Is there Something (Else) Wrong with Wind Power?

We all know wind power is intermittent. I thought I would take a look at how predictable windpower intermittency is and how accurate wind power output predictions are.

In the process I think I have tripped over a new issue regarding wind generation (but more on that later).

The bmreports site (HERE) has a section on wind generation and shows a graph of an original output prediction, a more recent and accurate revised prediction and also the actual out-turn.

The original forecast value is done 41 hours before the start of the forecasted day. The revised forecast is done 4 hours before the start of the forecasted day. The predictions use weather forecast data for the known wind farm locations and factor in a range of other parameters. These are sophisticated predictions and are probably as good as they get.

Here is a few example snap shots taken in the last month from the bmreports site.

But as well as this continuously updated graph, bmreports also publish the same 3 day data as an xml file. I've collected the xml files for one month. (Annoyingly I missed two days so these have been left out. But even so I think this is quite a good data set.)

Above is a graph of this data showing the final revised prediction done 4 hours before the start of the predicted day (red) and the final out-turn (blue).

(I've left out the original prediction as for obvious reasons, it was more in error of the final out-turn and so added little to the graph). Note: Actual metered capacity is actually 8972MW so the graph is unduly kind stopping at 8000.)

The first thing that can be seen is that the out-turn is often (not occasionally) in significant variance with the predictions. The graphs may be the same shape but the values at any one point in time are often significantly different. Clearly, any system with a large wind component that relied completely on even a near term forecast (and without spinning reserve) would soon end up in deep trouble.

So whatever the pro-wind zealots preach on Twitter, the problem with lack of wind power predictability has not gone away. Neither has its intermittency.

But potentially the example bmreports graphs (as well as mine) also show another problem. 

Notice in the above graphs how on the occasions the wind output rises above about 30% capacity (3000MW), during the rise, the out-turn lags the predictions and the maximum out-turn is significantly less than either of the predictions. 

It is as if a large proportion of wind turbines exposed to a rising wind and high wind periods are being feathered (or throttled back) for some reason during these periods.

At lower wind speeds there are still periods of great discrepancy between prediction and output but the tracking between prediction and output does appear more coherent. (Remember this forecast was done 4 hours before start of predicted day!)

Wind energy companies only get paid when they are generating. So why would they throttle back their turbines in high winds?

And the answer to that I believe is good old repair and maintenance.

For almost any machine, if you run it lightly it lasts longer. Take a car. The harder you drive a car the more wear and tear it suffers. Just about all rotating machinery obey this simple rule – including wind turbines.

We know that there is a severe generic problem with wind turbine gearbox reliability. (See This Post - The Ghost in the Gearbox and Post - More Ghosts in the Gearbox )

I would suspect that it has been found that if the loading on a wind turbine gets above a certain value the wear rate and maintenance/repair cost will be far more than the return from the extra energy generation.

So maybe operators are unilaterally and quietly deciding that when the wind gets too changeable or too strong, the turbines will be run at reduced output compared to what they are supposed to be capable of.

Wind turbines are capital intensive. If you suffer a catastrophic failure you will ruin the huge and guaranteed profit (subsidy included) your turbines can make. Do it too many times and you may end up going bust. Better to ignore the whole reasoning, propaganda and hype associated with why the thing was built in the first place and go for the low hanging fruit.

Remember most windfarms have a 25 year subsidy regime locked in place. It's a nice little earner. Operators are going to do whatever it takes to maximise the financial gain over this period and if that includes reducing output to make their gearboxes and other expensive components last a bit longer then they will do it. The abatement of Carbon Dioxide can go to hell.

This, of course, makes an even bigger mockery of the often hyped “Installed Capacity” figure than it already is. It also shows how the unreliability of these machines impacts the supposed reason they were built.

It means that wind power is perhaps even more useless and under-achieving than first thought.

I cannot prove the operators are intentionally throttling back their turbines to reduce their maintenance bills. 

But I bet I'm right.


Chris said...

hi Bill of the Wisp. Why am I unable to access BM reports now? They always come up 'data still loading', and it never arrives. Is this only me? I thought the site was having problems, but that doesn't seem to be the case.

Scott Luft said...

Perhaps the turbines are curtailed when production could be very high due to transmission constraints, or a lack of demand for all the potential generation in the system.

BilloTheWisp said...

Hi Chris, I have a problem accessing bmreports from Chrome. I thin there is something fishy about the javascript that services the sections.

It certainly works for me with Firefox - haven't tried explorer (or edge or whatever its called now)

BilloTheWisp said...

Hi Scott, Thanks for the comment.

In the UK wind can access the grid anytime and is guaranteed that all generated wind power will be accepted onto the grid. If necessary something will have to shut down.

There are relatively rare occasions when wind has to be constrained then they get paid considerably more than what they would get for generation. This normally only happens when demand is very low (say 2-3 in the morning), wind output is high and Neta dare not take anymore reliable generation offline.

If the transmission system was limiting wind output then I am sure the wind energy companies would be lining up for constraint payments.