A lot of wind critics assert that wind power isn’t reliable. The wind power video above, however, does a great job of pointing out the differences between wind power variability and variability of traditional power sources, among other things. Paul Gipe of Wind-Works also recently got into this topic, in more detail, as compared to nuclear power:
Critics of wind energy often charge that wind energy is too “unreliable” to generate a large portion of a nation’s electricity and suggest that base load needs “reliable” sources of generation such as nuclear power.
While wind is a “variable” resource, that is, the wind doesn’t always blow and when it does it doesn’t always blow at the same strength, wind is far more reliable than the critics charge. In fact, wind is fairly predictable on long time horizons, especially from one year to the next.
In contrast, nuclear power is “reliable” until it isn’t as the units at the Fukushima nuclear power plant so dramatically demonstrate.
But the failure at Fukushima from the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami is not the only thing that has disrupted nuclear power output at Fukushima over the years.
“Despite nuclear power’s reputation as reliable base load generation, the Fukushima plants were anything but reliable over the four decades that the plants were in operation,” Gipe writes.
Annual generation was surprisingly erratic or ‘lumpy’ in the jargon of the trade.
Take Unit 6, the most modern unit, for example. In 2004 generation dropped from 4.6 TWh in 2003 to 1.1 TWh, and both were a far cry from the reported generation in 1997 of more than 9 TWh….
Similarly, Unit 5’s generation fell from 6.2 TWh in 1999 to 1.6 TWh in 2000.
But not just generation from individual units varied significantly from one-year to the next. Combined generation from Fukushima 1 also fluctuated from one year to the next. The safety shutdown at Fukushima 1 cut generation by two-thirds or nearly 20 TWh from 2002 to 2003. Generation didn’t return to normal levels until as late as 2007.
German wind energy generation, on the other hand, has been far more stable from one year to the next than Fukushima 1. Throughout the last two decades more and more wind generation has been added to the German electrical system. Today, German wind turbines generate as much electricity as the entire Fukushima 1 complex at its peak.
Now, I’m sure some nuclear enthusiasts will point out to me that these are specific examples that don’t capture the whole story. But, I think these are two specific examples well worth a look for a number of reasons.
- While wind power may not be as reliable everywhere in the world as it is in Europe yet, that is because Europe has led the way on installing wind power on a relatively large scale and integrating it into the grid in relatively efficient ways. Other countries, as they install more and more wind and improve transmission and storage technologies, will get to the reliability level Europe is at. Furthermore, even Europe is nowhere near perfect yet, and it and the rest of the world will have better technologies in the future as this still nascent power option improves and matures.
- The Fukushima power plant itself may have had a relatively rocky life, but other nuclear plants face similar issues as it has faced (prior to March 2011, of course). And, it is a power plant built in one of the “leading” nuclear energy countries in the world. If Japan can’t keep a nuclear power plant producing electricity smoothly, that’s not a good sign for the industry.
(Also, let’s not forget, in the extreme disasters that hit Japan and took down the Fukushima reactors, all of the countries’ wind turbines were left unscathed — that’s saying something for wind power, too!)
Anyway, I’m sure there’s more to mention here, and I imagine this will trigger more thoughts in our thoughtful readers. Chime in with your thoughts in the comments below.
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