Last updated on: 4/10/2009 | Author: ProCon.org

Is Wind Power an Economical Alternative to Conventional Energy?

General Reference (not clearly pro or con)

Jeffrey Sachs, PhD, Special Advisor to the UN Secretary General and Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, and Klaus Lackner, PhD, Ewing-Worzel Professor of Geophysics in the Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering at Columbia University, in their Feb. 2005 paper, “A Robust Strategy for Sustainable Energy,” available on the Brookings Institution’s website, wrote:

“To provide all of current primary energy consumption in the United States from wind energy would require capturing, every day, all the kinetic energy from wind over an area of about 500 km by 500 km [approximately 97,656 square miles–size of Wyoming]. Meeting world energy consumption would require almost four times that area [approximately 1,562,500 square miles–two and a half times the size of Alaska].”

Feb. 2005 - Jeffrey Sachs, PhD Klaus S. Lackner, PhD

Ken Salazar, JD, US Secretary of the Interior, stated the following in an Apr. 2, 2009 press release titled “US Offshore Wind Resources Could Lead America’s Clean-Energy Revolution,” available at www.doi.gov:

“The wind potential off the coasts of the lower 48 states actually exceeds our entire U.S. electricity demand.”

Apr. 2, 2009 - Ken Salazar, JD

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), in a section of its website www.awea.org titled “Wind Energy Basics” (accessed Oct. 15, 2008), wrote:

“A wind energy system transforms the kinetic energy of the wind into mechanical or electrical energy that can be harnessed for practical use… Wind electric turbines generate electricity for homes and businesses and for sale to utilities.

There are two basic designs of wind electric turbines: vertical-axis, or ‘egg-beater’ style, and horizontal-axis (propeller-style) machines. Horizontal-axis wind turbines are most common today, constituting nearly all of the ‘utility-scale’ (100 kilowatts, kW, capacity and larger) turbines in the global market…

Turbine subsystems include:

  • a rotor, or blades, which convert the wind’s energy into rotational shaft energy;
  • a nacelle (enclosure) containing a drive train, usually including a gearbox* and a generator;
  • a tower, to support the rotor and drive train; and
  • electronic equipment such as controls, electrical cables, ground support equipment, and interconnection equipment…

The electricity generated by a utility-scale wind turbine is normally collected and fed into utility power lines, where it is mixed with electricity from other power plants and delivered to utility customers. Today (August 2005), turbines with capacities as large as 5,000 kW (5 MW) are being tested.”

Oct. 15, 2008 - American Wind Energy Association (AWEA)

Julia Layton, MFA, Contributing Writer at the How Stuff Works website, an online resource for scientific information, in an article titled “How Wind Power Works” (accessed Oct. 15, 2008), wrote:

“[A]ir moves quickly, in the form of wind, those particles are moving quickly. Motion means kinetic energy, which can be captured, just like the energy in moving water can be captured by the turbine in a hydroelectric dam. In the case of a wind-electric turbine, the turbine blades are designed to capture the kinetic energy in wind. The rest is nearly identical to a hydroelectric setup: When the turbine blades capture wind energy and start moving, they spin a shaft that leads from the hub of the rotor to a generator. The generator turns that rotational energy into electricity. At its essence, generating electricity from the wind is all about transferring energy from one medium to another.

Wind power all starts with the sun. When the sun heats up a certain area of land, the air around that land mass absorbs some of that heat. At a certain temperature, that hotter air begins to rise very quickly because a given volume of hot air is lighter than an equal volume of cooler air. Faster-moving (hotter) air particles exert more pressure than slower-moving particles, so it takes fewer of them to maintain the normal air pressure at a given elevation. When that lighter hot air suddenly rises, cooler air flows quickly in to fill the gap the hot air leaves behind. That air rushing in to fill the gap is wind.

If you place an object like a rotor blade in the path of that wind, the wind will push on it, transferring some of its own energy of motion to the blade. This is how a wind turbine captures energy from the wind.”

Oct. 15, 2008 - Julia Layton, MFA

PRO (yes)

Pro

The American Geological Institute, in a section of its Earth Science World project website titled “Earth Science World Image Bank” (accessed Dec. 2, 2008), wrote the following:

“As the size of the [wind turbine] generators has increased, cost per kilowatt hour generated has decreased. Current costs are around 3.5 to 4 cents per kilowatt hour, less expensive than coal, oil, nuclear and most natural gas-fired generation.”

Dec. 2, 2008 - American Geological Institute (AGI)

Pro

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), a national trade association representing the wind power industry, in a 2002 report on its website, www.awea.org, titled “The Most Frequently Asked Questions About Wind Energy,” wrote:

“Over the last 20 years, the cost of electricity from utility-scale wind systems has dropped by more than 80%. In the early 1980s, when the first utility-scale turbines were installed, wind-generated electricity cost as much as 30 cents per kilowatt-hour. Now, state-of-the-art wind power plants can generate electricity for less than 5 cents/kWh in many parts of the U.S., a price that is in a competitive range with many conventional energy technologies…

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is working with the wind industry to develop a next generation of wind turbine technology. The products from this program are expected to generate electricity at prices competitive with natural gas turbines, the least expensive conventional power source.”

2002 - American Wind Energy Association (AWEA)

Pro

GE Energy, in a section on its alternative energy website titled “About Wind Energy” (accessed Nov. 20, 2008), wrote the following:

“Today, more than 39,000 megawatts of wind energy are installed throughout the world, and forecasts for wind power continue to be favorable with more than 83,000 cumulative megawatts predicted worldwide by 2007. With a cost of energy of approximately 3.5 to 4 cents per kilowatt hour and declining, wind is a low-cost renewable energy source that is less expensive than coal, oil, nuclear and most natural gas-fired generation.”

Nov. 20, 2008 - GE Energy

Pro

The National Resources Defense Council, on a section of their website, www.nrdc.org, titled “Issues: Energy – Wind, Solar and Biomass Energy Today,” in a special feature on wind power (accessed Dec. 1, 2008), wrote the following:

“The cost of wind energy has come down 85 percent in the last 20 years… In 2002, wind power cost 4 to 6 cents per kilowatt-hour, a price that is competitive with new coal- or gas-fired power plants.”

Dec. 1, 2008 - Natural Resources Defense Council

Pro

The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), in its May 2008 “Annual Report on US Wind Power Installation, Cost, and Performance Trends, 2007,” available on its website, wrote the following:

“A simple comparison of the wind prices… to recent wholesale power prices throughout the United States demonstrates that wind power prices have been competitive with wholesale power [conventional electricity] market prices over the past few years… At least on a cumulative basis within the sample of projects reported here, average wind power prices have consistently been at or below the low end of the wholesale power price range…

[O]n average—wind projects installed from 1998 through 2007 have, since 2003 at least, been priced at or below the low end of the wholesale power price range on a nationwide basis… in most regions the average wind power price was below the range of average wholesale prices in 2007.”

May 2008 - Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE)

CON (no)

Con

Robert L. Bradley Jr., PhD, Chariman and CEO of the Institute for Energy Research, stated the following in a Feb. 18, 2009 email to ProCon.org:

“Wind power is certainly a candidate for the perfect imperfect energy.

It is uneconomic to produce and more uneconomic to transmit. It is unreliable moment-to-moment (the intermittency problem). It is at its worst when it needs to be at its best (those hot summer days). Its aesthetics are bad. It attracts the worst political capitalists (the late Ken Lay, the current T. Boone Pickens). W. S. Jevons was right in 1865 when he concluded that wind power was unsuitable for the industrial age.”

Feb. 18, 2009 - Robert L. Bradley, Jr., PhD

Con

Tony Lodge, Research Fellow at the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS), in his 2008 book Wind Chill: Why Wind Energy Will Not Fill the UK’s Energy Gap, wrote the following:

“The Royal Academy of Engineering has calculated that wind energy is two and a half times more expensive than other forms of electricity generation in the UK…

[W]ind energy is expensive, inefficient and not even particularly ‘green.'”

2008 - Tony Lodge

Con

H. Sterling Burnett, PhD, Senior Fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA), in his Feb. 23, 2004 article “Wind Power: Red Not Green,” published on the NCPA website, wrote the following:

“While the price of wind power has indeed fallen, it still costs more than spot market electric power (3.5 to 4 cents kwh). Furthermore, the price gap between wind and conventional power production is actually greater, since the federal government subsidizes wind power through a production tax credit of 1.8 cents per kwh…

Because wind is an intermittent resource, wind farms must rely on conventional power plants to back up their supply. Wind farms generate power only when the wind is blowing within a certain range of speed. When there is too little wind, the towers don’t generate power; but when the wind is too strong, they must be shut down for fear of being blown down. And even when they function properly, wind farms’ average output is less than 30 percent of their theoretical capacity.”

Feb. 23, 2004 - H. Sterling Burnett, PhD

Con

J.A. Halkema, MSEE, Former Executive Board Member at Brown Boveri Nederland, in his 2005 report “Wind Energy: Facts and Fiction; A Half Truth Is a Whole Lie,” published by the Country Guardian, a UK conservation group, on their website, wrote the following:

“Wind energy is and will remain expensive because of the combined properties of wind turbines…

The price [of wind energy] is of course related to the capacity, to the maximum power of the machine [wind turbine], and is the price for 100% power. Over a given year, however, the turbine will produce on average only 25-30% of its power capacity. This means that of the price for 100% power, about 70-75% is flung to the winds, so to speak. The 70-75% on average does not produce a single kWh. On top of that, the dismal amount of the product, the kWhs, is of very poor ‘quality’… and on many days not available at all. This is the worst property for an electricity supply to have, making it unviable for supply to single consumers, a factory, a hospital or a household. Such a dismal product is of course of reduced value on the energy market and can only be sold at a reduced price, making massive subsidies necessary. These subsidies are paid by the general public.”

2005 - J.A. Halkema, MSEE

Con

Louise Guey-Lee, Project Coordinator for Wind in the office of Renewable Resources at the Energy Information Administration within the US Department of Energy (DOE), in her section “Forces Behind Wind Power,” in the Feb. 2001 US Department of Energy (DOE) report titled “Energy Information Administration/Renewable Energy 2000: Issues and Trends,” wrote the following:

“Already since 1980, the cost of wind generation has declined from 35-40 cents per kilowatt hour to a projected 6 cents in 2000…

Although the economics of wind energy have improved over the last decade, wind energy is generally not yet competitive with traditional fossil fuel technologies.”

Feb. 2001 - Louise Guey-Lee