Wind power may not reduce carbon emissions as expected

Source: E&E • Posted: Sunday, June 3, 2012

Increasing wind power many not lower grid emissions as much as previously thought, according to a new study from Argonne National Laboratory.

The crux of the problem is wind’s intermittency — turbines generate power only when the wind is blowing, and that means grids will need some kind of backup system to provide baseload power during periods of calm.

At the moment, that backup power comes primarily from fossil fuels. But operating a coal or gas-fired power plant intermittently causes a host of other problems, reducing efficiency and piling on emissions.

“A certain percentage of the energy goes into just heating up the boilers again,” said Lauren Valentino, one of the authors of the study, which was published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

The sum of these inefficiencies may cancel out some of the carbon savings of wind power, she said.

Argonne researchers are working on batteries that could offer a possible solution to the problem, storing electricity while turbines are operating at peak performance for use when the wind dies down (Jeff McMahon, Forbes, May 30). — NM