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Researchers Claim Wind Turbine Energy Payback In Less Than a Year 441

Posted by timothy
from the answer-is-blowin'-in dept.
mdsolar (1045926) writes "Researchers have carried out an environmental lifecycle assessment of 2-megawatt wind turbines mooted for a large wind farm in the U.S. Pacific Northwest. They conclude that in terms of cumulative energy payback, or the time to produce the amount of energy required of production and installation, a wind turbine with a working life of 20 years will offer a net benefit within five to eight months of being brought online." Watts Up With That? has a more skeptical take on the calculations.
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Researchers Claim Wind Turbine Energy Payback In Less Than a Year

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  • by LynnwoodRooster (966895) on Sunday June 29, 2014 @08:22PM (#47346997) Journal
    So once a person factors in the battery and/or other large scale energy storage, does that change the calculus about the return?
  • by ishmaelflood (643277) on Sunday June 29, 2014 @08:25PM (#47347009)

    Oddly enough both of the calculations in the OP were correct, yes, the wind turbine generates energy equivalent to its energy of manufacture quite quickly, and yes it is still a bad idea to rely on wind energy for use in a national grid except for a tiny percentage, each MW of wind turbine relies on an additional MW of conventional generators if you want 24/7 availability, or I suppose you could try energy storage, which ought to be added to the turbine operating cost and energy payback.

    Interesting to see such knee jerk support for an inappropriate technology. I wonder if the posters above have ever thought through why Germany is /reducing/ its reliance on wind turbines?

  • by sl149q (1537343) on Sunday June 29, 2014 @08:56PM (#47347143)

    Funny you should mention maintenance. Presumably the smaller generators on wind turbines will last longer with less maintenance. Especially since any maintenance that is required is distributed across a larger number of remote points (some in the ocean) and many feet in the air.

    We have a gas fired plant locally that used to have yearly tours (sadly suspended after 9/11). Highly efficient and large turbines, but at the expense of frequent (well once every year or two if I recall) maintenance and overhauls. But large power plants have built in cranes to lift the turbines out of their cradles and move them to the attached tool shop that has all of the required tools and mechanics to rebuild them.

    Wind turbines require that the mechanics with their tools get transported to the site, lifted in the air and then work in cramped and dangerous conditions. Of course if you are looking for a challenging and probably rewarding (financially) career the Wind Farm service industry is hiring. There are a lot of Wind Turbines coming off warranty.

  • Re:WUWT (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anubis IV (1279820) on Sunday June 29, 2014 @08:56PM (#47347145)

    Does it matter what the source is, so long as it presents a testable claim?

    Besides which, their argument was mischaracterized in the summary. It's not a rebuttal of the ROI period, which is what the summary seems to suggest. Rather, they took issue with the overly-broad statement that seemed to suggest that each turbine would replace the need for traditional power sources for over 500 homes, which is, as far as I can tell, an accurate claim. Obviously, there are lulls in the wind, so while it may on average provide that much power, the lulls would mean that the traditional sources will still need to be used. What was left unsaid is that they would be used in lesser quantities.

    Yes, it's a "well duh" sort of thing, but it's also accurate. And if you don't think it is, feel free to disprove them. It wasn't exactly a complicated argument, nor a particular meaningful one, but that's also a bit of a "well duh" sort of thing, given the source. ;)

  • by maccodemonkey (1438585) on Sunday June 29, 2014 @09:11PM (#47347209)

    "Watts Up With That? has a more skeptical take on the calculations."

    And if you look at the site it's pretty much a site full of straw men and attacks on climate change friendly politicians and scientists, with little actual scientific facts (besides the grandiose endorsement of it's own content.)

    Why is this link even here? Did someone just randomly Google it and stick it on there because, hey, it's on the internet? Or did someone want the site to get more page views?

    C'mon editors. This is news for nerds. Not news my uncle sent me in his email about how Obama is part of the illuminati.

  • watts up with that? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 29, 2014 @09:14PM (#47347221)

    to be fair, i havent read their current analysis of this particular project. but watts up with that is well known to be well wrong about well lots :)

  • Re:WUWT (Score:4, Interesting)

    by TapeCutter (624760) on Sunday June 29, 2014 @09:28PM (#47347271) Journal

    Does it matter what the source is, so long as it presents a testable claim?

    Yes. Stubbornly refusing to withdraw a claim when multiple independent tests have already found it to be false is the definition of a denier. It's the reason why we laugh at flat earther's and (the original) April fools.

    To test Watts' claim simply calculate three trends from his data, one for his "worst" 100 stations, one for his "best" 100 stations and one for the full set of ~1100 stations, if his claim has merit there will be signifcant differences in the three trends. So go ahead, you test his claims if you doubt, I've already done so on many occasions, that's what science is about.

    BTW: When you find his claims don't hold water, don't be tempted to post a video about it on youtube because he will issue a false DCMA to try and shut you up.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 29, 2014 @09:31PM (#47347285)

    You think the situation would be reversed in Phoenix, Barstow, or Vegas?

    The calculus changes. Wind is awesome when it's blowing, but Power is a function of WindSpeed^3, so it's also highly volatile. You need to pair it with an energy source with a fast ramp time that can pick up the slack, I.e. Hydro or Natural Gas. Wind + Hydro is basically energy nirvana right now, but we can't build hydro wherever we want. Natural Gas is expensive and still fossil, but NG+Wind combined is cheaper and cleaner than coal. It's also cheaper than nuclear, and it's hard to compare nuclear on the "clean" metric.

    In the PNW, wind is a means to stretch the finite hydro capacity for nearly zero cost. In the SW, wind just means NG+wind, which is merely a strong competitor, not a market dominator.

  • by dbIII (701233) on Sunday June 29, 2014 @09:42PM (#47347327)
    With respect, wind turbines are tiny and although a great deal of maintenance is required it is both trivial and not constrained by time. So you are down 2MW - big deal, get around to fixing it next week when the crew is free.
    Gas is also small and high maintenance with respect to coal (three to five years between shutdowns on well run coal fired plants), but it doesn't take very long to either build or fix the things in comparison.
    The major reason wind is now a player is that the things are both a lot more reliable and easier to get going again than they used to be. Crews apparently swap things out and transport the damaged parts to be repaired in a shed instead of way up in the air.
  • by AK Marc (707885) on Sunday June 29, 2014 @09:53PM (#47347375)
    The wind is always blowing somewhere. We need a world grid. We already have Europe/Asia/Africa power grids. A grid that connects the world, probably along the lines of a Risk board, would let us move power from day to night, and from wind to still. There's more than enough power, we just have a storage or distribution problem to solve, and given the state of storage and the state of transportation, I think we'd be better off with world-wide distribution.
  • by im_thatoneguy (819432) on Sunday June 29, 2014 @10:23PM (#47347503)

    It's an odd definition but it's a common one. People often complain (incorrectly) that solar cells take more electricity to manufacture than they produce in their lifetime.

    This is a study saying that they "pay back" the input resources in a small fraction of their life span. It's refuting all of the FUD around green energy that it's just taking Coal and Petroleum and storing it inefficiently in a wind turbine or solar panel to be slowly released over the course of several years.

  • by Scottingham (2036128) on Monday June 30, 2014 @12:55AM (#47347957)
    The variable you are neglecting to consider is transmission losses.

    Look into super-conducting cables. So far, only Germany has managed to get a 1km long super-conducting cable in place for a still tiny % of the energy necessary to make this global grid work in the way you're talking about.

    1/3 Local nukes+1/3 wind+ 1/3 solar > coal
  • by GNious (953874) on Monday June 30, 2014 @03:24AM (#47348361)

    Diversity is critical in energy production - is part of why certain groups insists on dismissing any green source that is not capable of meeting 100%+ of energy-needs.

  • by AmiMoJo (196126) * <mojo@@@world3...net> on Monday June 30, 2014 @03:38AM (#47348397) Homepage

    Wind is actually pretty reliable over the short term. A bit of smoothing helps, and Japan has already deployed 50MWh batteries for that purpose. Even without smoothing with a number of turbines distributed geographically the output doesn't vary much over an hour, and is quite easy to predict a few hours in advance. That gives other sources plenty of notice to ramp up.

    Home owners can't really lose with solar PV, unless they somehow get screwed on workmanship or installation costs. The panels with always pay for themselves in a few years and it's shear madness that new houses are being built without it.

  • by angel'o'sphere (80593) on Monday June 30, 2014 @04:40AM (#47348553) Homepage Journal

    The grid loss is something in the figure of 5% 7% of total power production germany.
    That is regardless of the source. Difficult right now is the transport of wind power from the 'far' north to the 'far' south, because of lack of power conduits, not because of 'grid loss'.
    The loss is usually about 7% per 1000km transport distance, however it depends on voltage. E.g. Kasachstan uses 1mega Volt lines, where the grid loss is about 6% per 10,000km, not 1000.
    Superconductors are likely not a solution, I guess they are simply to expensive and if one breaks you have a long long long downtime.
    A bit simpler are high voltage direct current conduits, the power companies are shifting slowly to them for long range power transport.

  • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Monday June 30, 2014 @04:52AM (#47348587) Journal
    It's also possible with smartgrid things to tweak the demand curve a bit. For example, a fridge or freezer needs to keep the contents in a temperature range with a little bit of leeway. It will typically let things warm until they're near the top of the range, then run the compressor until they're close to the bottom of the range. If your freezer knows about the spot price of electricity, then you may set it to an economy mode, where it will start the compressor early if power is sufficiently cheap, so by the time the price goes up (i.e. supply drops) you're effectively storing energy by having the entire contents of the freezer at the bottom end of its temperature range. The same is true for electric cars - if you're using one to commute and the battery will last a few days, then the amount that you're willing to pay for electricity varies based on how low the battery charge is. If it doesn't have enough for tomorrow's commute, then you'll pay more. If it does, then you'd happily top-up the charge cheaply when there's some surplus supply.
  • by flyneye (84093) on Monday June 30, 2014 @07:16AM (#47348941) Homepage

    Remember those politicians are fueled by those of the Koch bros. ilk.
    I couldn't help but notice that the wind map used by Watts Up was from some random day and not representative of prevailing winds AT ALL!
    Perhaps someone there had a bit of cranial rectumitis when Googling for a wind map for their "research"( first clue, midwest winds prevail from the southwest 90% of the time and the map has north winds displayed, FAIL! I can show you an area in eastern Colorado where the wind nearly NEVER stops) I would suggest their research is not much more than jealous bunk. Anyway, to couple wind with solar power is a common solution to the fear that Watts Up is trying to instill in the reader.DUH! If it isn't windy, the sun shines most days in most places, so if one isn't producing, the other will in enough quantity that your batteries need not be drained. Further, the wind industry is producing jobs and boosting economy in rural areas that need it. Fuck the Kochs and their worry about their and their investors wallets. Plenty of other investments out there.

  • by Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) on Monday June 30, 2014 @07:29AM (#47348967)

    You mean HVDC cables? They're installed all over Europe and are working fine, thanks. It would be pretty straightforward to have several of them piping solar power from the Sahara and wind power from the North Atlantic into the same grid with very minimal transmission losses.

  • by gadget junkie (618542) <gbponz@libero.it> on Monday June 30, 2014 @08:02AM (#47349073) Journal

    except, that are at least 4 types of energy ... coal, oil, gas, wood,gravity

    there, fixed it for you. otherwise dams would generate no electricity at all, would they?
    whenever I see discussions like this, I think:" is this an IRS convention or what?!?!". all these modelling is heavily dependent on transferring tax money from other things to Renewable energy subsidies. In no paper, or law, the requirement is for the plan to provide continous, on demand generation. Do that and every analyst will become far more honest.
    one of the reasons? if like in Italy a renewable energy producer gets paid a multiple of the marginal price when he produces, all projections should be made with the same producer installing continous capacity on his own, with the attandant environmental impact statesments, pollution control, etc, or buying the availability from someone else, at twice the same price. the obligation on the grid operator to retire and pay produced energy would have a limit at the continous capacity declared by the operator.

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