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Wind Turbines useless for carbon reduction — From $50 – $120 ton. Greens should hate them!

Wind Turbines around 7 times more expensive than Direct Action

You would have to be bonkers to use wind turbines to reduce CO2. The Australian RET Review estimates that the cost of reducing CO2 via wind power is $32 – $72 per ton of CO2 avoided, which means it’s far more expensive than the Direct Action plan, which costs $14 per ton. Peter Lang is concerned the real story is even more costly than that, because it appears the RET Review does not account for the way wind turbines become less effective as they supply a larger portion of our electricity grid. The gas and coal generators get less efficient and they ramp up and down and burn fuel on standby, trying to cope with the fickle supply from the wind. The study of the Irish grid shows that nearly half the CO2 savings of wind turbines disappear as rest of the generators on the grid burn more fuel per unit of electricity. From my reading of Peter’s submission the real cost is more like $80 – $100/ton.

The Australian Parliament is seeking submissions to the ‘Senate Select Committee on Wind Turbines’. It closes Monday. Peter Lang has submitted a 36 page report which concludes the cost in Australia of reducing CO2 using wind towers may be 67% higher than the RET estimates by the time windpower is 15% of the Grid.  (So $50 – $120/t for abatement.) Why are we even talking about wind power as a way to reduce CO2?

When they hear this, I’m sure Christine Milne (Greens leader), Ed Milliband (UK Labor leader), Obama, Tim Flannery, etc. will all be very concerned. Any day now, they will declare that, for the sake of the planet, Australia and the West simply cannot afford to waste any more environmental time and eco-money on wind power — we must use taxpayers dollars where they are most effective. “We need action now”. After all, species will die, this is our last chance, and Armageddon is coming. The more money we spend on wind-turbines instead of Direct Action, the more the planet will warm, right? Paris, Dec 2015, is the final, final, last ever chance to save the planet. The Greens won’t want to miss the chance to save 7 times as much CO2.

Do the Greens want to reduce CO2, or not?

Anyone who cares about reducing CO2 would protest, boycott and placard concrete bird killing towers which are so expensive and ineffective at stopping CO2 emissions. They would decry them as token do-nothing symbols of modern bureaucrats who don’t want to solve a problem, but want to be “seen” to be solving it.

If CO2 had much effect on the climate, no one in their right mind would choose an expensive, immature technology that costs so much to achieve so little. But a friend in need is a friend indeed, and big-renewables needs big-government. Is that the real point of the RET — more support for friends who advertise, lobby and support big-government? Say it ain’t so.


Submission to the Select Committee on Wind Turbines

Wind turbines’ CO2 savings and abatement cost

Wind turbines are less effective and CO2 abatement cost is higher than commonly assumed


By Peter Lang

 April 2015

Wind turbines are significantly less effective at reducing CO2 emissions than commonly assumed.  This means the CO2 abatement cost (i.e. the cost per tonne CO2 avoided by wind turbines) is higher than commonly recognised.  It is likely the CO2 abatement cost of wind turbines is commonly underestimated.

Effectiveness here means % reduction in CO2 emissions divided by % electricity supplied by wind turbines.  Wind turbines supplied 2.9% of Australia’s electricity in 2012-13 (latest figures available).  It is likely wind energy was around 80% effective at avoiding CO2 emissions.  That is, each unit of electricity generated by wind turbines avoided about 80% of the emission that would have been emitted generating a unit of electricity in the absence of wind.

The actual CO2 abatement cost is higher than commonly estimated.  In fact, the abatement cost is inversely proportional to the proportion of electricity supplied by wind power.  At 80% effective the actual abatement cost would be 25% higher than the analysts’ estimates if their estimates did not take effectiveness into account.  At 50% effective the actual abatement cost would be twice the estimates.  The chart below illustrates the relationship between effectiveness, CO2 abatement costs increase and the proportion of electricity generated by wind (80% effective is approximately correct for Australia’s National Electricity Market in 2014; effectiveness at proportions of wind energy above 5% are a rough estimate for the purpose of this explanation).


Economic analyses conducted for the 2014 Renewable Energy Target (RET) Review projected that wind power will supply about 15% of Australia’s electricity by 2020 if the RET legislation remains unchanged.  At 15% of electricity generated by wind, international studies of other electricity grids suggests effectiveness could be nearly as low as 50%.  At that rate the CO2 abatement cost would be double the estimates (if those estimates did not take effectiveness into account).

The cost of abating CO2 emissions with wind power in Australia in 2020 could be 2 to 5 times the carbon tax, which was rejected by the voters at 2013 Federal Election; 6 to14 times the current EU carbon price; and more than 100 times the price of the international carbon futures out to 2020.

A Senate ‘Select Committee on Wind Turbines’ has been established to inquire into the impacts of wind turbines in Australia.  My submission focuses on the effectiveness of wind turbines at reducing CO2 emissions from electricity generation in Australia and the impact of the effectiveness on estimates of abatement cost ($/tonne CO2) by wind energy.

My submission is No. 259 here.  (Copy stored here).


Extra Note from Jo

We previously talked about another similar study by Inhaber which showed the lower curve in Lang’s Figure 1 which appears to have been too low according to later studies. This curve is now apparently too pessimistic, but the shape of the curve is real and more recent estimates like the one of Ireland by Joe Wheatley are more likely to be better estimates — so at 15% of the grid, wind towers lose around half their effectiveness at reducing CO2 emissions. Because of the intermittent supply the rest of the grid runs less efficiently and emits more CO2.

Peter’s submission was also discussed at Catalaxy and AT Judith Currys’ site.

Figure 1: CO2 abatement effectiveness versus wind generation as a proportion of total generation, from three studies of empirical data.

Peter Lang discusses the Inhaber curve:

Figure 1 shows CO2 abatement effectiveness versus wind generation as a proportion of total generation for ERCOT (Texas) and EirGrid (Ireland) together with the Herbert Inhaber (2011) analysis of many published studies. All are from published analyses of empirical data. Critiques of the Inhaber paper revealed there were some misunderstandings and misinterpretations leading to the curve being too low, but the important point for this submission is the shape of the curve.

The data in Figure 1 reveal two important issues. First, wind effectiveness is commonly less than 100%. Second, effectiveness declines as wind penetration increases.




Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, volume 15, pages 2557–2562 (2011), “Why wind power does not deliver the expected emissions reductions”, by Herbert Inhaber.

Peter Langs full submission is No 259 here: http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Wind_Turbines/Wind_Turbines/Submissions

About Peter Lang:  A retired geologist and engineer with 40 years’ experience on a wide range of energy projects throughout the world, including managing energy RD&D programs and providing policy advice to Government. Energy projects included: hydro-electric, geothermal, nuclear, coal, oil and gas and a wide range of energy end-use management projects.

Image: Adapted from Windmill 02 by JMT.  Money shots and art: Jo Nova.

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