Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Australia: where too much wind will never be enough

Online Opinion has an article from Tom Quirk refuting claims made by Mark Diesendorf with respect to non-thermal baseload power [in this case wind]. Coal and nuclear power are both 'thermal' power sources.

While I do not like to criticise wind as an energy source - it must be a part of any credible solution to carbon emissions, with nuclear power - I must object when it comes to technical arguments promoting wind as a form of baseload power.

Tom Quirk references numerous objective and diverse datapoints to show - again - how Diesendorf has got it wrong.

The starting point is the broad brush statement in [Diesendorf's] paper that no power supplies are perfectly reliable. This is correct provided you don’t ask about the details. If you did, the devil would point out that there is a difference between a naturally intermittent supply and a supply which trips or goes off line unexpectedly. There is a difference in scale and time. Contemporary distributed electricity systems have devised ways of insuring continuity of supply for the latter events but are struggling to deal with the former. This is not comparing like with like.

...the final point on reliability of supply is that perhaps a geographical dispersal of wind farms will smooth out supply. In principle this is correct as the wind will be blowing somewhere but remote sites require expensive connections.

But the data recorded by NEMMCO for four wind farms in South Australia from north of Port Lincoln to the Victorian border, a distance of about 500km, shows strong correlations for wind output and no significant smoothing of supply. The reliability factor is less than 10 per cent. Even more interesting the Victorian wind farms also show a response correlated to the South Australian wind power output. It is no better in heatwaves which are times of peak demand.

Wind power has, so far, been the front runner for renewable power. But it can be seen that wind power is inappropriate for base load power. Policy makers should proceed cautiously gathering information. Theory should not be allowed to get in the way of experience.

Tom Quirk is Chairman of Virax Holdings Limited, a biotechnology company. He is on the Board of the Institute of Public Affairs. He has been Chairman of the Victorian Rail Track Corporation, Deputy Chairman of Victorian Energy Networks and Peptech Limited as well as a director of Biota Holdings Limited He worked in CRA Ltd setting up new businesses and also for James D. Wolfensohn in a New York based venture capital fund. He spent 15 years as an experimental research physicist, university lecturer and Oxford don.

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