Wind Energy Basics

Let’s look at what we know.

Most of the commercial-scale turbines installed today are 2 MW in size and cost roughly $3.5 Million installed. Wind turbines have significant economies of scale. Smaller farm or residential scale turbines cost less overall, but are more expensive per kilowatt of energy producing capacity. Wind turbines under 100 kilowatts cost roughly $3,000 to $5,000 per kilowatt of capacity. That means a 10 kilowatt machine (the size needed to power an average home) might cost $35,000-$50,000.

So a single Terawatt of wind turbines would take millions of very tall single constructions of these constructions. At these quantities of wind turbines for price of these structures would go up, as the construction minerals (iron, plastics, epoxy fibers, aluminium) would become more scarce. So there is absolutely no certainty that the price would be just a few millions x a few million (let’s say – a few trillion). Just a single terawat of wind power is likely to displace the construction materials market to a large degree, and we’d need other sources of energy as well – the wind doesn’t always blow. We can’t just shut down modern industrial society or internet of transportation on those days the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine? So what do we do? We also build reserve capacity coal powered plants. And what happens then? Politicians and managers decide it is so much easier and cheaper to fire those up than constantly pay maintenance for those annoying wind turbines and you end up with parks of which half the turbines don’t run, or run at very low capacity. Once consumers and voters experience a few days of brown-out they will freak out and demand energy, no matter where it comes from.

And that’s just turbines – winning energy with wind power requires a massive overhaul of our energy grid infrastructures, which also competes in base resources.

And how much do we need? Right now we consume as a global humanity 17 Terawatt in all energy consumption types, most of it by developed countries. Most of that is extremely wasteful oil consumption, most of which will fall away mid this century. To even keep at current consumption levels, counting growing populations we need close to ten Terawatt of electrical energy sources soon, and if consumption per person would actually grow (which I would seriously hope, since most of the world lives under deplorable conditions) we need several tens of Tw of electrical energy from whatever sources we can get by the middle of this century.

I can all but guarantee you wind is not going to be a major factor in this. I hope I’ll be wrong, because that’ll mean it will prove to be easy to create energy but I am not betting on seeing tens of millions of the tallest types of wind turbines scattered all over the globe just yet.

It doesn’t scale.

The sad thing is dead set denial. A dear friend has high hopes for ‘green’ and alternative energy. She really hopes is sure wind and solar will work when oil falls away. She is sure technology will pick up any slack easily and allow the third world to grow as well. I hope she’s right, because if she isn’t, we won’t face a very nice future as a human species. Unless we find other sources of energy.