Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The aluminum wind circuit

kw: wind energy, economics

I just got done talking with my father about wind turbines and wind energy. He'd read about the recent statements by T. Boone Pickens that they were not an economically feasible energy source. Dad and I both think that long-term, solar energy will be the most economical, though if we can get the country over our national fear of nuclear, that is even better.

A point I made based on studies I did in recent years is that the energy balance doesn't make sense. Aluminum is the primary structural material, and it takes huge amounts of electricity to refine aluminum. Thus, aluminum smelting plants are located where there is a source of cheap electricity such as a large hydropower installation. The aluminum and other materials needed for a wind turbine are shipped to a fabricating plant, where more energy is used to produce the parts. These are transported to the location and erected. A few decades later, the turbine's maintenance costs begin to increase such that it must be decommissioned or have major elements replaced. At that point, it turns out that you've extracted an amount of energy with it, that usually doesn't match the energy needed to produce it in the first place!

My conclusion? Aluminum is being used as an intermediate energy transport medium, and incidentally as a profit vehicle. Electricity gets turned into aluminum which gets turned back into electricity somewhere else, but at a higher cost. Building more power transmission lines would be cheaper!

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