August 23, 2002
The Lethbridge Herald
The Herald published three interviews with leaders of the wind energy
industry ("Looking at New Sources of Energy: Blowin' in the Wind", Saturday,
August 17, pp. D1) last week.
Wind turbines are a beautiful expression of engineering art. They have come a
long way over the centuries as humans have optimized harnessing the power of the
wind. Unfortunately the three leaders interviewed, and essentially all
proponents of wind power, neglect to mention a most significant engineering
drawback of wind turbines. That is that they produce no electricity when there
is no wind - and very little when the winds are not optimum.
Thus, in the absence of fabulously expensive overcapacity and energy storage
facilities, wind power must be backed up by alternatives in order to provide
electricity when consumers need it. Much of Canada's electricity is produced by
waterpower from rainfall and snowfall stored in reservoirs. Rain and snow
supplies are finite and heavily utilized for irrigation as well as electricity.
Provinces with a shortage of waterpower rely on electricity from thermal sources
such as coal, natural gas and nuclear energy. Thermal electricity sources do not
depend on the vagaries of the wind and climate. They are available in sufficient
quantities for centuries at current rates of electricity consumption.
Wind power currently depends on synergistic utilization with the stored energy
in water reservoirs or outright backup by thermal sources. It will remain a bit
player in electricity production as long as those sources are available. Future
generations may be willing and able to pay the price for large scale reliable
wind energy. Fortunately, we have readily available lower cost thermal energy
sources sufficient for many generations of human endeavor.