Sailing ships were a thing of beauty.
Clipper Ships forged ties with the orient, but are merely recollections in paintings.
The last serious commercial use of sailing ships in 1938 was in the grain trade, from Europe to Australia and back again, 14,000 miles of dangerous, grueling work by the seamen who manned the ships.
One of the last of these voyages was described in Grain Race, a true story by a crew member of a barque carrying grain.
Conditions on sailing ships were unimaginably bad for those living today.
It was not uncommon for crewmen to climb ratlines to 100 feet or more above the deck of a ship rolling 10 or 15 degrees, then, swaying back and forth above the deck and ocean, with sleet hurled relentlessly into their faces, using bare and freezing hands to haul in sails to slow a ship struggling in gale force winds.
Even on calmer days, there was always danger lurking with every step. Certainly there was constant backbreaking work. Sea shanties were sung by the crew so they could work in unison as they bent over, with feet braced against the deck, to haul in lines.
They sailed around the Cape of Good Hope and around Cape Horn, where the tides, seas and wind were vicious. Nearly 80 years later, my trip around Cape Horn in a comfortable cruise ship was uneventful. Horn is an Island 80 miles south of Ushuaia, Argentina, but is in Chilean waters.
The advent of steam, using coal was a godsend to the average crewman.
Sail gave way to coal and steam, and later to gas turbines and natural gas.
This was progress. It made life easier and safer for those who sailed the ships, and far more efficient and less costly for moving goods quickly around the world. No one, except those with fantasies of the glory of sail, regretted moving forward from the age of sail.
We now have a parallel fantasy of using wind for generating electricity which is turning the clock backwards.
The romantic history of the West is dotted with windmills, pumping water and serving the people as they developed farms and communities. But they were abandoned when electric motors could do the job better. The Brush windmill in Cleveland, in 1888, that generated electricity was abandoned because it was inefficient.
Today, wind turbans cost more to install than building a natural gas combined cycle (NGCC) power plant.
- A 1.5 MW wind turbine costs $1,400 per KW to install.
- A NGCC power plant costs $1,100 per KW to build.
In addition, the monster sized windmills that scar the landscape are inefficient.
It requires 2,000 wind turbines rated 1.5 MW to equal the same output as does a single nuclear power plant rated 1,000 MW. (Using the formula: kWh output = Nameplate rating * capacity factor * hours in a year)
- The nuclear power plant requires an area of less than 0.5 square miles.
- The 2,000 wind turbines require an area of 400 square miles. (At spacing = 10 * rotor diameter)
While the open space around the turbines may be usable for farming or ranching, virtually all other uses are excluded. The economic value of the land is therefore reduced. For example, it can’t be sold for building homes, or commercial activities.
There can be little question that wind is far less efficient in land utilization than nuclear.
The same is true for natural gas and coal-fired power plants, though the equivalent area required by the wind turbines is 220 sq. miles rather than 400. (Using an NGCC capacity factor of 0.6 compared with 0.9 for a nuclear power plant))
Furthermore, it costs more to generate electricity with wind turbines than with either NGCC or coal-fired power plants.
The cost of generating electricity is:
- NGCC = 5 cents/kWh
- Coal-fired = 6 cents/kWh
- Wind = 11 cents/kWh
Even if the cost of wind generated electricity can be reduced, it will still cost more than the electricity produced by NGCC or coal-fired power plants.
There is a great deal of misinformation about the cost of generating electricity from wind, but even the EIA (a U.S. government agency), a supporter of renewables, says the cost of wind generated electricity is more than the cost when using NGCC power plants.
Wind is also unreliable. It doesn’t generate electricity when the wind stops blowing.
This results in additional costs. Backup power is the most obvious. The cost of storage is also an additional cost as storage is added to the grid.
Sailing ships were a thing of beauty, but they were slow and unreliable. They were also death traps for the sailors who manned them.
Fossil fuels allowed us to move beyond sailing ships, with steam and gas turbines.
We wouldn’t go backwards and return to using sailing ships.
So why are we going backwards by trying to use inefficient, costly and unreliable wind to generate electricity?
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