Wind power: My advice to free market critics

Michael Giberson

I have a longish guest post, “Windpower: Focusing the Criticism Away from NIMBYism and Aesthetics,” up at Master Resource, Rob Bradley’s free market energy blog.  In general, in the post I offer advice to free-market-oriented critics of wind power, urging them to focus on the distortionary policy problems and to stay away from arguments that seem to encourage more unprincipled policy intervention into markets.

Here is the somewhat dry introduction to the essay:

Market-oriented policy analysts have not been shy about cataloguing the problems surrounding windpower development. But in the enthusiasm to oppose the government interventions accompanying wind generation, market-based analysts sometimes have strayed beyond principled defense of markets and unwittingly offered support to anti-market NIMBYism and other meddlesome sentiments. Policy analysts examining wind power issues should consider more carefully which issues ought to be pursued through the policy process.

I run through a list of frequently made anti-wind power complaints – too costly, unreliable, uses too much land, etc. – and try to explain where the policy issues are, and, especially, where they are not.

Read the rest at Master Resource.

4 thoughts on “Wind power: My advice to free market critics

  1. I have some thoughts on my own, since I am privately interested in energy generation (well, it comes with being a mechanical engineer) and I have especially some problems with wind farms.

    First, location, location, location. Wind farms are all about locations and they need a lot less space than say a solar power plant of the same size. But even with good locations, you have a high variability of power output that is usually smoothened by a intermediary energy system between wind farm and power grid (fly-wheels come to mind).

    But even then, wind power can be a real problem for network operators, who want a smooth, but still responsive energy grid. I have watched for some time the control situation at one of Germany’s biggest energy companies and they have a lot of wind power that feeds into the grid. There were times, when suddenly wind power surged, while overall demand was near constant. The only way the operator could cope was a letting water rush through the water power plant, thus wasting possible energy. This is of course highly inefficient, but doesn’t bother wind farms, because the costs occur at the water plants.

    However, this also shows where wind generation has a good use: where ever dynamic energy creation at time-invariant consumption is useful. It is easy to see where this might be the case. You could pump water up the dam or you could generate hydrogen out of water to burn it later. They may not be the most efficient ways, but timely response is not the primary goal.

    So, yes, you are right, wind energy is not a total waste, and can be used in energy grids, though not in the way it is used today. Sadly, that is not the direction politicians and NGOs push it (just regard the DESERTEC-Project).

    A third way to think about wind power would be to dissipate wind farms all over an energy grid in best locations and thus hoping that generation is statistically always in the average. However, even this has extrema that can “hurt” the control system and the operators and thus result in major losses along the grid or inefficiencies in the supply chain.

    The only way to cope with nature-dependent energy sources is to find cheap ways of actually storing energy in safe units (all three requirements are not easily met!). Then those energy sources can really play a big role in our power grids, but until then, they are still more a nuisance than an addition (though solar power is more predictable than wind, it still has major cost-benefit shortcomings).

  2. Perhaps one addition to why burning hydrogen could be good use: Once you have a certain stock, you can use the hydrogen to act as a tertiary control unit (perhaps even secondary, but that depends on size and use).

  3. Max, researchers (like NREL in the United States) and companies are looking at renewable-power-to-hydrogen applications, for reasons you mention. I think NREL’s current position is that the system is too expensive to be practical in widespread application. Who knows, maybe in some niche it is practical.

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