Wood Turning

From Climate Scepticism


I have already mentioned an article that appeared today in The Herald with the heading “Flatpack wood turbines could give wind power a green boost”. Had it appeared a few weeks later I might have assumed it was an April Fool, but evidently it isn’t.

I think it’s worth noting the extent to which the article effectively makes the case against existing wind turbines. It notes a number of problems (compared to which the wooden turbines are supposed to be an improvement).

First, we are told (not that we need to be reminded) that the manufacture of existing wind turbines requires a lot of steel, concrete and plastic, and that this takes a toll on the environment.

Next we are reminded that disposing of them at the end of their lives involves additional problems – “blades made from fibreglass and carbon fibre are particularly tricky to recycle, meaning they tend to end up in landfill.

We are told that the new lightweight turbine parts are easy to transport, and because they can be slotted together on site, smaller lorries are required. This avoids the need for road closures, and more parts can be delivered in a single journey. The obvious implication is that road closures and roads cluttered with lots of vehicles carrying few (but large and heavy) turbine parts are currently something of a nuisance. That would be an understatement. As I noted in Blown Away, so great is the extent of this problem that the Scottish Government’s Onshore wind policy statement 2022 devotes a whole section to such technical issues, and rather lamely hopes that the problem may be solved by its Abnormal Loads Legislative Reform Sub-group.

Next we are told that engineered wood is stronger than steel at the same weight, so wooden towers are cheaper than those made of steel and allows for the production of ever taller turbines without the need for costly reinforcements. Weren’t we told (incorrectly) that wind power is “nine times cheaper” than gas? Apparently it’s not so cheap, after all (but then we already knew that). Not only is it not so cheap to use steel, but “tower construction costs soar” in that scenario (or so we are now told).

I have always been suspicious of claims made by the renewables industry in respect of “carbon payback” time periods, and now we are told that “a timber wind tower solves a host of environmental issues, including generating 90% less carbon dioxide emissions during construction.” And what exactly are those carbon dioxide emissions? According to wooden turbine manufacturer Modvion, the life cycle emissions from a 110m tall wind turbine tower of steel is approximately 1,250 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Finally, we are told that “steel towers require hundreds of bolts that need regular inspections”, the implication being that fewer inspections would be required in respect of wooden towers that are held together with glue (I can’t say I’m convinced by that one).

The article also mentions a collaboration between Stora Enso and Voodin Blades, and more can be found about that here. It makes similar points to those above:

Wind power blades are typically produced with fibreglass and carbon fibre, energy-intensive non-renewable plastics made from petrochemicals that cannot be easily recycled. Tens of thousands of ageing blades today end up in landfills. By developing blades with sustainable wood, Stora Enso and Voodin Blades can make the blades lighter and reduce the overall dependency on fossil fuel extraction.

The wind industry as a key driver towards carbon neutrality needs to become 100% sustainable and environmentally friendly….

Acknowledgement, at last, that “green” renewable energy isn’t so green, after all. That said, of course, all of the above is in the form of publicity for new kids on the block who wish to break into what has so far been a very lucrative market, what with all the subsidies that have been sloshing around. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it should be taken with a large pinch of salt, but perhaps some healthy scepticism wouldn’t come amiss.

It’s also not clear, despite the attempts to put a positive spin on the sustainability angle, exactly how sustainable wooden turbines might be. Presumably it’s going to involve cutting down a lot of trees, so to that extent its green credentials might be as controversial as those of Drax. As the Herald article tells us:

A spokesperson for Modvion said Scotland with its large supply of Sitka spruce could be well placed to make its own tree-based wind turbines.

We currently use Scandinavian spruce but any soft wood works, including Sitka spruce. Scotland is very much possible for supplying raw material for wooden towers.”

Who knows if this might represent good news for those of us concerned by the environmental depredations of “green” energy? What it won’t solve is the fundamental problems associated with renewable energy – its unreliability, its unpredictability, its destabilising effect on electricity grids, with associated costs. Nor will it be any kinder to birds and bats, and in all probability it will continue to blight beautiful landscapes, especially as one of the big claims made for wooden turbines is that they will facilitate the use of turbines that are ever taller. In passing, I note that I haven’t read anything about what will go in the foundations. Will they dispense with concrete?

In all probability, if wooden turbines ever come to pass at scale, I fear that their manufacturers will represent just another snout in the subsidy trough, and the problems associated with renewable energy will remain as acute as ever for the end-user of electricity.