Solutions for Self-Reliance

The Truth About Wind Power

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The IRS has just taken authority that is only granted to Congress: determining subsidies that cost taxpayers money. Congress ruled earlier this year to end on subsidies for wind as a form of alternative energy by bringing the federal Wind Production Tax Credit to a close at end of this year.

After years of subsidizing wind power and over $120 billion in wasted efforts, even Congress had given up on wind power.

Instead, the Internal Revenue Service has taken the budget impasse at the Congressional level to grab power and decided to cost US taxpayers an additional $12 billion EACH year with a ruling that tax credits would be honored for any facility that goes into production before 2016.

“The IRS’s decision is wrong and it reflects a sad truth: Renewable energy projects that rely on the production tax credit are not profitable on their own,” Kansas Republican Rep. Mike Pompeo was quoted. He continued to say “A company should have customers, not political patrons. These projects, which lack efficiency and market demand, can only work if taxpayers pay for them.”

Politics aside, wind power is not a viable alternative energy.

Let’s explore this further.

Alternative energy has a huge impact on resiliency.  Although this may not come as a surprise to many of our readers – the facts about wind power may shock you.

Even at Resilient Communities, we have often placed solar and wind power into the same “category.”  In other words, either one works depending on location and personal preference.  But when we take a closer look at wind power, does it really stack up against solar PV?

windvssolar

The answer is no.  Wind power is almost never the better option.  Here’s why.

Inefficiency

Without getting into the technical details of various output parameters, the fact is that wind power is both less efficient and less reliable than solar or even fossil fuel-based power generation.

This is especially noticeable on smaller, residential sized systems.  The sun is a very consistent power source; wind fluctuates constantly.  Changes in direction and wind speed have a significant effect on the overall efficiency of a system.

Turbulence created by trees, houses, and other large objects also affects wind turbines.  It is not uncommon for a wind turbine to spend more time “chasing the wind” than it does actually making power.

Cost

For the most part, residential systems wind power generation costs about the same as solar PV.

The difference is that wind power relies on moving parts that need replacement much more frequently.  This factor is exacerbated by frequently changing wind directions and turbulence created by buildings near the turbine.

The cost of implementing wind power is not expected to fall much.  Wind power is actually considered by many experts to be a relatively mature market and is becoming more expensive.

wind2

As you can see from this graph, the price of wind energy has been climbing steadily for nearly a decade.  Solar, on the other hand, becomes less expensive every year from both a consumer and utility perspective.

In just the last couple of years, the price of solar has dropped to less than $1 per watt in many cases.  Coupled with micro-inverter technology, solar PV is expected to significantly outperform alternatives such as wind power in the future.

Interestingly enough, a US Department of Energy report shows that wind power received $5 billion in government subsidies in 2011 compared to only $1 billion awarded to solar PV installation.

This means that wind power (which is less efficient) requires massive subsidy to remain competitive with solar power; let alone fossil-fuel based power generation which has historically been the least expensive option.

Simply put, wind power is more expensive and this gap is expected to increase in the future as governments look for new ways to cut spending and eliminate subsidy programs altogether.

Location & Size

Many of us have seen large wind farms in the California desert.  This environment is perfect for wind power because there is no interference or turbulence created by other objects.  Also, don’t forget that these turbines are massive and not something that could be placed inconspicuously in the backyard.

In addition to the inefficiency of wind power, the size of a wind turbine capable of producing a complete residential power solution is simply not practical in most cases.  Local government and neighbors who may not appreciate a large wind turbine in a suburban area could also become a problem.

Since most of us do not have a vast expanse of desert in our backyard suitable for wind turbine installation, location also plays a role in the overall success of the installation.

A turbine too close to your house is subjected to high turbulence resulting in reduced efficiency and premature wear of moving parts.  A turbine located farther away from structures is bound to lose generated power through transmission lines.  On a residential scale, these transmission loses can be significant.

 wind3

This photo depicts a poor wind turbine location.  In this case, the turbine produces less than half of its rated output because of turbulence created by tall trees and the roof of the home.  In a residential area, however, there really may not be any other place to put the turbine.

Hopefully the severe drawbacks of wind power on a residential scale have become slightly more apparent. Although wind power as a large-scale energy source used by utility companies is still a viable renewable energy source, the numbers do not add up for consumer-grade systems.

As we continue to look for resilient ways to implement alternative energy sources, it is clear that wind power is not the answer.

There are much more efficient, cost-effective, and reliable ways to generate power for our homes and those solutions should be our primary focus as we begin to look toward 2014 and beyond.

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