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Energy Solutions

Commercial-Scale Wind Power

Large wind turbines provide one of the solutions we so desperately need to address climate change — so why are so many Vermonters opposed to wind development?

Image 1 of 2
Two 2.5 MW wind turbines in the Sheffield, Vermont wind project.
Image Credit: Martin Holladay
Two 2.5 MW wind turbines in the Sheffield, Vermont wind project.
Image Credit: Martin Holladay
One of the Sheffield turbines, which were made in Iowa by Clipper Windpower, a subsidiary of United Technologies Corporaton.
Image Credit: Martin Holladay

Last week I wrote about the challenges of small wind turbines and the difficulty of successfully integrating wind power into buildings. This week, I’ll look at larger-scale commercial wind power developments.

Though I have long been willing to point out situations in which wind power is not practical, I am a strong supporter of wind power where it makes economic and environmental sense. It is a critical component of what will have to be a multi-faceted effort to come to grips with our greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. 

A fierce debate is raging about the merits and aesthetics of commercial wind developments in Vermont and elsewhere. Ironically, here in Vermont, a state known for progressive thinking and environmental awareness, our legislature is considering a three-year moratorium on wind power development. How is it that many Vermonters are so willing to fight against a clean, safe technology that offers one of the solutions we so desperately need to solve our climate change conundrum?

Why commercial-scale wind power is the only wind power that makes sense

As I explained last week, there is a tremendous economy-of-scale with wind power. Since the early 1970s, when the modern wind power era emerged following the 1973 oil embargo, wind turbines have gotten larger and larger — from a few kilowatts (peak output) then to a few megawatts today. This is because doubling the output of a wind turbine doesn’t come close to doubling the cost. Larger wind turbines produce far more cost-effective electricity than smaller wind turbines.

By combining multiple wind turbines into larger wind-power developments (wind farms), the necessary maintenance needs can be aggregated. Wind turbines have moving parts and require regular servicing. From a business standpoint, it’s hard to justify sending out a repair technician to service just one machine; servicing a few dozen turbines makes much better business sense.

Large turbines are safer for birds

Large, megawatt-scale wind turbines are also safer when it comes to birds. As a long-time birder, the safety of our avian friends is a high priority of mine. There were horror stories in the 1980s when the thousands of wind turbines in California’s Altamont Pass and Tehachapi Pass caused large numbers of bird fatalities. These 1980s-era wind turbines were very small by today’s standards — most were rated at 25-35 kilowatts — and in a reasonable breeze the blades would spin so fast as to become essentially invisible to birds.

Today’s very large turbines have massive blades that rotate relatively slowly. Birds can see these blades, and fatalities are far lower.

Yes, there still will be some bird fatalities from modern, large wind turbines, just as birds will collide with radio towers on a foggy night. This saddens me, but ultimately the impacts on birds and other species in our ecosystems will be far greater as a result of global warming if we don’t come up with alternatives to fossil fuel combustion — and do so very quickly. (Those with concerns about birds should put their energy into preventing the carnage from house cats.)

Where commercial wind power makes sense

Commercial-scale wind power, in my opinion, makes sense where three conditions apply: where there is lots of wind; where we can use large wind turbines (from several hundred thousand kilowatts to several megawatts in peak output); and where there is enough space to aggregate multiple large wind turbines into wind farms.

Finding windy enough locations in states like Vermont usually means ridgetop locations. In the Upper Midwest it means agricultural land — where it can significantly boost a farmer’s per-acre revenue while having relatively little impact on crops or grazing. In Texas, which now produces more wind power than any other state, it means broad expanses of open grassland.

One of the very best places to put wind developments is offshore, where winds are steady and there are no hills or trees to produce turbulence. I am very excited about offshore wind farms that are proposed for Nantucket Sound, Maine, New Jersey, and Delaware — and frustrated at how long projects have been held up for aesthetic reasons.

Moving forward with wind power in Vermont

Coming back to Vermont, the bottom line is that if we want a robust renewable energy policy that includes wind power for the state — and I do — we will have to find large tracts of land that include ridgelines. I don’t know the Meadowsend Timberlands site in Windham and Grafton (the potential wind development that is being so heatedly debated today), but the 5,000-acre tract is large enough for there to be an adequate acoustic buffer from adjoining properties, and it must include some ridges where winds are predicted to be suitable for cost-effective wind power generation.

What I think surprises me most about the opposition to wind power around here is the fact that towns where wind farms would be located can realize significant tax benefits. In the little town of Sheffield, Vermont (population 700) between St. Johnsbury and the Canadian border, for example, where a 40-megawatt wind farm went into operation in 2011 after a long battle with opponents, that wind project is projected to provide $520,000 per year in tax revenue to the town for the next 20 years, plus another $230,000 per year going into the Vermont Education Fund, according to Iberdola Renewables.

Of the $532,000 tax payment received by the town in 2012, according to Sheffield selectman Max Aldrich, 50% was put into a long-term capital reserve fund that is expected to grow significantly over the years (as long as Sheffield voters continue to support the current reserve formula).

With town budgets inexorably going up, I find it remarkable that towns like Windham and Grafton — where Meadowsend Timberlands wants to asses the viability of a commercial wind power facility — aren’t embracing wind power with open arms. Perhaps these towns are a lot wealthier than my own town of Dummerston, but as a taxpayer in Dummerston, I would be jumping up and down if there were a 5,000-acre property owner in town who wanted to develop a wind farm that would lower my property taxes and help our town become carbon-neutral. And I find it ridiculous that many in our legislature want to impose a statewide moratorium on projects like this.

For many, it is an issue of aesthetics. Unlike a lot of people, apparently, I actually find wind turbines attractive. I’d much rather look at the slowly spinning wind turbines on a ridge across the valley than not be able to see that ridge due to smog. Knowing that those turbines are generating power without releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere or accumulating nuclear waste makes them all the more beautiful in my eyes.

I suspect that some of the Sheffield residents who had previously opposed the wind farm are coming to think of wind turbines as a little more attractive after seeing the impact on their property taxes and realizing all the benefit that capital reserve fund will bring to their town.

Alex is founder of BuildingGreen, Inc. and executive editor of Environmental Building News. In 2012 he founded the Resilient Design Institute. To keep up with Alex’s latest articles and musings, you can sign up for his Twitter feed.


  1. jhrockwell | | #1

    The beauties of wind turbines
    Gloucester, Massachusetts - a beautiful and rugged historic tourist destination and America's oldest fishing port - has three new large wind turbines that are visible from nearly everywhere and are at times breathtaking. After the initial furor over site selection, the general consensus is that they're attractive and surely beat smokestacks in the urban landscape. As a resident of Cape Ann, to me they are lovely kinetic sculptures that reconnect our relationship to the wind - first to move her schooners, now to offset fossil fuels. Their blades resemble whale fins.

    One of the turbines is privately owned; the other two are part of a Power Purchase Agreement for which the City receives credits that offset nearly all our annual municipal energy consumption. This is good news!

  2. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #2

    In search of a realistic energy policy
    Thanks for the good blog, Alex.

    Sheffield is fortunate to have the First Wind turbines on Duck Pond Road. The turbines are handsome; the electricity is clean; and First Wind's tax payments are lightening the tax burden on local residents.

    It's a win-win situation -- far better than the alternatives.

    Meanwhile, wind opponents don't want to look at wind turbines. But most of the opponents use lots of grid-supplied electricity. And where does that power come from? And who has to look at the consequences of generating electricity from coal, massive hydro developments, or nuclear power?

    Someone else, evidently... and that situation (apparently) is always preferable than looking at a few wind turbines on top of Hardscabble Mountain.

  3. user-1119462 | | #3

    The mistakes of wind power.
    Have you spoken to power utility engineers about wind power? There are currently essentially unsolved problems with wind power intermittency and thus the requirement for 100% standby backup if wind becomes a significant proportion of the system base load. Denmark's wind installations only function as a system solution because of imported hydropower available on full standby from Sweden and Norway. Another major problem you don't hint at is that of very low frequency noise and its adverse health effects on local inhabitants. Not nice!

    The final argument against wind power is that it is not commercially viable. Wind only pays if it is highly subsidised. All this means that a full accounting of wind energy leads to the conclusion that it is a net carbon dioxide producer, and not "green" at all.

    I don't even have to raise the issue of the over-simplistic belief that carbon dioxide directly causes catastrophic global warming. That's another discussion altogether.

    Regards, Tony.

  4. user-723121 | | #4

    To Anthony
    The wind is always blowing somewhere and with an advanced grid system wind power will become even more viable.

  5. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #5

    Response to Anthony Ratliffe
    To make efficient use of wind power, we'll have to invest in improvements in the electricity grid. That is preferable to investments in coal-burning power plants.

    The U.S. is a long way from Denmark when it comes to wind power. We have some catching up to do before we inherit Denmark's "problems."

    You wrote that "wind installations only function as a system solution because of imported hydropower."

    Fortunately, Vermont has that. The Vermont grid is well connected to Hydro Quebec. Vermont gets about 1/3 of its electricity from Hydro Quebec.

    You wrote, "It is not commercially viable. Wind only pays if it is highly subsidised."

    I'm afraid that your information is seriously out of date. Wind power has gotten cheaper, while coal power is getting more expensive (due in part to regulatory hurdles and the need for added equipment to address air pollution). In many countries, a new wind facility is cheaper to build than a new coal facility with the same output.

  6. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #6

    Response to Anthony Ratliffe
    Here's a study that supports my contention: Australian Wind Energy Now Cheaper Than Coal, Gas.

    Of course, different studies reach different conclusions, depending on what costs are included in one's calculations. You're right that coal-powered electricity and natural-gas-powered electricity are cheap to produce. But coal burning and gas burning are disastrous for our climate.

    Wind-generated electricity is also cheap, and getting cheaper.

    I, for one, would be happy to pay a premium for wind-generated power if the alternative is power derived from coal or natural gas. If our government ever institutes carbon taxes that reflect the costs that carbon emissions impose on all of us, all of these calculations will be unnecessary, because the market will choose wind over coal because it is cheaper.

  7. user-757117 | | #7

    Response to Anthony Ratliffe.
    I wouldn't be so sure about wind energy being an "uneconomical" alternative.
    The argument that wind energy is only economical under conditions of heavy subsidization is a red herring - the fossil fuel industry enjoys heavy subsidization that makes any evaluation of the actual "economics" very difficult and not really worthwhile.
    A better question than "what is more economical?" is "what do we want for the future?".

    Although I do agree with you that proponents of wind energy do often seem to focus on the "clean energy" that wind turbines produce while glossing over the not-so-insignificant point concerning the carbon cost of manufacturing, transporting and installing the various components of wind turbines.

  8. Kopper37 | | #8

    Health Effects
    Here's an interesting link that discusses the issue of noise and health:

    Passing through New Mexico and Texas on I-40, you'll see a lot of wind farms like this:

  9. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #10

    About wind turbines and noise
    The wind turbines in Sheffield are about a half mile from an Interstate highway (I-91). The highway runs right over the ridgeline.

    In every respect, the Interstate highway is more disruptive than the wind development. It is definitely noisier -- I can hear traffic on the Interstate from my house, which is 3 miles away -- and has cut a far wider swath through the wilderness. Besides which -- the swath is hundreds of miles long.

    You have to get quite close to the turbines before you can hear them.

  10. user-757117 | | #11

    The noise argument.
    Yes, I never could really understand the "noise" argument against wind turbines.

    Airports, railways, highways, construction, overflying aircraft, "blown" Harley Davidsons (snowmobiles in my area)...
    What was that about noise pollution again?

  11. Expert Member
    Dana Dorsett | | #12

    All power generators need 100% backup, it's not a wind problem
    The handwringing on the intermittency of wind & solar power is overblown. All genrators go off line for maintenance or refueling, and need 100% backup. The capacity factors of wind arrays and distributed PV are highly predictable, and the output is highly predictable in the day-ahead market (and dead-nuts on in the 5 minutes ahead market), and grid operators can make their purchasing & control adjustments accordingly.

    The notion that Denmark's large wind capacity requires 100% backup is just plain wrong- there hasn't been a day in the past 1000 years when the output of Denmark's wind arrays would be zero. It's output can be very small relative to it's max output, but as a fraction of it's average capacity factor it's still in double-digits percentage wise. Denmark is a tiny place, and the northern European grid needs to be looked at as a whole to make any sense of it. The German utility Lichtblick is on track to "grid harden" their extensive wind capacity with a HUGE fleet of household/building sized gas-fired cogenerators under direct control of the utility (by contract with the building/cogenerator owners), giving them a nukes-worth of rapid-response output capacity with value to the grid operation WELL beyond mere grid-hardening of the wind output.

    An underutilized fact about wind (that is as-yet not used in any US array, SFAIK) is it's rapid-response ability to adjust output up/down in real-time (a few seconds, not minutes or hours) by letting the grid operator control them directly, which adds a LOT to grid stability issues. Yes, dialing back the output cuts into capacity factor, but it's a highly valuable function for the grid operator that is WELL worth compensating the wind power operators for. The response time of even the fastest-response gas generators are more than two orders of magnitude slower. (Even Lichtblick's gazillion cogenerators )

    At 20% of total grid output regulating wind is dead-easy, but the steps required to take it to 50% and beyond just aren't as tough as some had thought. A diverse grid is of course more resiliant than any one type of generator or power source, but the cost of wind is cheap & falling, and it "plays nice" with combined cycle gas and other grid sources.

    Something of a worst-case grid when looked at in isolatoin is France's excess nuke fleet. Since nukes can't be ramped up quickly (though they can shut down pretty fast), to be able to meet the AM demand load they're force to export power at below cost to Spain and Italy all night and power-dump what they can't sell (cooking the local rivers), yet end up importing power from those countries during the day. Now that Spain's wind power has grown to exceed even the daytime peak demands during windy days and has a much lower need for even cheap or FREE nuclear power from over the Pyrenees, it has become an increasing problem for France. Recently there have even been instances of the spot-market price going NEGATIVE (yep, they're PAYING you to take that power rather than having to dial the nukes back!).

    There are no single-solutions, but the "issues" with wind are being overstated, and the potential grid-stabilizing aspects of wind are being ignored, at least in the US. Part of this is regulatory at the state & local levels, where properly compensating all players is always a difficult thing to parse out. But wind is cheap enough (and the wind resource in the US large enough) that it IS going to be worked out, eventually.

  12. heinblod | | #13

    Why ....
    The clowns

    spread the same 'arguments' as AR

    Denmark is part of a continent with a well organised electricity exchange. So they sell electricity and buy electricity. Whatever suits.

    Surplus windpower is now replacing heating fuel in Denmarks district heating systems in case the sun doesn't deliver enough:

    Register here for free and watch Europe trading in electricity:

  13. Alex Wilson | | #14

    Using excess power for thermal energy storage
    Using at night to produce ice (commonly done in thousands of commercial buildings in the U.S. today) is a great way to utilize low-value electricity that is being generated when direct electrical demand is low. I wrote about thermal energy storage in a blog in 2009:

    Here's an excerpt from that blog:

    Thermal energy storage (TES) systems offer another benefit that will become more important in the future: they will make it possible for us to obtain a higher fraction of our electricity from renewable energy sources. To understand why this is the case requires a bit of explanation:

    If you’re producing electricity from sunlight (using photovoltaic panels or solar-thermal power plants), the electricity is produced when demand for power is highest—during the daytime. But with most other renewable energy sources, such as wind, tidal, or wave power, a lot of the electricity will be produced when demand for electricity is low—such as at night.

    This isn’t much of an issue today, when we’re only generating a tiny fraction of our electricity from these renewable energy sources. But if that fraction gets up to 20 or 30 percent, the disconnect between when the power is produced and when it’s needed could be a real problem.

    With TES systems, electricity use for cooling can be shifted to nighttime hours, so if wind farms or tidal power plants are producing a lot of electricity at night, that power can be used productively to offset daytime electricity use.

  14. user-965582 | | #15

    A better model is Germany
    Denmark has and is doing some remarkable things with renewables, but I believe Germany is a more appropriate (larger country) and better model for the U.S. Germany has already achieved 26% renewables (mostly wind), has adjusted its target from 30% to 35% for 2020, and plans to hit 80% renewables by 2050. More importantly, it has achieved this success by encouraging individual citizens, coops and communities to buy wind turbines, PV systems, and the like, and these groups now own 65% of renewable generation in the country.. See;

    Germany's "Energy Turning" (Energiewende) was set into motion by a bottom-up, non-ideological, broadly-based social movement that adopted as its mantra an American turn of phrase: "Just do it."

    The much hyped (by fossil fuel interests) problems of intermittency is largely a myth. ERCOT, the system operator for Texas has one scenario where the Lone Star State achieves over 50% wind power over the next 20 years without much difficulty. See:

  15. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #16

    "Just do it"
    I hadn't realized that "Just do it" was a slogan of the Energiewende movement in Germany.

    For those who are too young (or too old) to remember, "Just do it" was the LSD-inspired slogan of Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters. Now that we are all nearing retirement age, it's gratifying to know that our generation is finally beginning to change the world, in many ways...

  16. heinblod | | #17

    Bottom-up movement
    The bottom-up movement as described by William Rau can be done everywhere, here a simple and efficient device for every home and business:

    A once-off investment, an American inverter with 20 years guarantee included.

    There are many more of these devices available, shop around.
    But don't wait to long, every day not installing costs you money.

  17. markgimmeshelter | | #18

    The war against net metering
    What a great discussion, Thanks Martin and Alex for stirring this pot. We have been watching with sadness and a bit of disbelief as reactionary political forces partner with our public utilities here in Wisconsin (and throughout the US) to dismantle progressive net metering policies which have fostered private investment in renewable systems over the past 20 years.

  18. user-965582 | | #19

    Wildpoldsreid - a model for Vermont?
    Here's a good model for Vermont: Wildpoldsried, Bavaria, Germany:

    My wife and I had the chance to visit Wildpoldsried last spring and were given a 3+ hour tour. There isn't a Green or Social Democrat on the village council; yet they moved decisively into green energy. The town now generates over 500% of its energy needs with the excess shipped to the grid at a tidy profit. Over 300 families own the wind turbines that produce the bulk of the power, and they receive a 10% dividend stream on their investment. Local dairy farmers turn manure and other agricultural waste into biomethane that is transported to the village's combined heat and power unit that is now heating a growing share of the town's homes. The CHP unit, which uses wood chips as backup fuel is replacing heating oil. It is located in the basement of the Passivhaus certified community center, and, needless to say, the town has adopted the Passivhaus standard as its building code for new homes.

    Finally, they now have a natural waste water treatment facility. After treatment, the water is so clean that it can be discharged into a trout stream.

    Bavaria almost lost its diary herds after Chernobyl and to this day wild boar, taken during the hunting season, have to be tested for radioactivity. The government pays hunters for radioactive boars that are confiscated. These experiences with Chernobyl moved this conservative area of Germany solidly behind green power. There are solar panels everywhere. With feed in tariffs, people can fully pay off the costs of a PV system in 10 years with a bank load and 7 years for cash on the barrel head. That's why solar is not an ideological issue in Germany. Instead it is viewed as a prudent investment that is also good for one's community and grandkids.

  19. user-965582 | | #20

    Correct address for Wildpoldried article
    It's well worth the read:

    And a model for how to move an entire community to renewable energy.

  20. user-757117 | | #21

    Response to William Rau.
    Interesting article.
    I agree that the bottom up approach is the way to go, but I'm curious to see if/how that approach will work here in on the North American continent.
    I'm not sure the "German model" will work the same way here in North America - not to say that it can't work here and there.
    Germany is an interesting example too in that despite such impressive success stories, there have also been some recent distressing changes for the worse.

    Also, on the point of intermittency, I'm not sure it's accurate to say that it's a myth, or to hand wave at the implications.
    The problem of intermittent production is easily observable in the data that's available - In fact, I believe ERCOT nearly got caught with their pants down in 2011 because of it.
    Sure, a lot depends on how a renewable energy system is structured, and yes, many solutions to the problem are technically conceivable, but it can be a very long way to travel from the drawing board to the "real world" - especially when these technologies have never actually been scaled to the extent that we need them to be.

  21. user-965582 | | #22

    Lucas, good points
    But I believe the article you cite glosses over a strange but probably temporary quirk in German energy markets. The reason why there is an increase in coal consumption in Germany is not because renewables are expensive (e.g., the fossil fuel party line peddled by the Wall Street Journal). The truth is more interesting. Natural gas in Europe is quite expensive -- $10 to $12 per MMBTU -- and cannot compete with cheaper wind, solar, or coal-fired power. See:

    If you look at the levelized cost of energy (LCOE) for a new wind farm or coal-fired power plant, wind is cheaper. Wind is driving nukes and coal-fired plants up against the wall in the U.S. and will eventually do the same to coal-fired power in Germany.

    I am afraid I was not very clear or precise on intermittency. Internittency does not become a potential problem until wind makes up 20 to 25% of a grid's power composition. Wind is only about 5% of our power supply at the moment; so it will be at least another 10 years or more before wind might create problems. Before then several things are likely to happen: (1) greater integration across grids, so the renewables from one area can be moved to another; (2) breakthroughs in cheap storage technology; (3) the large-scale build out of solar, which is a good complement to wind; and (4) more dispatchable renewables, such as landfill methane, biomass, geothermal, run of the river hydro. One example : a seabed HVDC line will eventually stretch from Maine to the Carolinas and tie all offshore wind farms together. The wind is always blowing somewhere along this 1,000 mile stretch and will therefore be able to ship power to the entire East Coast.

    See also Dana Dorsett's excellent analysis of the issue of intermittancy. Wind can respond more rapidly to changes in demand than any other source of power. We have not yet explored this hidden potential of wind, but it may prove to be more dispatchable than natural gas because of its exceptionally fast response time.

  22. user-757117 | | #23

    Response to William Rau.
    Regarding increased coal burning in Germany...
    I agree with you that it isn't the relative cost of renewables that have contributed to this unfortunate turn of events.
    And I agree that the real contributiong factors are more interesting.
    The thing I find most interesting is the link between increased German coal consumption and [too] cheap U.S. natural gas - this link is what I actually find most distressing about the story because of what it says about our global economic system and the mechanisms within it that defeat much of the effort put into reducing carbon emissions.

    Regarding intermittancy issues...
    I understand your position, and I certainly hope you (and Dana) are proven right in the end.
    I am less certain it will play out the way you describe, for a variety of reasons, but mostly I don't like to count my chickens before they've hatched.

  23. user-965582 | | #24

    Lucas, it gets even more interesting
    Lucas, I agree with you: one chicken in the pot is worth two "on the range." However, wind power production can quadruple before we might encounter some problems with grid reliability. Utilities have under invested in the grid for several decades now; so, when we are bringing the grid up to modern standards, we can also redesign it to more fully accommodate renewables.

    Now the natural gas thing. This is where things are really interesting.

    Key takeaway for those who don't have time to read links below: keep up the good work to get homes off gas -- e.g. use of minisplits, air-source hot water tanks, etc. Natural gas prices will head sharply higher over the next 3-5 years, and GBA is going to look prophetic in moving homes to renewable electricity.

    Shale gas companies are selling gas at about 1/2 the cost to produce it. Gas is presently selling at $3.15 / MMBTU in the US, whereas all-in production costs run between $4 and $8. Obviously, this state of affairs will not last, and one of the major reason why, is that we will be exporting a significant fraction of our gas production. Connect the dots across the articles below and the export scenario is pretty clear.

    First, article: spot price in the Japan-Korean Marker has risen to $18.11 this year.

    Second, see the map of pending LNG apps before the US DOE.

    Third , if all of those export terminals are approved, LNG outfits will be able to export 16.5 TCF of gas, 60% of current domestic consumption. This, fossil fuel reps. say, will have no material impact on domestic gas prices. Yeah, I got a bridge to sell you.

    Fourth, I don't think the US can prohibit exports to Free Trade Agreement countries. They probably can't even prohibit exports, under international treaties to which we are signatories, to non-FTA countries. As a result, the export take-off will probably begin in late 2015 or 2016 just about the time peak oil might hit. "Very, very good" timing.

    Conclusion: natural gas prices will most likley triple by 2016-2017. Millions of Americans who heat with natural gas and have poorly insulated and sealed home will face fuel poverty.

    Our work to green homes is just beginning.


  24. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #25

    Response to William Rau
    I no longer attempt to predict future energy prices -- as far as I'm concerned, natural gas might get expensive, or it might continue to be cheap. There are a huge number of variables complicating the equation.

    But here is the bottom line: our energy future will be based on renewables rather than fossil fuels, so it makes sense for green homes to get used to using electricity. Minisplits and heat-pump water heaters make sense for that reason.

    And by the way, I like your phrase: "GBA is going to look prophetic."

  25. user-757117 | | #26

    Response to William Rau.

    Utilities have under invested in the grid for several decades now; so, when we are bringing the grid up to modern standards, we can also redesign it to more fully accommodate renewables.

    Yes, I understand.

    My uncertainty has less to do with whether the technical challenges are surmountable - they probably are, though I tend to think that with an infrastructure project so large and complex there is almost certainly going to be encounters with the unforseen.

    My uncertainty has more to do with matters of debt, finance and competing interests.

  26. user-965582 | | #27

    Martin, energy prices are extremely difficult to predict,
    especially in normal times -- even more so if one it trying to time price moves. But the market in US natural gas is anything but normal; it is in fact a "coiled market" that is going to unwind. And when it does, the move upward will be fast. See, for example, past price moves in gas:

    We know that production of conventional natural gas is declining and that shale gas companies are bleeding cash hand over fist. I recently looked at the balance sheets of 15 public traded companies with significant exposure to shale gas. Not one had positive cash flow; most had cash ratios threatening their ability to cover payroll, business expenses, and royalty payments. Not one had made a profit in years; all had negative earnings per share; and all are cash consuming machines that have piled up large amounts of debt threatening loss of shareholder equity.

    A recent article in the Wall Street Journal supports my findings:

    As noted, production costs for shale gas are greater than market prices for gas. Normally, businesses would reduce production drastically under these circumstances, but most shale gas companies have been ensnarled in a web of contractual obligations forcing them to continue drilling: drilling rig and pipeline contracts (with stiff penalties for cancelations), joint venture agreements and partnerships with stipulated production volumes, pressure for upfront production due to loans with variable production payments tied to discounted cash flow, and "use or lose" leases with deadlines to begin drilling. These arrangements compelled companies to drill even when it was financially irrational to do so.
    Companies holding leases in areas with high proportions of natural gas liquids (ethane, propane, butane) or shale oil, such as the Eagle Ford and Bakken plays, are abandoning dry natural gas production areas. As a result, the number of operating rigs in the Barnett and Haynesville shale plays -- predominantly dry gas areas -- have dropped by over 70% and gas-related employment has plummeted. Chesapeake had 40 rigs working Barnett last year; it now has only two. I don't know what is happening in the Marcellus Formation, but I would not be surprised if drilling is being cut back to the "sweet spots" in the play.

    So, we have increasing consumption and declining production of dry natural gas. Mix in exports and guess what will happen.


    P.S. Here's what the Bakken shale oil field in North Dakota looks like a night. It throws off the same amount of light as the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. They're flaring off natural gas, most likely because the low cost of the gas cannot justify building pipelines to the wells.

  27. user-757117 | | #28

    Response to Bill Rau.
    I saw that NPR blog post a while back - those "flyby" videos showing the aurora are incredible aren't they?
    Here's another pretty incredible "short":

    Further to your point about natural gas being too cheap...
    Not so long ago Rex Tillerson had this to say about domestic gas production in the US:
    "It will be supplied at whatever its cost to supply will be. And what I can tell you is the cost to supply is not $2.50. We are all losing our shirts today. You know, we're making no money. It's all in the red. And so right now, we're enjoying the overhang, which again, it's this -- we're not -- the system is so enormous, the price supply/demand signals are always slightly out of sync. They're always doing this -- (gesturing) -- you know. We just can't quite hit -- we can't hit a bull's-eye. Hopefully, we can hit the backboard. (Laughter.)"

    He had some other pretty interesting things to say about climate change as well in the same transcript:
    "And as human beings as a -- as a -- as a species, that's why we're all still here. We have spent our entire existence adapting, OK? So we will adapt to this. Changes to weather patterns that move crop production areas around -- we'll adapt to that. It's an engineering problem, and it has engineering solutions."

    Oh, the hubris.

  28. heinblod | | #29

    Germany's renewable electricity integration
    Up to 40 % of fluctuating/intermittend electricity generation (PV,wind, biomass, combined heat and power, hydro etc.) can be integrated into Germanys grid without any need for storage or modification. So the VDE

    Germany's leading electrical engineering association.
    Here the study they made about the issue:

    If neighbouring fossile and atomic dinos wouldn't block the extension of the European grid protecting their ailing patients it would be 70% , so the Financial Times:

    About increased coal usage in Germany: RUBBISH.

    Here the official statistics:

    "Stromerzeugung nach Energieträgern von 1990 bis 2012 (in TWh) Deutschland insgesamt "

    Steinkohle = (black) coal
    Braunkohle= lignite

    A short summary and comparisson:

    1992 = 295.9 billion kWh el. generated from coal
    2002 = 292.6 billion kWh el. generated from coal
    2012 = 277.0 billion kWh generated from coal

    Don't fall for the propaganda of the climate clowns. Read yourself, ask those spreading numbers for the sources.

    Check the charts of the official statistics. There are blips from year to year, up and down. The tendency is clear and only showing one way: down.

    Germany is exporting a lot of electricity and has large coal power plants coming into production. Whilest starting new powerplants the old ones are still producing as well, it takes about a half year to get a new power plant synchronized and ready to deliver on-stream.
    In the meantime both, old and new, are feeding into the grid.

    Therefore a slight upwards trend in coal usage for 2012 compared to 2011.

    Tchechia is now importing coal (lignite) from Germany, they're running out of it. Tchechia is closing it's coal power plants in 2015 since the mines will be empty by then. No more coal imports from Germany by 2015.

    30 powerplants will close in the Ruhrgebiet, Germany's coal and steel area:

    Neighbouring Dutch powerplants have closed because of cheaper German imports(mainly PV and coal):

    The tabloid THE ECONOMIST recently wrote similar rubbish about the increased German coal usage and could not stand up for numbers nor facts, it seems that the climate clowns are feeding the cheap magazines with free news:

    The only ones to answer angry letters were the climate clowns, read the comments.
    Nothing from the "author", nothing to answer and nothing to say.


    Swiss storage power plants driven to the wall with cheap peak load PV-power:

    French atomic power plants facing financial ruin with cheap power from Germany:

    refering to

    They have to block access for renewable power to survive at home :

  29. user-1119462 | | #31

    Wind Power reality.
    Out of date? I think not. See for example this

    And this

    Wind power costing is complex in the extreme, so although it is politically incorrect to say so, it is far from obvious that it makes commercial sense in a free society with lots of very low cost natural gas available.

    Please let us not turn this into an ideological discussion. Let the facts reign!


  30. user-757117 | | #32

    Response Hein Bloed.
    While I agree with you that most of what is presented in the media is spurious at best, I'm afraid I can't reach the same conclusion that recent "upticks" in European coal consumption are "rubbish".
    However, I will be the first to agree that "upticks" do not neccessarily make for long term trends.
    Hopefully, it is just a temporary condition, but data on coal consumption comes from sources such as the EIA, the IEA, the BP statistcal review, etc.
    While these sources aren't perfect, they're generally considered solid enough to base policy decisions off of.

    If you don't like the reporting in the economist (or the washington post which I linked to earlier) here are a number of other related news stories:

  31. heinblod | | #33

    Germany's coal consumption


    " Germany, the biggest consumer of coal in Europe, consumed 77.6 million tonnes (85.5 U.S. tons) of coal in 2011, 1.2% more than 2010. "


    Check the official data here:

    Go to Tabelle 4 at page 5

    Coal consumption for 2010 was in total 464 PJ (Peta Joule, black coal and lignite combined)
    Coal consumption for 2011 was in total 448 PJ (Peta Joule, black coal and lignite combined)

    Check your sources, Lucas.

    BP has a few fingers in the business of selling lies.

    Not the tonnage matters but the energy content.
    Or in climate discussions: the CO2 equivalent release.

    Further we check the Spiegel article you have linked which states: nothing.
    Nothing about coal consumption, nothing about electricity consumption. Just reporting a few designer ideas about coal power plants.

    We go further to the Bloomberg article you have quoted
    and it says about coal consumption: nothing.

    Why have you posted these links, Lucas Durand?

    AG Energiebilanzen is the official body to run the statistical research and data collection of energy usage in Germany:

    When sourcing advertising magazines like Forbes keep in mind that they are a vehicle selling things to people. By people who do not want these things, hence the ads.

  32. heinblod | | #34

    Radiators and stinkers loosing out
    The utility company Vattenfall, one of the worst polluters in Germany, is loosing out heavily.
    As the Berliner Tagesspiegel reported yesterday, Vattenfall can't compete against renewables anymore:

    Quote, second and third paragraph, using google translate:

    "Right at the beginning of a telephone news conference from the headquarters in Stockholm Løseth referred to the characteristics of today's spot market prices for electricity. On the main platform for Central Europe Epex they were killed in the course of almost 17 percent over the previous year.

    In Scandinavia (Nord Pool), prices broke even by almost 34 percent. Vattenfall's balance sheet there was literally rained out: High water levels in the dams resulted in a great deal hydroelectricity was sold on the stock market, which depressed the prices further. In Germany, there were the large amounts of wind power, which contributed to the decline in prices. "

    Mr. Loseth is the chief of Vattenfall.

    They are loosing money because of the self-inflicted climate change.
    The atmosphere gets warmer and holds more water. The winters get warmer and it rains more .
    And the hydro-powerplants are running at full speed.

    Atomic and coal power plants used to make profits during winter - not so anymore.The hydro-powerplants selling electricity cheaper than Vattenfall's coal and atomic powerplants can generate it.

    There is a similar situation in the USA, btw..

    During summer they are closed for maintenance, PV and wind being cheap.And during winter they can't compete.

    A German idea all that renewable stuff and climate change and so on.Hence the lies served for the fools about German energy usage: every day in business still delivers money for the bosses.
    Or was it the CIA who invented the Energiewende, the climate change, the Greens ?


    "The point of no return", that's what economists call this situation.

  33. heinblod | | #35

    Commercial scale wind power ......
    ....the natural enemy of the establishment:


    “While short-term prices are challenging for merchant nuclear generating units in certain competitive power markets, we think that nuclear plants will remain an important part of America’s generation portfolio,” he said. “In addition to nuclear power being a safe, reliable and virtually emissions-free source of electricity, we believe that, left alone, power markets will recover over the long term to support merchant nuclear generation.”

    So they can't compete.
    And that means trick-playing, creating an oposition against renewables.

    " We think we believe ...."

  34. user-757117 | | #36

    Response to Hein Bloed.
    As I said, the BP statistical review is generally (and widely) considered a reliable dataset for energy information - even if it is produuced by BP.
    These statistics are widely cited by people on many different sides of many different issues.
    There is a difference between being diligent in your fact checking and being paranoid.

    The 1.2% increase as indicated by BP is expressed in "million tonnes oil equivalent" (Mtoe) - which IS a unit of energy.
    1 toe = ~42 GJ

    I did look at the .pdf "Stromerzeugung nach Energieträgern..." you posted for gross ELECTRICITY GENERATION.
    Not a good metric for this discussion, Hein.
    Without knowing more, how can you say how much coal was used or how much CO2 was released to produce the power that was reported?

    I did find the other .pdf "Steinkohle Jahr 2012" quite interesting however.
    Unless I'm mistaken (my German is not-so-good), it supports my case quite nicely - see the image below.

    Of course the data showing any increase in German coal consumption will be short - Germany only began shutting down nuclear facilities sometime around March of 2011.
    Any solid trends will require time to establish themselves.
    But as the news articles I linked to seem to make fairly clear, Germany intends to make up for lost capacity from nuclear generation not just with further expansion of renewables, but also with relatively cheap coal (since natural gas is, at present, too expensive).

    Sorry if this isn't what you want to hear, but I haven't claimed anything here that isn't outside the realm of possibility.

    Oh, and here's an interesting independant piece of experienced observation about Germany's electric grid:
    "German power grids increasingly strained"

  35. heinblod | | #37

    Germany's and Europes energy consumption
    Allmighty, the Oildrum is ratteling downhill, empty and loud ......

    Here Eurostat, all in oil equivalents in case someone can't handle physical data:

    Denmark became a NET-ENERGY PRODUCER. Despite no nukes and very little fossile power.
    And most others down as well with their energy consumption. Not only that:
    Renewables have increased as well.

    What happened to these 'supposed to be' coal consumption increases? Did they got lost in transfer? USA-steam boats consuming their cargo on the way to Europe?

    So lets see the rubbish published by the willcarers of the dinos:

    Where are the links to the official statistics?

    (Spare us the DIY stats, official numbers are wanted. No Oildrum comments, no cut snips, whole sources please, links. We can read German, French, Dutch. And English, Swedish and a bit more with google aid.)

    Little pictures and no source?

    When quoting statistics make sure you understand what you are trying to say:

    "Energy consumption" includes "Energytransformation for Export".
    Like importing coal to be burned in a powerplant for export of electricity, it is like digging for exporting coal.
    "Net Energy Consumption" is a different field,some seem to have a problem with that.

    The gnomes become giants in front of their mirror.

  36. user-757117 | | #38

    Response to Hein.
    The picture was snipped (as I clearly indicated) from a pdf file located at a link you provided and indicated were "official statistics" (I just forgot to include the link, sorry):

    The pdf is:
    "Steinkohle Jahr 2012 (vorläufig)"

    As far as I can tell the chart indicates "Gross electricity generation" from coal and shows the percentage change between 2011 and 2012.

    Keep an eye on the shadows Hein, you never know what's lurking in there...

  37. Alex Wilson | | #39

    Hein, William, Lucas, and others:
    Reading these extensive comments (which are fascinating), I'd love to know more about all of you. Where do you live? Occupation? Background? I don't mean to pry, but knowing a bit of context might help me (and others) follow the discussion.

    William, I'd love to follow up with you for a future blog. Could you send me your e-mail address? E-mail me at: [email protected].

    Thanks all for this lively discussion!

  38. heinblod | | #40

    "Steinkohle Jahr 2012 (vorläufig)"
    You have missed page 1 of your quoted link by purpose I think.....

    ( )

    We read together page 1 :

    Inlandfoerderung (national mining) in 2011 12.32 SKE - in 2012 11.12 SKE . Delta - 9.5%
    Importe (imports) in 2011 44.32 SKE - in 2012 44.10 SKE . Delta - 0.5%
    Exporte (exports) in 2011 0.15 SKE - in 2012 0.14 SKE . Delta - 6.7%

    SKE = Steinkohleeinheiten (hard coal units)

    This statistic is a preliminary one, published by the GVSt ( 'hard coal importers club').

    And it is marked as such by the AG Energiebilanzen from where you copied and pasted it, marked as preliminary and of private interest, marked as un-official.

    If you want to make use of it mark it as such.

    And realise it contradicts your opinion of increased hard coal imports, exports and consumption in Germany. Just the oposite it shows.
    It contradicts the Forbes numbers/report/advertising/featuring ....which you have published further above

    It shows a reduced import, it shows a reduced export and it shows a reduced consumption of hard coal.

    If you check further with AG Energiebilanzen you will find publications contradicting your contradiction.
    The numbers for 2012 are simply 'not ready yet', are preliminary. It's just mid-February 2013.

    The comparisson from decade to decade to decade counts. And we see an overall trend in the first world: down with coal consumption. The rich countries have better things, more profitable than carbon and atomic power.
    So have the second world countries.
    The third world - mainly China- is still increasing coal consumption. But these days seem to be limited, the price dictate doesn't pass the dictators and their real world bankers:

    Before citing/quoting the Mafia as a source about energy statistics we should be aware of their credibility:

  39. heinblod | | #41

    Faking facts by Lucas Durand
    Lucas Durand posted a ' snipped' image of an unknown source in this thread, at the end of the 22. posting in this thread.

    The usefullness of wind power is denied in this snip blaming the intermittance of wind power.

    I quote the (by him or the Koch brothers?) yellow enhanced part :

    " reflecting a capacity utilisation rate that is limited by the intermittent nature of the wind resource"

    What is rubbish again.

    The increase of 40% wind power electricity fed into the grid at the end of 2012 was solely to newly connected wind powerplants in November/ December 2012

    The increased impact of windpower electricity to the national grid was certainly not due the " intermittent nature of the wind resource" . But only to a 40% increase of new power plant capacity during the end of the year.

    There are a lot of lies found in the small print - my mother told me.

  40. heinblod | | #42

    Denmark has banned gas and oil heating already
    What it takes to become a net-energy producer:

  41. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #43

    Let's keep it civil
    It seems to me that you and Lucas disagree on whether electric utilities in Germany had a small recent uptick in coal use. It's an interesting discussion, but let's focus on the facts. There is no need to impugn the motives of people commenting on the site. The references to rubbish, jokers, clowns, the Mafia, the CIA, and the Koch brothers are unnecessary.

  42. user-757117 | | #44

    Response to Hein Bloed.
    I've been called some names in my day, but to be labelled a corporate shill or a participant in a conspiracy is a first!

    I am sorry if I misinterpreted the information in that information sheet you provided a link to - as I said, my German is not very good.

    Given the obviously superior rigour you apply to the evaluation of the quality of information, I am surprised that you didn't notice that the "snip" you called into question as being somehow related to the Koch brothers came from an EIA periodical (ie, the US Energy Information Administration - you know, the official US government agency responsible for compiling data and statistics on energy).

    Anyway, I'll stand by anything I've put down in these comments.
    Anyone who makes it all the way through these comments is welcome to draw their own conclusions, and they no doubt will.
    But thanks for teaching me that if I ever enter into another discussion with you, I had better first request clarification from you on what is and what is not acceptable evidence - so that we don't waste our time again in the future.

  43. user-757117 | | #45

    Response to Alex Wilson.
    Since you asked, I don't mind sharing some personal background if it helps establish context.

    My educational background is in language and geography.
    Presently my profession is air traffic control, and prior to that I flew airplanes for a living.
    I spend a lot of my free time building a house for myself and my family (and possibly for my extended family).
    My interest in these matters is a sort of hobby (I have lots of hobbies).

    In the interest of full disclosure (as it may relate to this discussion), I should say that I am greatly concerned about global climate change, resource depletion, economic contraction, food security, loss of biodiversity, etc, and how the potential impacts of these issues may affect my own and my family's future.
    I would guess that bias in my own perspective is related to the cynical lens through which I tend to view the world.

  44. heinblod | | #46

    Increased lignite coal usage in Germany - the untold story

    A summary:

    There were 10 smaller lignite power plants retired in 2012. And 3 large new ones came on-line during 2012. Meaning that these 13 power plants ran paralel.
    Export of electricity increased sharply to an all- time record of 23 billion kWh during 2012 since there was no national market for the surplus.

    Lignite power capacity was 19.1 GW in 2012.
    Lignite power capacity is 17.8 GW in 2013.

    Electric power generation from lignite was 158 billion kWh in 2012.
    Electric power generation from lignite will be ca. 150 billion kWh in 2013.

  45. user-426670 | | #47

    Solar in Kentucky - If it can happen here....
    Thanks for the rousing discussion! I would like to offer an example a little closer to (my) home.

    In October 2011 the tiny town of Berea, Kentucky -- through its municipally owned utility -- started leasing solar panels installed at the Berea Solar Farm to its customers. The first array of 60 panels leased out in 4 1/2 days, leading to the installation of a second 60-panel array that was fully leased in about 4 months. An additional 132 panel array is now in the works. (see for more details).

    If such a thing can happen in rural Kentucky -- the state that elected both Mitch McConnel and Rand Paul to the US Senate, the state that did not ratify the 13th amendment (prohibiting chattel slavery) until 1975, followed only by Mississippi, the state that has been in the pocket of King Coal for a century -- there is no reason similarly commited public utilities or cooperatives in the First World couldn’t follow suit.

    Until I read this blog post, I had never heard of Wildpoldsried, Germany, but I hope its inspiring example of renewal through energy independence will be repeated in Berea and around the world. The piles of money and resources being sucked away to feed the fossil energy industry might surely be better spent locally!

    It seems prudent for us, as a community interested in green building, to do our part in furthering this decades-long transformation Toward that end, I find the words of writer Ben Hecht instructive:

    “Trying to determine what is going on in the world by reading newspapers is like trying to tell the time by watching the second hand of a clock.”

  46. user-757117 | | #48

    Response to c talwalkar.

    “Trying to determine what is going on in the world by reading newspapers is like trying to tell the time by watching the second hand of a clock.”

    This is a good point.
    Another expression I've heard in a similar vein is "don't count the feathers, just count the wings".
    Day-to-day minutiae are just a type of "white noise", but the trends that emerge from that noise are worth watching.
    But there are also trends within trends, so the widest possible view often provides the most comprehensive perspective.

    In terms of making changes to our present energy system...
    I think it is very important for all people to take a personal interest in gaining that "wide view" perspective.
    The "bottom up" models described earlier, that have worked so well in some parts of the world, only work if the people at the "bottom" actually take responsibility for changing the existing system - a process that in some cases may result in friction with centralized authorities.

  47. user-426670 | | #49

    Response to Lucas Durand

    I entirely agree with your point about the need for individual action. Unfortunately, I’m not smart enough to know how the entire system should be changed. If I wait until I am smart enough to act, I likely won’t ever act. But I do feel the personal responsibility to do something -- hopefully that’s enough to get started.

    Community-scale wind (the original subject) or solar or geothermal or anything requires more than personal responsibility, though. It also requires collective action. In my mind, that is when things start to change. That is when the economics can start to really work for us instead of against us.

    Critical mass is also something to keep in mind. How many of your neighbors need to ask the local electric co-op or municipal utility to build a solar or wind farm before it happens? How many local utilities have to start doing this before state regulators put the necessary rules in place?

    I don’t know the precise number, but I think there is one for each situation. It's rare to start off there, but eventually you can hit it and things start to snowball. You get the sweet feed-in tarrif, or the statewide mandate, or the magic beans that change the game. Suddenly, it’s easier or more profitable to do the right thing than not, and inertia starts working in our favor.

    Friction with “centralized authorities” is a price of progress. The current state of affairs didn’t just arise from the workings of the laws of nature, it was created by those who benefit from it. So must a better alternative.

  48. user-757117 | | #50

    Response to c talwalkar.
    I'm not sure that there is any one particular way in which our whole energy system needs to be changed - probably a broad collection of small changes will work better that a small number of big changes.
    My reason for advocating that people start broadening their perspective is so that more people gain an appreciation for the scope of the challenge and just how much work needs to actually be done.
    Personally, I think all collective action must start with individual action - or at least a desire on the part of individuals to do something.
    This is really just a take on the old saw "think globally, act locally".
    I'm a big believer in "leading by example" - even if it's only in small, simple ways, it often gets people you know thinking.

    The question of how to best tackle making changes from the "bottom up" in one particular area or other is a difficult one because there is no single answer...
    In some parts of the world, the way government is structured, "bottom up" movements seem almost effortless because there is a lot of freedom of action at the "bottom" end.
    In some parts of the world, getting an ordinance passed that allows people to legally hang their laundry on a closeline can take years.
    Another uncertainty with "bottom up" movements is that they don't scale upwards the way we would often like them to - you all start out campaigning about something specific, but the more the group grows, the more other interests and group dynamics come in to play, making the "critical mass" idea difficult or impossible to harness.

    But I agree with you, friction with centralized authorities is a price of progress and is not something to shy away from.
    The topic of this blog is "commercial scale wind power" and I agree it's a topic that is worth talking about, but at the same time the future of commercial scale wind power is still purely theoretical.
    There's going to have to be many a "frank discussion" about the practical "headwinds" that need to be overcome if commercial scale wind power is actually going to take over from fossil fuels.

    In the meantime, here's a trend I think everyone should be watching:

  49. user-757117 | | #51

    An interesting read re: "headwinds" at the "bleeding edge".
    While not specifically related to wind generation, it is well worth the read if a renewable energy transition is your thing.

    Some "snips" from the summary:

  50. user-426670 | | #52

    Re: the bleeding edge

    A few points in response to your earlier posts.

    1. You state: “Another uncertainty with ‘bottom up’ movements is that they don't scale upwards the way we would often like them to - you all start out campaigning about something specific, but the more the group grows, the more other interests and group dynamics come in to play, making the ‘critical mass’ idea difficult or impossible to harness.”

    I agree that mass movements can be chaotic, but that doesn’t mean they can’t exist or succeed. If you only want to participate in projects that you personally can “harness” then so be it, but such an attitude would have precluded your participation in the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, the Resistance, civil rights, and Arab Spring movements, to name just a few. None of these movements had a business plan.

    I, for one, am thankful that the green building movement is varied, uncertain, and unharnessed. I am glad we do not have to build code-minimum McMansions until our Dear Leader figures out how this story is going to end and gives us our marching orders. Same for the renewable energy movement.

    2. You state: “…the future of commercial scale wind power is still purely theoretical.”

    Have you never seen a windmill array that spans from horizon to horizon? You may as well say the Hoover Dam is theoretical. These technologies are real!

    Perhaps you meant to say, “Market structures in which renewable technologies are predominant will need to be developed as the market penetration of these technologies grows.” If so, then I agree, but I am far from worried, having seen accountants and “financial engineers” do some pretty creative things. I am confident they will be up to the task when the time arrives, their wits keened by the whiff of existential crisis in the air. (That time seems to be now in Germany!)

    3. You highlight a section of the (excellent!) Oil Drum blog post describing European politicians’ actions to protect the fossil energy industry’s profits in the face of growing market share commanded by renewables (see

    You characterize the dynamics described in the post as “headwinds”. I would call them milestones. They are markers of progress in the movement to wean human cultures off fossil energy. That movement must continue regardless if we are to prevent a catastrophic increase in atmospheric greenhouse gasses.

    Below is the full summary from the blog post:

    “The actions recently taken in Europe against solar power are not a sign of failure but rather a consequence of the highly successful progress of PV technologies. Governments are simply trying to defend large electricity suppliers and the electricity markets they created in the last decade. With marginal generation costs close to zero, technologies like solar power wreck havoc on the open market once they reach a critical volume and threaten to steal away revenues from traditional base load suppliers.

    “The actual prices of electricity generated with PV have fallen relentlessly in recent years and are now on par with the gas fired generation at about 40º North in Europe. Even in more northern member states like Germany the cost of solar electricity is now about half of what consumers pay to the grid. At these prices the installation of solar panels can only grow, either on or off grid, unless installation is outlawed.

    “Present strategies by governments to keep these technologies away from the electricity market can at most delay the process. A fundamental shift in the way the grid is managed and prices are set is required, otherwise the electricity generation and distribution complex is left subject to major disruptions, both physical and financial.

    “In great measure the technology required to perform the Energiewende is already here. In fact, the scalability and low prices of PV may mean that this transition is now inevitable. But the growth of solar power clashes with the traditional market structures and concepts of our society in such a way that make the end result rather uncertain. The remaining obstacles to the Energiewende are now of a social and economic nature, and these may not be exactly the easiest to overcome.”

  51. user-757117 | | #53

    Response to c talwalkar.
    Thank you for the thoughtful reply.
    And for furthering an interesting discussion.

    1. Regarding the upward scaling of social movements:
    I agree with you that chaos and disorder is a beneficial attribute for a social movement, and I agree with you that the green building movement benefits from disorder.
    But I think there is a difference between the examples you've cited (Arab Spring for example) and the type of movement that might accomplish a renewable energy transition.

    If you believe that global climate change is the primary motivation for making as rapid a transition to a renewables based economy as is possible (as I do), then it seems implied that the end goal of any transition effort is not only very specific, but also time sensitive.

    Other social movements, as important as they may be and as quickly as we may like to see them resolve, are not time-limited in the same way (again, given the premise of the severity and generality of the potential impacts of climate change).

    The issue of "bottom-up movements" not scaling upwards very well is to me about functional organization - attempting to determine at what scale people are best able to organize themselves to achieve the greatest effect.
    For example, I would argue that part of why Wildpoldsried (pop. ~2600) has been so successful with their adoption of community owned renewable energy was the "human scale" of their organization.
    I am suggesting that a collection of small, indvidually organized but loosley connected community owned utilities will likely achieve the desired results more quickly, more reliably and in a way that produces a more resilient network than will either the growth of more traditional centralized utilies or an unrestrained "mass movement" approach.
    In this way, I am also suggesting that disorder is beneficial to a renewables transition, but just in a different way than the typical "mass movement" - disorder in this sense being a mode of organized decentralization.

    2. Regarding the theory of a renewables transition:
    I do not dispute that the technology exists but it's implementation has so far resulted (here in N.A. anyway) in just a small increase to the fraction of renewable energy in the total energy mix.
    To be clear, my statement was that the future of commercial scale wind power is still purely theoretical, in the sense that the degree of market penetration has yet to be proven and will take years yet (if not decades) to prove.

    Consistent with my comments much earlier in this thread, I don't believe in counting chickens before they've hatched.
    There seems to be more than enough uncertainty that a "I'll believe it when I see it" attitude does not seem unreasonable at this point.

    3. On the TOD post:

    You characterize the dynamics described in the post as “headwinds”. I would call them milestones.

    Milestones, sure, but I would still characterize those dynamics as "headwinds".
    Government interferance in European energy markets are representative of resistance to the change that must take place - it is a "headwind".

    It seems like it should not be surprising that with such a large and complex project there should eventually be encounters with the unforseen and also unintended consequences (as noble as the quest may be).
    Personally what I find most interesting about this article is how it illustrates that in fact, technology is not really the limiting factor at this point (although there still could be technological bottlenecks down the road).
    This leaves us confronting issues of how to execute changes both political and economic in ways that facilitate further penetration of renewables into energy markets.
    I wish I could share your apparent confidence in the system's capacity for change in these regards.
    But the needed changes are often at odds with long established paradigms.
    Perhaps lessons from the "bleeding edge" will be learned quickly...
    Who knows...

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