Everyone concedes that the output from wind generators is highly volatile – being the cube of the wind speed and all. Proponents try to minimize the effects of that variability by either inventing storage technology that doesn’t exist or by claiming the “wind always blows somewhere” and by building a “super grid” we can move the energy from wherever it is being generated to wherever it is being used. Their ideas on geographical spread seem intuitively correct, but nature usually reserves her greatest punishments for those who think they can intuit her rules without looking at reality. As always, let’s look at the actual numbers.
I’ve written about this topic before, starting with Harrison’s recap of Ontario’s experience. Then I found the BPA’s experience pretty much confirmed what I had found in Ontario. Finally, in a moment of whimsey, I wondered if these two systems, separated by 3000 miles and 3 times zones, might be suitable. Well, sort of, maybe. Every number I’ve presented in these postings is from actual operating experience.
You might think that wind energy proponents would have their own studies to show that geographical spread is workable. You’d be wrong. The most notable effort I’ve seen is from Milligan, but when you analyze his evidence it falls apart.
Nothing sharpens ones attention like a hangman’s noose, or in this case losing your own money. John Petersen is an investment writer, and he stumbled across the BPA’s variability problems just like I did. He posted an entry suggesting investors avoid a technology with such glaring problems that at some point can no longer be ignored. Needless to say, the comments poured in. He then got confirmation of his suspicions from the Muir Trust study.
Intrigued, he rounded up actual production numbers from five grids that (a) published them (and there aren’t that many), and (b) were widely dispersed. The five grids were the BPA, Ontario, Ireland, Australia and Alberta. He took their actual numbers, scaled them up to an even base, then added them up to see how steady the resultant generation was.
You really ought to read his analysis. For convenience, I’ve copied the two clickable main charts below. First is from the northern summer, and the second is from the northern winter. Keep these charts in mind whenever a proponent starts bs’ing about fixing variability with distance. Along with the bs about capacity credit being anything above zero.