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Shukman on windfarms

Ocean Powerhouse was a BBC show about offshore windfarms broadcast a couple of days ago. It can be seen here if you can get the iPlayer. It's a strange show, focusing mainly on the assembly process for a wind turbine, with lots of "corblimeying" over the size of everything and the technical challenges involved. The music makes it feel like a corporate puff-piece and there were indeed several opportunities for the various companies involved to sell their wares. However, a measure of balance was achieved: in the shape of a short interview with Dieter Helm, who said that the whole idea of offshore wind is a bit stupid, particularly in the current economic climate, and by the summing up, in which narrator David Shukman left it as an open question as to whether there is actually a future for offshore wind.

In these terms then, this was a rather unusual programme for the BBC in that for the most part it avoided most of the usual green propaganda.

That said, Shukman did blot his copybook and in a very serious way. He reported that it would take 200 turbines to replace a conventional power station. He should probably have realised that his maths was going to be checked, and unfortunately for him it was. Via the Countryside Guardian email newsletter comes this from Emeritus Professor Peter Cobbold:

The turbines were 5MW Installed Capacity. So allowing for a load factor of 33%, their real output is one third of 5MW. That means it needs 600 windmills to replace a 1GW conventional power plant.

Again the need for back-up plant to cover the holes in wind power output is completely ignored.

I don't know about you, but I think if Shukman had reported that it was going to take 600 turbines to replace a conventional power station viewers would have gained a remarkable insight into the sheer insanity of offshore wind. The conflating of installed capacity of windfarms with their actual output is an problem that has been repeated so often over the years that it is hard to accept it as an error any longer.

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  • Response
    Commenting on this reaction from Bishop Hill to a not-all-that-biased-by-their-standards BBC show about windfarms, regular BH commenter Philip Bratby says: Only an idiot would consider building offshore wind farms (unless there is some other idiot prepared to give you huge sums of money to do it). Bratby then mentions a website ...

Reader Comments (132)

Well, if AGW were about science, or even economics, the ball game would have been over a long time ago.

But it isn't -- it's about dirigiste ideology, the culture of victimhood, moralistic vanity projects, and vested interests.

And that isn't going to change through 2012.

Jan 1, 2012 at 9:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterRick Bradford

Bish' the whole idea, the logic and incredible cost of windmills, for a puny output, the whole harebrained ethos, is in error.
There are NO redeeming considerations, or circumstances for the construction of one windmill, historians will note, that as soon as alternative technology became available to our predecessors [ie, steam], they dumped windmills faster than EU ETS carbon credits.

Jan 1, 2012 at 9:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

It's actually worse than Prof Cobbold suggests. He has assumed a load factor of 33% for offshore wind. In 2009 and 2010 the actual figures for UK offshore were 30% and 29% respectively. Thus at least 667 wind turbines would be needed. That doesn't take accont of the fact that the turbines degrade with age, especially in the harsh conditions associated with high winds and salt spray. Everything gradually degrades (the blades erode) and the performance falls off. Maintenance is difficult, expensive and time-consuming. Repairs are a nightmare. Realistically, it is more likely that about 1000 turbines would be needed to replace a 1GW station.

The other consideration is that the wind turbine life is only 20 years (if that, nobody yet knows for offshore conditions) whereas the lifetime of a modern conventional power station is 60 years.

Only an idiot would consider building offshore wind farms (unless there is some other idiot prepared to give you huge sums of money to do it).

Please sign up at

Jan 1, 2012 at 10:03 AM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

(unless there is some other idiot prepared to give you huge sums of money to do it).

Or tens of millions of taxpayers being forced to give you huge sums of money to do it

Jan 1, 2012 at 10:05 AM | Unregistered CommenterRick Bradford


Did I mention Chris Huhne?

Jan 1, 2012 at 10:08 AM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Until wind farms are unprofitable to the people building them, they will be built.

Jan 1, 2012 at 10:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterRob Schneider

Pray &deity. that this is the year that Huhne ceases to reign over us and his evil hands are removed from the levers of power.

I don't care how...jail time, disgrace, resignation, assassination by his ex, shafting by Compo Cable and Clegg. Anything will do.

Just free us from this walking, expensive and deranged psychopathic disaster area.

Jan 1, 2012 at 10:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

Electricity in Norway is almost exclusively produced from hydropower ( 99% ), which results in essentially no greenhouse gases emissions to the atmosphere. Norway by the way lays in the top 30 or so in the list of carbon dioxide emissions per capita. Nonetheless the hydropower infrastructure has been developed to a point where it seems politically difficult to add significant new capacity. In 1973, a strong environmental opposition to river development lead the government to permanently preserve designated rivers and leave aside as much as 35 out of the 175 TWhs of annual production potential.

By the end of 2005, approximately 280 MW of wind power was installed in Norway, distributed across 138 turbines. This represents a production capacity of around 0.85 TWh, which is equivalent to the electricity consumption of around 40,000 households. Some 507 GWh of wind power was generated in Norway during 2005. This is nearly the double of the previous year.
In Report No. 29 to the Storting (1998–99) (in Norwegian) on the energy policy, a target of building wind power stations with a generating capacity of 3 TWh by 2010 was set.

Jan 1, 2012 at 10:39 AM | Unregistered CommenterMartyn

There's one other point in regard to wind turbines the "more and more of them'-people conveniently forget to mention: location.

Even if they were to build 600 of those monstrosities, instead of the 200 claimed by Shukman, they would be standing in wind farm arrays, would they not?
So if they don't work because of no or too much wind, all 200 or 600 would not generate electricity, would they not?
It doesn't matter how many they build, they cannot replace e.g coal power stations, because 200, 600, nay even 1200 time zero is stil zero, innit? At least that's what I was taught in school ...

Jan 1, 2012 at 11:03 AM | Unregistered CommenterViv Evans

I regularly use the "UK grid carbon intensity" app just to see how ineffective the windymills are at any given point in time. On the coldest days you'd be lucky to see more than 5% of installed capacity actually being produced. Actually I should stop using the app as mostly it just winds me up!

Jan 1, 2012 at 11:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterFarleyR

"The other consideration is that the wind turbine life is only 20 years (if that, nobody yet knows for offshore conditions) whereas the lifetime of a modern conventional power station is 60 years."
Jan 1, 2012 at 10:03 AM |Phillip Bratby

The economics has barely been scratched Phillip. Ask anyone who has been involved around the world over the past....35 years, about installing oil/gas pipeline with barges. The cost of the just maintaining a barge alone is incredible. Factor in crew wages, getting food and supplies to them getting them home for breaks etc and this all before you have even left port. Then you have to factor in weather days. Try piling in rough weather where a crane operator has his work cut out on a calm day with gentle waves.

Now you have the same barge going back in for maintenance. Same crane, same weather and you are going to replace something simple like a blade. Working alongside an oil platform is fraught with danger but alongside a single pile with a lump on top!

I have not watched the program yet but I will be interested to know if the installation/maintenance costs are shown. I know they are not huge structure but I will check what they have been using in the next few days and use my contacts to come up with a ball park figure for hire costs on barges/standby vessels.

Jan 1, 2012 at 11:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterPete H

Shukman could supply enough hot air to power the whole grid- odious reporter.

Jan 1, 2012 at 11:56 AM | Unregistered Commentertrefjon


Stop holding back on us and say what you really think!

Jan 1, 2012 at 11:57 AM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Perhaps not completely on subject but prompted by addressing terminology.
Just some definitions:
What we have now are wind turbines and NOT windmills. As "windmills" we would suggest these were mechanical devices associated with the milling of flour in the days of yesteryear, a "PR" paradise!
The sooner we refer to industrial wind turbines by that name and forget about the "windmill" analogy, the better.
In a similar fashion the term "windfarm" is completely a misuse. We USE fuel and degrade its energy properties, we do not "farm" it, which means increasing its worth. A collection of useless bits of space-junk is actually a wind power station, not a good "PR" connotation but it is the connotation we need to get over to the subsidisers, our fellow citizens.
And just to fully clarify, I do believe Climate Change occurs in cyclic periods. I definitely do not believe in AGW, CAGW or AGW morphed to CC or CACC. I worship the sun, water vapour and carbon dioxide but do not believe in fairy stories!
Whilst it is the season of good cheer, the technically illiterate Mr. Shukman needs pity.
Again, whilst he finds 60 metre rotor blades of eye-boggling disbelief, personally I have physically erected 60 metre length Marathon Letourneau crane booms offshore single-handedly and reeved them. The Offshore environment was developed and designed solutions to foundations found long before this inept bunch of cowboys were even out of nappies. [Piper was a dreadful disaster and my platform Texaco Tartan just a few miles south.]

Jan 1, 2012 at 12:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterNorfolk Dumpling

Isn't this program just a complete rehash of the Panorama piece a few months ago about how much wind farms would be affecting our energy bills, including the "interview" mentioned above ? Someone maybe suggested that the BBC needed a positive piece to balance the negative ?

This kind of hing is everywhere - on New Years Eve, R4s Excess Baggage had that old wordy John Julius-Norwhich (spelling may not be right) and they were discussing the countryside and how it is changing.

Of course Windmills came up and JJN said openly how he thought they were ugly, and uneconomic and how in 50 years time we would see what a folly the whole thing had been.

Que presenter John McCarthy - the one who had the "Row to the Pole" people on - had to jump in and get someone to put a more positive windmill view, one example was how people had to get used to the windmills of old - those corn grinding ones.

Jan 1, 2012 at 12:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterChris


I am too full of New Year goodwill to be candid, so toned down my earlier remarks re Huhne the Maniac considerably..... :-)

PS - not chemically induced goodwill......

Jan 1, 2012 at 12:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

Jan 1, 2012 at 12:11 PM | Latimer Alder

Huhne is just a puppet but the puppet master is the invincible monster, the Climate Change Act 2008.

The name of the occupier of the Secretary of State position at DECC is irrelevant because he/she is bound by the law of the land embodied in CCA 2008 and policies which flow from that monster will continue to produce the insane solutions that we see unfolding.

Forget the Secretary of State, nothing will change until CCA 2008 is changed.

Jan 1, 2012 at 12:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterBrownedoff

A fascinating program.

I was amazed to learn that the 'sails' are constructed from fibreglass (which is, of course, glass-reinforced-plastic'.

How much oil was used to create this 'plastic', and how much fossil fuel was used to build the components, power the vessels etc. etc.

No comment was made of how this 'free' power would be connected to the grid nor how much the grid would cost to be upgraded to distribute this power.

Nor how do we cope when the wind is NOT blowing, or is too STRONG for the turbines to run.

Jan 1, 2012 at 12:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterMartin

Pete H.
I would be highly interested in what you can unearth. This is a war we must win for the sake of our children and future generations.
All weapons are necessary but the financial one could prove the killer.
I worked rigs [ Keydril's 'Key Gibraltar', 'Galveston Key' and Santa Fe 'Rig 65 Britannia'] before platforms ['Thistle', 'Rough 47/8A' and 'Tartan'].
So I back you and Phil Bratby totally in this posting.

Norway is part of the Nordpool. Is not also Denmark in the Nordpool and uses Norway to absorb all its unwanted wind energy. Then Denmark buys back at times of demand at enormous premiums making Danish electricity the most expensive in Europe?

Jan 1, 2012 at 12:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterNorfolk Dumpling

Martin [sorry, spelt incorrectly before].
Fibre-glass or glass-fibre is NON recyclable and all the broken blades are proving quite an embarrassment for Denmark as it does not know what to do with them and is creating a huge storage problem.
Nuclear power stations, especially the later technologies, are nearly all sustainably recyclable at the end of their lifetimes.
Increased energy densities work wonders in terms of profitability, productivity, sustained employment and enduring service to communities as well as economics and competitiveness in the world.
And that is FACT not a political statement!

Jan 1, 2012 at 12:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterNorfolk Dumpling

Brownedoff is correct.

The UK is the only country in the world committed by law to the goal of cutting CO2 emissions by 80 per cent within 40 years. Even if attained, that reduction would be entirely dwarfed in a fraction of that time by increases by the BRIC countries alone. CCA 2008 is a futile gesture with an incredible price tag.

Jan 1, 2012 at 12:49 PM | Unregistered Commentersimpleseekeraftertruth

Brownedoff is correct +1

In fact it suits the Tories to have Huhne stay in place, any complaints and can they say its because of the Coalition when they know full well it makes no difference, don't see Barker spouting any less rubbish.

Jan 1, 2012 at 12:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterBreath of Fresh Air


It is not just the insane Climate Change Act 2008 that must be repealed. We also have the EU renewables commitment that drives the short term wind madness. The great insanity that politicians cannot grasp (or dare not admit to) is that wind turbines do not reduce CO2 emissions and may even increase emissions. The government will continue down the wind route regardless of reality. The only thing that will reduce emissions is the linked government policies of driving up energy prices and closing down the economy.

Jan 1, 2012 at 1:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby


Huhne's two assistants, Barker and Hendry, are both as bad.

Jan 1, 2012 at 1:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

My read of the Danish windpower data which reflects the largest installed based is that the load factor is closer to 20% - given that you need to look at the stable lower bound in order to estimate the number of turbines needed to reliably replace a 1GW powerplant.

Jan 1, 2012 at 1:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterBernie

In reply to R. Farley, here is a site What an irritating, pompous site.

Jan 1, 2012 at 1:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Laughton

Norfolk Dumpling
Just a small correction, they are not turbines, they are aerogenerators.If Sir Charles Parsons, who invented the steam turbine which gave us all we have, was alive today he would probably be spinning in his grave and moreover generating more power than those useless heaps of junk that litter our once beautiful countryside.

Jan 1, 2012 at 1:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoger Tolson


I'm not sure what data you are looking at. Most of the Danish wind power comes from onshore. Offshore wind farms, such as Horns Rev, have recently come on stream. The Danish experience is not totally relevant to UK offshore conditions.

Jan 1, 2012 at 1:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

I have the dubious 'pleasure' of living a few miles from Britain's worst performing wind farm of 2010 - Blyth Harbour.

With an output of only 4.9% of installed capacity it's essentially 8 ornaments and half a wind turbine generator.

Complete madness!

Jan 1, 2012 at 2:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterDougS

Roger Tolson
Thanks for the appreciated astute word-spotting correction; I will correct my phraseology about this in future.

Correctly, Denmark generates approximately 21% of its electrical energy from wind generation, no matter what the LF may be. But some 67-76% of that 21% is exported into the hydro-reservoirs storage of the Nordpool. So Denmark is only able to immediately utilise about 5-7% of its own wind generated electricity. Then, as I intimated in an earlier post, Denmark buys back electricity at huge cost during its demand periods.
As Phil Bratby has informed, most of this Danish wind generation is Onshore. Horns Rev has suffered mechanical generation problems. I believe there are something like 768 local standby diesel generators in Denmark now; no wonder their carbon emissions have increased!

Jan 1, 2012 at 2:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterNorfolk Dumpling

Norfolk Dumpling - I call these monstrosities 'WINDMILLS' precisely because it is a derogatory term. Once again, there is no rational whatsoever for the erection of these chocolate teapots.

I can't find the link, despite a couple of hours of searching, it was on a Delingpole thread I think but an engineer involved in building one of these 'arrays' [whatever they call 'em] said offshore windmills will last 10/12 years at best, more likely 7 or 8 years.

Imagine if you will................... - in another 15 years or so and on the BBC.
A Shukman shill equivalent, making a program about the Great Windmill Scam and how the Chinese and Norwegian companies scammed the British Taxpayer, with a talking head from the Labour party berating the Coalition for the madness of their 'renewable' [how do you replace rusting stumps in the sea?] energy policy.

Jan 1, 2012 at 2:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

Brownedoff is not (quite) correct. He said:

Huhne is just a puppet but the puppet master is the invincible monster, the Climate Change Act 2008 ... he is bound by the law of the land embodied in CCA 2008 and policies which flow from that monster will continue to produce the insane solutions that we see unfolding. Forget the Secretary of State, nothing will change until CCA 2008 is changed.

However, although Section 1(1) of the Act says:

It is the duty of the Secretary of State to ensure that the net UK carbon account for the year 2050 is at least 80% lower than the 1990 baseline.

Section 2 says:

(1) The Secretary of State may by order—

(a) amend the percentage specified in section 1(1);

(b) amend section 1 to provide for a different year to be the baseline year.

These powers of amendment are subject to certain (not very onerous) constraints: he/she may make changes if it “appears to” him/her that there have been “significant developments in … scientific knowledge about climate change or European or international law or policy that make it appropriate to do so …

Had Durban been an unmitigated disaster (as seemed likely until the last minute) I believe there would have been clear development in international policy justifying an amendment to the Act. As it is, the matter is ambiguous, although the almost total lack of international action to restrict CO2 emissions since the Act was passed in 2008 (when, pre Copenhagen, there was wide optimism about international action) would seem to be a significant enough. Moreover, the Secretary of State can hardly ignore the "Climate Change Act 2008 Impact Assessment" (dated March 2009) that observes (section S2) that "The economic case for the UK continuing to act alone where global action cannot be achieved would be weak".

Of course, there's no chance that Huhne would exercise his option to amend the percentage (except perhaps to increase it). Nor does it seem very likely that either Barker or Hendry would take a different view. Nonetheless, it's not true that the CCA must be repealed (a cumbersome procedure unlikely to be successful) to escape from the UK's absurd commitment. All that's needed is a new (sensible) Secretary of State. Far easier.

Jan 1, 2012 at 2:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterRobin Guenier

Philip and Norfolk:
The data I was looking at is available at Wikipedia -

I also just checked the figures for Europe. The figures come from an industry group which interestingly focuses almost entirely on installed capacity rather than actual power generated. Looking at the numbers for Germany, Denmark, UK, France and SPain which account for 75% of the EU installed capacity the efficiency rating is 20%! ( and the links therein). This is against the claimed 25% by EWEA.

Jan 1, 2012 at 2:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterBernie

I suggested to Delingpole some time ago that he quit calling these collections of "aerogenerators," "wind farms," which calls up images of peaceful pastures, birds singing, cows mooing and lambs bleating, and call them instead, "wind factories." Now I'm searching for a better term. Any suggestions?

Jan 1, 2012 at 3:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhilip Howerton

Philip H

It can't be factories because, as I recall, the original latin root or definition of factor (factere?) has to do with making something. Aerogenerators do not make anything useful.

"Industrial wind stirrers"? "Bird mashers"?

Jan 1, 2012 at 3:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Jan 1, 2012 at 2:52 PM | Robin Guenier

"Nonetheless, it's not true that the CCA must be repealed (a cumbersome procedure unlikely to be successful) to escape from the UK's absurd commitment."

I know, that is why I said "changed".

I was trying to keep it short.

Many moons ago on BH, Ecclesiastical Uncle said much the same thing about the changes available to the SoS.

All that's needed is a new (sensible) Secretary of State. Far easier.

Does anyone in the current ranks of the greenest government ever give you a glimmer of hope for such a substitution?

Jan 1, 2012 at 3:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterBrownedoff

Philip H:
How about the old fashioned term for conspicuous fantasy-based, useless facades, Wind Follies?

Jan 1, 2012 at 3:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterBernie

Windsuckers? might also apply to their aficianados.

Jan 1, 2012 at 3:37 PM | Unregistered Commenterj ferguson

or wind attenuators, why not confuse everyone?

Jan 1, 2012 at 3:38 PM | Unregistered Commenterj ferguson

"Industrial wind stirrers"? "Bird mashers"?


Jan 1, 2012 at 3:46 PM | Unregistered Commentersimpleseekeraftertruth

Well the blades turn in a circular manner. Perhaps we should call a collection of them a 'wind circus'?


Jan 1, 2012 at 3:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames


Only occasionally. Sometimes they have the propensity to fly off in a straight line, until gravity kicks in.

Jan 1, 2012 at 3:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

They should be called by the correct term that describes them 'Economically Unjustifiable Subsidy Generators'.
These things represent the nadir of post-modern, scientifically illiterate, thinking.

Jan 1, 2012 at 3:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve Jones

I've always been fond of the term "avian Cuisinarts!"

Jan 1, 2012 at 4:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterPolitical Junkie

Is there a future for windfarms

YES as tourist attractions

Anything else NO

Jan 1, 2012 at 4:11 PM | Unregistered Commenterjamspid

Check this link out

Jan 1, 2012 at 4:14 PM | Unregistered Commenterjamspid

Never realised what I would start!!!!!!!!!
Really good one, 'Political Junkie'.

Following on from Phil, ever been to Santa Pod and seen what happens when a parachute fails to open? These are the velocities we are dealing with at the tips of the rotors and rotors now weigh up to 15 tonnes.
New way to start spear fishing, I suppose.

Jan 1, 2012 at 4:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterNorfolk Dumpling

And not forgetting

Jan 1, 2012 at 4:19 PM | Unregistered Commenterjamspid

1st day of 2012 im on one today

Jan 1, 2012 at 4:27 PM | Unregistered Commenterjamspid

If this were genuinely commercial engineering, such as was and is used for offshore oil, it would be an impressive feat. As a grotesquely subsidised farce of no real value it is a disgrace and a scandal. 10% of the investment put into shale gas expolration would pay back a thousandfold and not disfigure our shores.

Jan 1, 2012 at 4:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhilhippos

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