Study: Wind Power Raises CO2 Emissions

Published July 13, 2010

Efforts to reduce U.S. carbon dioxide emissions by replacing coal and natural gas with wind power appear to be doing more harm than good as a new study finds replacing coal and natural gas with wind power increases CO2 emissions.

Government policies designed to fight global warming by encouraging, subsidizing, or mandating renewable power may be making global warming worse, the study suggests.

Baseload Emissions Affected
In a paper published at the Web site Master Resource, electrical engineer Kent Hawkins shows when wind power surpasses 5 percent of power generated, the frequent ramping up and ramping down of other power sources to compensate for wind’s unpredictable variability causes such inefficiency in power generation that overall carbon dioxide emissions rise.

The effect is similar to that of automobile gas mileage. A driver who sustains a consistent speed of 60 miles per hour will get better gas mileage than one who frequently accelerates and decelerates between 45 and 75 mph. The inefficiency caused by frequently ramping up and ramping down vehicle speed is substantial enough that the vehicle driven at variable speeds will burn up more gasoline than one with a lower fuel economy rating driven at a consistent speed.

Hawkins found the same effect when studying power plants in the Netherlands, Colorado, and Texas which switched some of their generation from coal and natural gas to wind power. Because wind speeds are variable and unpredictable, plant operators were forced frequently to vary the ordinarily steady, constant generation of baseload power to back up variable wind power. Whereas a small amount of wind power generation helped reduce carbon dioxide emissions, emissions began surpassing prior levels once wind power exceeded 5 percent of the power mix.

“The efficiency of those carbon-based [baseload] plants is affected by incorporating wind energy into the system,” explained Hawkins. “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.”

Joins Other Renewable Failures
The revelation of the failure of wind power to reduce carbon dioxide emissions comes while Congress is considering both carbon dioxide reduction measures and renewable power mandates, led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). 

The new wind power study adds to a record of failure among governments’ global warming reduction schemes. Congress has long mandated and subsidized ethanol and other biofuels to reduce greenhouse gases, but studies show these biofuels create more greenhouse gas emissions over their life cycles than does gasoline.

As a result, global warming activists are now racing to rewrite legislation to eliminate counterproductive biofuel programs as Democrats and Republicans alike realize a better course of action would have been not to have enacted the subsidies and mandates in the first place.

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.