Where Greens Rule

By Keith Kloor | March 2, 2011 6:40 am

Well, not exactly, but it seems that German greens have matured into a potent political force. I do think this Foreign Policy piece hypes their ascendancy, but there’s no denying that greens have long been players in German politics in a way that is unimaginable in the U.S. And it appears they are now appealing to a broader swath of the German populace. 

What’s their secret? According to the author of the Foreign Policy article, it’s a mix of idealism and self-interest: 

The new voters swelling party ranks — young people born in the 1980s and thereafter, eastern Germans, previous non-voters, and scores of refugees fed up with the other parties — are attracted not only to the Greens’ pious promises to steward the planet, but also to their appealing plans for fostering economic growth.

“Greens aren’t traditionally credited with economic competency,”  [Reinhard] Bütikofer, [a Green EU parliamentarian] admits, but he argues that the party has played a large role in Germany’s current economic rebound. The country is now reaping the benefit of the hundreds of thousands of “green jobs” — 400,000 in the renewable-energy sector alone — created from 1998 to 2005, when the Greens ran the government in coalition with the Social Democrats. “Voters previously inaccessible to us, like farmers across Germany or skilled craftsman, have benefited from environmentally driven innovation — and they know it,” he says, citing the sprawling wind farms that dot northern Germany. “We’ve built a strong case for a green economy while all of the other economic models have lost credibility.”

This claim sounds exaggerated to me, but again the larger constrast with American greens, who are all but irrelevant, is striking. (Indeed, some policy analysts argue that environmentalism has been in a long death spiral.) While German greens are enlarging their constituency, their American counterparts remain stereotyped as tree-hugging elitists, who care more about saving imperiled critters than the bruised economy. 

Unfair or not, for all the success of American environmentalism in the last century,  it still remains a botique movement that has never wielded the kind of political clout that German greens are crowing about now.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: environmentalism, greens
  • http://bigcitylib.blogspot.com bigcitylib

    Umm.  U.S. Greens irrelevant? How is it then that your president is using the EPA to regulate carbon emissions?  Conservative GOPers are behind that one, I suppose.

    Also, Nordhaus and crew recycle what the same piece of writing every couple of months, and have been for ages.  Call me when they say something new.

  • Pascvaks

    Beware of Germans with a ‘Cause”.  How they love to get together and shout in unison.  How they urn to lord it over the World and claim that they have the answer to everything.  There is more of the love of the Mob in the German mind than love of Truth.  Be they “Green” or whatever, don’t trust a German mob any farther than you can throw it.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    The most obvious reason why the greens have done better in Germany (and France and New Zealand) is that they don’t rely on an antiquated first-past-the-post electoral system.  That particular honour rests with the U.S., Canada, and Britain among western democracies. This is a well documented impedement for single-issue parties (or at least parties that start out that way). In Canada, for example, the Greens enjoy around 10% support but have yet to win a seat.

    Wrt to your point about the Greens exagerating the benefits of green economic policy, I would largely agree, but what you’re seeing is a pol being a pol :)  OTOH, I think the credibility of Greens is also enhanced in the eyes of the electorate not so much for what they’ve achieved (i.e. economic development), but rather what hasn’t happened as a result of the policies they’ve advanced — the economy hasn’t fallen to pieces.  In this sense I think Germany serves as a good example of what you might expect if cleantech policies played a more central role in govt policy on this side of the pond.


  • bluegrue

    The German Green Party is composed of two wings, the Realos and the Fundis. It was the pragmatic realism of Realos like Joschka Fischer or Daniel Cohn-Bendit, that made Greens in Germany palatable for the wider populace and enabled them to form coalitions both on the state and the federal level. Apart from having a proportional voting system, the existance of a strong Realo wing is the important distinguishing feature of the German Green Party, IMHO.

  • harrywr2

    The Greens are so successful in Germany that the German’s have had to build more coal fired electricity plants. (8.3 GW).
    42% of German Electricity comes from coal, compared to 45% in the US.
    They also had to offshore the carbon fiber plant for BMW’s new ‘eco car’ to Washington State.(Thanks! We could use the jobs)

  • Dean

    The German Greens probably wouldn’t have a Realo wing, or at least a strong one, if there wasn’t a multi-party system to reward it. By making alternative parties non-viable in the US, pragmatic people tend to avoid alternative parties, because they have little practical possibility of influencing policy. This leaves them to the less pragmatic. Also, the German Greens had a charismatic leader in Fischer who was quite popular. He was a radical once, but moderated quite a bit.

    There are Green parties in scores of countries and the same pattern tends to follow. They start with stronger principled position and less pragmatic. Then an electoral opportunity comes up and they change a bit. Then they do relatively well in an election and then they change a lot (with a lot of internal conflict along the way). The Irish Greens are the most recent example.

    A rare exception seems to be the Aussies. The GP there is doing quite well but doesn’t seem to have gone through a sea-change. The US Green Party (which, for the record I was national secretary of quite some years ago, and ran their DC office for a couple of years) has had episodic successes in localities and a few states, and grew a lot when Ralph Nader was it’s prez candidate. But with the US electoral system, even if the GP had as many supporters per capita as the Germans, it wouldn’t get a single member of Congress. Virtually all democracies in the world today have proportional representation, which, for the record, has nothing to do with whether they are parliamentary system. The two concepts have nothing to do with each other.

    The article and comments seem to conflate generic green – i.e. environmentalist – with the Green Party. Most mainstream environmentalists have not supported Green Parties in their countries. They tend to support more conventional center-left parties for a variety of reasons. It’s a long story.

  • BBD

    Re ‘400,000 jobs in the renewables sector alone’.

    This nonsense is constantly being spouted by government here in the UK.

    Unfortunately, jobs are a <b>cost</b> to a project, not a benefit. Talk of vast numbers of ‘green jobs’ proceeds from the mouths of economically illiterate green politicians unaware that what they are saying is: ‘renewables are fantastically, astonishingly expensive. Much, much more so than you think’.

    Such jobs must be funded. Where does the money come from? Why from the taxpayer of course. The FIT subsidy system in Germany has been used to bankroll the renewables sector and everyone employed by it since ’98.

    Why do you think it has grown so large, so rapidly? It’s not as if it actually produces much electricity.

    FIT subsidies have also caused the cost of electricity to spiral. The German electorate is now waking up to the fact that green rhetoric about jobs is just that. Rhetoric. Robbing Peter to pay Paul is not sound economic policy. You just end up with bigger and bigger electricity bills.

    The German government is trying to cut back the FIT scheme (especially for solar) as fast as it can, but of course is being fiercely opposed by lobbying from the renewables industry.

    Public awareness of the mendacity of green politics is only beginning, but the truth will out in the end.

  • Bill

    Correct. And nearly all the “Green Jobs” are just construction jobs which end when construction is completed. Few are permanent.

    If you spend trillions of $ building renewables, the value of that investment is actually negative. That is because you are just replacing an existing power system with a system whose operating costs are 2 or 3 times as high. When people have paid much higher power bills, they have less money to spend on other goods and services. So employment in the rest of the economy contracts.

    You have to be economically illiterate, if you cant realise that “Green Jobs” just replace other jobs.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    “costs are 2 or 3 times as high”. any evidence of that? last time i checked the levelized cost for wind was pretty close to natural gas and not too far off supercrit coal with emission controls….

  • BBD

    Marlowe Johnson
    Irrespective of levelized cost, wind has a problem. It fails on the three criteria necessary for a generator connected to a regional/national grid.
    As wind is intermittent and unpredictably variable, it cannot provide:
    Load following
    Peak demand
    And it’s very expensive, too.

  • Dean

    @10 BBD

    This is called changing the subject.

    Wind creates more ongoing jobs than most any kind of energy generation – more labor intensive and less capital intensive. And yet because no money is spent on fuel, it’s still cheaper.

  • Bill

     Just sheer bullshit. In Australia wind costs about $80 + $40 for the attached Renewable Energy Certificate. Coal costs about $50, base load gas about $60 – $70.

     But since wind is intermittent, it has to be backed by peaking power gas, when it is more than about 10% of supply. (Up to about 10% it can be backed by existing peaking power reserves, gas and possibly some hydro).

     Peaking power gas costs $80, (it is less efficient than base load gas). So when wind is more than about 10% of supply, cost is $200. That is four times the cost of coal.

     It’s also bullshit that wind creates permanent jobs. Windfarms are usually unmanned.

  • Steven Sullivan

    This post reads as contemptuous of American environmentalism’s failures and bitter/sardonic about German environmentalism’s successes.

    Really, what would a ‘green’ have to do to win your favor, Keith?

  • BBD


    See #12 Bill

    I am not changing the subject, simply responding to Marlowe Johnson at #9 above.

    Your assertion re wind and jobs is unsupported, and nonsensical.

  • BBD

    Steve Sullivan

    What successes does German ‘environmentalism’ boast? See harrywr2 #5.

    It is spin, rhetoric, nothing more. German electricity prices are soaring, and there has bee no real-world boost to the German economy through jobs in the renewables sector.

    A publicly-subsidised job is a burden on the economy, not an asset to it.

    The German electorate is in the process of waking up to this fact.

  • http://ourchangingclimate.wordpress.com Bart Verheggen

    I find Pascvaks’s comment (#2) extremely distasteful with its tinly veiled nods to the mid 20th century history. Such a comment has no place in a serious discussion.

  • BBD

    Bart Verheggen

    Why emphasis by remarking on it? Best to ignore such sentiments.

  • Marlowe Johnson


    You’re correct in noting that intermittent power sources like wind are a different animal than baseload sources like nuclear or coal.  I’ll also allow that the FIT prices offered to wind (and particularly solar) *may* have been overly generous.

    However I’d suggest you’re in fantasy land if you think that electricy system operators don’t know how to integrate these types of power systems within a regional grid.  Sorry but that just aint so.  FWIW, you might find a project like this to be of interest. And btw, in Iowa MidAmerican Energy has close to 1400 MW under contract, all of which is financed at market rates.  So, it’s pretty clear that your assertion that renewables can’t compete with fossil is false.

    Does this mean that solar panels make sense in the Artic? Of course not.  But it does that in many places around the world renewables can compete with new fossil generation using existing technology. And by all accounts technological improvements in the pipeline are reducing costs even further (particularly for solar thermal and solar pv).  So what we really aught to be arguing about is not yes/no renewables, but rather how much, what kind/where, how fast, and how much financial support should they get to accelerate transition…

    I’d bet even Harry2w-coal-bot would agree with me on this one :)

  • harrywr2

    #9 Marlowe,
    In the US Natural Gas runs at about a 25% capacity factor, It is true that natural gas and wind are about the same in terms of levelized costs.
    The difference is that natural gas plants are used for ‘peak load’ when the value of electricity is highest. We have 2 GW of wind in Washington State. The wind blows primarily in the spring and fall.
    ‘Peak Load’ occurs in the summer and winter.
    If there is anywhere in the world where wind would seem yo make sense, it’s the Pacific Northwest. We have enormous hydropower resources to provide backup for the intermittancy.
    Unfortunately, wind follows rain as a general rule. Which means the hydro dams have to spill when the wind is blowing the best. On paper we should be able to load balance 6 GW of wind.
    In practice at 2 GW the windmills are getting ‘Do not generate’ orders after heavy rains.
    Then we have the other side of the coin, it doesn’t rain much in July and August and the wind doesn’t blow much either.
    One would think if we got electric cars and charged them with Smart Meters the problem would be solved, but it won’t be solved. Peak Driving Season is between Memorial Day and Labor day, when our hydro resources and wind resources are the lowest and our electricity demand is the highest.
    So whether we like it our not we are going to have to pay to build a form of electric generation that can get us thru July and August.
    So that means for wind to be competitive the levelized cost has to be less then the fuel cost of whatever we build to get us thru July and August.

    The onshore wind resource east of the Mississippi in the US is awful. So it’s not really an option.
    West of the Mississippi the fuel cost for a coal fired plant is about 2 cents/KWh.
    If one decides to build nuclear for base load then wind can’t possibly compete with nuclear on fuel cost.
    If all someone wants to do is cut CO2 emissions from electricity generation by 10 or 15% then it can be done with windmills.
    As soon as 80% is on the table then it can’t be done. Time to talk about nuclear power.


  • Marlowe Johnson

    Wrt to jobs and renewable energy technologies, Dan Kammen (now the head cleantech policy wonk @ the World Bank) and company at Berkely have done some interesting work on this question.  Here’s the nugget:

    “We find that all renewable energy and low carbon sources generate more jobs than the fossil fuel sector per unit of energy delivered while the type of employment differs between technologies (e.g. manufacturing vs. resource extraction) and the timing and location of employment may differ within a given country or geography.”

    The study includes construction and O&M (in case you were wondering).  If you’re interested, they’ve even posted the model they used for there study which can be downloaded here.


  • Marlowe Johnson

    sorry for the formatting garbage Keith; comment got hung up in moderation.  Forgot how picky your software is on that front….

  • TimG

    Marlowe Johnson Says:

    “low carbon sources generate more jobs than the fossil fuel sector per unit of energy delivered”

    ROTFL. This is an excellent illustration of the the economic illiteracy of climate/”clean” energy activists.

    Requring more jobs per unit of energy delivered is a really, really bad thing. It means the source of power is labour intensive which means it is expensive and unscalable. This is something most sceptics have understood from the start. It is nice to see climate activists acknowledge this even if they are blind to the implications of their claims. 

  • Dean

    Wind clearly has challenges to become a major energy source. Unless there is a huge breakthrough in storage technology, major transmission would need to be built in order to spread the supply out. I saw one study that suggested that if a huge amount of transmission were built, including a national grid, that the intermittancy of wind could be handled. After it’s blowing somewhere in this large country all of the time.

    But the political roadblocks to that level of transmission construction – not to mention the cost – probably rival the political challenges that nuclear faces. Rules have been passed where I live making it fairly easy to build wind generation despite local opposition, but no such shortcut is available for transmission, and it takes something like 10 years to see a major transmission project from beginning to end.

    So while in principle a huge transmission capacity would let Southern California or the northeast be powered by wind from the Dakotas, or Nebraska, or the east slope of the PNW Cascades, where ever it’s blowing,  the likelihood that it will actually be built is minimal.

    I’m not going to get further into the jobs issue since it clearly seems to me to be mired in ideology and it isn’t the subject of this thread. In the end we can all cite studies that support our own point of view.

  • Sashka

    It’s not about ideology at all. It’s about common sense on the part of the people who realize that the “green job creation” means high costs vs. lack of common sense on the part of the people who for some reason believe that this is a good thing.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    Don’t be a putz.  What are the fuel costs of wind and solar (hint: it rhymes with ‘hero’)?  For renewables, it’s maintenance costs that are important.  For fossil technologies, it’s the fuel costs. Why are you so confused about this? The former requires more labour –i.e. jobs, while the latter does not.  Wrt to you issue of scalability, labour supply is indeed an issue, but we don’t seem to be scaling up so fast that turbine technicians are making more than neurosurgeons…

  • Marlowe Johnson

    why does ‘green job creation’ mean high costs? evidence please. Perhaps we should stick to the 18th century model of using child labour to dig the coal out.  After all that would help to keep costs down :roll:
    And while we’re at lets get rid of all those NOx, SOx, particulate, and mercury controls on our good ol’ coal plants.  All those do is drive costs up as well…

  • BBD

    Hopeless here.

    Too many ‘experts’ who have absolutely no idea what they are talking about.

    Collectively the term is ‘energy fantasists’.

    The example above provided by the prolifically incorrect Marlowe Johnson is illustrative:

    Why, he asks, does ‘green job creation’ mean higher costs?

    Marlowe, please show a SINGLE example of a wind or solar project which is

    – competitive with conventional WITHOUT subsidy

    – an economist who agrees that jobs are not a cost to a project

    – a ‘green job’ that is not directly or indirectly supported by subsidy (I regard FITs as a stealth regressive tax and effectively a subsidy BTW).

    I do not argue for coal or for CO2. I argue for economic honesty.

    You are wedded to an ideological fantasy about (wind) renewables which is economically dishonest. Can’t help you with that.

  • http://www.hopkinson.net Simon Hopkinson

    Marlowe, what tripe. Try relating wind/solar in equivalent terms – i.e. guaranteed infrastructure supply, competitive with and equivalent to traditional electricity production.

  • BBD

    Marlowe and others confuse the issue further by insisting that as renewables are ‘free’ (no fuel cost), then there is leeway for subsidised job creation etc.

    The issue is the cost of energy per kWh to the consumer (or at least to the wholesale market).

    The problem is that because wind and solar are intermittent they require backup from conventional spinning reserve.

    Factor this into the capital cost of wind (especially offshore) and solar plant, plus the (high) maintenance cost of (offshore) wind, and you have very expensive energy.

    Then add in the subsidy always needed to make the whole non-viable nonsense work at all.

    Then accept the economic reality: wind and solar are marginal in yield, unreliable in nature, and when the full accounting is done, entirely uncompetitive.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    See MidAmerican in Iowa for an example of competitive wind (although it does of course still receive the 2.1 c/KWhr. FTC).  Now before you go all ra ra on me about subsidies, i would point out that fossil energy has received far more in subsdies on a historical basis (mainly through tax provisions rather than price assurances) than wind or solar has.

    And who said jobs aren’t a cost? I didn’t.  I said that labour costs are prefereable to fuel costs when evaluating the O&M components of different power generation technologies. You seem to be under the illusion that coal and natural gas are free.  They aren’t.

  • NewYorkJ

    Bill: “And nearly all the “Green Jobs” are just construction jobs which end when construction is completed. Few are permanent.”

    Green jobs include maintenance as well, and you could make the same naive claim about coal jobs.  They end when construction is completed.  Of course, when is construction really completed?  The demand for green energy sources is not going to end anytime soon.  Of course, renewables carry with them zero fuel costs.  Coal requires dangerous/dirty labor of mining to supply plants with fuel. 

    BBD has unsupported opinions.  Here is some objective analysis:

    Levelized cost comparison:

    Coal: 53.1
    Natural Gas: 52.5
    Wind: 55.8
    Nuclear: 59.3


    In the United States, wind energy has reached 5% of that of coal, up from 1% just a few years ago.  It’s beginning to become a significant player.  Long-term, I think solar will catch up as it has the largest potential for cost reductions.

    One advantage to coal is that it probably helps create some jobs in the medical industry, at least short-term.


  • Sashka

    I’m sorry Marlowe. I don’t understand the question. What would serve as evidence that green jobs mean cost? Could you perhaps point to an example of a green job that is not a cost? Where does the money come from?

  • http://www.hopkinson.net Simon Hopkinson

    2.2c, Marlowe.

    “[..] according to a 2007 EIA study (the last year they provided statistics) wind received 53 times more government subsidy support than conventional coal ($23.37 per megawatt-hour vs. $0.44 per MWh). This amounts to more than 20 times more for subsidies in terms of average electricity generated by coal and natural gas, while coal produces 50 times more U.S. electrical power than wind.” – Forbes

  • Sashka

    @ 30

    No. It’s you who is under illusion that the more green jobs the better while the opposite is the case.

    BTW, nobody said that fossil sources are free.

  • BBD

    Marlowe Johnson

    You say

    <You seem to be under the illusion that coal and natural gas are free.  They aren’t.>

    I said the opposite

    <The problem is that because wind and solar are intermittent they require backup from conventional spinning reserve.>

    If wind penetration is >10% it requires additional conventional plant for backup. Factor this into the cost of wind.

    Connecting dispersed wind installations require very substantial extensions to the grid infrastructure. At huge cost (never acknowledged by proponents of expanding wind capacity.

    And at the end of it all, you still have a generation technology that is unfit for grid connection because it is not dispatchable.

    It is unfit for baseload, load-following or demand spikes.

    We can discuss different cost scenarios ad nauseam but we are always going to end up with a technology that is limited by its essential nature to a marginal future in the energy mix.

  • BBD

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    Wind and solar have the potential to become marginal components of the energy mix. But as both are unusable for baseload, load-following or peak, that’s where it stops.

    You cannot run an industrialised economy on wind and solar. If the penetration of either/both exceeds >10% more conventional capacity must be installed as backup.

    If the intention is to significantly decarbonise electricity generation, wind and solar will not deliver. The choice by default is nuclear. I am aware that not everyone is happy about this.

  • BBD

    Whoops. Apologies for the above. Composed in Word because the font in the comment pane is minuscule.
    Won’t do it again.

  • ivp0

    Meanwhile all those beautiful (cough) heavily subsidized windmills dotted across the fields of Germany sit silently, generating nothing but tax subsidies for the land owners. Not exactly the alt energy dream come true.
    Levelized cost comparisons for wind are always a bit of a joke. They are based on capacity.  Windmills never run “at capacity”. They actually generate about 5% of capacity most years.  Rare exceptions are Altamont pass and Tehachapi in Calif. where the wind howls nearly nonstop.

  • NewYorkJ


    From your link:

    “Some electricity sources, such as nuclear, coal, oil, and natural gas, have received varying levels of subsidies and support in the past which may have aided them in reaching their current role in electricity production.  The impacts of prior subsidies, some of which may no longer be in effect, are not measured in the current analysis.”

    Note Marlowe’s statement.

    Also, why is it that coal receives any taxpayer subsidies today given how damaging it is and how it’s already long been entrenched in our energy infrastructure?  The environmental costs are enormous.

  • NewYorkJ

    Funny how some anti-green folks are claiming green energy doesn’t generate many jobs while others (TimG, #22) are saying it generates too many.  I’ve guess we’ve come full circle.  The only consistency is none have managed to support their claims, as seems to be typical.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    “Windmills never run “at capacity”. They actually generate about 5% of capacity most years.”

    Don’t suppose you’d have a reference to back up that particular gem?

  • http://www.hopkinson.net Simon Hopkinson

    Marlowe, try here for starters: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-12597097


  • ivp0

    @41  Here you go.  Average capacity factor for all of Germany=16.9%  Installations in the high mountain passes might generate a capacity factor as high as 40%.  On the flat open farmlands capacity factor is closer to 5%.  So to estimate levelized costs, divide total wind capacity in Germany by six.  So if the levelized cost of Nuclear power is 59, natural gas 52, the cost of actual wind energy is 335.  Ouch!

  • Menth

    Here’s a great article on this very subject:

    “The Global lnsight study further asserts that pursuing green energy will increase economic productivity. “When compared to conventional technologies on unit of energy output, due to intermittency and low capacity factors, wind and solar are likely to be more labor intensive (hence less productive),” notes Gulen. In fact, Gulen adds that other studies are counting on the fact that green energy technologies are more labor intensive as a way to generate more jobs.
    This strategy is reminiscent of the no doubt apocryphal story of the American economist visiting Mao’s China taken on a tour of a construction site where 100 workers were using shovels to build an earthen dam. “Why don’t you just use one man and a bulldozer to build the dam?” asked the economist. The guide responded, “If we did that, then we’d have 99 men out of work.” To which the economist replied, “Oh, I thought you were building a dam. If your goal is to make jobs, why don’t you take their shovels away and replace them with spoons?”

  • http://www.hopkinson.net Simon Hopkinson
  • http://www.hopkinson.net Simon Hopkinson

    NYJ: “Simon, From your link:”

    I didn’t disagree with Marlowe, I just treated it in proportion to its irrelevance.

  • Tom Fuller

    The problem is that nobody (aside from Tim Worstall) seems willing to state the obvious–that green jobs are a cost added to the overall costs of green energy.

  • NewYorkJ

    Average wind power capacity generally varies betwen 20-40%.


    “Recent studies of wind power installed on United
    States grids have attempted to determine the actual
    cost of intermittency, They indicate it is currently in
    the area of a 2-5 tenths of a cent per kWh, depending
    on penetration. The higher costs were for 20%
    penetration. A few tenths of a cent per kWh is not
    insignificant, but it is still a small percentage of the
    total cost of generating power (which for wind power
    might be in the range of 2-6 ¢/kWh).”


  • ivp0

    So I guess you missed this part of the article which states actual (not estimated) annual wind capacity factors:

    Germany (total) [5]

    India (total) [2] [9] (f)

    Italy (total) [2] [10] (g)

    Poland (total) [2]

    France (total) [2] [11] (h)

    World (total) [2] [12] (i)

  • http://www.hopkinson.net Simon Hopkinson

    On top of all of this is the inescapable fact that, when we need the energy the most – on both the coldest and the warmest days – wind energy is notable by its absence. The wind doesn’t blow.

  • NewYorkJ


    Odd how you only list those under 20%.  U.S. and U.K. are both near 30%.  While I don’t put much stock in original research on blog posts, the numbers for 2005 don’t seem too far off.  Note that the first citation for world (~20%) is the following:


    The only number given for “capacity factor” is for a wind farm in Egypt:

    “Currently, there is 225 MW wind farm operated into stages. The 1st
    stage was 63 MW operated in 2001, the 2nd one was 77 MW
    operated in 2003/2004. Both of them were implemented in
    cooperation with Denmark and Germany. Meanwhile, the
    last installation of 85 MW in cooperation with Spain was
    operational in July 2006. The energy production from the
    farm was about 552 GWh at an average capacity factor of
    40.6 %”

    Performance has also improved with newer installations.

    “The performance of commercial turbines has improved over time, and as a result, their capacity factors have slowly increased. Figure 2-4 shows the capacity factors at commercial operation dates (CODs) ranging from 1998 to 2005. The data shows that turbines in the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) database (Wiser and Bolinger 2007) that began operating commercially before 1998 have an average capacity factor of about 22%. The turbines that began commercial operation after 1998, however, show an increasing capacity factor trend, reaching 36% in 2004 and 2005.”

    From DoE May 2008 report “20% Wind Energy by 2030 – Increasing Wind Energy’s Contribution to U.S. Electric Supply”

    You also naively and falsely assume capacity factor is 100% for baseload.

    “The capacity factor for coal plants, which make up the bulk of U.S. baseload capacity but can also operate in load-following mode,14 dropped sharply (8.4 percentage points) in 2009, from 72.2 percent to 63.8 percent.
    The vast majority of natural gas capacity in the United States operates as load-following or peaking units. In 2009, coal-to-gas switching increased the usage of combined-cycle natural gas generators; the capacity factor for these units increased from 40.6 percent in 2008 to 42.5 percent in 2009. ”

    – From DoE’s “Electric Power Industry 2009: Year in Review”

    U.S. non-hydro renewable energy capacity factor was listed as 33.8% in 2009.

  • NewYorkJ

    While my longer comment with references is in moderation, a quick summary:

    U.S. electricity capacity factors 2009:

    Coal:  63.8%
    Natural gas:  42.5%
    Non-hydro renewables:  33.8%

    Intermittancy adds a small cost (less than 1 cent per kwh) to wind power, on the higher side with greater rollout.  Lots of solutions for achieving more expansive use of intermmitent power.


  • BBD

    I see – without surprise – that nobody on the pro wind side has addressed the fundamental question:

    Wind is unfit for

    – baseload

    – load-following

    – peak

    Because is it NOT DISPATCHABLE. It is not dispatchable because it is intermittent, variable and unpredictable.

    This intrinsic limitation (which also applies to solar) means that wind cannot ever be more than a marginal component in the energy mix.

    At penetrations >10%, it requires near-equivalent capacity backup from conventional. Thus it is also unfit as a path towards decarbonisation of electricity generation.

    Commenters above have much to say, but nothing that addresses the core of the problem as set out above (for the nth time in this thread).

    I am forced to conclude that you avoid dealing with this question because you cannot.

    Which is obvious, really.

  • BBD

    May I add that further obfuscation with cherry-picked figures will not do here. It is a rhetorical device to confuse the issue and avoid answering the hard questions.

  • BBD

    @Tom Fuller #47

    Not so. But then I have read what Worstall has to say and agree. It is, after all, self-evidently true, despite what other non-economically literate commenters have managed to convince themselves.

    See my comment at #7

  • ivp0

    Odd indeed that you again averted your eyesight at the punchline: “World wide wind capacity factor is 19.6%, not the rosy 20-40 average found in colorful brochures for wind energy.  Capacity factor is far more dependent on ideal site than advanced technology and there are only so many ideal sites to go around.  San Gorgonio pass in California is one.  Open farmlands in Germany are nearly useless for wind energy generation.
    If real world wind capacity factor is 19.6%, modern nuclear is 92% and we use this to determine true levelized costs, we can calculate what our future energy costs would be.  If your electric bill under nuclear is $100/month, the same electricity use under wind power would be $444/month.  Not a good plan if we want electric cars in our future.
    Also San Gorgonio Pass consumes 70 square miles of land to generate 890 GWh annually, it is quite unsightly and kills a lot of birds.  Diablo Canyon Nuclear produces 18,000 GWh annually on approx. 1 square mile of land.
    Conclusion:  If we want to replace coal generation we are going to need nuclear.  Wind/solar generation will never get us there.  The German people are just seeing this now and are increasingly annoyed with the huge taxpayer funded windmill projects that generate very little electricity.

  • NewYorkJ


    Start with the WP article I posted.

    I’m uninterested in unsupported claims.

    ivp0: ” If we want to replace coal generation we are going to need nuclear.  Wind/solar generation will never get us there.  The German people are just seeing this now and are increasingly annoyed with the huge taxpayer funded windmill projects that generate very little electricity.”
    False presumption.  You don’t speak for the German people.

    By an 82-18% margin, the German people support increasing wind farms in Germany, up slightly from 2008, and similar to results in other European countries and the United States.  77% of Germans oppose building nuclear plants – notably higher than all other countries polled.


    Nuclear power has grown even more expensive over the past several years.  Cost is why some projects have been canceled.  Wind power has increased 500% in 4 years in the United States.  Cost has not been prohibitive.  While nuclear power has it’s environmental costs in addition to national security risks (small risk, high impact), both energy sources are vastly better for the environment than coal.  All but the extreme anti-green nuts, who disingenously feign concern over birds (fossil fuel generation kills about 20x more per mwh than wind turbines) should be able to agree on that.

  • NewYorkJ

    Regarding capacity factor, if levelized cost assumed 100% operation, then its calculated maintenance costs and useful life (related to capital costs) would be a reflection of that assumption.  If a source operated only 1% of the time, annual maintenance costs would be much lower and the system would last much longer.  Any adjustment to levelized costs for capacity factor would have to adjust capital & maintenance costs downward – not as trivial as a back-of-the-hand CF X cost calculation since other elements affect maintenance and useful life as well.

  • BBD


    Wikipedia isn’t recognised as a valid citation anywhere I know.

    I’m not interested in anything further you have to say unless it is in direct, unambiguous response to the question I have raised – and you have avoided – repeatedly on this thread. See #53 above.

    It is increasingly apparent that you are an ideologue in love with the idea of wind rather than an engineer who understands how the grid actually works.

    Further, you do not appear to understand that wind/solar are inherently limited in their potential for expansion beyond 10% of the energy mix because of the backup problem.

    I don’t care about your numbers, your snark about unsupported assertions or any of the rest of it.

    Answer the question posed at #53.

    Reread what I said about your use of numbers at #54 before doing so.

    And start being intellectually honest about this. I’m getting bored waiting.


  • Marlowe Johnson

    You seem to enjoy beating up strawmen.  Can you point me to the comment wherein I or NewYokJ suggested that solar PV or wind will supply all of the world’s electricity?  Intermittency is a problem.  We get it.  At current penetration rates its manageable (as NewYorkJ points out upthread).  For more signficant penetration rates you need more transmission infrastructure/cheap energy storage, or as you suggested more dispatchable fossil. Happy now?

    I’m not ‘pro’ wind btw.  If anything I’m pro-biomass and pro solar thermal.  I’d love to be pro-nuke and pro-supercritical coal with CCS, but I think the chances of the costs coming down for those technologies are much lower than the costs coming down for solar and other renewables (wind being the exception as its a more mature technology with fewer avenues for future cost reductions)

    p.s. if wind is so ‘unfit’ then why in the world is warren buffet spending so much money on it? Does he know something you don’t :) ?

  • ivp0

    @57 Says:  “I’m uninterested in unsupported claims.”
    That is rich, and yet you fill every post to bursting with them.
    California currently leads the nation in renewable energy resources with the largest wind generation farms built and yet wind only accounts for 3% of generation needs:
    More on Germany’s green energy trap.  Perhaps the German people are not so enthusiastic after all:
    Wind and solar will never replace coal generation.  It is purely a pipe dream.  If eliminating coal generation is the end goal, nuke is the only currently viable technology that will get it done.

  • NewYorkJ

    Wikipedia isn’t recognised as a valid citation anywhere I know.

    This is the usual obtuse response from someone not taking the time to read the myriad of references in the article.  I presented the article as a starting point and good summary of baseload/intermittency issues and I’m not interested in playing the role of your elementary school teacher in helping you understand every detail when you don’t take the time to do some basic research.

    Answer the question posed at #53.

    There were no questions posed at #53.  Asking questions might do you some good though.

    Reread what I said about your use of numbers at #54 before doing so.

    What is there to address?  Your statement here is ambiguous and unsupported as the rest of your stuff:

    May I add that further obfuscation with cherry-picked figures will not do here.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    For those who are interested in looking at how the EIA sees levelized costs try here:


    Interestingly, you’ll see that wind actually does quite well against coal and other fossil technologies.  Imagine that.  Of course at current and projected prices it’s natural gas that steals the show…

  • BBD

    Marlowe Johnson

    Your partial acknowledgement that I am correct in what I say (eg #53 above) demonstrates that it is anything but a strawman.

    The problem is your and NYJ’s absolutely uncritical acceptance of hand-waving about ‘more transmission infrastructure/cheap energy storage’.

    The former is prohibitively expensive and diminishes security of supply (wide area transmission is vulnerable to faults in proportion to its extent).

    The latter is a fantasy, unless you are in one of those geographically fortunate spots with the potential for pumped hydro (also extremely expensive).

    NYJ and perhaps to a lesser extent yourself simply ignore the enormous cost and general impracticality of the renewables vision. The constant refusal even to acknowledge that so much of the cost is in infrastructure and pumped hydro is a very good example of the false accounting necessary to pretend that wind has any real role to play in displacing conventional gas or decarbonising the economy as a whole.

    Astonishingly, you go on to say

    For more signficant penetration rates you need more transmission infrastructure/cheap energy storage, or as you suggested more dispatchable fossil.

    Unbelievable. Where is policy logic in this? The only reason to even consider something as problematic and hideously expensive as large-scale wind is decarbonisation. Yet you airily dismiss the impossibility of wind achieving this by saying, yes, it’s okay to add more conventional spinning reserve.

    As for your parting shot, I suspect that Buffet thought the Obama administration would be far more effective in accelerating wind infrastructure development. He hoped for a ‘windfall’ and is, I think, about to be severely disappointed.

  • BBD


    Oh come on. How does wind have a future above about >10% penetration? I’m not going through it all again.

    You are refusing to address the issues I raise because you can’t. It’s laughably obvious.

    I’m going to charitably ignore your unwarranted suggestion that I don’t know what I am talking about as I am more interested to see how you address the core engineering problem I have repeatedly pointed out on this thread.

    At #54 I said

    May I add that further obfuscation with cherry-picked figures will not do here. It is a rhetorical device to confuse the issue and avoid answering the hard questions.

    What is ‘ambiguous’ about that?

    You are wriggling and getting abusive. The end is near…

  • Marlowe Johnson

    see what I wrote @18.  You haven’t been reading very closely.

    Can you clarify what you mean by ‘hideously’ expensive?

    For more signficant penetration rates you need more transmission infrastructure/cheap energy storage, or as you suggested more dispatchable fossil.”

    It looks like you’re being deliberately obtuse.  I’m not advocating for more fossil.  I’m simply listing the options that are available for addressing scenarios where wind & solar PV penetration rates are signficant.

    For those who are interested in seeing a more substantive discussion of the link between renewables and energy storage, try here:


  • NewYorkJ

    Oh come on. How does wind have a future above about >10% penetration?

    Ask the Danes.  Then read this report:


  • BBD

    Marlowe Johnson

    You too, are imploding along with NYJ. Misrepresenting what I say is a tactic of last resort.

    At #60 you said

    For more signficant penetration rates you need more transmission infrastructure/cheap energy storage, or as you suggested more dispatchable fossil. Happy now?

    At #64 I responded. I leave it to others to judge whether I am being ‘obtuse’ or whether you are avoiding dealing with what I say:

    The problem is your and NYJ’s absolutely uncritical acceptance of hand-waving about “˜more transmission infrastructure/cheap energy storage’. [Etc]

    ‘Hideously expensive’ means more money than you are going to be able to justify spending for ~10% of the energy mix. Nitpicking to distract.

    The reason this discussion is not as substantive as it might be is that you and NYJ are:

    -Refusing to even acknowledge that wind is incapable of baseload, load-following or peak generation.

    – Refusing to accept that budgets are a real-world constraint, eg:

    – You do not accept the cost of integrating large scale wind into the grid so far outweighs the capacity gain that it will never happen.

    – You make a bizarre sidestep when confronted with the necessity for conventional backup when wind or solar exceeds 10% of the energy mix. If supergrids and interconnectors are impractically expensive for a mere 10% of the energy mix, then conventional backup is the only widely-available fix. And it completely invalidates the use of wind as a mechanism for decarbonisation.

    I have repeatedly made these points only to have them engulfed in waffle or simply ignored.

    You clearly cannot make the case for wind, hence your constant use of crude diversionary tactics.

    I’m sure that this will be abundantly obvious to many readers of this thread.


  • BBD


    It’s your argument. Why don’t you simply explain in simple terms why wind can achieve more than 10% without conventional backup?

    I warned you earlier not to assume that I didn’t know what I was talking about. The ‘case’ for Danish wind is extremely atypical. See here:


    Linking to yet more partisan handwaving does not strengthen your argument as you seem to believe. Rather the reverse.

    Still no attempt to engage with the core engineering issues in simple, direct language, I see.

  • ivp0

    @57 says:
    “All but the extreme anti-green nuts, who disingenously feign concern over birds (fossil fuel generation kills about 20x more per mwh than wind turbines) should be able to agree on that.”
    And speaking of unsubstantiated claims… got a link for those fossil fuel bird kills?  Here is a very credible, link for Avian mortality related to wind generation:
    Altamont pass is just one troubled wind farm site that is responsible for nearly 10,000 birds kills annually, including hundreds of endangered/threatened species. I don’t consider The Golden Gate Audubon Society a group of “extreme anti-green nuts”, do you?

  • NewYorkJ

    Thanks for asking, ivp0.

    Peer-reviewed study:

    Contextualizing avian mortality: A preliminary appraisal of bird and bat fatalities from wind, fossil-fuel, and nuclear electricity

    “This article explores the threats that wind farms pose to birds and bats before briefly surveying the recent literature on avian mortality and summarizing some of the problems with it. Based on operating performance in the United States and Europe, this study offers an approximate calculation for the number of birds killed per kWh generated for wind electricity, fossil-fuel, and nuclear power systems. The study estimates that wind farms and nuclear power stations are responsible each for between 0.3 and 0.4 fatalities per gigawatt-hour (GWh) of electricity while fossil-fueled power stations are responsible for about 5.2 fatalities per GWh. While this paper should be respected as a preliminary assessment, the estimate means that wind farms killed approximately seven thousand birds in the United States in 2006 but nuclear plants killed about 327,000 and fossil-fueled power plants 14.5 million. The paper concludes that further study is needed, but also that fossil-fueled power stations appear to pose a much greater threat to avian wildlife than wind and nuclear power technologies.”


    Regarding “anti-green nuts”, I’m referring to those who would highlight environmental issues with renewable energy when it suits them while ignoring far greater environmental problems with fossil fuels or their energy of choice.  That’s disingenuous.  While I don’t agree with those environmentalists who oppose wind power (they don’t always present viable alternatives), at least they are consistent in their analysis.

  • ivp0

    Sorry NYJ, that is a carefully prepared study from the wind energy lobby that has no supporting evidence and misses known avian mortality rates by a factor of 10000.  The definition of disingenuous.  Certainly good for a chuckle at least.  Here is the full text for your entertainment:

  • NewYorkJ

    that is a carefully prepared study from the wind energy lobby that has no supporting evidence and misses known avian mortality rates by a factor of 10000. 

    Neither of these claims is supported.  Although I’m sure wind energy advocates are pleased with the study, the peer-reviewed journal Energy Policy, which has published studies favorable to nuclear energy as well, isn’t owned by them.

    Carry on with your fantasies and hand-waving.

  • ivp0

    @73  Carry on indeed!
    An excellent example of the need for a stronger peer review process.  None of their figures are even close to documented avian deaths. 1 small example:
    “wind farms killed approximately seven thousand birds in the United States in 2006 but nuclear plants killed about 327,000 and fossil-fueled power plants 14.5 million.”
    What a croc.  Wind farm deaths are known to exceed 30,000 annually in with regular bird counts.  Nearly 10,000 per year at Altamont Pass alone.  Source: The National Audubon Society
    Got any bird counts for the fictional bird kills associated with nuke and FF generators?  Nada, Nix, Zero.  Those numbers were pulled out of their backside.  No evidence whatsoever.  Clue, when surface mining begins, birds fly away.  They don’t stick around to check out the action.
    But please NYJ, don’t let me interrupt your little windmill utopia fantasy.

  • NewYorkJ

    Still no source for your claims, but since the peer-reviewed study I cited approximated deaths for 2006, then a 4-5 fold increase in generation since then would result in much more bird deaths for 2010.  Still the same ratio compared to other sources, unless such sources have improved detrimental effects on birds.

    Altamount Pass is well above average but newer turbines have much less impact.



    Here’s an Audubon Society link you might appreciate, to provide some perspective.

    “The American Bird Conservancy* has launched a citizen education and action campaign to end the massive and unnecessary loss of birds and other wildlife to predation by domestic cats. Scientists estimate that free-roaming cats (owned, stray, and feral) kill hundreds of millions of birds and possibly more than a billion small mammals in the U.S. each year.”


    If all electric power was from wind, bird deaths would be a small fraction of the above. 

    Much more relevant of course is comparison to fossil fuels, where nearly 20x more are killed per unit of energy produced, and with improved wind turbines, expect that ratio to rise.

    The Audubon Society is generally supportive of wind power.  Naturally, they want to see it made as safe as possible for birds, like any other energy source.


  • BBD

    NewYorkJ #57

    You seem to suggest that wind can deliver ~20% of the US energy mix.

    From your reference


    The NREL study examines scenarios by which:

    [T]he economic, operational, and technical implications of shifting 20 percent or more of the Eastern Interconnection’s electrical load to wind energy by the year 2024.

    This is “˜an ambitious goal’ according to Dave Corbus, the project manager for the study. That in itself should sound a warning, but you may be too inexperienced to recognise it.

    He goes on:

    To put the scale of this study in perspective, consider that just over 70 percent of the U.S. population gets its power from the Eastern Interconnect. Incorporating high amounts of wind power in the Eastern grid goes a long way towards clean power for the whole country.

    That is a huge over-statement and should again sound a warning. Extremely optimistic projections for 2024 give 20% wind contribution to the Eastern Interconnection (which serves 70% of the US).

    That’s  20% of 70%, not 20% of total US supply.

    Of course there’s the percentage of wind in the mix for that other 30% of the US not powered by the Eastern Interconnection. Those prone to talking up “˜ambitious goals’ might claim 20% of that 30% by 2024 too.

    Anyway, never mind all that. Let’s just assume that by 2024, 20% of US electricity generation is wind, even though it won’t be.

    The elephant in the room has “˜80%’ daubed on its backside.

    In my argument it’s 90% but it doesn’t make any difference. Wind is, and will remain, a marginal generation technology, as the study you link shows. Its potential to displace fossil fuels will always be severely constrained by its fundamental inability to cope with baseload, load-following or peak.

    This is irrespective of interconnectors and dubious claims about wide area smoothing, because the actual amount of electricity generated by wind is relatively small (10% – 20% of the mix). Your arguments above simply ignore this.

    Nobody, not even the most wild-eyed proponents of wind believes that it could ever account for more than about 30% of the mix because of the physical limitations: the availability of suitable land and shallow offshore sites.

    This brings us back to the rest of the problems with wind.

    When properly costed (eg including spinning reserves, infrastructure extension, new pumped hydro etc) large scale wind integration is too expensive to justify its deployment. All you are ever going to get is 10% of the mix. Or 20% if we believe the hand-wavers but it makes no difference.

    – Wind is low yield so requires very large installed capacity. (Expensive)

    – This is geographically dispersed and requires aggressive extension of the grid. (Expensive)

    – Offsetting local intermittency and variation requires at minimum a regional-scale interconnector. (Expensive)

    – Wind penetration into the energy mix is constrained by land and shallow offshore availability.

    – The final result will always leave ~80 ““ 90% of the energy problem still on the table

    – The true cost of wind is under-estimated by its proponents and will be far higher than the actual energy yield could ever justify.

    You do not seem comfortable with economics, but it’s important that we finish up here with a consideration of opportunity cost.

    The opportunity cost of wind is all the nuclear plant that could have been constructed using the enormous sums of money thrown away displacing 10% of fossil fuels with wind. It may also be considered to include the far steeper rate of decarbonisation that could have been achieved by opting for nuclear from the outset.

    If, after all this, you still cannot see that wind is a costly distraction from an inevitable policy shift towards nuclear, you are wilfully blind to the facts.

  • BBD

    Yet again, apologies . I made every effort to remove the formatting from the above, including using the ‘remove formatting’ button on the toolbar in the comment pane. It did not work.

    [Fixed. Sorry.//KK]

  • BBD

    KK – Thank you. Much appreciated.


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Collide-a-Scape is an archived Discover blog. Keep up with Keith's current work at http://www.keithkloor.com/

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.


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