind project in the USA.
      The plant would have basically shut down a fracked gas power plant that powered 60% of the county.

      1. The Rev Kev

        Thanks for your reply to my comment. I have to admit that with any technology, I look more and more at any externalities to see what the true cost of it is which was why I mentioned turbine blade disposal.

        I would add that in your last sentence is the real reason why that wind turbine never went through. Follow the money.

        1. solarjay

          Thx Rev.
          The blade disposal is a red herring, as you correctly say, follow the money and follow the science and math.

          Yes I think the real reason the wind project didn’t go through was because of incredible disinformation which is disseminated by front groups, like wind watch. That group put out staggeringly bad, false, lies but if you want to believe you will and the local so called environmentalists, didn’t want to look at the wind machines, so they chose to believe they were bad in that location, yes NIMBY. There are many people who have followed the money on anti renewable groups and specifically to your point, yes most if not all is from big oil, gas, the Koch brothers etc.

          1. PlutoniumKun

            The idea that we are going to be buried under mountains of unrecyclable turbine blades is laughable – that this is being raised as a significant problem shows just how much bad faith argumentation there is out there. I wonder if those people expressing concern want to ban all boating because its so hard to recycle fibreglass hulls?

            The best use for them may well be to just sink them offshore as reefs for fish.

      2. ObjectiveFunction

        Yes, I remember all too well the pilot tidal power project at the Coast Guard station near Port Angeles in the Salish Sea. Among many others, the developer had to submit a $200k consulting study, including detailed computer modeling, of what might happen if a juvenile orca head butted one of the underwater operating turbines. Well, per the multimillion dollar environment study, it’s a sandy bottom there, near an existing breakwater, there’s nothing at all there for them or their prey (seals, otters) to eat, so why would they be there? Sure sure sure [handwavy], but what if it *happened*? Charismatic megafauna for the win! (never mind that orcas get chopped up by boat propellers all the time, so hitting an underwater turbine in a place they don’t normally go is pretty far down their list of worries).

        The project died in the paper stage.

        Many were increasingly of the opinion that they’d all made a big mistake in coming down from the trees in the first place. And some said that even the trees had been a bad move, and that no one should ever have left the oceans.

      3. Michael McK

        Actually the project was not outright rejected. The swing vote on the board of supervisors (Wilson) offered to approve only half the project to appease the closest town but the bean counters at Energy Capital Partners (using CalPERS’s money among others’s) quickly said they would only earn a 4 and 1/2% rate of return so therefore they would not do it. If it had been publicly funded (MMT meets the GND) it would be spinning as we speak. Perhaps ECP could have put in an energy storage device and stored excess unsaleable peak output to give the town some free power at very little marginal cost to themselves. Instead they hired a former environmentalist who had switched to being a Big Weed lobbyist to corral the other environmentalists which did not work too well.
        Wilson also pointed out that several of the proponents who were suddenly so concerned about the environment and emissions had recently backed the environmental and emissions disaster of a General Plan that locked in development impacts forever.

  13. Pelham

    How much of global energy is supplied by wind turbines? I ask because it seems we’ve had a lot of investment in turbines but CO2 levels continue to climb, though this may be due to growing populations and other factors. In any event, shouldn’t we see some traceable progress in the atmosphere if wind and solar are really the answer to climate change?

    1. cojo

      I saw this chart recently, Our World in Data , that demonstrates why CO2 levels are not going down even though wind and solar installations are growing exponentially. The crux of the problem is that overall energy usage continues to grow, even after new technologies have been adopted. Not only is this due to growing populations, but increased energy usage/demand in third world nations as they advance economically is playing a major role (think new coal power generation in India and China).

      1. Pelham

        So from these two replies (thank you!) it appears that even exponential growth in wind energy has still achieved no more than 1% of primary energy production and is no match for the simple fact of overall global growth in energy usage. From other sources I gather that solar is even less of a factor.

        What frustrates me is that I get repeated clear messages on the scale and gravity of the climate change problem on the one hand, while on the other I get hopeful, detailed and lengthy explanations of possible solutions. But when I put the two together and look at the results, absolutely nothing on the order of the kind of progress we need to be making appears to be happening.

        In the absence of any global climate plan that truly matches the scale of the problem and includes an absolutely iron-fisted enforcement mechanism (if human thriving is really endangered, these are reasonable demands), the climate skeptics have a clear messaging advantage. Their arguments are insupportable, of course. But they’re not incoherent, as is the mismatch apparent in the believers’ message of scolding alarm paired with the pitiable record of sustainable-energy implementation.

  14. R

    The life cycle costs of actual turbines seem to be negligible from the data presented.

    The environmental and aesthetic cost is non-negligible but that is a (pork barrel) political decision (the subsidies lavished on these schemes might be better spent in upgrading or rebuilding poor quality housing and commercial buildings or in increasing public transport and walking…).

    What seems fanciful here is the treatment if dispatchability. You cannot balance a power grid with dispatchable generation, I.e. generation that can be spun up on demand. There are two options: gas turbines and hydroelectric power. Everything else is either slow to dispatch (nuclear, fossil fuel), costly to dispatch (the same, because of the start-up overhead and narrow efficient operating window) or impossible to dispatch (wind, solar). Wind has the added disadvantage of being unpredictable.

    If you have a green grid of wind and solar, you would need a lot of hydro to cover baseload deficiencies when wind drops out. Given that wind and solar are correlated (more still periods at night, more in winter during high pressure calms or when turbines are shut off in storms to prevent damage), the demand on dispatchable power is exacerbated. Calm periods can be extensive, making dependence in regional interconnection impossible (Europe has had several zero-wind periods in winters). Conversely when the wind is really blowing, the power goes to waste because the baseload sources like nuclear are ill-suited to turning off.

    Wind can only play a role in grid arrangements if there are baseload generators and dispatchable generators to cover the predicted needs and the wind is a nice to have. It is my least favourite option. I would prefer more solar and tidal power, which are at least periodic and predictable. And more nuclear seems inescapable, if CO2 reduction is an issue. Or we go back to dirty coal with flue scrubbers and let the SO2 cloud seeding decrease terrestrial irradiation!

    1. solarjay

      These are the classic arguments against wind and solar which is both true and false.
      Yes they variable in output.
      It is because the grid/loads haven’t been changed/updated etc to use this “extra” energy when it is available. How could it be used? Well for example CCS plants could be installed near wind and solar so take advance of when there is “extra” energy. Or large battery systems to be charged up.

      Because the follow up argument to these comments is “because wind and solar are not consistent, then we shouldn’t use them at all.”

      One of the biggest supposed advantage of NG is that it is dispatch able meaning that it can be turned on and off quickly for when renewables or other base load cannot provide the energy needed.
      And the grid is set up this way now, there have always been two types even before renewables. 1 is called spinning reserve which are power plants operating but not contributing to the grid just in case a power plant goes down. And 2, peaker plants which are designed to start and stop quickly to take care of known intermittent loads.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        There is already a lot of interest from commercial operations in using cheap ‘surplus’ peak energy for other uses. They are starting work soon in Ireland on a hydrogen facility that will do exactly this – supplying hydrogen to local commercial users, mostly pharmaceutical plants. As there is a huge roll out of off-shore wind energy pending in Ireland, there is a lot of interest in this sort of project. The Danes are looking closely at ammonia for shipping fuel.

    2. Zamfir

      I don’t think it”s useful to say that solar is better than wind, or vice versa. The combination is better than either. The best mix depends on location, and can be determined over time. Tidal power would be a good addition to that mix, though it seems to struggle with maturity as yet.

      I used to work in nuclear engineering, but right now I’ve basically given up on that. It needs a level of public support that I just dont see happening, and that would stay unworkably fragile – every nuclear accident or incident erodes support worldwide.

    3. p fitzsimon

      Where I live (New England) sunshine is as unpredictable as the wind except of course at night. I am told we have enormous offshore wind capability ( >30GW ) with a capacity factor close to 50%. I believe that off-shore wind will be our main source of renewable energy. As someone mentioned wind turbines are mostly copper and steel, which are readily recyclable even now. Wind generators of the Dual Fed Induction variety do not require magnets and are only slightly less efficient than Permanent Magnet Synchronous Generators that use rare earths.
      Recycling solar panels is currently not economically feasible. With solar panels we trade a fossil fuel waste stream for a perpetual waste stream of arsenic, lead, cadmium and other bad stuff from the disposal of 100s of millions of panels.
      The other problem with both wind and solar is real estate. Once we run out of south facing rooftops, land fills and other unusable space, real estate will become a dominant cost, at least in this neighborhood. Which is why offshore wind will be the most attractive.

      1. juno mas

        There is plenty of real estate for solar panels in California. Most cities have parking lots that can be canopied with PV panels. (This is being done at colleges and schools all over the state.)

        In LA it has been suggested (by me) that they use the LA River (flood control channel) as a PV production source (Use an arched structure to span from side to side.) High power users are adjacent to the channel (which only fills during (rare) rains). This would provide utility grade power without high transmission power loss.

        There are plenty of places for relatively large scale solar (PV) power production in a city.

  15. Carolinian

    Guess I need to visit some of those studies but I have seen a negative story about the turbines that claimed the huge carbon footprint of the steel–and it’s a special kind of steel–isn’t being fully considered.

    In short the blades must be made from ore rather than remelted and that process uses a great deal of energy.

    1. p fitzsimon

      I believe that blades are commonly made from fiberglass which is difficult to recycle. You are correct the blades often end up dumped or just stored. Don’t know why the steel is not recyclable.

      1. Carolinian

        That’s not what i read and I don’t think fiberglass would serve for those huge blades. Wish I still had the link.

        Just to add even if true fiberglass is not exactly a low carbon product.

        1. Zamfir

          The blades are never made from steel, it’s all fibreglass. Sometimes with extra carbon fibre, but they try to keep that down due to cost.

          There is an enormous amount of steel in the tower though – much more material then in the blades. You may be right that this mostly BOF made (from fresh ores with a bit of scrap), not EAF made (from pure scrap). EAFs tend to struggle with the kind of thick, high-strength plates used for such purposes, I don’t know why exactly.

          After usage, that tower can be recycled again as scrap. It might even become the same quality again, as far as I know,it’s just a bit more effort.

          1. Carolinian

            Yes you are right–my bad.


            And while the below is not the article I was thinking about it does present the contrarian case against wind turbines.


            How many billions of tons of ore would have to be mined, crushed, processed and refined – considering that it takes 125,000 tons of average ore for every 1,000 tons of pure copper metal?

            Not only would nearly all of this mining and manufacturing require fossil fuels, but much of it would be done in China, or in other countries by Chinese-owned companies. Haliade-X turbines are also manufactured in China. And much of the mining and processing is done under horrid workplace safety and environmental conditions, often with near-slave and child labor.

            Of course the article may be posing a straw man by claiming Biden’s announced expansion of wind energy will be fully implemented. But it is saying that turbines are an intermittent and even somewhat seasonal source of energy (with more delivered in the wrong season) that will require a considerable expansion of resource extraction for copper etc in order to install.

  16. farmboy

    Having been involved from a landowner perspective for over 30 years in 70-150mw projects, the issues that are the stickiest for windpower are; siting (1), meaning terrain including those over water, terms (2), length of predevelopment period and lease compensation (3), share of revenue, flat rate, prorated, lack of generation minimums, data(4) both wind (including predevelopment) and generation, repower (5) generally at midlease and some sort of one time payment and a possible reset of rental rates, termination (6) including act of god, county regulations considering decommissioning and the associated bonding and cleanup costs.
    Siting (1) includes bird and wildlife studies, terrain challenges and separately transmission. State required ecological studies, county zoning, state energy commission, and FERC all have to go right for any chance at a project. Typically these are ongoing while landowner negotiations are taking place, sometimes a cooperative effort to reach terms will hang together until the juiciest sites start getting more attention.
    Terms (2) can change a lot based on how close a project is to development, how much transmission is available and the current technology. Developers have the cost curves well documented for any project since many are sold to investors pre-construction, same applies to publicly held projects. Insisting at this point on a good attorney will often lengthen negotiations but always results in better terms. Signing bonus’s are the cheap and easy way for the developer to get landowners at the table and pushing hard by landowners at this point will often reveal lot about a project, the company, and dare I say the character of those involved. If a new team suddenly shows up to work on the lease beware. Promises made prior seem to evaporate, like we’ll build you new school.
    Share of revenue (3) is the carrot for landowners and is looked at by the developers as part operating and part intrinsic value. Flate rate per acre was gradually superceded by percentage of revenue, then a sliding scale advanced by years of operation allowing the project to get paid for first. No generation fees, spot market discounts, setbacks, minimum towers, revenue sharing all circle the negotiations. Separate compensation for transmission, collection, and substation(s) is considered to and these are the ugly part of the whole project.
    Data (4) collected is the basis for garnering investors and projecting success. Getting raw wind data is a tough proposition, even quarterly summaries are sticking points. Typically this is one of the last negotiating rounds to close and there is not much success. Most leases require generation reporting with monthly or quarterly payments to verify payments, but per tower identifies quickly problems and efficiencies that operators may not want to be known.
    Repower (5) is where the gravy is for operators. The site is known, there is marketplace experience, the future of windpower technology of all sorts is well known by the operator and is seen to be always cheaper. Landowners are out of their league at this point, constrained by disbelief and still thinking take the money and run this isn’t real. More of a personal politics leitmotif.
    Termination (6) is given short shrift by landowners and developers, but to me is the most important and critical part of the lease. Bonding requirements by regulators, including county have to have teeth and be non-dischargeable. Also at some point in the language of leases there are subtly written escape from liability clauses that are attorney speak and need to be highlighted. This stuff gets shucked off as boilerplate and anytime that phrase is heard is big red flag.
    Full disclosure, no project.

  17. rjs

    what this article doesn’t address is the impact of front loading the carbon footprint of massive numbers of wind turbines, solar farms, electric distribution networks, et al that are envisioned by programs such as the green new deal…to do something like that, you’re not just talking about the carbon footprint of the individual wind turbine, but also the carbon footprint of constructing hundreds of factories where the wind turbines, et al will be built…

    if such a industrial infrastructure retooling were done all at once, on a global scale, there’s a good possibility that the carbon footprint of the entire conversion to renewables would be enough to trip global climate feedback mechanisms, such as greenhouse gas emissions from melting permafrost, such that the planet would be off and running on it’s own, regardless of future human emissions..

  18. rclayton

    And finally, environmentalists worry about habitat damage, particularly harm to birds and bats.

    At least with respect to birds, the Audoubon Society should help ease environmentalists’ worry, or redirect it in more significant directions such as cats and buildings. Also.

  19. Dave in Austin

    First world problem.

    The rich countries weigh the externalities and esthetics of new power and are accutely aware of the CO-2 issue, the effect on birds, the peat bogs, etc. So wind, especially off-shore wind- and solar are on everybody’s mind.

    China, India and much of the developing world are nowliving in the stage the west was in between 1860 and 1920. China is building 600 new coal plants because coal is cheap and easy. Pollution is a “next decade problem. India is in the same boat; the Deccan plateau is filled with low quality coal and India will use it. The would like clean power but they will take cheap, polluting power because their pubics demand it. The cost advantage of polluting industries is huge which is why Eastern Australian coal and iron ore from Brazil get shipped half way around the world to China to make the new Pittsburgs and why the rare earth metals are mined and processed in China. And as long as we continue to be in a trade regime which doesn’t penalize polluters the CO-2 levels will continue to go up.

    If the U.S. and Europe dropped the CO-2 output to zero the third world would make it up in five-to-ten years of growth.

    So solar and wind are nice but are not about to change the outcome. Our investments should be in preparing to weather the coming storm, not avoid it and that raises all sorts of ethical issue we choose not to confront… yet.

  20. WalterM

    The “Engineering With Rosie” youtube channel (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UClu8Q445-ZAG1dzzP1mHiAw) is pretty interesting. She is an Australian engineer mostly in the wind energy field, and she really gets into the science and math weeds sometimes. Last October, she posted a video on end of life waste (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CNuIzuZpRtk), in which she briefly talks about blade disposal/recycling options, and also compares wind turbine waste to fossil fuel waste, and then to ordinary garbage. Lotsa great stuff on her channel IMO.

  21. Larry Gilman

    Yves writes, “wind turbines presuppose batteries or other means of energy storage, at least for some (most?) of the output.”

    That statement is flat-out, 100% false. Battery storage or other dispatchable power sources do not need to be added to the grid at all as wind (and solar) generators are added, up to some very large fraction of total supply (“penetration”) – a fraction not yet remotely approached in the United States. Denmark got 62% of its electricity from wind and solar in 2020, Germany 37%, all without deploying significant grid-scale storage: storage isn’t even mentioned in the 2020 Ember review of the EU power sector.

    Those two countries also have significantly more reliable grids than the US, contrary to Yves’ claim that a “biggie is that [wind turbines] are an erratic power source” (and her claims in earlier posts that wind damages grid reliability).

    Wind and solar aren’t magic. But ignorant falsehoods about these technologies aren’t the right corrective for magical beliefs. Technically accurate knowledge is.

    1. Larry Gilman

      I should have said “misstatements,” not “falsehoods,” as the latter may be taken to imply a charge of deliberate lying, and I assume that Yves speaks in good faith.

      The problem remains that on this technical subject, Yves is (amazingly, for such a good writer and informed person) capable of uttering hair-raising nonsense, and does.

      One’s sense of the obvious (the wind doesn’t blow all the time!) can be a very poor guide to opining out of one’s own field.

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