Day 477 – Wind power sucks

Or… blows?

I’m still working my way through photos of our recent trip. But here’s one of the local (to them) wind farm that we passed by on our way home. (OK, actually, we had to make a detour to get some photos, but still…)

I’m not a fan (no pun intended) of wind farms, but I really do love the engineering involved.

It’s a tricky relationship. Let me explain by quickly running through the pros and cons as I see them.

They’re clean energy. Much better than coal, and of course we need to embrace renewable energy. But they’re also hugely inefficient. This farm has 48 massive turbines spread over a massive area, but can only produce a maximum of 110MW. That’s just 6% of what Koeberg turns out. And Koeberg is clean energy too.
That 110MW figure is assuming 100% efficiency, which will never happen because then the wind would stop. Sometimes there’s no wind. Sometimes there is not enough wind. Sometimes there is too much wind. You’re lucky if wind farms are 40% efficient. Koeberg turns out 1800MW, rain or shine, wind or not. Nuclear doesn’t care if there’s a breeze.

And yet, even though you are producing (at the theoretical best) some 6% of the power, you need all of the infrastructure, (aside from the turbines themselves): the roads, the massive substations, the pylons (so many pylons!).

And the space required – SO MUCH! Just because we have a lot of that space in SA doesn’t mean we should fill it with these industrial behemoths. When my kids were young and louder, we had a rule – if there was noise everywhere (e.g. a kids’ play park), no big problem with them being vociferous. But if theirs was the only noise anyone could hear, then we asked them to quieten down. Don’t ruin the silence for others.

So, in the same vein (and I know this is a massive oversimplification), by all means stick these up all over our already-built cities, but please leave the empty spaces exactly that: empty. I’m already tired of every long distance view of the Isle of Man having an army of wind turbines ruining it:

Views Across the Sea from Blackpool of the Isle of Man, with Visit Fylde  Coast | Blackpool, Views, Winter gardens


They kill birds. Their lights ruin the nighttime landscape of the Karoo. And their presence ruins the daytime views.

And while the website for the wind farm we drove through sings the virtues of their facility through some amazing facts and figures, it also states in the very first paragraph that it’s “less than 2 hours from Cape Town”,

Ha. Maybe by helicopter:

Still, I’m absolutely sure that all the other facts and figures they supply and that I can’t immediately verify are completely correct. Right?

But, as I mentioned, for me, there is still something kind of magical about being close up to them and watching them at work. And yes, I use the electricity, I know. Like I said, it’s complicated.

Jeez. All of this just because I haven’t sorted the photos from our 4 days away.

The electric car conundrum

Petrol is going up again next month and people are understandably searching for alternatives.

Look, electric cars are great. Some of them are even really cool. We saw loads of them in Bergen, each with the number plate prefix ‘EL‘ to signify the green credentials of both the vehicle and owner. And that’s not unusual for Norway. Check this article from 2 years ago:

Norway, with a population of only five million, now has on its roads 35,000 electric vehicles (EVs), which also represent 14.5 per cent of new vehicle sales. Figures show another spike last month with 1,346 sales.

Onward and upward. What nice people, concerned about CO2, the greenhouse effect and climate change. But hang on, it seems that the electric car boom is driven by tax breaks, subsidies and privileges, rather than altruistic environmentalism:

Those benefits are incredibly generous, including exemption for VAT and car tax as well as access to bus lanes, free parking, free toll-road use, free ferries and employment tax benefits. A recent study suggested this equals as much as £1,000 a year in savings over the life of an EV.

Never mind. A by-product of this apparent greed is fewer car fumes in the city. Winning all round.

ecbergenEVs plugged in at the Bergen rådhus

One drawback with electric cars, however, is that they require electricity to run. Bugger. But in Norway, this is fine, because almost all of their plentiful electricity comes from the plentiful water falling down the plentiful waterfalls on the side of the plentiful mountains. And that’s very clean and green.

In South Africa, we don’t have enough water or big mountains to work this way. We do have shedloads of fossil fuels though, so we make our electricity by burning those. Thus, following the electrical supply audit trail upwards, when you plug in your EV in Cape Town (and good luck with finding somewhere to do that, by the way), it’s basically running on coal, like an old steam engine. Filthy.
So, right now, there’s really no environmental benefit to driving an EV in South Africa.

And they’re massively expensive. Massively, massively expensive. Like solar panels. But more so.

There is some evidence that people don’t think past what’s immediately in front of them though. Look at these guys, for example: Scootours. Now, this looks like a very, very cool idea, and one that I am determined to try. But their claim that it’s green? Well…

Fullscreen capture 2016-05-20 090012 AM.bmp

Yes. Going down a hill “propelled by gravity” is environmentally neutral. Well done.
But that vehicle taking you to the top of the runs? Fossil fuels, mate. And the laws of Conservation of Energy mean that the whole uphill thing will be especially dirty, heading up Kloof Nek and generating all that potential energy for you and your huge scooter.

I suppose that the thing with electric cars is that you would need to measure the amount of damage that burning petrol is doing versus the coal to make the electricity for your EV. But that difference is likely to be minimal. There was the option of buying clean power by subsiding the 4 wind turbines near Darling, darling, but they proved to be so inefficient that the company went bust.

Darling Wind Farm was one of the first two wind farms in South Africa. It is located 70 km (43mi) north of Cape Town, between Darling and Yzerfontein on the west coast of South Africa. It is an Department of Energy demonstrator site with the 4 turbines constructed. The second phase, 6 additional turbines, was never completed.

Darling Wind Power company is subject to liquidation. The DWP Board adopted a resolution to liquidate the company. Expected to operate at 28% capacity and deliver 13.2 GWh per year, it has only been delivering 8 GWh per year at 19% capacity.


OK. Once we get our clean electricity sorted (hello nuclear) and the price of cars with big batteries comes down to at least reasonable levels, we can revisit the electric car in South Africa. But these things aren’t going to happen before petrol goes up by a Rand per litre in a fortnight’s time.

And so that’s why you need to try out our massively efficient public transport system [cue laughter] or start walking.