NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


November 1, 2006

A sharp increase in wind-power capacity in Europe is challenging utilities to stabilize their electric grids in the face of sometimes wildly fluctuating wind-energy levels, while calling into question some of the greenhouse-gas reducing claims of windmills, according to a recent study.

In one of its more dramatic illustrations, the study, conducted by ABS Energy Research, notes:

  • Western Denmark, which has several thousand wind turbines on land and offshore, was forced in 2004 to export some 85 percent of the wind-energy its mammoth turbines generated, often at a loss.
  • That happened despite the fact that wind-power represents only 20 percent of the country's total power production.

Worse, the carbon-emissions reducing potential of that power was compromised because of where it was exported to:

  • Norway and Sweden reduced their hydropower production sources to accommodate cheaper wind power.
  • Meanwhile, Denmark's primary power was still delivered by fossil-fuel plants, ABS said, effectively "nullifying" wind power's chief benefit.

You can't alter the fact that wind blows at the wrong times and it blows intermittently, said Euan Blauvelt, research director at ABS. But because power systems demand a steady, balanced power source at all times, utilities must carefully monitor and regulate the grid -- often with energy from fossil-fuel burning plants -- to counter the wind's fickleness.

And while many agree that wind-power alone won't solve any region's energy woes or global warming, ABS Research takes it a step further.  "Given that experience is showing that savings in carbon emissions due to wind power may be considerably less than claimed, this calls into question the importance of wind power in environmental terms," it concludes.

Source: Mark Harrington, "Study takes air out of wind power's sails," Newsday, October 30, 2006.


Browse more articles on Environment Issues