Lies, Damn Lies, and Wind Power

Tom Finnerty19 Apr, 2022 2 Min Read
Yeah, that ought to work.

Great news for the climate crowd: For the first time ever, wind successfully generated more energy than coal and nuclear!

Power generation from wind turbines was the second-largest source of electricity in the United States on March 29, behind only natural gas and surpassing both coal and nuclear power generation for the first time on record, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said on Thursday. On March 29, wind turbines in the lower 48 states produced 2,017 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of electricity, EIA’s Hourly Electric Grid Monitor showed. Daily wind-powered electricity had surpassed coal-fired and nuclear electricity generation separately on other days earlier this year but had not surpassed both sources on a single day, the administration noted.

Their beloved wind turbines successfully out competed coal and nuclear! The Watermelons must be so proud!

Still, they might not want to break out the party hats quite yet. As the statement above makes clear, this milestone only accounts for a single day of power generation. A particularly windy day, no doubt. Which is to say, it is right in line with the intermittency problem energy realists often bring up in debates with wind enthusiasts. Sure, it's fun to go outside with your pinwheel on a windy day. But when the wind isn't blowing it's no fun at all.

And when your pinwheel is as tall as the Statue of Liberty and you're expecting it to power your energy grid, you end up in a tough spot. That's what Europe discovered earlier this year, when energy prices went crazy because the normally stormy North Seas remained preternaturally calm all season.

And even beyond that, there's a certain sleight-of-hand going on throughout this announcement. It purposefully conflates the amount of energy actually generated by wind with wind "capacity." So: "U.S. wind power capacity installation has soared in recent years to the point where wind capacity exceeded nuclear capacity in September 2019" and "wind power ranks as the third-largest source of generating capacity." The significance of this is made plain as you read on:

Despite surpassing nuclear capacity more than two years ago, wind still generated less electricity than nuclear because the two technologies differ in their utilization. The average capacity factor of U.S. wind generators was 35 percent in 2021, much lower than the average capacity factor of nuclear generators, 93 percent in 2021. Nuclear generators are designed to run at or near full output, which they typically do.

So while wind capacity has skyrocketed in recent ("Yay!" say the Greens), it still generates less electricity than nuclear power, which produces a reliable stream of power against which wind turbines can't compete.

Consequently, "despite beating both coal and nuclear on a single day, wind power generation in the U.S. is not expected to surpass either coal or nuclear generation on a monthly basis" anytime soon. Which on closer inspection makes this breathless "news report" basically a participation trophy. Maybe climate activists should postpone the party until they have an actual achievement to celebrate.

Tom Finnerty writes from New England and Ontario.


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One comment on “Lies, Damn Lies, and Wind Power”

  1. The answer my friend
    Is not blowing in the wind,
    The answer’s not blowing in the wind.
    The wayward wind is a restless wind
    And Maria’s born of the wayward wind.
    Yes, it’s sure,
    They call the wind Maria.

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