Saturday, 20 January 2018

Windfarming For Dummies

I've deliberately chosen an ambiguous and provocative title for this Saturday's blog on the topic of  wind farms. Poets are allowed - perhaps even expected  - to assume a certain edginess at times.

I've tried doing some serious research for this piece and although I've been able to compile a short list of interesting factoids (reproduced below), my abiding impression is that objectivity is in scant supply. Who and what to believe? Windfarming is a serious business (even if it's not a proper gerund) but the majority of what I've read on the subject has the disturbing ring of propaganda about it, displaying an inherent bias either in favour - from the greens or  'renewables' lobby, or in vehement repudiation - from the fossils, champions of carbon fuels (coal, oil, gas) and the nuclear brigade.

In short, there is a battle being waged for our hearts and minds as energy consumers, tax payers and voters. Whatever the bill, we (and our children) are the ones who'll end up paying. I'll try and summarise what I've gleaned regarding the tactics being employed in this generation game.

First, those half-dozen factoids, because they are reputed to be data-based and have some claim to be true:
- total world energy requirements are growing by 2% per year
- wind-generated power accounts for only 1% of global energy output (2015)
- Denmark leads the way: generates 140% of its electricity needs through windfarms
- all energy generation in the UK is subsidised (coal, gas, oil, nuclear, solar and wind)
- onshore windfarming is now the cheapest way to produce electricity in the UK (2016)
- the malaise of 'wind turbine syndrome' has no scientific substance to it

It seems as though there's a lot of scarifying going on, mainly on behalf of vested interests in the carbon fuels industry. They claim that windfarming is bad for us, a health hazard - a bizarre contention when one considers the damage done by coal-mining, fracking and the emissions from coal, oil and gas power-stations (which still account for over 80% of world energy generation). One public health report debunked such a notion, concluding: "There are several reasons to suspect that wind turbine syndrome is psychogenic: a 'communicated' disease spread by groups with a connection to fossil fuel interests." They also slate wind power as unreliable and old school: "It's a fluctuating stream of low-density energy. Mankind stopped using it for mission-critical transport and mechanical power long ago." One US senator even tried to claim that wind is not a sustainable resource - not just that it's intermittent (acknowledged) but that we'll run out if it one day. I imagine he's stood and looked over the edge of the flat earth!

Accepting that we need a diversified set of energy-producing solutions and that the total cost equation appears to be tilting much more in favour of renewables, I for one would be prepared to see more windfarming (primarily onshore) in the UK if it keeps the lights burning, the wheels turning and the carbon emissions reducing. If it's good enough for Denmark...

Admittedly there are some sites of outstanding natural beauty where one would want to prohibit the introduction of wind farms but I think that banks of slender turbines quietly generating power out of thin air off our coasts or on our hilltops is quite an aesthetically pleasing sight in its own right.

"A Crucifixion Of Angels"
Today's short poem on topic is freshly wafted in on the creative breeze...

Blow The Wind Westerly
A crucifixion of angels
pinned atop their slender poles
waits on a westerly wind
to set their trefoils spinning free.

Hanging on the strengthening breeze
they turn thin air to electricity,
silently, yielding light in our darkness
and heat for our homes.

In doing so
they need not atone for anything,
for they spit out no poisons,
leave no toxic bones.

If standing tall on our skylines
like guardians of a cleaner future
is all their misdemeanour,
surely we can forgive them that.

Thanks for reading. Have a bracing week, S ;-)


Matt West said...

Another great blog buddy.

Anonymous said...

Simply beautiful, Steve.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful picture - so much better than pylons.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I understand the pros and cons of windfarms much better than I did before but I'll certainly look at them in a new light having read that.

Doug R said...

I like these turbines Steve! But I have heard tell from a man (closer to green than fossil) that the making of these turbines (steel and other materials) has a rather heavy footprint before even the first kW is produced... Perhaps this is more 'fake news', but there certainly is an energy balance here that ought to be considered. Hopefully the energy balance is in favour of these Angels of the Wind! Photo to follow for you Steve!

Steve Rowland said...

Thanks Doug. I've heard that mining of rare-earth metals for the magnets in the turbines in places like Mongolia doesn't always follow 'best practice' and leads to local pollution. While it has cost implications for turbine manufacture, I don't see it is a legitimate argument against renewable energy technology.

Anonymous said...

A most interesting blog and not all that provocative. Maximizing effective use of renewable energy has to be the long-term tactic. Surely that's obvious? As for the poem, that was a nice concept. I liked it.

Doug R said...

Indeed Chaps!
Hadn't even heard of the Mongolian connections!

Anonymous said...

The flat earth comment made me laugh. So many of the costs are probably intangible but I sense that wind farms are a sensible proposition and if as you say Denmark can use them to be self-sufficient in energy then that's a useful precedent. Good for business as well. Isn't DONG (contracted to build the UKs largest offshore windfarm) a Danish company?

Anonymous said...

Bravo! Loved this.