Last week we mentioned Matt Ridley’s complaint that for all its massive subsidies and hideous environmental footprint, wind power in the UK was supplying less than 4% of energy needs. Yet now we read that in the United States “Wind Places as Second-Largest Electricity Generation Source at End of March”. Hooray, a booming industry! And yet at the same time we read that “‘We’re all in trouble’ – Wind turbine makers selling at a loss”. So which way is it blowing? Briskly? Up? No. More like down, since the article celebrating wind’s recent record output also mentioned that in order to make it happen the other more reliable sources had to be “called upon to reduce their output.” Pay no attention to the central planner behind the curtain.
Wind energy is not “efficient”, either narrowly in terms of monetary cost per kilowatt/hour or more broadly in terms of total social benefit, given its large overall impact including on the environment for limited power generation. As the “Manhattan Contrarian” recently asked, “Is There Anyone Taking This Green Energy Transition Thing Seriously?” after even the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (yes, it has one) predicted steadily increasing fossil fuel use in that country right up to Net Zero’s ground zero of 2050, while even ultra-greenie Greenwich Village is installing… new high-pressure gas mains.
Statista may insista that “What do people in South Africa, China and Brazil have in common? In all these countries, people attach above-average importance to shifting away from fossil fuels in favor of climate-friendly and sustainable energy.” But what people virtue-signal to pollsters is often a long way from what they actually do when they need food, clothing and shelter rather than brownie points from some publication half-way around the world. As China’s actual energy record would suggest to less sophisticated souls than theirs.
Even the piece in North American Windpower, which is an industry advocate that greets readers with such gems as “DOE’s Equity Action Plan Includes Clean Energy Program Investments”, concedes that “The average capacity factor of U.S. wind generators (35% in 2021) is lower than the average capacity factor of nuclear generators (93% in 2021), which are designed to run at or near full output, which they typically do…. In the United States, wind speeds, and correspondingly, wind-powered electricity generation, often peak during spring…. Because electricity demand tends to be lowest in the spring and fall months, some generators – including both nuclear and coal – reduce their output or schedule maintenance during these months. Also, on days when weather patterns lead to more wind generation, competing coal-fired and natural gas-fired generators often are called upon to reduce their output so that overall electricity supply matches demand.”
The last sentence is the giveaway. The reason wind outpowered other sources is that they were turned down on purpose to let wind prevail because it is so inflexible as well as expensive. Frankly just about anybody can outsell their competitors if their competitors are ordered by the government to sell less so they can sell more. But what is to become of the consumer, the power grid and even government finances if it turns out that people cannot build wind turbines unless their operators are allowed to charge much higher prices than other types of energy need to?
Wind and solar producers are natural grid parasites. Their innate unreliability but preferential status imposes inefficiency costs on the reliable baseload providers who are called upon to scale up and down as the wind blows (but not too much) or not and if the sun shines or not. These costs remain hidden when wind and solar proponents boast about their (irrelevant) off-grid costs per KWH. Given their life-cycle based barely positive return on energy, their increased implementation only increases demand for fossil fuels which overwhelmingly supply their energy inputs in that equation, IOW, they can't self-replicate.