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

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 phrostie ( 121428 ) on Sunday June 29, 2014 @07:58PM (#47346907)

    a little rivalry is a good thing.

    I'm a fan of both and still believe that putting all your eggs in one basket will just lead to other problems.

  • WUWT (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bmo ( 77928 ) on Sunday June 29, 2014 @07:59PM (#47346909)

    The rebuttal is from a climate-change denial site?

    What the fuck is this, Fox News? What's next, Free Republic?

    Fuck you, Timothy. Seriously, just fuck off.


  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 29, 2014 @08:00PM (#47346913)

    A 4 unit coal fired power station will be lucky to have 80% availability.

    Maintenance is continuous on those things, so they don't have 100% availability either.

    Admitted, the downtime is handled on site (3 of 4 units still run while one is down), but that's WHY there's a power grid. So the counter argument has flaws as well.

  • by K. S. Kyosuke ( 729550 ) on Sunday June 29, 2014 @08:04PM (#47346929)
    That's what they're for here, right? The "more skeptical take" is a joke. It's a fundamental nature of intermittent power sources and a well known fact that you need an improved grid over a large geographic area to filter out the outliers. Picking out one installation is dishonest, and so is to claim that the energy being intermittent falsifies the original cumulative EROEI claim, which had nothing to do with whether one installation is continuously sufficient. It's a blatant straw man on WUWT's part.
  • by amosh ( 109566 ) on Sunday June 29, 2014 @08:07PM (#47346935)

    What the hell was that inserted for? It was an idiotic point made on a site which clearly has a political axe to grind. It wasn't made well. Anyone claiming to engage in a scientific debate with the phrase "by my own observation" deserves to be laughed out of the room.

    This is supposed to be Slashdot, not Fox. Why the hell was this included?

  • Show me the money! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Entrope ( 68843 ) on Sunday June 29, 2014 @08:15PM (#47346973) Homepage

    If this wind farm expects payback in five to eight months, we should be able to find some other wind farm (anywhere) that had payback in less than a year, right? Does anybody have a pointer to that kind of success story?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 29, 2014 @08:20PM (#47346987)

    But the citation doesn't appear to include the costs of those "large scale energy storage" facilities. Nothing about batteries, hydralic lift storage, chemical stste change, etc. So it would appear to just as "biased". Or cheerleading, if you prefer.

  • by thaylin ( 555395 ) on Sunday June 29, 2014 @08:21PM (#47346993)
    That is not what it means by payback. The article, if you read it, means that the net cost of creating the turbine in terms of electricity and minerals is re-payed in 8 months, basically the cost to the environment.. Of course the skeptical site has nothing but a large strawman using the same type of argument you are using.
  • by grim4593 ( 947789 ) on Sunday June 29, 2014 @08:40PM (#47347061)
    That is an odd definition of payback. The raw material cost of creating something is irrelevant since you cannot buy anything at cost: there are always value-add processes and profit margins to consider.
    That said, the GP is right, unless these wind turbines in the study have noticeable improvements compared to other turbines I would expect there to be similar installations around the country that are making profits/savings for their investors. There should either be news about those gains or news about how the investors who previously built wind turbines are investing even greater sums of money due to their success.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 29, 2014 @08:51PM (#47347117)

    Ha ha it's a denier site. There are more credulous cranks on wuwt than every bigfoot site combined, to judge by the rate they pound nails in the coffin of AGW.

  • by w3woody ( 44457 ) on Sunday June 29, 2014 @08:52PM (#47347121) Homepage

    A payback analysis can be done very easily: how much does it cost to buy and install a 2MW turbine, how much does it cost to maintain a 2MW turbine each year, and what is the value of the resulting generated electricity?

    One source has the cost at around $3 to $4 million to install a 2MW turbine. source []

    In one year, assuming 20% capacity--which is not atypical in the real world--such a turbine would generate 3,504 mWh. (2mW * 365 * 24 * .2)

    Using $50/mWh for the wholesale price of electricity (which I got from scanning the current wholesale prices listed here, [] with $50/mWh eyeballed from column 'G'), I get a gross profit of $175,200/year for the generated power.

    So just with my back-of-the-envelop calculations based on about 5 minutes with Google, the report seems to be bullshit.

    Even if the numbers were off by a factor of two--remember, I only spent 5 minutes with Google--I don't see how you can make $116,800 (8 months of generated power) into $3 million (the installation cost quoted above), for large values of $116,800 and for small values of $3 million.

    And notice what is missing from my admittedly stupid and simplistic analysis: the cost to run a standby generator, the cost of power storage, or the maintenance cost of the turbine, which I assume like any complex machine requires periodic maintenance.

    The problem with research reports like this is that they do their hardest to not talk about the actual costs involved, and instead focus on a very small subset of the costs of construction. In this case it looks like we focused strictly on the power used to construct the turbine, and not the overall material costs, or labor costs. It's the only way I can explain a greater than one order of magnitude gap.

  • Nice phrasing... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by cirby ( 2599 ) on Sunday June 29, 2014 @09:00PM (#47347165)

    "the time to produce the amount of energy required of production and installation" ...but not the time to produce enough energy to pay back the actual cost of the machine, including labor and materials.

    The actual study is very, very careful to NOT claim that it will pay back the total system cost. It's just the amount of energy used in production and installation, not the cost of raw materials and labor.

  • Re:WUWT (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) on Sunday June 29, 2014 @09:07PM (#47347193) Journal
    Indeed. Watts' opinion on anything climate related is about as relevant and enlightening as Fred Phelps opinion on gay bars.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 29, 2014 @09:56PM (#47347393)

    Solar has some simple advantages. The main one is that it is fairly fool-resistant. Yes, you can get shocked if you don't know what you are doing, but anything electrical is that way.

    Here are some nice things I can do with solar that can't be done elsewhere:

    I have a shed or storage outbuilding where I want lights nearby, but don't want to run wires. A couple panels, two deep cycle batteries, an inverter, and a charge controller would give me plenty of lighting without needing to run electrical wires from the house (and the electrical code issues involved in that.)

    Of course, solar panels won't pay for their cost of building by 20-30 years, but they are extremely useful for off-grid applications. I'm hoping for more dense batteries so even things like air conditioners could be run from panels, but that is still years away.

  • by Michael Woodhams ( 112247 ) on Sunday June 29, 2014 @10:07PM (#47347447) Journal

    They aren't. They're using an established term "energy payback". The authors wrote an analysis which will be useful to many people but used the word "payback" in a way which does not match your preconceived notion of how it should be used. For this, you label them "charlatans".

    So all the people interested in energy payback times should not be able to publish or read about it because you've claimed ownership of the word "payback" and won't license them to use it? They should use a less clear term to express their meaning because otherwise some random idiot who reads technical papers might make the leap "payback = money", despite the term "energy payback" being self explanatory?

    Had you argued that because this is "energy payback" rather than financial payback, it isn't worthy of being reported on Slashdot, I could respect your argument. Instead you label people charlatans because what they discuss is not what you're interested it.

  • by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) on Sunday June 29, 2014 @10:13PM (#47347467) Journal
    Any generatortor will need maintenance, the real question is; is the maintinace cost preventing you from paying off the capital investment, and the answer for both is an obvious - no.

    The FF popoganda normally ignores that and talks about "base load" as if it is somehow essential. This is total bullshit since no city will ever have a flat demand curve, base load means you must fire up gas turbines during demand peaks and pump water up hill during demand troughs, exactly the same as needs to happen for any solar/wind/wave/tide farm. By definition a flat supply curve will only ever match a wavy demand curve at the points where the demand changes between under and over supply. Solar actually does a better job at maching the demand curve in specific senarios such as a hot day when air-conditioners are working overtime.

    Coal assets, mines, railways, ports, have been steadily losing value recent years, they are now worth roughly 40% less than they were a decade ago and are in danger of becoming "stranded assets" (google it). The "world's largest coal port" being planned for Queensland is now looking unlikely to go ahead due to major investment funds withdrawing from the project, HSBC, Dueches Bank, Bank of Scotland, et-al. This is not because of the enviroment, it's because the current price of coal makes it uneconomical in hard dollar terms.

    Add the above economic dificulty to the fact it's now cheaper for India to build solar farms than it is to import coal from Australia. The new Indian PM has declared he will use solar power to provide electricity to 400M people. The new Aussie PM is attempting to keep climate change off the agenda at the G20. Coal is Australia's #1 export and (as with Canada), it makes up a big chunk of our GDP). Wich succinctly explains why the conservative governments in both those countries are climate "skeptics".

    The technological tide is turning the energy economics of the 20th century on it's head, ignoring future miricale breakthroughs such as fussion power, renewables we be ubiquitous in 20yrs because they make economic sense now and the number$ are still improving at a rapid pace. It's not that far-fetched to see an impending deflation of enrgy prices in the 2020's if the trend continues.
  • by Neil Boekend ( 1854906 ) on Monday June 30, 2014 @02:10AM (#47348179)

    That's because the power is generated as close the user as possible. Only the balance is transmitted through long cables, and then even at high voltage to prevent losses.

  • Re:WUWT (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Burz ( 138833 ) on Monday June 30, 2014 @02:21AM (#47348197) Homepage Journal

    WUWT's publisher gets Koch funding by way of the Heartland Institute... so, not "random". []

    Now I get to put my first /. mod on my (rather small) enemies list and my exclusion list: Timothy.

  • Re:WUWT (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Jeremi ( 14640 ) on Monday June 30, 2014 @02:38AM (#47348249) Homepage

    Targeting specific birds, how many top of the food chain birds do cats kill? I have doubts that cats or glass panes are killing as many eagles as windmills.

    67 eagles have been verified as killed by wind turbines in the last 5 years (source []).

    That's out of a population of about 20,000 bald eagles (source []) and 30,000 golden eagles (source []).

    So, are wind turbines a significant problem for eagles? Well, they do kill an estimated 0.13% of eagles, so they aren't completely harmless. On the other hand, the American Eagle Society's threats to eagle survival page [] lists the primary threats to eagles as: DDT, Lead shot poisoning, secondary poisoning, electrocution, poaching, habitat destruction, and other predators. Wind turbines are not mentioned at all.

    Therefore, we can conclude that "wind turbines kill eagles" is a not a valid criticism of wind power.

  • Re:WUWT (Score:4, Insightful)

    by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) * <mojo@world3.nBLUEet minus berry> on Monday June 30, 2014 @03:49AM (#47348431) Homepage Journal

    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.

    The same logic applies to all electricity sources because none of them can run un-interupted at full output for their entire lives. Even coal and nuclear plants need regular down time for maintenance, as well as unexpected events.

    The grid is a pool, with many generation sources contributing to it. If you only had one turbine they might have a point, but when you have hundreds or thousands you can rely on them for a certain amount of "base load" power. In fact they are more reliable that traditional forms of generation, because a single failure at a coal/gas/nuclear plant can knock out hundreds or even thousands of megawatts, but a single turbine failure is insignificant.

  • by wiggles ( 30088 ) on Monday June 30, 2014 @10:44AM (#47350141)

    > Home owners can't really lose with solar PV

    Unless, of course, you happen to live somewhere other than Southern California or Arizona, where weather conditions don't permit the sun to shine at sufficient intensity over the whole year. Here in the mid/upper midwest, the payback period for a solar installation on my house works out to be 17 years. Wind, on the other hand, can be cost effective if you have sufficient land space to put up a tower. I see a few of my rural neighbors with wind turbines on their properties.

  • by Grishnakh ( 216268 ) on Monday June 30, 2014 @01:06PM (#47351421)

    The latest thing I've seen from the Koch camp (I assume that's where it's from) is some picture about wind farms killing birds, and comparing them to gas and oil, and complaining that gas and oil companies have been fined for various practices yet they don't kill any birds (I guess they forgot about all the birds caught in oil spills).

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