BigWind at Honda ‘Spins’ the ‘truth’ more than their ‘blades’

Read the comments, in italics far below, from Ohio’s Superman, Tom Stacy…

Just six months after the landmark installation of two power-producing wind turbines at Honda Transmission Mfg. of America, Inc., the turbines are producing more renewable, low emissions electrical power than was anticipated when the towers went into operation in January.

The wind turbines have exceeded the projected power output figures by 6.3 percent, and have contributed toward reducing the CO2 emissions of power production, helping Honda HMC reach its voluntary goals to reduce the environmental impact of its products and manufacturing operations by 2020. This includes a 30 percent reduction in CO2 emissions from Honda products, and significant CO2 reductions from the companys plants and other operations, compared with year 2000 levels.

The two turbines, standing 260 feet tall with 160-foot blades, were initially projected to produce upwards of 10,000 megawatt hours MWH of electricity per year, accounting for approximately 10 percent of the plants annual power needs. The turbines have outperformed company projections in four of the six months since operation began. At their highest output, the turbines provided 16.26 percent of the plants power requirements for the month of April….

via Wind Turbines Outperforming Expectations at Honda Transmission Plant – Yahoo Finance.

“In the press release (and “article”, also printed in the Bellefontain Examiner), please note that comparing January through June wind energy production figures to annual average wind energy production is not valid.  For instance, in a graph of the wind output by month for PJM (our grid region) over the past 4 years, the data show that annual wind output in PJM is historically 11% less than January through June output counted twiceThat fact alone suggests a spin in the press release that goes beyond misleading.  At worst, the authors of the press release really achieved free advertising courtesy of the Examiner – disguised as a credible news story.

 Also it is not clear if the claimed (but not clarified and not substantiated) 6% improvement means 36% vs. 30% (6% of theoretical maximum) or 31.8% vs. 30% capacity factor (an increase of 6% over the expected 30% capacity factor).  Unless Honda or Juhl decides to share the data (which I doubt), your readers will just have to take a wild guess.  It sure would be nice if the public could be confident in the statistics regurgitated by newspapers – which would be easier if articles listed a specific author!

Furthermore, this year has been a windier and colder than average year in Ohio, as reported by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).  Both wind speed and temperature factors influence wind energy production. Windier wind is obviously more powerful.  But please also consider that colder air is denser, meaning more accumulated force on blades at any given wind speed over time.  I do not know the coefficient of thermal expansion for air at atmospheric pressures so cannot currently estimate the effect of colder years on wind output.  Perhaps a mechanical engineer or physicist could assist with that by calculating and sharing the increase in potential energy in wind per degree Fahrenheit drop in air temperature.

In addition, wind machines commonly perform best in their first year or two of operation because the blade surfaces are still relatively smooth, and the gear teeth and clearances and bearings in the gear box and supporting the main shaft are in new(er) condition.  As the machines age, performance  drops due to increased friction due to increased wear – which snowballs.  Incidentally, from a theoretical point of view, the decrease in conversion to electricity is proportional to the increase in frictional heat energy plus the increase in sound radiation energy.

Finally the press release celebrates irrelevant and highly biased statistics meant to sprinkle kudos on wind energy. Such assertions actually cast doubt on the data for anyone awake enough to read carefully.  For instance the source claims: “At their highest output, the turbines provided 16.26 percent of the plant’s power requirements for the month of April.” 

 But conflating a peak output value with average monthly demand level is scientifically invalid in numerous science disciplines. It only works in the field of “marketing.”  Secondly, if the peak output were 16 % of the plant’s monthly demand and the range of output was from 0% to 100% of nameplate capacity (likely for two adjacent wind turbines), and assuming the plant runs three shifts with fairly flat electricity use, then at a 30% capacity factor the devices should produce only 4.8% of the plant’s needs (30% x 16%).  And in addition to quoting figures about wind’s peak output, why isn’t the wind energy machines’ minimum output just as relevant?  We know that minimum is less than 0% of the plant’s monthly energy because most afternoons this summer the turbines were standing perfectly still, yet consuming energy from the grid to run controls, yaw and pitch motors, etc.

None of the press release’s facts indicate the machines are performing better than advertised, nor that wind as a fuel is more controllable or useful than it has ever been. On the contrary – the highest wind production months are weighted to January through June by 11%, so 6% above expectation report might really translate to under performance by 5% OR MORE.  Also, hotter years have higher peak and average electricity demand while wind energy’s contribution is lower. Paul Joskow among others has conducted studies on the inverse relationship between wind speeds and electricity demand and the economic impact that should result from that negative correlation.

Maybe next time the Examiner should refer wind industry PR folks to your ad department.  The paper could benefit, and the developers can sure afford it, thanks to the taxpayer support they receive.  Sounds like a “win-win.”

The article and press release don’t pass my rudimentary physics or statistics sniff tests. Maybe next time Civitas and whoever else received the press release Please attempt to continue to be informed, fair and balanced in the reporting of wind energy.  “