The Institute for Energy Research is a not-for-profit organization that conducts intensive research and analysis on the functions, operations, and government regulation of global energy markets.

About IER
Latest Analysis
June 23, 2010

Wind Integration: Does It Reduce Pollution and Greenhouse Gas Emissions?

June 23, 2010
Print Friendly
Facebook

Many claim that wind generation is beneficial because it reduces pollution emissions and does not emit carbon dioxide.  This isn’t necessarily the case. The following article explains a phenomena called cycling where the introduction of wind power into a generation system that uses carbon technologies to back-up the wind  actually reduces the energy efficiency of the carbon technologies. Recent studies have been done with actual data to evaluate the impact that cycling has on pollution and carbon dioxide emissions. Energy modelers evaluating the impact of legislation such as Senator Bingaman’s American Clean Energy Leadership Act and the American Power Act proposed by Senators Kerry and Lieberman should take note for their models most likely are underestimating the cost of compliance by incorrectly modeling the integration of wind power into the electricity grid.

Wind is not a new technology. It was one of our principal sources of energy, along with wood and water, prior to the carbon era. But the use of renewables in the pre-carbon age was very different from the current use of renewables. Today, people rely on energy being available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, regardless of whether the sun shines, the wind blows, or there are high or low water levels.  We now have over 1,000 gigawatts of generating plants[1], and a large and elaborate electrical grid that requires great coordination among system operators to avoid disruptions.

Also, in the pre-carbon energy era, when renewables were the sole source of energy, there were no coal-fired or natural-gas fired power plants to provide back-up power. Studies have found that the efficiency of those carbon-based plants is affected by incorporating wind energy into the system. When a plant’s efficiency is reduced, its fuel consumption and emissions increase, causing unintended consequences that wind proponents do not disclose. Requiring even larger amounts of renewable energy through renewable portfolio standards will only exacerbate this problem.

Background

Our various electricity generating technologies were designed and constructed to meet electricity demand based on their best operating characteristics for meeting portions of the electricity load duration curve. The load duration curve illustrates periods of constant demand that are served by base-load power versus periods of intermediate and peak demand. Owing to their high capital cost, low fuel cost, and high capacity factors, technologies such as coal and nuclear were designed to operate continuously to meet the base-load demand component. Owing to their lower capital costs but higher fuel costs, natural gas technologies, including combined-cycle and turbine plants, were designed to meet intermediate and peak electrical load.

Wind is an intermittent technology since it can generate power only when the wind blows. Its low operating cost (with no fuel component) and the mandates of state Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) make it practically a “must take” technology for system operators. RPSs require that a certain amount of electricity generation be produced by renewable fuels. The renewable target mandates tend to start out low but increase over time, with those of most RPS states reaching 15 to 30 percent by 2020 or 2025.[2] Wind tends to be the primary technology for meeting RPS targets, since it is lower in capital cost than solar, thermal, and photovoltaic technologies, the other politically acceptable “green” technologies.

Part of the rationale for introducing RPSs is that the substitution of “green” technologies for carbon technologies is supposed to reduce pollution emissions as well as carbon dioxide emissions. However, studies have shown that this may not be the case. As conventional generation (coal or natural gas) is reduced to make room for wind generation and is then increased as wind generation subsides, its heat rate rises. The heat rate is a measure of a generating station’s thermal efficiency commonly stated in units of Btu per kilowatt-hour. This reduction in efficiency  increases its fuel consumption and emissions. When sudden increases or decreases occur in generation output, it is referred to as “cycling”.

The Bentek Study

Bentek did a study of the results of integrating wind into the generation mix of the Public Service Company of Colorado (PSCO), using data from the company’s financial reports, the Energy Information Administration, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.[3] PSCO is a largely coal-fired utility with 3,764 megawatts of coal-fired generators, 3,236 megawatts of gas-fired combined-cycle and gas turbine capacity, 405 megawatts of hydro and pumped storage capacity, and 1,064 megawatts of wind generators. Colorado has an RPS that required 3 percent of the electricity generated by investor-owned utilities come from qualifying renewable technologies by 2007, and 30 percent by 2020.[4]

Colorado’s energy demand is highest during the day, peaking in late afternoon or early evening. Wind generation, however, is greatest between the hours of 9 pm and 5 am; it cannot be counted on to provide power when most needed, and so is used when available to meet the RPS. Most of the time that wind generation is available, it backs out (or replaces) natural gas. However, there are times when coal generation, which provides over 50 percent of PSCO’s base-load generation, is backed out to make room for the wind generation. When this happens, coal generation is cycled, causing its heat rate to increase and resulting in more fuel consumption and emissions. In PSCO, coal cycling predominates because of the low amount of gas generation in the system since most of its gas-fired generation is from turbines and because wind is strongest at night when coal use is even more pronounced.

In the Denver non-attainment area, PSCO has 4 coal-fired plants: Arapahoe, Valmont, Pawnee, and Cherokee. Between 2006 and 2009, these coal-fired plants have experienced higher emission rates ranging from 17 to 172 percent higher for sulfur dioxide, 0 to 9 percent higher for nitrous oxide, and 0 to 9 percent higher for carbon dioxide. In 2008, Cherokee even switched to a lower sulfur coal, but still ended up with sulfur dioxide emissions higher by 18 percent. And, between 2006 and 2009, these plants reduced their generation by over 37 percent, exacerbating further the increase in emissions.

Because the PSCO data are limited, Bentek checked their results against data from the Energy Reliability Council of Texas, whose utilities are required to report generation levels by fuel every 15 minutes. Texas has the most wind capacity in the country—over 9,500 megawatts.[5] Texas also has an RPS that was instituted during George W. Bush’s governorship and that pushed Texas ahead of California in wind capacity during 2006. The Texas renewable portfolio standard requires that utilities have 5,880 megawatts of renewable capacity by 2015, including a target of 500 megawatts of renewable-energy capacity from resources other than wind. The legislation also set a target of reaching 10,000 megawatts of renewable energy capacity by 2025, although it will be exceeded much earlier.[6] However, even in Texas, which has a large natural gas–fired capacity base, with over 40 percent of its generation being natural gas-fired,[7] coal-fired generation is cycled as is shown in the graph below.

Another benefit that wind power generators get is that their forecast power generation entails no penalty if it is not available. Other generators must provide their own back-up power if their generation is suddenly unavailable. But the owners of wind generators believe that they can’t be held accountable for whether the wind blows and thus for inaccuracies in their forecasting capability. For example, on February 26, 2008, a cold front moved through West Texas and rendered wind’s output 1,000 megawatts less than promised, and that unexpectedly had to be made up by other generating technologies.[8] Only careful and extensive coordination, such as was carried out in West Texas on that cold February day, can divert brown outs and black outs from occurring.

The Netherlands Experience[9]

Two researchers, C. le Pair and K. de Groot, found that the Netherlands Government was overestimating the amount of carbon dioxide reductions associated with wind production. The government was using incorrect data because it did not correct for the reduction in efficiency of the conventional power plants once wind was introduced into the system. Using data provided by CBS, the Dutch Institute for Statistics, the researchers made an estimate of the “turning point” where the efficiency reduction of conventional power plants balances out the fuel savings from wind energy. Using data for 2007, when wind power was at 3 percent, they found the turning point to be at an efficiency reduction of 2 percent based on all the power stations serving the Netherlands. That is, when the efficiency of the back-up plants was reduced by over 2 percent due to cycling caused by the integration of wind energy into the system, fuel use and emissions of the back-up plants increased.

Heat Rate Simulations

An engineer, Kent Hawkins, evaluated several heat rate simulations to represent cycling of the plants when wind is introduced into the system.[10] One set of simulations evaluates wind energy replacing coal power with different technologies serving as the back-up power to wind, in order to evaluate their effect on fuel use and carbon dioxide emissions. He found that because of cycling, carbon dioxide emissions increase with the incorporation of wind energy if coal is the sole back-up power for wind. If coal and gas turbines or gas combined-cycle and gas turbines are used to back up the wind power, carbon dioxide emissions are reduced mainly due to the lower carbon dioxide emissions produced from natural gas generators as compared to coal generators. This is best seen by examining the last bar in the chart below where the lowest carbon dioxide emissions result when natural gas combined-cycle plants are solely used to replace coal.

An interesting consequence of this analysis is that certain areas of the world where wind is integrated into a system that is primarily coal-based may result in an increase in total carbon dioxide emissions from using wind in their generating sector. That is, in these circumstances, wind would not be providing an offset in carbon dioxide emissions, but would actually be providing an increase in those emissions. China, for example, relies on coal for 80 percent of its generation and natural gas for only 2 percent. [11] China also added the most wind power of any country in 2009, 13 gigawatts,[12] ranking third in the world in total wind capacity, with the United States first and Germany second.[13] Since China’s wind would primarily be backed up by power from coal-fired generating units, it is no wonder that China’s carbon dioxide emissions increased by 9 percent in 2009.[14]

Conclusion

As more wind units are built and data become available regarding their integration into conventional energy systems, we will learn more about the effects of wind units on the operation of conventional plants. A few studies have been done showing that the effect of wind integration on both fuel consumption and emission reductions can in fact be negative. Further evaluation of our current wind units and their effects on fuel consumption and emissions should be done before increasing the penetration of renewable energy to the 20 and 30 percent levels currently mandated by some state renewable portfolio standards, and before a national renewable portfolio standard is considered for enactment.


[1] Energy Information Administration, Electric Power Annual, http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/epa/epat1p2.html

[2] Institute for Energy Research, Energy Regulation of the States: A Wake-up Call, www.instituteforenergyresearch.org/states/

[3] Bentek Energy LLC, How Less Became More: Wind, Power and Unintended Consequences in the Colorado Energy Market, http://www.bentekenergy.com/WindCoalandGasStudy.aspx

[4] Institute for Energy Research, Energy Regulation of the States: A Wake-up Call, http://instituteforenergyresearch.org/states/colorado/

[5] American Wind Energy Association, http://www.awea.org/projects/projects.aspx?s=Texas

[6] Institute for Energy Research, Energy Regulation of the States: A Wake-up Call, http://instituteforenergyresearch.org/states/texas/

[7] Energy Information Administration, Electric Power Monthly, March 2010, http://tonto.eia.doe.gov/ftproot/electricity/epm/02261003.pdf

[8] The Wall Street Journal, Natural Gas Tilts at Windmills in Power Feud, March 2, 2010, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704188104575083982637451248.html?K

[9] The impact of wind generated electricity on fossil fuel consumption, C. le Pair and K. de Groot, http://www.clepair.net/windefficiency.html

[10] Wind Integration: Incremental Emissions from Back-Up Generation Cycling (Part V: Calculator Update), Kent Hawkins, February 12, 2010, http://www.masterresource.org/2010/02/wind-integration-incremental-emissions-from-back-up-generation-cycling-part-v-calculator-update/#more-7271

[11] Energy Information Administration, International Energy Outlook 2010, Tables H10, H12, and H13, http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/ieo/pdf/ieoecg.pdf

[12] Global Wind Energy Council, Global wind power boom continues amid economic woes, March 2, 2010, http://www.gwec.net/index.php?id=30&no_cache=1&tx_ttnews[tt_news]=247&tx_ttnews[backPid]=4&cHash=1196e940a0

[13] Global Wind Energy Council, http://www.gwec.net/index.php?id=13, and Global Wind Energy Council, Global wind power boom continues amid economic woes, March 2, 2010, http://www.gwec.net/index.php?id=30&no_cache=1&tx_ttnews[tt_news]=247&tx_ttnews[backPid]=4&cHash=1196e940a0

[14] Reuters, China top carbon emitter for second year running, June 9, 2010, http://alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/LDE6580Y1.htm


View Comments

6 Responses to “Wind Integration: Does It Reduce Pollution and Greenhouse Gas Emissions?”

  1. Anonymous on

    Below is correspondence on this post between IER and Michael Goggin of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). The comments were lost in the transfer to the DISQUS platform and are reproduced here in their entirety.

    Michael Goggin (8/27/10):

    I hate to rain on your parade, but your false claims are completely contradicted by government data for Colorado and Texas showing that emissions and fossil fuel use have drastically decreased in lock-step as wind has been added to the grid there. Similar studies by independent grid operators from other regions show the same result. Besides, to be true, your claim would require a significant re-writing of the laws of physics.

    IER Response (9/1/10):

    First of all, the laws of physics have not been violated because we acknowledge the displacement of other types of generation when the wind is blowing, but also acknowledge that engineering principles indicate that the heat rate will rise and fuel consumption will increase if the fossil plants are cycled when wind is no longer available. This is similar to operating an automobile at a constant speed during highway driving compared to one in stop-and-go city traffic. The vehicle in stop-and-go traffic will have a lower fuel efficiency value and pollute more than the vehicle performing at constant speed—say 55 miles per hour.

    Unfortunately, because of the lack of studies regarding the cycling of fossil fuel plants and the relative newness of sizeable wind turbine capacity that force those plants to be cycled, the data and studies you note are based on calculations that essentially exclude cycling. Specifically, the carbon dioxide emissions published by the Energy Information Administration, U.S. Department of Energy, are calculated numbers based on the amount of fossil fuel burned and fuel-specific average emission factors, and are not measured engineering data.

    While the sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions published by the Energy Information Administration are based on EPA’s continuous emission monitoring system for certain large sources, other of the numbers are based on calculations similar to the carbon dioxide emissions methodology. Also, the Energy Information Administration and the National Energy Renewable Laboratory models do not take cycling into consideration, thus their results are based on similar calculations as the data from the Energy Information Administration.

    Because the electricity system is complex, there are many factors that can affect emissions such as demand reduction, changes in the generation mix, and the effects of adding new plants and upgrading older plants, to name just a few, that make an aggregate analysis such as AWEA’s misleading. One should isolate the effects of the issue in question to evaluate the outcome.

    Michael Goggin (9/1/10):

    Thank you for your reply. Based on your first paragraph, it sounds like we agree on the fact that the important metric is the fuel use of the fossil-fueled power plants in question, and in fact that metric will precisely determine the impact on CO2 emissions.

    However, your admission that fuel use is the critical metric completely undermines your arguments in paragraphs 2-4. In paragraph two, you attempt to argue that the DOE’s carbon dioxide emissions calculations are not reliable because they are calculated numbers based on the amount of fossil fuel burned. So how are the DOE numbers that formed the basis for my arguments unreliable, if they were based on empirical observations of the amount of fuel being used, which we just agreed was the most important metric?

    I would also note that you did not refute the studies that show that wind actually reduces emissions more than expected by causing a shift away from inflexible coal power plants and towards cleaner natural gas power plants.

    As for your argument in the last paragraph, in my article I was very careful to account for other potential causes of the observed decreases in carbon emissions. As I explained, electricity generation in Colorado was nearly flat (decline of 0.8%) over the study period, so this could not account for the 4.4% CO2 emissions decrease (although that .8%, when added to the 3.6% percentage share increase for wind, does synch up quite nicely with the 4.4% emissions decrease). As I noted, electricity production increased in Texas over the study period, so that couldn’t have accounted for the emissions decrease, and was actually working against what wind achieved.

    While there did appear to be a major (14%) downturn in electric sector gas use in Colorado in 2008 that was almost certainly due to a shift away from gas and towards coal as natural gas prices peaked at over $14/MMBtu that summer, that shift would have served to drive emissions up, not down. So the emissions savings that occurred as wind was added would have been even larger if that shift from gas to coal was not occurring simultaneously.

    As an additional data point, lets look at Denmark’s success in reducing electric sector carbon emissions by nearly 50% over the last two decades.
    (DOE data here: http://tonto.eia.doe.gov/country/country_energy_data.cfm?fips=DA)
    Electricity consumption increased by 24% from 1991 to 2007, so we know that demand-side energy efficiency was not responsible for the decline in emissions over that time period. So, the solution must have come on the electricity supply side.
    Wind energy output increased from 0.7 billion kWh in 1991 to 6.58 billion kWh in 2008, a nearly ten-fold increase of 6 billion kWh. Fossil fuel generation declined from 33 billion kWh in 1991 to 24 billion kWh in 2008, a decline of 9 billion kWh. Biomass power increased from .3 billion kWh to 3.67 billion kWh, accounting for the other 3 billion kWh of decrease in fossil generation. As a result of this increase in renewable energy output (2/3 wind, 1/3 biomass), coal consumption decreased from 15 million tons in 1991 to 7.8 million tons in 2008, a decline of nearly 50%, which explains why electric sector CO2 emissions also fell by nearly 50% over that period.

    IER Response (9/6/10):

    No, we do not agree that the important metric is the fuel use of the fossil-fueled power plants in question and that it will precisely determine the impact on CO2 emissions. What we said was that fossil fuel use was one of the components of the calculation and that it will not determine the precise impact on CO2 emissions because that impact is also based on an average CO2 emissions factor that is a function of the fuel type and sector, not a plant specific value, and not an engineering measurement. Thus, the first paragraph of our previous response does not undermine our arguments in paragraphs 2-4. Also mentioned in our previous response is the fact that the models and studies you mentioned do not include cycling because they base their methodology on these estimates and methodology and not on engineering data.

    Regarding the last paragraph of our previous response, you did not mention the change in interstate imports which were a factor for both Colorado and Texas.

    You point to Denmark as another example, but Denmark is a country that needs to export a major portion of its wind-generated electricity because it cannot accommodate the relatively large amount produced, and which its taxpayers subsidized. Denmark exports it largely to Norway and Sweden, whose large amounts of hydroelectric power (over 30 times the Denmark total wind production) can absorb it. The CO2 numbers you cite are after ‘adjustment’ taking into account the export of the excess wind, with a reduction of about 30 percent, not 50 percent. (See page 38 at http://www.ens.dk/en-US/Info/FactsAndFigures/Energy_statistics_and_indicators/Annual%20Statistics/Documents/Energy%20Statistics%202008.pdf.) Actual emissions from electricity generation are significantly greater and are reduced by only 15 percent. The wind energy that gets exported to the Nordic region reduces hydroelectric-generated electricity and so does not lower CO2 emissions. Also there are significant variations from year to year in Denmark’s emissions showing a range of reductions from 1990, and no specific year can be used as an indicator of performance. Also, Denmark has much higher electricity prices than the United States (over 250 percent higher), and one of the highest, if not the highest in Europe.

    We urge you to look at the details completely since there are many factors affecting the electricity system.

    Michael Goggin (9/10/10):

    Thank you for your additional response. Your arguments have become increasingly creative as the facts and reality back you further and further into a corner. In fact, in a desperate attempt to salvage the entire basis of your argument, your arguments have once again violated the laws of physics, in addition to contradicting your previous arguments.

    To recap, you previously attempted to argue that the multiple sets of DOE data I cited on carbon dioxide emissions data, conclusively showing that carbon emissions go down as wind is added to the grid, are somehow unreliable because the DOE carbon dioxide emissions numbers are calculated numbers based on the amount of fossil fuel burned. I pointed out that fossil fuel use data will in fact precisely predict carbon dioxide emissions, which the first paragraph in your first response above also said (or at least very strongly implied), although now you deny that it did.

    Regardless of whether you initially agreed or not, it is simply impossible to claim that fossil fuel use data is not a reliable predictor of carbon emissions. The law of the conservation of matter dictates that every atom of carbon in the fossil fuels burned cannot be destroyed, so it must be emitted (while you might have tried to argue that adding wind to the grid would somehow alter the ratio between carbon monoxide emissions and carbon dioxide emissions or somehow alter the amount of carbon emitted as coal ash, you did not, and regardless there is no reason to think that adding wind would have those effects). While it is true that changing the carbon content of the fossil fuels being burned will affect the carbon dioxide emissions, there is also no reason to think that adding wind to the grid would have any effect on the carbon content of the fuels being burned. With those two possible arguments shot down, there is no logical or scientifically possible way to argue that, !
    when examining the emissions impact of wind, the amount of fossil fuels being burned will not precisely predict the amount of carbon dioxide emitted. Unless, of course, you would like to invoke some sort of medieval alchemy and argue that you have found a way to turn carbon into gold.

    Moreover, nearly every reputable method of determining carbon dioxide emissions relies on calculations derived from fossil fuel use data. To argue that such data is not reliable, as IER is doing, would also call into question nearly everything we know about how carbon dioxide emissions change over time. Is IER’s Mary Hutzler, former acting administrator of the DOE’s Energy Information Administration, comfortable undermining the credibility of the data produced by the organization she used to head up? If so, why did she not advocate for better carbon dioxide emissions calculation methods while she was at the EIA?

    Moving on, you claim that interstate flows of electricity could have been responsible for causing the major emissions reductions that occurred in Colorado and Texas as wind energy was added to the grid in those states. There are several major problems with that argument. Most importantly, all of the DOE data I used looked at in-state electricity generation, which is the only relevant factor for determining the amount of emissions generated in-state. As I showed, Texas power plants were able to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions significantly between 2005 and 2008, even though they produced more electricity during that time, thanks to a drastic increase in the amount of electricity being produced by wind energy. And Colorado power plants emitted 4.4% less carbon dioxide in 2008 than they did in 2007, even though total generation declined by only 0.8%, thanks to a major jump in wind power output. Since my data compared in-state emissions with in-state generation, inter-stat!
    e power flows are entirely irrelevant. Even if I had made the mistake of comparing in-state emissions against in-state electricity consumption (and not generation), which would have made changes in inter-state transfers a potentially relevant factor, the impact of a change in those transfers still would have been trivial due to the fact that both Colorado and Texas have minimal net transfers with neighboring states. So, my argument still prevails that no other factor could have caused the significant carbon dioxide emissions reductions that occurred in Texas and Colorado, other than the major increases in wind energy production that occurred in both states.

    As far as the nonsensical argument that electricity exported from Denmark somehow does not count for reducing carbon dioxide emissions, that has already been debunked here, here, and here:
    http://www.awea.org/blog/index.php?mode=viewid&post_id=368
    http://www.awea.org/blog/index.php?mode=viewid&post_id=196
    http://www.awea.org/newsroom/pdf/IER_Denmark_Response.pdf

    The attempt to claim that wind energy exported from Denmark to Scandinavia does not reduce emissions because Scandinavia obtains most of its electricity from zero-emissions hydropower is also false. As IER itself noted in releasing its debunked study on the topic of Denmark and wind last September, the Scandinavian hydroelectric system is simply acting as a battery to store Danish wind, using the wind energy to reduce the output of hydroelectric dams and storing water behind the dams that is released later to offset fossil fuel generation. So, the wind energy is still being used to displace fossil fuel generation.

    Perhaps the only valid point in your whole response is when you note that, due to fluctuations in the amount of hydroelectric output from year to year, there are significant variations from year to year in Denmark’s emissions and no specific year can be used as an indicator of performance. I entirely agree. You and Robert Bryce seem to have been keenly aware of that fact when you both chose to use 1990 as the base year for calculating Denmark’s emissions declines. 1990 happens to have been a year of extraordinarily high hydroelectric output, so carbon dioxide emissions were drastically lower that year, making emissions declines calculated from that year less than half of what they would have been if another year had been used as the baseline. Even still, a decline in CO2 emissions of only 15% (your data) or 23% (Bryce’s data) since 1990 is nothing to sneeze at, especially since electricity consumption increased by 20% over that time period. Whether the decline in electric sector carbon dioxide emissions was 15% or closer to 50%, the important point, which it sounds like we can all agree on, is that electric sector carbon dioxide emissions have fallen significantly over the course of the last two decades in Denmark. And, for the reasons I explained in my previous post, the large amount of wind and biomass energy Denmark has deployed to offset the use of fossil fuel generation is the only factor that can account for that decline in emissions.

    Finally, your argument that wind energy is somehow responsible for Denmark’s high electricity prices just doesn’t hold water. If you look at the historical record of electricity prices in Denmark, you’ll see that these high electricity prices began in the early 1980’s as the result of heavy taxes on energy use, and Denmark’s electricity prices have only increased at approximately the rate of inflation since then. It would be difficult to blame wind energy, which only became a major contributor to Denmark’s energy mix in the 1990s, for electricity price increases that occurred in the early 1980s; as an analogy, this would be the equivalent of accusing someone of committing a crime that occurred before they were born.

    Since this discussion has become unnecessarily complicated, let’s recap the main arguments each side has made. On one hand, we have arguments that the amount of carbon in a burned fuel does not determine how much carbon is emitted, that all of the data DOE and other government entities have reported about carbon dioxide emissions are inaccurate, and Denmark’s addition of wind energy in the 1990s was responsible for electricity price increases that occurred in the early 1980s, among other fallacies.

    On the other hand, we have the argument that the laws of the conservation of matter and energy still stand, that wind energy reduces fossil fuel use and thus carbon dioxide emissions, and that the data DOE and other government entities have reported on carbon dioxide emissions are accurate. I’ll happily leave it up to the reader to decide which set of arguments is more compelling.

    IER Response (9/14/10):

    There are no contradictions of prior comments or violations of the laws of physics, as you suggest. The article to which you are commenting indicates that a phenomenon called cycling has occurred in certain situations, and documents the sources. It does not state what you have implied through these comments.

    The Energy Information Administration (EIA) indicates that their carbon dioxide emissions are estimates. In fact, they state “EIA continually reviews its methods for estimating emissions of greenhouse gases. As better methods and information become available, EIA revises both current and historical emissions estimates. “(See documentation of the methodology at: http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/1605/ggrpt/documentation/pdf/0638(2006).pdf ). EIA is a statistical agency, not a regulatory agency, and will use the best methods they have to provide the relevant data. To get the accuracy that you allude to and to study issues like cycling, one needs actual data from plant measurements at frequent intervals, which are not available from EIA. The aggregated data that EIA provides is useful for many purposes and is a contribution to the statistical data that EIA publishes, but it is not the data source to deal with cycling issues.

    Turning to interstate flows of electricity, you are right in indicating that in-state generation is the only relevant factor for the purposes of emissions reporting, but not for electricity consumption. Of course, interstate trading is a net number, encompassing both imports and exports at different times and, as such, includes the electricity that is generated in-state for interstate sales, as well as electricity generated to meet demand within the state. To understand the complete picture, especially with respect to emissions, many factors need to be considered including changes to demand, changes in the mix of fuels, changes in technology that improve the efficiency of the plant or that incorporate technologies for removing emissions, among other issues. For more analysis on Colorado and Texas electricity generation and emissions, please see OVERBLOWN: Getting to the Facts on Emissions (Part II) by Jon Boone, posted September 14, 2010 at http://www.masterresource.org/ and the other parts of the four-part series.

    Regarding Denmark, again you have taken statements out of the context to which they have been written. As previously indicated, Denmark is a country that exports most of its wind-generated electricity because the large quantity of wind generation produced and subsidized by its taxpayers does not correspond to the electricity demand profile of the country. Denmark exports the excess wind largely to Norway and Sweden, whose large amounts of hydroelectric power (over 30 times the Denmark total wind production) can absorb it. The CO2 numbers you cite are after ‘adjustment’ taking into account the export of the excess wind. (See page 38 at http://www.ens.dk/en-US/Info/FactsAndFigures/Energy_statistics_and_indicators/Annual%20Statistics/Documents/Energy%20Statistics%202008.pdf.) Because the wind energy that gets exported to the Nordic region reduces hydroelectric-generated electricity there, it does not lower CO2 emissions, which need to be evaluated on a global scale, to the extent that you indicate. As we both agree, there are significant variations from year to year in Denmark’s emissions showing a range of reductions, so no specific year can be used as an indicator of performance.

    Reply
  2. IER on

    Below is correspondence on this post between IER and Michael Goggin of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). The comments were lost in the transfer to the DISQUS platform and are reproduced here in their entirety.

    Michael Goggin (8/27/10):

    I hate to rain on your parade, but your false claims are completely contradicted by government data for Colorado and Texas showing that emissions and fossil fuel use have drastically decreased in lock-step as wind has been added to the grid there. Similar studies by independent grid operators from other regions show the same result. Besides, to be true, your claim would require a significant re-writing of the laws of physics.

    IER Response (9/1/10):

    First of all, the laws of physics have not been violated because we acknowledge the displacement of other types of generation when the wind is blowing, but also acknowledge that engineering principles indicate that the heat rate will rise and fuel consumption will increase if the fossil plants are cycled when wind is no longer available. This is similar to operating an automobile at a constant speed during highway driving compared to one in stop-and-go city traffic. The vehicle in stop-and-go traffic will have a lower fuel efficiency value and pollute more than the vehicle performing at constant speed—say 55 miles per hour.

    Unfortunately, because of the lack of studies regarding the cycling of fossil fuel plants and the relative newness of sizeable wind turbine capacity that force those plants to be cycled, the data and studies you note are based on calculations that essentially exclude cycling. Specifically, the carbon dioxide emissions published by the Energy Information Administration, U.S. Department of Energy, are calculated numbers based on the amount of fossil fuel burned and fuel-specific average emission factors, and are not measured engineering data.

    While the sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions published by the Energy Information Administration are based on EPA’s continuous emission monitoring system for certain large sources, other of the numbers are based on calculations similar to the carbon dioxide emissions methodology. Also, the Energy Information Administration and the National Energy Renewable Laboratory models do not take cycling into consideration, thus their results are based on similar calculations as the data from the Energy Information Administration.

    Because the electricity system is complex, there are many factors that can affect emissions such as demand reduction, changes in the generation mix, and the effects of adding new plants and upgrading older plants, to name just a few, that make an aggregate analysis such as AWEA’s misleading. One should isolate the effects of the issue in question to evaluate the outcome.

    Michael Goggin (9/1/10):

    Thank you for your reply. Based on your first paragraph, it sounds like we agree on the fact that the important metric is the fuel use of the fossil-fueled power plants in question, and in fact that metric will precisely determine the impact on CO2 emissions.

    However, your admission that fuel use is the critical metric completely undermines your arguments in paragraphs 2-4. In paragraph two, you attempt to argue that the DOE’s carbon dioxide emissions calculations are not reliable because they are calculated numbers based on the amount of fossil fuel burned. So how are the DOE numbers that formed the basis for my arguments unreliable, if they were based on empirical observations of the amount of fuel being used, which we just agreed was the most important metric?

    I would also note that you did not refute the studies that show that wind actually reduces emissions more than expected by causing a shift away from inflexible coal power plants and towards cleaner natural gas power plants.

    As for your argument in the last paragraph, in my article I was very careful to account for other potential causes of the observed decreases in carbon emissions. As I explained, electricity generation in Colorado was nearly flat (decline of 0.8%) over the study period, so this could not account for the 4.4% CO2 emissions decrease (although that .8%, when added to the 3.6% percentage share increase for wind, does synch up quite nicely with the 4.4% emissions decrease). As I noted, electricity production increased in Texas over the study period, so that couldn’t have accounted for the emissions decrease, and was actually working against what wind achieved.

    While there did appear to be a major (14%) downturn in electric sector gas use in Colorado in 2008 that was almost certainly due to a shift away from gas and towards coal as natural gas prices peaked at over $14/MMBtu that summer, that shift would have served to drive emissions up, not down. So the emissions savings that occurred as wind was added would have been even larger if that shift from gas to coal was not occurring simultaneously.

    As an additional data point, lets look at Denmark’s success in reducing electric sector carbon emissions by nearly 50% over the last two decades.
    (DOE data here: http://tonto.eia.doe.gov/country/country_energy_data.cfm?fips=DA)
    Electricity consumption increased by 24% from 1991 to 2007, so we know that demand-side energy efficiency was not responsible for the decline in emissions over that time period. So, the solution must have come on the electricity supply side.
    Wind energy output increased from 0.7 billion kWh in 1991 to 6.58 billion kWh in 2008, a nearly ten-fold increase of 6 billion kWh. Fossil fuel generation declined from 33 billion kWh in 1991 to 24 billion kWh in 2008, a decline of 9 billion kWh. Biomass power increased from .3 billion kWh to 3.67 billion kWh, accounting for the other 3 billion kWh of decrease in fossil generation. As a result of this increase in renewable energy output (2/3 wind, 1/3 biomass), coal consumption decreased from 15 million tons in 1991 to 7.8 million tons in 2008, a decline of nearly 50%, which explains why electric sector CO2 emissions also fell by nearly 50% over that period.

    IER Response (9/6/10):

    No, we do not agree that the important metric is the fuel use of the fossil-fueled power plants in question and that it will precisely determine the impact on CO2 emissions. What we said was that fossil fuel use was one of the components of the calculation and that it will not determine the precise impact on CO2 emissions because that impact is also based on an average CO2 emissions factor that is a function of the fuel type and sector, not a plant specific value, and not an engineering measurement. Thus, the first paragraph of our previous response does not undermine our arguments in paragraphs 2-4. Also mentioned in our previous response is the fact that the models and studies you mentioned do not include cycling because they base their methodology on these estimates and methodology and not on engineering data.

    Regarding the last paragraph of our previous response, you did not mention the change in interstate imports which were a factor for both Colorado and Texas.

    You point to Denmark as another example, but Denmark is a country that needs to export a major portion of its wind-generated electricity because it cannot accommodate the relatively large amount produced, and which its taxpayers subsidized. Denmark exports it largely to Norway and Sweden, whose large amounts of hydroelectric power (over 30 times the Denmark total wind production) can absorb it. The CO2 numbers you cite are after ‘adjustment’ taking into account the export of the excess wind, with a reduction of about 30 percent, not 50 percent. (See page 38 at http://www.ens.dk/en-US/Info/FactsAndFigures/Energy_statistics_and_indicators/Annual%20Statistics/Documents/Energy%20Statistics%202008.pdf.) Actual emissions from electricity generation are significantly greater and are reduced by only 15 percent. The wind energy that gets exported to the Nordic region reduces hydroelectric-generated electricity and so does not lower CO2 emissions. Also there are significant variations from year to year in Denmark’s emissions showing a range of reductions from 1990, and no specific year can be used as an indicator of performance. Also, Denmark has much higher electricity prices than the United States (over 250 percent higher), and one of the highest, if not the highest in Europe.

    We urge you to look at the details completely since there are many factors affecting the electricity system.

    Michael Goggin (9/10/10):

    Thank you for your additional response. Your arguments have become increasingly creative as the facts and reality back you further and further into a corner. In fact, in a desperate attempt to salvage the entire basis of your argument, your arguments have once again violated the laws of physics, in addition to contradicting your previous arguments.

    To recap, you previously attempted to argue that the multiple sets of DOE data I cited on carbon dioxide emissions data, conclusively showing that carbon emissions go down as wind is added to the grid, are somehow unreliable because the DOE carbon dioxide emissions numbers are calculated numbers based on the amount of fossil fuel burned. I pointed out that fossil fuel use data will in fact precisely predict carbon dioxide emissions, which the first paragraph in your first response above also said (or at least very strongly implied), although now you deny that it did.

    Regardless of whether you initially agreed or not, it is simply impossible to claim that fossil fuel use data is not a reliable predictor of carbon emissions. The law of the conservation of matter dictates that every atom of carbon in the fossil fuels burned cannot be destroyed, so it must be emitted (while you might have tried to argue that adding wind to the grid would somehow alter the ratio between carbon monoxide emissions and carbon dioxide emissions or somehow alter the amount of carbon emitted as coal ash, you did not, and regardless there is no reason to think that adding wind would have those effects). While it is true that changing the carbon content of the fossil fuels being burned will affect the carbon dioxide emissions, there is also no reason to think that adding wind to the grid would have any effect on the carbon content of the fuels being burned. With those two possible arguments shot down, there is no logical or scientifically possible way to argue that, !
    when examining the emissions impact of wind, the amount of fossil fuels being burned will not precisely predict the amount of carbon dioxide emitted. Unless, of course, you would like to invoke some sort of medieval alchemy and argue that you have found a way to turn carbon into gold.

    Moreover, nearly every reputable method of determining carbon dioxide emissions relies on calculations derived from fossil fuel use data. To argue that such data is not reliable, as IER is doing, would also call into question nearly everything we know about how carbon dioxide emissions change over time. Is IER’s Mary Hutzler, former acting administrator of the DOE’s Energy Information Administration, comfortable undermining the credibility of the data produced by the organization she used to head up? If so, why did she not advocate for better carbon dioxide emissions calculation methods while she was at the EIA?

    Moving on, you claim that interstate flows of electricity could have been responsible for causing the major emissions reductions that occurred in Colorado and Texas as wind energy was added to the grid in those states. There are several major problems with that argument. Most importantly, all of the DOE data I used looked at in-state electricity generation, which is the only relevant factor for determining the amount of emissions generated in-state. As I showed, Texas power plants were able to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions significantly between 2005 and 2008, even though they produced more electricity during that time, thanks to a drastic increase in the amount of electricity being produced by wind energy. And Colorado power plants emitted 4.4% less carbon dioxide in 2008 than they did in 2007, even though total generation declined by only 0.8%, thanks to a major jump in wind power output. Since my data compared in-state emissions with in-state generation, inter-stat!
    e power flows are entirely irrelevant. Even if I had made the mistake of comparing in-state emissions against in-state electricity consumption (and not generation), which would have made changes in inter-state transfers a potentially relevant factor, the impact of a change in those transfers still would have been trivial due to the fact that both Colorado and Texas have minimal net transfers with neighboring states. So, my argument still prevails that no other factor could have caused the significant carbon dioxide emissions reductions that occurred in Texas and Colorado, other than the major increases in wind energy production that occurred in both states.

    As far as the nonsensical argument that electricity exported from Denmark somehow does not count for reducing carbon dioxide emissions, that has already been debunked here, here, and here:
    http://www.awea.org/blog/index.php?mode=viewid&post_id=368
    http://www.awea.org/blog/index.php?mode=viewid&post_id=196
    http://www.awea.org/newsroom/pdf/IER_Denmark_Response.pdf

    The attempt to claim that wind energy exported from Denmark to Scandinavia does not reduce emissions because Scandinavia obtains most of its electricity from zero-emissions hydropower is also false. As IER itself noted in releasing its debunked study on the topic of Denmark and wind last September, the Scandinavian hydroelectric system is simply acting as a battery to store Danish wind, using the wind energy to reduce the output of hydroelectric dams and storing water behind the dams that is released later to offset fossil fuel generation. So, the wind energy is still being used to displace fossil fuel generation.

    Perhaps the only valid point in your whole response is when you note that, due to fluctuations in the amount of hydroelectric output from year to year, there are significant variations from year to year in Denmark’s emissions and no specific year can be used as an indicator of performance. I entirely agree. You and Robert Bryce seem to have been keenly aware of that fact when you both chose to use 1990 as the base year for calculating Denmark’s emissions declines. 1990 happens to have been a year of extraordinarily high hydroelectric output, so carbon dioxide emissions were drastically lower that year, making emissions declines calculated from that year less than half of what they would have been if another year had been used as the baseline. Even still, a decline in CO2 emissions of only 15% (your data) or 23% (Bryce’s data) since 1990 is nothing to sneeze at, especially since electricity consumption increased by 20% over that time period. Whether the decline in electric sector carbon dioxide emissions was 15% or closer to 50%, the important point, which it sounds like we can all agree on, is that electric sector carbon dioxide emissions have fallen significantly over the course of the last two decades in Denmark. And, for the reasons I explained in my previous post, the large amount of wind and biomass energy Denmark has deployed to offset the use of fossil fuel generation is the only factor that can account for that decline in emissions.

    Finally, your argument that wind energy is somehow responsible for Denmark’s high electricity prices just doesn’t hold water. If you look at the historical record of electricity prices in Denmark, you’ll see that these high electricity prices began in the early 1980’s as the result of heavy taxes on energy use, and Denmark’s electricity prices have only increased at approximately the rate of inflation since then. It would be difficult to blame wind energy, which only became a major contributor to Denmark’s energy mix in the 1990s, for electricity price increases that occurred in the early 1980s; as an analogy, this would be the equivalent of accusing someone of committing a crime that occurred before they were born.

    Since this discussion has become unnecessarily complicated, let’s recap the main arguments each side has made. On one hand, we have arguments that the amount of carbon in a burned fuel does not determine how much carbon is emitted, that all of the data DOE and other government entities have reported about carbon dioxide emissions are inaccurate, and Denmark’s addition of wind energy in the 1990s was responsible for electricity price increases that occurred in the early 1980s, among other fallacies.

    On the other hand, we have the argument that the laws of the conservation of matter and energy still stand, that wind energy reduces fossil fuel use and thus carbon dioxide emissions, and that the data DOE and other government entities have reported on carbon dioxide emissions are accurate. I’ll happily leave it up to the reader to decide which set of arguments is more compelling.

    IER Response (9/14/10):

    There are no contradictions of prior comments or violations of the laws of physics, as you suggest. The article to which you are commenting indicates that a phenomenon called cycling has occurred in certain situations, and documents the sources. It does not state what you have implied through these comments.

    The Energy Information Administration (EIA) indicates that their carbon dioxide emissions are estimates. In fact, they state “EIA continually reviews its methods for estimating emissions of greenhouse gases. As better methods and information become available, EIA revises both current and historical emissions estimates. “(See documentation of the methodology at: http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/1605/ggrpt/documentation/pdf/0638(2006).pdf ). EIA is a statistical agency, not a regulatory agency, and will use the best methods they have to provide the relevant data. To get the accuracy that you allude to and to study issues like cycling, one needs actual data from plant measurements at frequent intervals, which are not available from EIA. The aggregated data that EIA provides is useful for many purposes and is a contribution to the statistical data that EIA publishes, but it is not the data source to deal with cycling issues.

    Turning to interstate flows of electricity, you are right in indicating that in-state generation is the only relevant factor for the purposes of emissions reporting, but not for electricity consumption. Of course, interstate trading is a net number, encompassing both imports and exports at different times and, as such, includes the electricity that is generated in-state for interstate sales, as well as electricity generated to meet demand within the state. To understand the complete picture, especially with respect to emissions, many factors need to be considered including changes to demand, changes in the mix of fuels, changes in technology that improve the efficiency of the plant or that incorporate technologies for removing emissions, among other issues. For more analysis on Colorado and Texas electricity generation and emissions, please see OVERBLOWN: Getting to the Facts on Emissions (Part II) by Jon Boone, posted September 14, 2010 at http://www.masterresource.org/ and the other parts of the four-part series.

    Regarding Denmark, again you have taken statements out of the context to which they have been written. As previously indicated, Denmark is a country that exports most of its wind-generated electricity because the large quantity of wind generation produced and subsidized by its taxpayers does not correspond to the electricity demand profile of the country. Denmark exports the excess wind largely to Norway and Sweden, whose large amounts of hydroelectric power (over 30 times the Denmark total wind production) can absorb it. The CO2 numbers you cite are after ‘adjustment’ taking into account the export of the excess wind. (See page 38 at http://www.ens.dk/en-US/Info/FactsAndFigures/Energy_statistics_and_indicators/Annual%20Statistics/Documents/Energy%20Statistics%202008.pdf.) Because the wind energy that gets exported to the Nordic region reduces hydroelectric-generated electricity there, it does not lower CO2 emissions, which need to be evaluated on a global scale, to the extent that you indicate. As we both agree, there are significant variations from year to year in Denmark’s emissions showing a range of reductions, so no specific year can be used as an indicator of performance.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)

Back to top