Wind power

I was in a conversation today at lunch with a fellow who told me that “wind power is better than anything we’ve ever done for generating electricity”. That made me wonder, how reliable (beyond the constancy of wind issues) is it?

Whenever I drive through Techachapi or Altamont passes here in California I note that there always seems to be a fair number of these three blade windmills that are out of commission. Perhaps failure is more common than one would expect. I found a couple of examples:

And this one also, though I don’t know what the ending for it was like the one above…

Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?


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When we were in the Gaspe Peninsula Canada this last June we noted miles of giant wind generators poking above the trees and not one of them was turning. They all stood still and mute, not turning as there was no wind. The next day we spotted one turning, but those surround the turning wind generator stood mute. No idea why one was turning and the other were still. There was slight breeze, but no real wind. Now sure what the wind profile is on the Gaspe is, but while we were there at the end of June, no juice or money was being generated.

Pamela Gray

Kinda looks like breaking wind to me.


I may have been caught in your spam filter for listing a lot of links. I’ll try without links just to test it, then I’ll try sending them in smaller doeses if that works.

Wind mills can achieve an efficiency rating ~40% at their optimum. If the wind is less than optimum than so are they. The Betz coefficient limits overall efficiency at 59% of available wind energy. Add to the Betz limit the inefficiencies of the generator, bearings, etc and we get into that 40% area.
Anyway they require more maintenance than advertised, as you have noted , and they do not work at all when the wind don’t blow.


Ok, here are the first, on what’s wrong with it…
…from my file I named, “WIND BLOWS” (but, LOL, I like Pamela Gray’s much better!)


That’s the thing with wind, it’s not baseline (realiable, always available) power so you have to build generating capacity of the same amount as the installed wind capacity unless you live in certain places where there’s basically always wind.
Gee, so I have to spend x$ to built Y MW of Wind capacity and I STILL have to spend another Z$ to have coal fired thermal plants or fission plants to back them up. THAT sounds like SUPER idea, a perfect use of funds.


Wind farms screw up radar.
This is just one of many studies. This one happens to have been requested by Homeland Security.
“…Wind farms interfere with the radar tracking of airplanes and weather…”
There are many others that deal separately with Air Traffic Control radar, military radar, and doppler weather radar.
The proliferation of wind farms will continue.
If we end up with as many as, say, Boone Pickens wants, there WILL be problems.
Severe storms will be lost in the “clutter” produced by wind farms …the plane you’re flying on my be “lost” by ATC.


Those deal with all the problems in general, and these next deal with particulars, like how it kills birds by impact, and bats by a pressure gradient (makes their lungs explode, allegedly).


It all depends on how one defines “better”. The simple fact is that for rich people, perhaps. Perhaps they have a guilty feeling which needs to be assuaged. Energy from these wind turbines is clearly far more expensive than is energy derived from burning coal. Far more expensive. So, for that matter, is solar energy. One thing you will never hear from those advocating energy from either wind or solar is any real complete calculation of real and actual cost.
In the 17th Century, the Phlogiston theory was widely accepted in an effort to explain phenomena observed in the combustion process. It became widely accepted. Then, Lavoisier demonstrated, by experiment that the Phlogiston theory was wrong. So did those who had accepted and promoted the Phlogiston theory accept the evidence and accept that the Phlogiston theory was wrong? Of course not. They clung tooth and toenail to their demonstrably wrong theory. Their reputations were at stake, as could have been their careers, and certainly their egos.
It has become obvious that James Hansen’s theory of the contribution of human produced CO2 to global temperatures is completely wrong. However, many of those calling themselves “scientists” bought into it whole hog. Now, those “scientists” simply won’t accept that they were wrong. Their reputations would suffer, perhaps their careers would suffer, and certainly, their egos would suffer. Lately, Hansen has been “adjusting” temperature records of the 1930s in an effort to salvage his reputation, his career, and his ego. This is no more than falsifying data.
Coal is clearly the least expensive method of generating the electricity that we need. And it doesn’t have in the least to be “clean” coal. CO2 is not dirt, nor is it a pollutant.
Suppose you just bought a new house, and you knew that it would need a roof replacement some 25 years hence. Then suppose that some slick salesman came along, and told you that you had better replace that roof right now, even though you knew that the roof would be satisfactory for about 25 or so years. Would you be fool enough to listen to that slick salesman? That is the sort of slick sales trick that slick salesmen are trying on you right now. We are not about to run out of oil anytime soon. We have enough known coal to furnish present electrical needs for more than 300 years. We have enough natural gas deposits off both coasts to meet our heating needs for at least 50 years. New technology being used right now in North Dakota can be used to develop more shallow oil fields, which were never counted as feasible reserves of oil before.
We wouldn’t rush right out, at great cost, to replace that roof which would not need to be replaced until some 25 years hence. We shouldn’t allow ourselves to be panicked into replacing that which works quite nicely and is affordable and will continue to be so for many years either, for something else which is just plain not affordable.

spangled drongo

If wind was ever to be a genuine alternate energy source we would still have wind powered commercial shipping.
The ocean is one place wind will work if it is ever going to.
The wind-ships of a century ago reached a highly refined state of development but could not cut it.
Wind and solar seem destined to be only part time assistants.


In the photo, the “STD” on the license plate indicates the town of Stade in northern Germany, just west of Hamburg


I have often wondered at the total energy costs needed to establish a wind power complex. These energy costs would need to be calculated right from mining the ores to the final operating complex of wind towers.
The energy output of a wind tower complex is highly variable, particularly in continental areas where high pressure systems can mean close to windless conditions for days or even weeks on end.
I suspect that the energy pay back period, if ever, is a great deal longer than claimed by many wind power promoters.
Mention of items like the need to be located close to previously installed high voltage transmission lines [ Australia ] to make wind tower projects financially viable are studiously avoided when the overall energy pay back periods are quoted.
Wind power installation energy costs never include their share of energy needed to install the already established transmission lines as the lines already exist so it is assumed that no power line energy installation costs need be slated home to the wind power complex. Ditto roads, transport and numerous other items.
Wind power is neither a fully distributed energy generating system nor a highly efficient central power generating system but some sort of mongrel animal that is not very reliable nor particularly energy efficient over the whole energy budget and is barely financially viable without heavy tax payer subsidies.
Wind farms are also very socially disruptive for rural areas with those bloody great towers sprouting up in rural areas but with most of the power used in the cities. The true hypocrisy is that you will never see any towers within city boundaries. The rural citizens have to wear the lot so that the green elites in the cities can have some nice seemingly “green” power. Much of the ballyhooed efficient “green” wind power is an illusion and like the current financial situation relies on a sleight of hand with the figures to promote itself rather than as a genuine real product.
Even the Danes with the highest wind power generation percentage in the world admit that they have to rely on the German central power generators for base loads and to cover the large energy deficiencies when calmer North Sea conditions prevail.

For the past five years I have driven over the Altamont Pass in Northern California, between San Jose and Sacramento, at least 4 – 5X a month, and sometimes much more often.
I can state for a fact that over that entire 5-year period, no more than a half-dozen times did I see even 50% – 60% of those windmills turning. My wife was usually with me, and we would always comment on how few were ever operating.
Usually, it was the same situation as described in RussS‘s post #1: the great majority of the Altamont windmills appear to be inoperative — and that pass is very windy.
It is exasperating seeing the view of those beautiful hills defaced by hundreds of non-turning windmills, planted in their giant concrete abutments like some technological Easter Island alternative-energy idols.
The only rationale I can think of is the massive tax credits involved. A profitable company can build a windmill, and take a tax credit [not a deduction, but a much more valuable credit] from the windmill tax shelter — and collect plenty of ‘carbon credits’ along the way.


We mustn’t forget to say…


Another big draw back is juggling the the grid loads, with can cause problems like
blowing up transformers and switching stations. It can cause the whole grid to fail,
they are running into this problem in Germany.
Reply by John Goetz: In all seriousness, software ought to be able to deal with that.

yonason (18:07:46) :

Ok, here are the first, on what’s wrong with it

Oh good, I stumbled across that page one day as one of the first pages I read on the problems of big towers. I tried finding it a couple weeks ago and failed, but found the Mars Hill project. This first hand account is very interesting:
Various links for Maine and elsewhere:


From my first link, above, I find that…
“Germany (size of Montana ) is the world’s largest user of wind technology. Over the last 20 years, Germany has erected 18,000 wind turbines that have only been able to generate 6% of the country’s total electricity supply.”
Germany has a population of about 82 million people, so a quick estimate yields 300,000 wind turbines for 100% power (all other things being equal), or one turbine for every 275 citizens.
You know, that might not be such a bad idea, because most adults could then work for the utility companies in manufacturing or maintainance or billing or bird&bat carcass removal, etc., and that could put a big dent in unemployment (currently at about 9 percent, there).
Still, that’s a lot of wind towers. Hmmm, lets see, Germany is about 137,000 square miles, so thats about 2 towers per square mile. Hang gliding enthusiasts and balloonists might want to start looking for a new hobby.


I drove through Altamont Pass the first week of this month. I counted exactly two windmills turning. The dozens of others were still and it seemed like they were all pointed in different directions. Texas recently experienced an energy emergency when they had a series of calm days. They had come to rely on that wind power and when the wind didn’t blow they had to scramble to buy power elsewhere.
How many windmills does it take to operate an electric steel mill? Most steel mills in developed countries these days are electric blast furnaces. Last time I looked, an electric furnace took about 50,000 Megawatt/Hours of power per year. And that is for just one. People have no idea of scale when it comes to knowing how much power is consumed and how little a windmill generates. All the windmills in the country wouldn’t provide the power required to pump fresh and waste water for an average sized city.


” Reply by John Goetz: In all seriousness, software ought to be able to deal with that. ”
At this site
There are two programs – a viewer and a screensaver – which let you monitor the grid… LIVE
The only server connects to the grid at Pullman, WA (the software was developed at Washington State University).
If anyone knows of similar live grid monitoring tools for other parts of the country, I’d love to hear about it.

iceFree Read the link it is a problem


I don’t know if this explains it, but they have to shut some of those towers down at certain times because they’ve found that they are more likely to kill birds that the other towers.
Another reason seems to be that the power going into the grid can’t exceed it’s capacity, so perhaps they only run the ones they need to supplement the power stations?
Probably other reasons, too.

Jeff Alberts

Wind farms screw up radar.

They also screw up the views of rich people who pretend to be concerned about the environment, but not at the expense of their views *cough* RFK Jr *cough* hypocrite *cough*
Seriously through, I’ve driven past the Tehachapi farm a couple times in the last 5 years, both times in Winter, and I’d say at a rough guess that only 10% of the turbines were turning at either time. Both of these times were mid-day, during presumably peak load times.
Absolutely beautiful area to drive through, especially a leisurely drive with an RV.

Bobby Lane

The Brits have plenty of experience with this, Anthony. One of the benefits of reading up on Europe is that the “green fantasy” as I like to call it is more obvious there than here. Yet, like Cap-and-Trade, what starts there will eventually end up here. Birds of a feather n’all. Anyway, here’s some links on their experience with it. There are quite a lof of them I could list, but I think about a half dozen will do. Plus, the last one has take on the “Green Madness” here in the USA. Enjoy!

There are building regulations to be adhered to when erecting skyhooks.
The amount of concrete mandated to anchor each skyhook creates quite a large carbon footprint.
The amount of funding and tax breaks is equally inappropriate.


I am growing excited about geothermal steam electricity generation. I saw where 99% of the earth is over 1500 degrees C. Let’s say that is way off. Let’s say 80% and 1000 degrees C.
In the west, there are hundreds of square miles were current drilling technology would reach rocks that could generate a limitless supply of steam. Many of these areas are sparsely populated and don’t make a good economic location for a steam plant. They are doing this in some locations but on a very large scale.
Imagine making strides in drilling to reach this 350 degree rock in the east, near population centers. Imagine building a neighborhood in PA where on a 5 acre plot in the back you build a steam generator to power the 500 homes of the neighborhood. This would include a retention pond to provide a cooling source. Once you pump the water down, it comes back super heated then flashes to steam when the pressure is off, you generate the electricity. You send that electricity to the homes via your underground lines. The steam changes back to water and you send that water out in the winter in pipes along side the electric lines for domestic water heating, radiant heating of homes and even heating of sidewalks and driveways. (no more shoveling)
During weekdays and nights, you keep your plant running and sell the power back to the utility to offset costs.
Needs no sun, wind or back up.
Bob Lackey

Mike Bryant

Uhhh, sorry boss I can’t come to work today my rechargeable toothbrush didn’t recharge… no wind…

Bobby Lane

I put some relevant links up in my previous post. Can someone pleeease dig them out? I forgot to “cite” them. Or I can repost later if that is not possible. For now I’ll include a few other links. The Brits have a lot of experience already with wind power on a national scale.


RE: Reply by John Goetz: In all seriousness, software ought to be able to deal with that.
While software can help manage the grid there are physical limits to trying to match load to demand especially when the load from wind farms can drop very quickly. This will cause power surges in trying to meet demand leading to the aforementioned problems. The only way around it is to “over-engineer” the grid which only makes wind power that much more expensive than traditional alternatives such as fossil fuels or nuclear.
Here in Ontario the feed-in tariff paid to producers of wind driven electricity is twice the going rate and for now wind is getting a free ride in terms of backup capacity costs since for now the grid, through its interconnection with other providers in Quebec and the U.S. can handle the load fluctuations. However this will no longer be the case once more wind farms are brought on stream and coal fired plants are decommissioned driven by misguided policy based decisions – not economic or engineering based ones!
Reply by John Goetz: OK, so we give up on wind?

Jeff Alberts

Forgot to mention, my wife and I drove from Virginia to Prince Edward Island, Canada in 2001. Lovely little place to visit, but the roads are terrible!
Anyway, one one tip of the island there were several huge wind turbines, one or two three-bladed as I recall, and a couple helical types. None of them were spinning even though the wind off the Atlantic was quite plentiful.
I haven’t found any pictures of the ones I saw, but apparently they have a “proper” wind farm there now:

Jim Stegman

The power generated by a wind turbine is a function of the air velocity CUBED. So if it generates its rated power at 20 mph, it can only generate 1.6% of the rated power at 5 mph. At this wind speed it probably doesn’t turn at all.


Now this has nothing to do with wind power, maybe a ‘software failure’ but back in
2003 I remember a big power outage in Ontario and New york state.


Ric Werme (18:57:04) :
Thanks, I don’t have those links.
Have you seen Jennifer Marohasy’s blog? In this link
she quotes a paper by a Bob McDonald, where at the end he says…
Barrel shaped turbines currently be[ing?] developed may solve this problem completely.”
What does he mean “barrel shaped turbines?”
Also, to allegedly minimize noise there’s a new serrated design for the turbine blade I find amusing on the scarry side
It looks like they should call it the “no bird survives” blade, as seen on those cooking shows on TV.


Reply by John Goetz: OK, so we give up on wind? YES!!!!!!!!!
It is only cost effective for small scale use.


My wife and I drove thru southwestern Minnesota a couple of months ago. Quite a few windmills there.
There was a recent article I saw somewhere (maybe National Review?) that talked about why you can never get Wind above 20% of your grid –basically it just isn’t reliable enough on a minute by minute basis. Electricity is all about RIGHT NOW.


Bobby Lane (19:18:57)

Bill Illis

I always think of it as Wind goes across laterally – parallel to the surface while the gravity of all that steel is downward. The frictional forces of the blades and generators spinning laterally (versus gravity pulling downward) means that the energy loss and efficiency is very poor for wind power.
What kind of grease is required to keep all those tons of steel in the mechanics working properly?
A new design is needed where the frictional energy losses are minimized to near zero.

Francis Small

spangled drongo (18:29:57) :
If wind was ever to be a genuine alternate energy source we would still have wind powered commercial shipping.
The ocean is one place wind will work if it is ever going to.
The wind-ships of a century ago reached a highly refined state of development but could not cut it.
Wind and solar seem destined to be only part time assistants.

Wind power really sucks if you have to cross the equator, as any fan of Patrick O’Brian would surely know…


CoRev- “Wind mills can achieve an efficiency rating ~40% at their optimum.” True, but this is never achieved in any wind farm. Britain has experienced 22% on average, and wind farms in the US range from 9%(!) to 32%. Older windmill designs are much worse.
Typically wind generation needs a 90% backup with conventional generation. E.On in Britain just announced that they will need to build $1.4T of new conventional generation to back up the huge wind initiative being pushed there.
Off-shore wind farms have had terrible infant mortality (1 year to replacement), but newer designs appear to be much better.


Has anyone figured out the effects the large windfarms have on climate?
I mean wind is an energy flux from high pressure to low pressure which creates weather patterns (and climate in the long term). Now if we start removing this energy in ever increasing amounts, won’t this start have a greater and greater effect on weather and hence climate?


I’m sorry, but I don’t know exactly the content of all these links, but I collected them a few weeks ago (havn’t time to watch them all now).

Burning turbines:

A comment:
“i work as an electrician am 51 y.o. and can tell you that the generator is made of iron,steel,copper,aluminum,carbon,rosin,plastic,le ad,oil and or grease for the shaft bearings,and other materials,aluninum and or fiberglass and other materials for the for the prop,and take a lot of energy to manufacture and transport and produce very little eletricity in return,just a BIG SCAM !!!hydro or nucleur is the way to go !!!”
Propaganda (not according to research) about silent turbines:

Turbine noise (some with bad recording quality) :

A clip from the bird union about a greedy wind power owner and…

Hal C

For Scottish accident data see:

shows the instantaneous Texas grid load, but has to be refreshed manually. I notice they have added the wind power output to the chart.

George M

In a previous wind power discussion on this blog, I asked about the turbines on Oahu which seem to be abandoned. One of the regulars on here sent me a link:
[jeez (19:45:12) :]
George M.
You’re talking about the Kahuku Wind Farm.
which says, essentially, that the turbines were never cost effective and were abandoned to the property owner in the early ’90s. Now, if they did not work out on the north shore of Oahu, where the wind always blows, then where are they going to be useful?
Nice photo of the German unit, BTW. There has been a lot of failure information in the power utility literature, where the greens hope no one sees it.

The Grail is Electrical Storage, once we can store generated electricity in massive amounts then wind and solar become feasible.
This is part of the thought behind new battery technology, that the car becomes the storage medium. With swappable battery packs service stations could have racks of batteries all containing stored energy.
In addition we would need power stations that would store massive amounts of energy for the grid.
Storing it in another form of energy, like heat, is very wasteful and expensive.
So until the super capacitor gets built we cannot use wind or solar for base-load power, it is good supplemental power and micro-site generation but with an efficency of 18% of rated output I would not run my business on a field of these alone.
We could maybe look at Wind/Hydro combinations where we make a closed loop hydro facility with the power to cycle the water provided by wind it should be fairly stable in output if the feed storage was large enough, not much chance of running out of gravity….hmmmm


dkjones (20:07:43) :
I have wondered about that, but you’re the first person I’ve ever see actually ask the question. I would think we should know that, because if “a butterfly flapping it’s wings in Beijing can affect the weather in Boston” then it would seem sensible to ask what effects removing thousands of megawatts from circulating air might have on, well, everything.

Steve in SC

Bob L. The 1500 C figure may be right as that would be on the verge of liquefaction of ferrous metals. Sounds like you are describing a combined cycle cogeneration turbine. It would take a lot of water to do all that. Installation cost would be a real bear though. Other than that and the fact that you woudn’t get a lot of recoverable energy out of 350 degree rock unless it was really close to the surface, sounds totally free except for maintenance costs.
Speaking of wind power the only thing that will make it feasable is some sort of storage technology and / or cogeneration scheme. I sort of like the pump storage method. You don’t have to worry about any chemical batteries and you can tap it whenever you need it. Downside is it takes real estate and water.

Mike Bryant

I thinh we give up on wind SUBSIDIES. We have to pay for all the mortages that people can’t afford first.

Bill Marsh

Not sure about reliability, but certainly Wind power is not delivering anything near the rated capacity. As I understand it the British/Scottish experience is that windmills are generating less than 25% of rated capacity, meaning we’ll need a powerful lot more than people seem to think to deliver even a fraction of the power we want.


Sorry I’m using band width for more wind alternative/wind power “common sense propaganda”.
In Green Tech Media, Neal Dikeman at revealing the truth:
“People think new energy [technology] is going to be disrupting the whole industry … It’s not. … People are lying to themselves if they think their technology is game-changing and it isn’t.”
He continue with facts which I think everyone should know of (but don’t) :
“Oil companies are making 70 percent margins and ethanol companies are making nothing,” he said. “If prices fall, ethanol gets shut out first. Wind also is more expensive to produce – five times more expensive than coal. Solar technology is 20 times more expensive than coal. And subsidies are 100 times higher than oil on a per-unit basis.”
Articles about research on health problems for ppl living nearby turbines:
About bad economy and huge subsidize, due to a British study:
A link to the study could be found here:
Wind power pricier, and emits more CO2 than thought:
Problems with on grid wind power:
About an Economist article on Danish wind power:

I am a veteran of the wars to stop commercial wind power from spoiling the vistas here in the Catskill Mountains and I learned a few things along the way.
The comments about unreliability of electricity from industrial wind turbines is bang on target. 25% is generous. Furthermore, they don’t reduce CO2 from baseline power plants because the boilers are kept burning 24/7 regardless of demand. More often than not, when the turbines spin up, it is hydro or gas turbine generation that shuts down.
At least in the US, the primary driver for the use of industrial wind turbines is the tax breaks. Without these subsidies, commercial wind power is unprofitable.