Tuesday 1 December 2015

Gearing Up

With the Greens going puce in Paris in their efforts to bring to an end industry and other secondary energy heavy economic activity in Western Europe in the name of global warming, meanwhile in Beijing there is one of the regular toxic smogs inflicting serious health problems.

The signs are that it is getting worse rather than better.  In London, there are also problems.  Here in the UK a while ago we accepted the then causes of air pollution problems and were persuaded if that if vehicles went diesel all would be a lot better, if not entirely well.  Now we know that diesel is nasty.

Also, it is no good going back to a primitive lifestyle of early man, not just because of food supply etc. but because they huddled together in huts with wood and natural elements in the fire, many of them had health problems from that air pollution.

The BBC has run a three part series on renewables etc. in "Power To The People" which made me quite sentimental about the Ferrybridge C Power Station that loomed so large over the horizons of my past.  There were things that gave pause for thought.

One answer to our energy problems has been that if enough wind farms, solar farms, tide and water sources are put to work we will not need all the dirty sources.  One key argument is that when the wind stops here, it will be blowing somewhere in Europe and power will be made available to use.  This is called inter connectivity and is at the heart of the case.

But it does not work  like that according to Euan Mearns in Energy Matters who has done a detailed study of the wind figures.  And if it doesn't then inter connectivity cannot be relied on.  One implication is that we will always need 100% backup from gas, nuclear or other dirty sources for our energy demands and needs.

But there was something about wind turbines that caused an ancient twitch.  Using air is not "free", the turbines have to be put up, and that costs money.  More to the point is the business of maintenance, repairs and replacements which we are all too fond of ignoring.  They have to be monitored, which costs, and then work will always need to be done.

The part that stood out was the gear boxes.  We forget how central gear boxes are our civilisation and economy.  Children in schools should be taught matters such as the development of gearing, compound steam and such like to realise the impact of key technical advances of the past on our present.

The wind turbines are only as good as their gear boxes. But wind turbines are hard on them by the very nature of their function and work. So every time a gear box needs attention skilled men have to go to the turbine, clamber up it and then see what can be done.  How long will it be before the turbines need their gear boxes replacing?

This is not "free" and certainly not cheap, given the location and structure of the turbines.  Also, it is not a cost those debating future energy supply take into account in making their promises and claiming what is best.

Buy shares in gear box companies?


  1. If things don't improve then a sudden boom in domestic generators or back up batteries must be on the cards. As usual the poor will be left out in the cold - literally.

  2. If the climate is changing how can we be sure that the wind will continue to blow?