42

From The Spectator: Wind turbines are neither clean nor green and they provide zero global energy:

Here’s a quiz; no conferring. To the nearest whole number, what percentage of the world’s energy consumption was supplied by wind power in 2014, the last year for which there are reliable figures? Was it 20 per cent, 10 per cent or 5 per cent? None of the above: it was 0 per cent. That is to say, to the nearest whole number, there is still no wind power on Earth.

Even put together, wind and photovoltaic solar are supplying less than 1 per cent of global energy demand. From the International Energy Agency’s 2016 Key Renewables Trends, we can see that wind provided 0.46 per cent of global energy consumption in 2014, and solar and tide combined provided 0.35 per cent. Remember this is total energy, not just electricity, which is less than a fifth of all final energy, the rest being the solid, gaseous, and liquid fuels that do the heavy lifting for heat, transport and industry.

Did wind power account for less than half a percent of total global energy usage in 2014?

  • 42
    They are being a bit sly by considering all energy use, not just electricity generation, in order to make renewables look insignificant. – user18902 May 11 '17 at 10:44
  • 85
    Yup they are trying to say not to invest in wind because of this, that is like me saying I shouldn't go to work because I make 0% of the countries GDP (with rounding). – daniel May 11 '17 at 11:07
  • 44
    The numbers are correct. The way they are being used to draw a conclusion does not resemble actual logic in any way. – Tim B May 11 '17 at 11:27
  • 5
    @daniel Actually they're saying to invest in natural gas and nuclear instead of wind. Which is more like saying that you would make more money if you become a lawyer instead of an english major. (even though lawyers are destroying the environment) – Steve Cox May 11 '17 at 13:43
  • 19
    @Steve Cox: Which is like saying we should have invested in land-line phone companies because cell phones were less than 1% of the market in say 1999. – jamesqf May 11 '17 at 16:53
38

Yes.

They refer to International Energy Agency's 2016 Key Renewable Trends report, which contains these 2 graphs:

Figure 1: 2014 fuel shares in world total primary energy supply Figure 2: 2014 product shares in world renewable energy supply

Combining these two graphs shows that Wind energy is 3.3% of the 13.8% of the renewable fuel share.

13.8% * 3.3% = 0.46%

  • 25
    It might be worth adding something to say that while the numbers are right they don't support the conclusions? – Tim B May 11 '17 at 11:27
  • 4
    @TimB, I'm sorry, but which conclusion do you mean specifically? – Jordy May 11 '17 at 11:34
  • 11
    I've not read the article but based on the title they seem to have "Wind turbines are neither clean nor green and they provide zero global energy" as the conclusion which is questionable on the first two claims and clearly false on the last. – Tim B May 11 '17 at 11:37
  • 21
    The author claims that it's zero when you round it to the nearest whole number. The part about neither clean nor green is also addressed in the article itself but that should be a separate question I think. – Jordy May 11 '17 at 11:40
  • 3
    @jazzpi It's the title of the linked article, but not the subject of the question. :-) – Mark Daniel Johansen May 12 '17 at 17:43
29

NO, (or YES dependent on the definition of primary energy) as answer to the claim: "Wind power does not account for less than half a percent of total global energy usage in 2014."

The wording of the report (from Jordys answer)indicates that they compared electrical output of renewables to the energy contents of combustibles. Putting these on the same graph can be wrong depending on the definition of primary energy.

The caveat of this answer is that it is based on the definition of primary energy. The authors should have mentioned it, if they made the analysis while regarding the difference between primary and secondary energy for renewables. As they didn't, they most likely used the less favourable definition of primary energy with regard to renewables.


Supporting claims based on primary and secondary energy definitions (NO as answer)

Primary energy (1,3) is the energy contained in a fuel. So to speak the released heat in perfect combustion. Unburnt fuel is part of many energy conversion cycles. It is not the generated useful energy.

Non-Fuel based primary energy would be the input to the system, not the generated useful energy. For wind turbines this would be the energy contained in the wind, a perfect wind turbine can only get around 60% of the winds energy (Betz's law). For solar we have around 15-20% conversion efficiency. Therefore the primary energy of renewables is many times higher than the listed numbers.

Secondary energy (1,3) is the energy of energy carriers, these are for example fuels and electricity. Fuel can be an input for electricity generation, so even there are subclasses regarding the quality of the secondary energy. (Oil would be primary, gasoline a secondary energy in some regards, even though we don't use all of the energy in gasoline either)

Exaggerated alternative data (just to make a point)

Primary solar energy heats the earth during the whole year, if we assume that heating needs(relative to the avg temperature of space of a few Kelvin) are met by solar power, we get about 99.9+% (didn't calculate it actually) of the primary energy in solar.

Counterargument (YES as answer)

A claim arguing that the definition of primary energy is usually as probably envisioned by the authors of the Energy Report, from Ref 3:

The primary energy is transformed to secondary energy in the form of electrical energy or fuel, such as gasoline, fuel oil, methanol, ethanol, and hydrogen. The primary energy of renewable energy sources, such as sun, wind, biomass, geothermal energy, and flowing water is usually equated with either electrical or thermal energy produced from them.

Caveat: Thermal energy from the sun heats buildings passively.

Conclusion

No as answer

The graphs compare apples to oranges. Primary wind power should get a factor of 2-4, solar power a factor of 5-8 and hydro should also get some factor (but this is more difficult to figure out). I'm not sure how they calculated biomass, so I won't go into that.

The graphs are representing primary energy according to an outdated definition, as renewables are wrongfully represented by their secondary energy.

I see no indication in their report that they addressed the issue of defining primary energy with regards to renewables.

Yes as answer

The definition of primary energy is taken according to 3. By this definition the graph is correct.


References:

  1. Hall, Carl W., and George W. Hinman. Dictionary of Energy. Marcel Dekker, 1983. pages 222,240

  2. Report on Photovoltaics by the German Frauenhofer Institute for solar energy systems, slide 6

  3. Demirel, Yaşar. Energy: production, conversion, storage, conservation, and coupling. Springer Science & Business Media, 2012. Chapter 2

  • 4
    Do you have citations for any of these facts or figures? – doppelgreener May 11 '17 at 14:50
  • 1
    Fuel diverted from the ground to a powerplant is used energy, whether it is going to waste heat or not. Wind that isn't turning a turbine blade, or sunlight that doesn't a PV cell isn't 'used' by humans. I understand your objection, but you can only measure what is used. – kingledion May 11 '17 at 14:52
  • 1
    @kingledion: right, but what appears to be happening here is that they're comparing the usable energy generated by the solar/wind supply to the total energy present in coal/oil/etc. This is apples-to-oranges. – Jack Aidley May 11 '17 at 14:54
  • 1
    @Goose my point is simply that they compare secondary energy to primary energy, or apples to oranges. – WalyKu May 11 '17 at 15:03
  • 1
    @WalyKu but why do you think that? You say "I see no indication in their report that they properly addressed this (important) issue, so I must assume that they didn't.", but you also assume that they mixed primary and secondary in a way that makes solar look bad, if I'm understanding you correctly. Do you have a reason to think it was skewed in this way? Can you provide counter data? – Goose May 11 '17 at 15:15
3

TL;DR Yes, their are numbers that can be interpreted that way, but it is doubtful that any conclusion can be derived from these numbers.


I would like to expand upon the excellently formatted answer of Jordy, where the original articles' first two diagrams are accurately quoted without further context.

We have a question where the title is "Did wind power supply less than half a percent of global energy in 2014?" and the question body is mostly a quote from The Spectator, that appears derisive of wind energy.

Since the question body contains such a quote, it seems worthwhile to not only find out whether some numbers allow such an interpretation, but also whether the numbers that allow this interpretation make sense when comparing wind energy to the rest of the energy in these numbers.


We first have to find out what "energy" is being talked about. The paper quoted uses "Total Primary Energy Supply (TPES)" in the first two presented graphs that are also presented in the answer above.

I can find a definition of TPES on the OECD iLib:

TPES equals production plus imports minus exports minus international bunkers plus or minus stock changes.

... based on the calorific content of the energy commodities and a common unit of account. The unit of account adopted is the tonne of oil equivalent (toe) which is defined as 107 kilocalories (41.868 gigajoules). This quantity of energy is, within a few per cent, equal to the net heat content of one tonne of crude oil. ...

Unfortunately, I haven't yet been able to find out how e.g. wind or hydro power get derived their TPES. What the heck is the "calorific content" of wind or solar electric power supposed to be? (Highly appreciated if anyone could edit that in here.)


To put the numbers into further perspective, the item Biofuels is clarified in the paper:

Due to its widespread non-commercial use in developing countries (i.e. residential heating and cooking), solid biofuels/charcoal is by far the largest renewable energy source, representing 66.2% of global renewables supply (Figure 2).


So what we have here is a Total Primary Energy Supply (TPES) pie chart. This includes all the worlds energy production(?), including some measure of an estimation of the "calorific content" of all the charcoal used in all the world developing countries.

And yes, for the OECD's definition of the TPES value of wind power, wind power contributes less that 0.5% of global TPES.

Inhowfar there is a logical conjunction between "Wind turbines are neither clean nor green" and "they provide zero global energyTPES" eludes me however.

I think the answer of WalyKu has some merit here: Even if we only take the raw numbers into account, it is not quite unlikely that we compare apples to oranges.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .