Thursday, February 27, 2014

Another snake oil salesman at work

In case you missed it, Ars Technica has a breathless article about the claims of a 'researcher' that offshore wind farms may help to protect us from hurricanes.

Wind power plays a very significant role in Jacobson's plan, and many states don't have extensive on-shore wind resources. As a result, going entirely renewable involves building offshore wind on a truly massive scale, with many individual states sporting tens of thousands of turbines on the continental shelf.

And that will unsurprisingly have an effect on how winds propagate. Jacobson modeled three different hurricanes—Isaac, Katrina, and Sandy—plowing into a massive field of wind turbines. The wind speeds dropped by up to 90 miles an hour, which is enough to drop all but the most powerful storms out of the hurricane category. In fact, the huge fields of turbines were so disruptive that the wind speed started to drop before it even reached the turbines, meaning that in many cases, they could safely continue generating energy throughout the storm.

In Sandy's case, the wind did very little direct damage; rather, the storm surge the winds drove was the primary culprit. But without the wind, the storm surge was underpowered. Depending on the precise details, it dropped by anywhere from six percent to nearly 80 percent.

In a paper that was also released today, Jacobson and some colleagues at the University of Delaware have calculated that all the benefits of the wind farms—improved health via lower pollution, reduced climate change, and hurricane mitigation—combine to make the net cost of electricity generated by these wind farms cheaper than if it were generated using fossil fuels. And despite the high cost of offshore wind, when those savings are considered in the total system costs, it becomes cheaper to build wind than it does to build seawalls to protect all vulnerable areas from storm surges.

There's more at the link.  Bold underlined text is my emphasis.

Note the problems that the article doesn't highlight.  First, these claims are based on mathematical models, not on reality.  One can make a model prove almost anything if it's constructed just right.  Climate change 'scientists' have been using models for decades to preach their gospel of imminent doom, gloom and disaster.  Guess what?  None of their models can actually reproduce reality - i.e. when fed real raw data and asked to compare their outputs to the actual results in nature.  The models are all flawed to a greater or lesser extent.  Why should Mr. Jacobson's models be any different?

Next, note their conclusions.  These guys are apostles and evangelists for renewable energy sources.  Of course their calculations are going to show that their favored energy solutions are the most optimum!  They're in the business of selling that particular brand of snake oil!  Now, if you get me a bunch of hard-nosed engineers and technicians who work in the field, and they confirm those numbers on the basis of hard-earned experience, I'll listen.  Until that happens, I'll take these researchers' recommendations with a bucket or two of salt, thank you very much.

As for wind turbines in hurricanes - remember what happened the last time one was filmed during such a storm?

Uh-huh.  So much for mathematical models.  I wonder how well those turbines would have protected the US coastline?

Snake-oil salesmen.  Grrrr!



wordlet said...

I don't see their results as too farfetched (large scale wind farms have already been proven to have affects on local wind speed). I do however disagree with their conclusion that this would be a -good- thing. Extremely large scale wind farms in the gulf coast would drastically alter all weather patterns for the country, not just hurricanes. Places on the gulf coast that used to get a gentle breeze will likely get a less-gentle breeze. Strange and unexpected weather patterns could result. Weather-engineering just seems like a hugely dangerous idea.

Old NFO said...

If it were actually TRUE, why are the Dutch getting rid of their wind farms? The corrosion issues are HUGE on units sitting exposed to salt air.

Timbo said...

I live in Windfarmville, northern Spain. Maybe it's because they haven't seen this study, but here they turn the things off and feather the blades when it starts to blow a good nor'wester.

Tim D said...

I regularly read Ars and could pretty much name the author before clicking the link. He is the sites main global warming author and is one of the people who is of the opinion that its "settled science". I pretty much just ignore his articles now because any dissent is drowned out by the echo chamber surrounding him.

Borepatch said...

Offshore wind costs ~ twice what onshore wind does, per kWH. The reason is maintenance. And onshore wind is at least 5x more expensive than coal per kWH because you only get good power ~ 25% of the time. There's either not enough wind to generate anything, or as Tim D points out there's too much and you have to turn the systems off to protect them.

Then again, I'm shocked - SHOCKED! - to see Ars Technica uncritically swallowing Big Green talking points. What on earth is the world coming to?

Paul, Dammit! said...

Yeah, there's a big-ass glaring hole here, too, in terms of what this would do to global water current distribution. Given that current distribution IS actually predictable, and the heat-sink effect can be roughly accounted for because of two if the three primary inputs that effect global currents (Coriolis effect, water temperature, geography) are constants, you'd think that the author or publisher would think to run this by, you know, a physical oceanographer, instead of an engineer who would, presumably, be involved in construction and design of these things.

This is the problem when you get a professional modeler into a field with a century plus of hard data. He'd have to hire on a subject-matter expert in his little cult.

Paul, Dammit! said...

Whoops- forgot to mention that the chaotic effect of hurricanes on physical stratigraphy (layering of water by density as affected by salinity and temperature) is a critical part of nutrient transport in the deep ocean, which is very important for highly (delicious) migratory species like whales, tuna and swordfish, as well as their food. So, really, we can expect that the Gaiaists will spend some time eating their own if this insanity ever actually made it off the table.

Hard to believe I'm not in support of something that would actually kill whales, but I'm not.

Stephanie Belser said...

This makes no sense to me. In a very strong wind, the turbines will automatically furl their blades in order to prevent overspeeding. So they won't be offering much resistance to the winds.

Will said...

I'm thinking that any wind farm that would be dense and extensive enough to affect a hurricane would have most of them being non-effective in normal wind conditions.

Let alone that props/gearing effective at normal wind speeds would be well out of operating parameters in storm conditions.

And that doesn't even get to the fact that hurricane winds extend to fairly high altitudes. Most of the energy density of the storm is going to be above the blade level. How do they expect to impact that?

SiGraybeard said...

Another factor they don't cover is that wind farms have been shown to impact weather radars, specifically our ability to detect windshear and other dangerous weather, like tornadoes. This compromises safety on the altar of gaia.

TimD said...

Stephanie, even with the props feathered the props still have wind resistance. Props large enough to be useful for power generation subjected to hurricane force wind will eventually reach a point of failure. It might be possible with some materials advances but there are still the over-voltage problems to overcome if the gears fail to disengage.

This isn't mentioning the problem that wind turbines attract lightning at an elevated rate in spite of their designers best efforts. (This is probably what lit the turbine in the second video on fire). I remember seeing a study on this recently and will see if I can find it again.

Tim D said...

This article was also reported on Ars but not by the same author. Lightning and wind turbines, a love story.