Doomberg on Wind
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The wind energy sector's days are numbered.
“Reason, I sacrifice you to the evening breeze.” – Aimé Césaire
To be an effective podcast guest requires a few basic tactics. First, it is important to let the host get their full question asked before beginning to answer yourself. In normal conversation, it is not uncommon to understand where a friend is going and to get there before they do, but in a podcast setting it can be off-putting. It is also advisable to directly address the host’s questions in a concise manner and to mix in a few memorable phrases that listeners can work into their own discourse. Driving home a key communication objective with a catchy turn of phrase—a verbal meme, if you will—can make the difference between being remembered or forgotten.
One phrase that we coined and have popularized on various podcast appearances is “In the battle between physics and platitudes, physics is undefeated.” It is a polite way of articulating that the hard realities of life must eventually be confronted, and no amount of pompous speech, deceptive statistics, or outright fabrications can overcome the laws of physics. It might take many years, involve billions in misallocated money, and cause significant social and political upheaval, but one simply cannot wish away the fundamental constraints of the universe. The global energy strategy is no exception.
Captain Platitude, reporting for duty | Getty
Perhaps no sector is more guilty of leaning on platitudes than the wind industry. Through dishonest manipulation of cost estimates and a relentless campaign of propaganda, proponents of wind energy have convinced countless politicians to support a technology that disrupts the smooth operation of electricity grids and is utterly dependent on the intermittency of the weather. Anybody with a passing knowledge of energy fundamentals knows this simply can’t be sustainable, as we explained back in February (emphasis added throughout):
“…the fundamental challenge plaguing wind technology: low energy density. Wind is dispersed and to harvest economically significant amounts of energy from it with any semblance of efficiency requires huge plastic composite blades that are designed to be both lightweight and exceptionally strong. The forces and material science challenges involved are substantial. Offshore wind blades now exceed 100 meters in length, and their tip speeds can surpass an incredible 200 miles per hour. The blades convert kinetic energy into rotational energy, which is then usually fed into a gearbox, which increases the rotational rotor speed. A generator is then used to produce electricity. Electrical, mechanical, and blade failures are common and expensive, as are the myriad ongoing servicing activities needed to maintain smooth operation. Confronting these fundamental limits of physics is challenging.”
During our July Doom Zoom presentation—Doom Scrolling: Searching the Globe for Things to Worry About—we made the case that the wind sector might be teetering on the verge of collapse. We argued that the never-ending pursuit of longer blade lengths would be the industry’s undoing, that the resulting balance-of-system stresses were being wholly underestimated, and that the existing fleet of turbines in the field are stationary point-sources of future liability for those who installed them. We repeated our claim that levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) estimates were tantamount to fraud, and that the veil would soon be lifted, causing significant disruption to the entire wind value chain.
Slide 25 | July’s Doom Zoom presentation
In the intervening weeks, the pace and severity of news articles detailing the wind industry’s persistent struggles have surprised even us. At a time when the Biden administration is pushing for massive new installations of both onshore and offshore wind turbines, the sector is recoiling from one disaster after another, calling into significant doubt the wisdom of throwing good money after bad. Are we finally nearing the crossroads? Will the realities of physics conclusively reassert themselves? Let’s stick a finger in the wind and find out...