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.

No energy

Ah, electricity. The elixir of the Gods.
It remains a touchy subject here in SA, with the constant threats of load-shedding as we approach winter. (And believe me, we’ve been doing some serious approaching today.) At the heart of this is the fact that while we want to use lots of electricity, we don’t have a huge amount to spare.
In addition, apparently we also want to be “green” and to reduce our combined carbon footprint.
Oh, and we don’t want anything done in our back yard. That’s very important too.

All in all, it adds up to bad news. We’re buggered. (Technically and metaphorically, anyway.)

Shale gas could end SA’s oil dependence” says Professor Philip Lloyd, who heads the Energy Institute at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, in a wonderfully rational, fact-filled and unemotional article on the Karoo fracking saga.

If Shell should succeed with its exploration, said Lloyd, jobs would be created on a scale never before seen in South Africa. It would also bring about a large decline in greenhouse gas emissions in this country.
According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), which maintains global surveys of energy resources, Karoo shale gas is the fourth largest resource in the world. It was originally estimated that there was about 1 000 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of shale gas in the Karoo, but geological data collected over the years have reduced this to about 450 tcf.
The tcf unit is an abbreviation used in oil and exploitation to indicate the size of gas resources. It represents a million, million cubic feet.
This is enormous. Mossgas was built on the supposition that there was at most 1 tcf in the undersea gas resource feeding that plant.
If the Karoo resource is even close to the amount indicated by the USGS, South Africa would be able to erect gas turbines for electricity generation all along the coastline. This would end the country’s dependence on coal to generate electricity.

And that’s not all:

Shale gas is also the best available reducing agent for iron ore. New steel works could be created on the Sishen-Saldanha iron ore route, as “beautiful steel” could be manufactured using it, said Lloyd.
More than 40m tons of iron ore is exported along the Sishen-Saldanha route to Asia and Europe. Lump iron ore from Sishen is some of the most sought-after iron ore globally, but cannot be processed into steel here because of the cost, particularly that of energy for heat for the reduction process.

But Lewis Pugh says that it’s not a very good idea.

And now there is celebration as struggling German Chancellor, Angela Merkel pulls the plug (geddit?) on Germany’s nuclear power plants “due to Fukushima”, but probably much more likely “due to lost votes”:

The decision in the early morning hours today by coalition leaders in Berlin underscored Merkel’s flip-flop from a 2009 re- election promise to extend the life of nuclear reactors. She did her about-face after the March meltdown in Japan as the anti- nuclear Green Party gained in polls. Her party lost control of Baden-Wuerttemberg to the Greens in March and finished behind them in a state election for the first time on May 22.

Ironically, in order to address the energy shortfall that it faced when Merkel shut down seven reactors in a post-Fukushima kneejerk reaction in April, Germany began importing electricity from France: a country that produces 78% of its power from… er… nuclear energy. Oops.

But perhaps the local greenies shouldn’t be too happy, as Minister of Energy Dipuo Peters stated today that SA was not considering any German-style nonsense:

“We in South Africa have to understand that nuclear is not a quick-fix solution but a long-term method to address the energy crisis and climate-change challenge,” she said in a speech prepared for delivery at the second regional conference on energy and nuclear power in Africa, held in Cape Town.
Nuclear energy forms part of the integrated resources plan (IRP) that sets out the country’s energy mix up to 2030. Nuclear would contribute 23% of the energy supply.

I hope no-one has asked Lewis Pugh.

Lewis, of course, would surely be delighted were South Africa to adopt wind power. But probably only if he doesn’t live near a potential wind farm. Because wind power may be clean and green, but those big turbines are ever so invasive, aren’t they? And they whine constantly. And they kill birds.
That’s why the residents of several West Coast villages are up in arms about having wind farms erected in their back gardens.

West Coast properties owners are dismayed by the prospect of having a new wind farm in Parternoster, Western Cape and are determined to prevent the huge turbines from being erected near the town.
The wind farm – known as West Coast One – is just one of several that have been planned for the West Coast region and it has been given environmental approval by the Department of Environment Affairs.

The developers, Moyeng Energy, jointly owned by Investec Bank and French group GDF Suez, plan to build 55 turbines near Paternoster. Each turbine is about 80 metres tall and once complete the wind farm will cover an area of 55 square kilometres.

Residents in the small town are trying to mount an appeal against the environmental approval and if this is unsuccessful they intend to take legal action to prevent the development from going ahead. According to Andre Kleynhans, chairman of the Paternoster Ratepayers’ Association the wind farm will destroy the natural charm of this fishing village.

Yes, just like the residents of the Karoo and their objections to fracking; just like the residents of Bantamsklip & Thyspunt and their issues with having a nuclear power plant just around the corner, there are problems with siting even the cleanest and greenest of power generation methods.

So. What now, my eco-warrior friends? Must we produce our electricity by magic?
Because I think Isaac Newton might have something to say about that.

We have to come to terms with the fact that we need electricity and that we need to produce electricity. It’s time to realise that no matter what method we choose to produce it, someone is going to be unhappy.
Who then, is to say which method we should choose, where it should be and whose back yard it must be in? How are the (proven) problems of wind turbines worse than the (alarmist) problems of fracking? Who decides?

And where are Lewis Pugh and the Kelvin Grove protest meetings about the Paternoster wind farm?

Double standards, anyone?

Disclosure: 6000 banks with Investec and buys his petrol at Shell. Deal with it.