Monday, July 23, 2018

Wind Energy Reduces Fossil Fuel Use

Subtitle: US Results Show Wind Energy Reduced Fossil Fuels

Recently, the Never-Wind contingent has made much of a study that concluded wind energy in Europe did nothing to decrease CO2 emissions, instead, fossil fuel use increased.  

This is all part of the never-ending debates about man-made global warming, or AGW as it is known (Anthropomorphic Global Warming).   The false-alarmists who fervently believe in the AGW conclusions of Earth overheating, polar ice melting, seas rising and inundating cities on shorelines, and a host of other horrible events, almost always push for more nuclear power as their preferred means to reduce fossil fuel use that produces Carbon Dioxide, CO2.   The AGW false-alarmists don't like renewable energy systems such as wind turbines and solar arrays because they suppress the building of more nuclear power plants.  

Even though dozens of articles published here on SLB show conclusively that nuclear plants should never be built, the AGW false-alarmists push for more nuclear power.   see link

The facts for the US electricity market show that wind energy reduced fossil fuel use almost one-for-one during the period 2006-2016.  This is the exact opposite of the conclusion from the Europe study. 

This article's emphasis is on the measurable effect of increased wind power on the fossil fuel consumption in the US.  The data is from the US Energy Information Agency, the EIA.  EIA data on electricity is the best data available.  The most recent data for full-year as of this writing is for 2016.   Ten years before that, in 2006, the US had wind farms but the annual production of electricity amounted to only 0.7 percent of all electricity sold in the US that year.  In 2016, wind produced 5.7 percent of the US electricity sold. 

For this study, electricity production is sorted into four categories by energy type:
- Natural gas as fuel
- Coal as fuel
- Wind as input energy, and 
- All Others (e.g. hydroelectric, nuclear, wood, solar, etc.) 

The results are shown in Figure 1 below:

Figure 1.  Comparison of US Electricity and Effect of Wind Energy - 2006 to 2016
Wind Energy Caused Fossil Fuel-based Electricity to Decline
The charts in Figure 1 show that All Other category remained essentially the same from 2006 to 2016, at barely more than 30 percent.   The fossil fuel category is found by adding the components for Natural Gas and for Coal.  In 2006, the fossil fuel represented 69.1 percent, while in 2016 fossil fuel represented 64.2 percent.  Wind energy made the difference.  

(Data source:   
see link

Fossil Fuel Consumption for Electricity Generation by Year, Industry Type and State (EIA-906, EIA-920, and EIA-923) )

It is also true that, in the US, coal-fired power decreased substantially from almost half to less than one-third of all power produced.  Coal produced 49 percent in 2006, but only 30.4 percent in 2016.    That reduction in coal-fired power, and the attendant increase in natural gas-fired power, is the reason that total CO2 emissions in the US have declined.   And, we note that the reduced CO2 emissions are entirely due to market forces plus environmental regulations enforcement, and nothing to do with any climate treaties.  

Therefore, having demonstrated that it not only is possible for wind energy to reduce fossil fuel consumption, but it certainly occurred in the US, what happened in Europe?

The answer to that lies in the way European countries chose to produce electricity over the past 5 decades.   The short answer is that Europe did not have access to cheap, secure, and abundant natural gas.  Instead, Europe relied on what little hydroelectric power was available, then coal, and then nuclear.   Geopolitics enter into this in a big way.  Even though the EU, European Union, tried to erase nationalism, countries in Europe still are not as free to transport energy fuels as is the case in the United States.   Europe is also deficient in natural gas compared to the US.  

The result is that electricity is provided by coal and nuclear, two technologies that are slow to respond to large changes in grid demand.   The proper term here is Net Demand, the amount of power the generating fleet must supply that is not provided by wind and solar.   As the wind dies down, the Net Demand increases.   When the wind dies at the same time as total demand increases, Net Demand increases even more.   When sufficient wind energy supplies electricity to a grid, certain coal and nuclear plants must either reduce output, or go off-line to keep the grid balanced.   In Europe, the nuclear plants remain online, and certain coal plants are selected for disconnect from the grid.   

That presents a problem. 

The coal-fired power plants will likely be required only a few hours later, so the coal is kept burning and more coal is fed to the plant.  Steam is produced by the burning coal, but the steam is routed around the turbine and directly into the condensers.  In effect, more coal is burned and zero power is produced.  There may be a small amount of steam sent through the turbine just to keep the turbine spinning and the bearings aligned.  

How to avoid this?

The answer is to copy the US example and burn more natural gas, and less coal.   Natural gas-fired plants also may be disconnected from the grid as wind output increases.  However, natural gas to the boiler or gas turbine can be shut off entirely.  

With little natural gas produced locally, European countries import natural gas.  LNG imports are increasing, and the very controversial gas pipelines from Russia are another source. 

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Houston, Texas
copyright (c) 2018 by Roger Sowell - all rights reserved

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