Wind Power and Reliable Power

I am troubled by the aggressive deployment of industrial scale wind turbines around me. And after reading the numerous papers and presentations from IESO and related groups I get the feeling that the folks responsible for the integrity of our electric grid are too. But since there is a political mandate to shove this stuff out there they can only keep their heads down and manage as best they can.

I am not opposed to green energy — far from it. I am depressed that there is so little being done to encourage its deployment here, except at the industrial scale. Seems we just cannot get away from big institutions (and private profits). Guess that is what capitalism is all about anyhow. Unlike many parts of the world (and just a few miles from here across the Canada-US border) Ontario does not encourage deployment of private power solutions — quite the reverse. Not only will the increased ‘value’ of the property be taxed but distributors seem to charge a ‘stupid tax’ making the costs of equipment far higher that they are just a short distance away (the project studies in ‘HomePower’ have been most interesting). It does not take a genius to work out that the marginal cost of providing a kilowatt at point of use is much less than from a great distance away.

If I were to install a wind turbine for electric power one of the points of concern would be how to isolate the sensitive equipment in the house from the fluctuations in power output due to variations in wind. The usual approach is to buffer the output with a battery bank to smooth things out and sustain my power needs when the wind drops. The wind and our power needs are rarely matched so I would expect the batteries to get a pretty good workout.

Or I suppose I could take the industrial approach and run the turbine unbuffered and pull any mismatch from the grid. I am sure someone makes a controller that can switch fast enough for our modest needs (a few kw). The cable from the power pole is big enough (it supports all our needs now) so this would probably work.

What I am curious about is how well it will work on a province-wide scale? The power output from the wind farms is published — and one can see (as did Energy Probe) that there are times when the wind dies all across the province simultaneously. While the power contribution of unbuffered wind is small this is probably just an annoyance. But what happens when the contribution is large? I am aware that even gas turbines take time to spin up and if overstressed tend to be not too graceful. And though not a power engineer I am not unaware of the delicate balance of supply and consumption that keeps our grid from collapsing (as it did a few years ago). So what happens when a big chunk of the electrical supply just goes away abruptly? Is the dirty secret of the green power rollout that the combustion processes have to keep running quietly in the background? (So no real savings in green house gases.) Or are we just playing craps with our economy, hoping that when the wind fails there will not be much going on so no one will notice? Even more to the point, can we afford to take that risk?

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