Revisiting wind turbine impacts

Need stored electricity for seven windless days? 50 million turbines, the US-Canadian land mass, and 5 trillion battery packs should do it.
– Paul Driessen

“Disagree with this analysis?” asks Driessen. “Wade in with your own. Let’s have a wide-open debate, before renewable energy activists and politicians lock us into an energy future that might be horrendous for humanity and planet. (Or might save us from calamitous climate change.)”



Revisiting wind turbine impacts

Erroneous recent calculation highlights need to assess renewable energy sustainability claims

By Paul Driessen

It’s amazing, though hardly surprising, how quickly some used Hurricane Harvey’s devastation to claim that fossil fuel emissions are driving catastrophic climate change and weather. Their proffered solution, of course, is to replace those fuels with “clean, sustainable, renewable” energy.

I’ve criticized this supposed solution many times, on multiple grounds. Unfortunately, a hasty numerical calculation for a recent column was way off base, and readers properly chastised me for the error. I just blew it, using megawatts instead of megawatt-hours to derive the number of wind turbines … and amount of land … it would take to replace the world’s 2016 electricity entirely with wind energy.

My conclusion that it would require 830 million turbines and twice the land area of North America was thus off by embarrassing amounts. However, my reviewers offered many “correct” numbers.

Their turbine totals ranged from 2 million to 4, 10 and 12 million; their acreage figures from 0.5 to 40, 60 and even 247 per turbine. Total acreage for all the turbines ranged from the size of France or Texas – to half of North America. Energy scholar Cork Hayden graciously provided analytical aid.

Bottom line: Assumptions are key – about turbine size; number, location and extent of good wind sites; ability to actually erect turbines on those sites; wind turbine capacity factor, in average hours per day of electricity generation; duration and quality of wind power per year, especially as turbines proliferate into increasingly poor wind areas; and power generation needed to charge huge battery arrays to ensure reliable electricity during multiple windless days (2, 7, 14 or more) when turbines provide no power.

Another variable, of course, is the amount of electricity that is to be replaced by wind. In 2016, the world used 25 billion megawatt-hours (MWh) of electrical energy, generated by fossil fuel, hydroelectric and nuclear power stations, with minor contributions from wood (biomass) and trivial amounts of wind and solar. Year-round average power generation was 2.85 million megawatts (MW) or 2.85 terawatts (TW) – compared to zero generation in 1881.

Electricity makes our industries, jobs, travel, communication, living standards, health and safety possible, and demand will certainly grow as more nations electrify, and more vehicles are battery-powered.

Here are my fundamental assumptions: Wind turbines replace 100% of today’s 2.85 TW global electricity generation, by some future date – as many activists and politicians insist we must (and can) do. Turbines are all 1.8-MW nameplate power. Average turbine capacity factor gradually falls from 33% to 16.5% as the best wind sites are utilized, and much poorer sites must be developed.

(In the USA many of the best wind sites are off the Washington-to-California and Maine-to-Georgia coastlines, and in the Great Lakes, where water depths and powerful local opposition would make it impossible to install many turbines. Onshore turbine size is limited by the size of blades that can be hauled by trucks on winding roads. The same situation would likely apply around most of the globe.)

Further assumptions: One-third of turbine output powers society; two-thirds charge batteries that provide power for 48 of every 72 hours that wind is not blowing. And winds always cooperate with that scheme – always arriving just in the nick of time, as batteries are depleted, and never disappearing for more than two days, even during sweltering summers or frigid winters when demand soars but winds disappear.

Of course, most of these assumptions exist only in the realm of fairies, pixie dust, green energy utopia and easy number crunching. They are meant to initiate important analyses and debates that climate alarmists, renewable energy proponents, legislators and policy makers have never conducted.

Using these assumptions, generating 25 billion megawatt-hours would require 1.6 million 1.8-MW turbines functioning at full 1.8-MW capacity in strong winds, all day, every day, with no worries about storage. If they operate only eight hours a day (33% engineered capacity), we just use electricity when it’s available, instead of when we need it. But that’s terribly inconvenient and disruptive.

So we employ the Dr. Hayden system, instead. We erect 4.8 million turbines that operate steadily for eight hours, sending one-third of their electricity to the grid and two-thirds to batteries. That would yield 8 hours of direct power while the wind is blowing (33% capacity factor) – and let us draw power from the batteries for the next 16 hours, until the wind regularly picks up again. “I love magic,” he says.

That clearly won’t work. We really need at least 48 hours of storage – and thus three times as many turbines, under a similar arrangement, but providing more flexibility, to recognize unpredictable wind patterns and the likelihood of two windless days in a row. We’re up to 14.4 million 1.8-MW turbines.

Want a bigger safety net? To assure against seven windless days? 50 million turbines should do it.

But then we’re really into the mediocre wind sites. Capacity plummets to 16.5% or so. Perhaps 100 million turbines will do the trick. Pray that lulls last no more than a week. Or send the army to those intransigent, unpatriotic coastal communities, and forcibly install turbines in their super windy areas.

That would also ensure that electricity generation is close to our big urban centers – hence shorter transmission lines, and less cement, steel, copper, et cetera to build the power lines. It’s a win-win situation, except for those who have to look at or live next to turbines and transmission lines, of course.

How much land are we talking about, to generate 25 billion megawatt-hours of global annual electricity? Assuming top quality wind sites, at 5 kilowatts per acre (average output per land area for any turbine at the windiest locations), onshore turbines operating 24/7/365 would require some 570 million acres.

That’s 25% of the United States – or 30% of the Lower 48 US states. It’s almost all the land in Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Nevada, Montana, Wyoming, Utah and Arizona combined!

Change the assumptions – change the numbers. To store electricity for windless days, total power generation (and thus turbine numbers and land acreage) begins to skyrocket. For 48 hours of backup, triple the power generation; that’s the entire Lower 48. For a full week of backup, add in Canada.

Let’s not forget the transmission lines and batteries. They also need land (and raw materials).

How many batteries? Storing 1 gigawatt-hour (GWh) of electricity – to provide power for 48 windless hours for a US city of 700,000 people – would require 480,000 of Tesla’s new 100-kWh lithium-ion battery packs. Backing up 2.85 TW for just two windless days would require 1.4 trillion Tesla units! And this assumes the batteries are charged and discharged with 100% efficiency.

Just imagine the land, raw materials, mining, manufacturing and energy that would be needed to make all those batteries (and replace them every few years). As energy and technology analyst Mark Mills has noted, all the world’s existing lithium battery factories combined manufacture only a tiny fraction of that.

I’m sure the world’s battery makers would be more than happy to take our hard-earned taxpayer and consumer cash to build more factories and make all those batteries – to save us from dangerous climate change that is no longer governed by the sun and other powerful natural forces.

Let’s get real. It’s time to stop playing with pixie dust and renewable energy utopia schemes. Time to open our schools and legislatures to actual thinking about energy, sustainability, climate change and what makes our jobs, health and living standards possible. Time for full-bore studies and legislative hearings on all these issues – in the USA, UK, EU and everywhere else.

Sustainability and renewable energy claims are too grounded in ideology, magic and politics. Wind and solar energy forecasts ignore the need to find and mine vast new metal and mineral deposits – and open US lands that are now off limits, unless we want to import all our wind turbines, solar panels and batteries. They assume land use impacts don’t really exist if they are in other people’s backyards.

Worse, too often anyone trying to raise these inconvenient truths is shouted down, silenced, ignored. That has to stop. The stakes are too high for ideology and pixie dust to drive fundamental public policies.

Paul Driessen is senior policy analyst for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (, and author of Eco-Imperialism: Green power – Black death and other books on the environment.

15 thoughts on “Revisiting wind turbine impacts

  1. There is no definite alternative for fossils and that fossils coming mostly from preserved bodies must never be burned it should be buried itself or thrown in the sea as it helps the earthly structure.

  2. I find it odd that the industry and media still talk about ‘storing’ electricity in batteries, as if the term charging really does mean that the battery mysteriously fills up with electrons. The charging process simply reconditions the metals in the battery cell be breaking off the oxidised and corroded surface, so the metal can do it’s job efficiently again. It is a complete fabrication to say that we charge a battery up as if we are filling it with fresh power; this is not how battery cells work. The movement of electrons is not the electricity (electrical energy) which we use but instead makes this energy available in an electrical circuit, which acts like an aerial when excited by moving electrons on the surface of the circuit components, using magnetic fields to push them along. The wind turbines create this push, thereby moving electrons in the circuit and attracting usable electrical energy to the circuit. We don’t need millions of big batteries to ‘store’ electricity. We need new types of high efficiency batteries which can create more power for longer without the need for reconditioning (charging). There was an article a year or two ago about a new honeycomb design battery cell, which was so efficient that in the near future, you would be able to start your car off your mobile phone battery. Not literally but the battery would be capable of producing this level of power supply. I doubt if this tech will be seen in our local stores anytime soon. It will be given to us in tiny steps to maximise profits as is always the case. Nothing is ever done for the betterment of humans unless it makes the trillionaires much richer in the process. So watts new(sic)?

  3. You are still missing one part of the equation. Corrolis, yea, spelling, wind patterns change. On a cyclic basis, example, the jet stream, which feeds the highs and lows, which are the wind, move. Can the turbine move? To catch the wind? No. So the down times may stretch more then a week, how about the summer and winter doldrums, usually a week or more then the wind is absent, where the most power is needed? People die in those extremes. And not just the elderly.
    But, this raises another question, in the training and application of training. Or should I say the theory of questions? Is someone limiting the question, or just giving limited answers based on less then adequate knowledge? Like the 2+2=5 of the IPCC..

  4. The foundations of these thousands of windmills push in the earth in the opposite direction of the incoming wind, and since the dominant winddirection on earth is of course opposite of the earth’s rotation, that ‘push’ will inevitably slow the rotation of the planet.

  5. As I understand it there three levels of power generation provision:
    1. Base load – on all the time
    2. Secondary load based on price differential, time slots , booked time generation, fast start-up etc.
    3. Reserve load – several hours to bring on line.
    These three load type are at the national level of generation and distribution.
    Renewables are not base load, they can’t be because they are time cyclic – (tidal) or intermittent (Wind) and (Sun) with the latter dependent on latitude and cloud cover.
    Nor are they secondary at the national levels of distribution; However, they are with wind and Corporate solar at the regional level and with Home generation either off the grid, or at the local level.
    They could at vast expense be made secondary by the use of regional storage, or of local distribution via home based distributed batteries – 15 year time scale.
    Wind and Solar could play a significant contribution with Continental power distribution in place, time slicing power 4 to 8 time zones to the West – 30 year time scale
    No wonder the Chinese bought a mountain sized copper mine in South America!
    The cost and size of Lithium metal production will be significant as well.
    The reality is Nuclear using Thorium in micro reactors this isn’t a bomb producing reactor, Fusion when it’s ready, Gas for fast start secondary, Coal with clean technology given the amount of investment the Indians and Chinese have made over the last 10 years, so called renewables with storage and distribution.
    The real point is this we will need every WHATT we can produce over the next 30 years due to the Grand Solar Minimum we are now in. CO2 isn’t the problem, Warmist fake science regarding Human Induced climate change is coupled with Governments dropping the ball over power generation replacement.

    • IF, as a lot of sceptics claim, CO2 increases the emissivity of the atmosphere then CO2 is indeed a problem if you believe tiny percentages control climate.

      More CO2 = higher emissivity = More radiation to space from the atmosphere, not less = accelerated cooling not heating – if you believe tiny percentages control climate.

      In Australia a couple of decades ago ALL electricity generation was owned by our state governments. Australia had reliable coal fired power, reliable distribution networks and some of the cheapest power in the world.

      Then political ideology took hold of our politicians :-

      Firstly the private sector is more efficient so governments began selling off electricity assets. Our power prices began rising immediately – governments had a powerful motive to control power prices – losing elections.

      Secondly climate change became the greatest moral challenge of humanity. Again our power prices began rising immediately.

      In response all sorts of insane schemes were cooked up by fools and gullibles and Australia now has some of the highest electricity prices in the world.

      I get paid 44 cents for every kilowatt hour my panels, with 80% of the install price subsidised by the government, and I pay ~26 cents per kilowatt hour.

      The state with the highest amount of wind power has the least stable supply relying on coal powered electricity from another state for base load and the highest power prices in Australia.

      Consumers in SA pay about double what I pay for electricity.

      As long as Australia remains committed to a renewable energy target this increasing price trend will accelerate and be made worse by every new government intervention.

      Perhaps our politicians should be committed to places where people are sent for their own protection ?

      • Quote:
        Secondly climate change became the greatest moral challenge of humanity.
        A false moral challenge based on Green propaganda, false science, and well crafted fraudulent instruments using doctored data.
        Plus Academic greed with their snouts in the Government AGW grant trough by Ologists whose science is on the same level as Astrology.
        The real funny about all of this is that an Astrologer worked out the Math for predicting Grand Solar Minimums which is able to correctly hindcast and forecast when GSMs have taken place and when the next after this one will occur.

        Storage isn’t just batteries, its water impoundment (Tidal) or pumped storage:
        It’s also storing Hydrogen from electricity cracked water via Solar or Tidal stations. The hydrogen is then compressed, and burnt to create stream, with water as the by-product, time slicing the energy to times of the day or night.

        Australia however, needs a clean out of its green infected political system, its electorate will only do that once the true scope of the Green fraud over CO2 is fully exposed, and that can only happen once the Anglo Saxon Met Offices have been cleaned up over their data tampering, and the Green biased management teams sacked for fraud whist in public office.

  6. Everyone seems to forget that electricity supplies significantly less than half of the world’s energy usage.

    Even if we could turn 1% of the world’s electricity supply that renewables – wind and solar – supplied in the 2016 report into 100% of electricity supply there remains about 60+% of current world energy use that is not supplied by electricity.

    I think renewables are a waste of time and money.

    • 100% agree with you on that one. GWPF site has a report from the German wind industry whingeing about cuts to taxpayers money be given to them and how it is affecting their industry. So sad for them. LOL

  7. To all those gullible Americans (and others), who believe that 4/10 000 of atmospheric gases can prevent heat radiation from the Earth to outer space, try this simple solution to flooding: Just erect a fence (a single strand of wire ought to be enough) on your river banks. That should keep the flood water from your roads and houses. Ditto to the islands threatened by rising sea levels.

  8. I have the answer – Hamsters! Using billions of micro-generators. Very efficient, low food needs, automatic replacement. The generators would be low stress – low load – so very low maintenance, and extremely low replacement cost.
    Joking aside, wouldn’t it be a better plan to use twice as many smaller turbines, which would still be able to produce power in high winds instead of being shut down like the huge ones? Not such an eye-sore either. Simpler, cheaper maintenance and easier to access. No problems accessing remote sites with difficult approach roads. Less mass and smaller generators must mean less wind required to drive the blades?
    Anyway, none of this will matter if a full blown ice age starts.

  9. Another thing we need to remember when doing all these calculations.
    If there is too much wind, the windmills have to stop (or they break). So locations that provide too much wind cannot be used, thereby taking away a lot of the land that wind power people claim will be used by turbines to create a large portion of the electricity needed.

  10. The only plausible wind or solar scheme I have ever heard about was a proposal by Boeing about 40 years ago. They proposed putting 1,000 MW solar powers stations in orbit where they would get direct sunshine 24 hours every day. A microwave transmission system was demonstrated that beamed power down from orbit with about 95% efficiency. Boeing proposed an initial production of about 10 such orbiting power stations. The proposal required government to guarantee loans to produce the huge shuttle needed and cost of installation. Suddenly there was surplus electricity in the US and the Boeing proposal was dropped.

    None of the other schemes has even looked feasible for replacing huge electrical needs of a modern society. Chasing windmills is just nuts.

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