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Decommissioning wind turbines: a growing problem!

Germany wants to be all electric by 2030! The way things are going, they won't have anywhere NEAR enough power to charge millions of car batteries. A bureaucratic disaster in the making.

It has long been a pioneer in the field of renewable energy, generating a record 78 percent of its power consumption from renewables in July of this year. In fact, Germany is one of the very few countries in the world that is actually struggling with too much renewable energy. The latest testimony to this fact is the new issue of decommissioning its old wind farms.

2011 was a turning point for the European giant as it started moving away from nuclear energy (post Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster) and began to replace it with renewables. However, wind energy made its foray in Germany well before 2011. Germany started building wind turbines in the mid-1990s and now there are almost 25,000 wind turbines in the country.

However, the problem now is that a large number of the 25,000 odd turbines have become too old. Close to 7,000 of those turbines will complete more than 15 years of operation by next year. Although these turbines can continue running, with some minor repairs and modifications, the question is whether it makes any economic sense to maintain them?

Efficiency is the key

Beyond a period of 20 years, the guaranteed tariffs that are set for wind power are terminated, thereby making them unprofitable. “Today, there are entirely different technologies than there were a decade ago. The performance of the turbines have multiplied, the turbines are also more efficient than before”, said Dirk Briese of market research company called Wind- Research. It therefore makes sense to replace old turbines with newer ones. However, it is not very easy to dismantle an existing turbine and, while there are companies like PSM that specialize in dismantling of wind turbines, the costs of decommissioning can run upwards of $33,500 per turbine.

The process of decommissioning a wind farm is a complicated one as it requires at least two 150 ton cranes which are used to dismantle the turbines, tower houses, rotor blades and other related equipment and parts. In fact, offshore wind decommissioning is even more intricate and expensive, as the availability of shipping vessels, cost of shipping the components back on shore and cost of removing steel pillars form seabed need to be considered too.

Wind farm decommissioning is indeed going to be a universal problem, especially for countries like the United States where a large number of wind projects are being developed. The U.S. has more than 48,000 utility operated wind turbines and more than 18 million American homes are powered every single year by the country’s installed wind capacity. Even corporations such as Yahoo!, Google, Microsoft, IKEA, Mars, Walmart and Amazon have invested in the U.S. wind energy sector.

The numbers above suggest that the U.S. is going to face a similar problem that Germany is now facing may be in the next 8- 10 years when its oldest wind farms become outdated. However, a lot depends upon the efficiency and technology of turbines that are in use. Even if around 30 percent of U.S. wind turbines need decommissioning in the next five to ten years, the total decommissioning costs could reach up to $1 billion (when we consider a decommissioning rate of $55,000 and above per turbine).

History repeats itself? Tucker vs Tesla.

Preston Tucker launched a car company shortly after World War II. Those who saw "Tucker: The Man and His Dream," starring Jeff Bridges know the general outline of the man who raised millions in a stock offering only to be dragged into federal court and tried for fraud. Tucker was acquitted but his business was ruined.

Someone who should study the Tucker story is Elon Musk: His actions with Tesla mirror some of the things for which Tucker got in trouble. Musk and Tesla have done nothing wrong, mind you. But remember that Tucker was ruined by the government and he had done nothing wrong either.

Preston Tucker was a long-time car guy, spending much of his time selling cars in the years leading up to World War II. During the war he ran his company, Ypsilanti Machine & Tool.

At the time, the U.S. government commandeered the auto industry and turned it into the Arsenal of Democracy. For a few years, no new civilian cars were built. When the war ended, there was an opportunity for an upstart car company. Preston Tucker decided to jump into the fray and announced he would build an all new car using the latest technology: disc brakes, fuel-injection, rear-engine/rear-wheel drive. And he said he would sell the cars at a competitive price. The news media ate it up and Tucker soon became a household name.

Consumers clamored for the cars and so did would-be car dealers. To set up his sales force, Tucker began selling franchises across the country. The dealerships he sold required dealers to pre-order cars. And those pre-orders cost dealers $20 for each car they reserved. Between dealer fees and preorders, Tucker raised $10,000,000. When he later did an IPO of Tucker stock, he raised another $17,000,000. He then set about lining up suppliers and building cars.

Around this time, the SEC began investigating Tucker. His chief antagonist at the SEC was Harry McDonald, a long-time bureaucrat from Michigan, with close ties to Detroit. Just as the first cars rolled off of Tucker's assembly line, federal agents showed up at the Tucker factory and demanded to see everything within it. Records, blueprints, correspondence. In a time before copiers, the request was chilling.

But worse: Someone leaked the story of the investigation to an influential newsman. Drew Pearson announced on his radio show and his syndicated newspaper column that the feds were investigating Tucker and the results would blow Tucker sky high. The problem? The investigation had just begun and had not revealed anything yet. Pearson was speculating on what the feds hoped to find.

The investigation resulted in no SEC charges but it created a 600 page "secret" report. The report was leaked to the press by Harry McDonald. Later, he admitted he had done it and that it had been illegal for him to do so, but he thought he was "protecting" Tucker's investors by leaking the information to the public.

Of course, all the various leaks caused Tucker's stock to crash and eventually, Tucker and several of the corporate executives were tried for fraud after a grand jury indictment. In one of the largest failed prosecutions in American history Tucker and his co-defendants did not even need to mount a defense. After the prosecution rested, they simply went to closing arguments after which the jury found all the defendants not guilty on all counts.

But the damage had been done. Tucker's plant had been closed for most of the trial and the company had become largely worthless. Almost 50 cars had been built but the assets of the factory and most of the cars were sold off in a bankruptcy auction. Preston Tucker would never recover.

Fast forward to the present. Tesla is an upstart automaker, building electric cars and selling them directly to the public without the use of dealerships. Enemies–or opponents–would include: established car companies, auto dealerships, and those with a vested interest in the use of fossil fuels. It's a longer list than Tucker's.

What has Tesla done recently which might draw attention?

Taken 400,000 deposits from customers for its Tesla Model 3, with customers plunking $1,000 to reserve a car which has not been built yet. Tucker had only taken money from dealers–not customers–so one would think his future car sales were not as dangerous as Tesla's.

And, like Tucker, Tesla has butted heads with bureaucrats. Various states–at the behest of auto industry lobbyists–have passed "anti-Tesla" laws to keep Tesla from selling cars directly to consumers. Tesla has lobbied heavily in the states most opposed to its entry and continues to fight. This kind of against-the-grain action seems familiar to those who have studied Tucker and how he bucked the established auto industry with many of his ideas.

These are just the kinds of parallels which might cause some to wonder.

What if the feds decide to investigate Tesla and its "scheme" to sell cars that haven't been built yet? After all, how can he pre-sell cars without even promising a delivery date? Or, what if the states fighting Tesla decide to go one step further than merely passing laws regarding direct sales to consumers? What if they–for example–decided to come to the "rescue" of the poor consumers who have fronted $1,000 a piece for a car with no firm delivery date?

The threat looms large: The government can outspend and outlast anyone in a legal or regulatory battle. And as we saw with Tucker, "winning" is not enough. One has to survive to enjoy the victory.
And if Trump makes it to the Whitehouse, all taxpayer subsidies for electric cars are toast.

Norwegian hypocrisy.

Hydro Quebec has spent  a fortune persuading consumers to conserve energy.

For the sake of the planet, you assume?

Nothing of the kind. Hydro can sell its' surplus energy to the US states for much more money than the subsidized price they charge at home and THAT's their motivation.

Equally, Norway wants to sell its oil into the open market at much higher prices, while it sells off its' hydro power to the unfortunate, locked in, Norwegians who will have no choice but to buy an electric (not hybrid!) car.

No indication as yet, whether gasoline burning cars from other countries will be stopped at the border, but most likely not, since the fuel being used has already embellished the Norwegian coffers! However, they won't be able to stay too long since presumably, there will be no gas stations in Norway anymore.

Electric motors are not as futuristic as many think. They were around in the late 1800s and lost to internal combustion technology then because of their inferior practicality. Still, General Motors Company, Ford Motor Company, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and, of course, BMW, Mercedes, Nissan, Toyota, Hyundai, and many others all have some version of a zero-emission car in their pipelines.

While the GMs and Fords of this world acknowledge they have to offer electric cars to meet market demand, the Tesla is different. The company embodies its founder’s messianic “save the earth” vision. Yet there’s evidence to suggest Elon Musk drinks his own “Kool-Aid.”

While a vociferous and overly gullible group of people goes on about Tesla’s superior environmental rigor, there is an ugly side to electric cars in general. 

Doubtless, 375,000 pre-orders for the as yet unavailable Tesla “Model 3” in just 72 hours speaks loudly: there is a market for a cheap electric mid-sized sedan that announces to the world, to borrow from Birdman, “I put some respek” on the environment.

But if you were really one to put respect on the environment, you would do the planet a bigger favor by buying a used car. Indeed, “reduce,” “reuse,” and “recycle,” are the buzzwords of environmentalism.

Those who drive classics cut back on imported steel, rare earths, and graphite to make the cars. They put much less pressure on the power grid and the coal power and oil fracking that fuels it.

While the Model 3’s $35,000 sticker price is unrealistic, it would still be a good value at $50,000. However, fewer people (i.e. fewer budding environmentalists) will be able to afford it. GM, Ford, and others will have cheaper electrics out before Tesla. Why did their stocks not rise on the Norway 2025 plans?

There’s also the fact that electric vehicles can create major environmental damage with their lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries, which are not easily recyclable.

Holland, which proposed similar legislation to Norway’s a few weeks ago, has already experienced the boomerang effect of placing too much credit on electric cars’ alleged environmental superiority.

Holland wants to improve the environment, reducing pollution and emissions. All of this is good, but it could backfire. Those who buy electric cars for environmental goals might end up finding themselves in the same situation as those who bought a Volkswagen before the recent scandal. 

Indeed, the boom (no pun intended, hinting at the frequent battery fires) in electric cars will actually increase the energy needs of the country. That’s great for Norway, which has a small population that is barely the size of Manhattan’s and plenty of hydroelectric power. However, how realistic is it for the United States or any other dense European, let alone Asian or African, country?

 A single so-called green car with one charge consumes as much electricity as a refrigerator in a month and a half. The Dutch government, to cope with its poorly considered legislation, has opened three new economic super-polluting coal-fired power plants, two of which were built in Rotterdam.

Electric cars have simply shifted the responsibility for polluting from the city to the suburban environment, where most coal—or in some cases, nuclear—plants are located. As for the CO2 emissions everyone is so keen to cut back on, nothing changes.

Eventually, someone will wake up to that reality and electric cars won’t appear as cool anymore. They will actually have to compete in the market as cars rather than methods to correct their rich human drivers from environmental sins like some charlatan preacher. 

If you've ever visited the centuries old cities of Europe, where many of the side streets were designed for the passage of a couple of people on horse back, you will have noticed that cars which park facing both ways on two way streets, have their mirrors folded in.

Outside mirrors, which may not be around for much longer as cameras take their place, take up another 10% of car width and crashing mirrors are a major source of insurance claims in Europe and probably in Asia too.

But folding mirrors are NOT provided for this reason of widening the passageway in the middle of narrow streets with cars parked on both sides.

Most vehicles (95 per cent) fitted with these outside mirrors that fold in. Some say to better go through car washes, others say the design is to break-away from any kind of impact others say it’s for narrow streets.

All of these answers are wrong. It has to do with shipping.

One of the behemoths in vehicle carrying ships is the 20,000 ton “Hoegh Target”. It has the deck space the size of ten football fields and can carry 8,500 vehicles. Cars need at least 10 centimeters, or about 4 inches, of overhead clearance, so their height determines which deck they are stored on.

The spacing between the cars is just as critical.

Just 30 centimeters, about a foot, separates the front and rear bumpers of the cars, and there is a gap of some 6 inches from side to side. The mirrors are folded in to make more room. If these same vehicles did NOT have swing away mirrors, that number would be reduced by some 500 less vehicles.

More cargo means more money. These super carriers ply the oceans 24/7 and depending on the destination can do three, sometimes four trips a month. That’s about 25,000 cars a month or over 300,00 a year. If multiple factors are used and the extra cost of shipping fewer cars is passed onto the manufacture, they save money by bearing the extra expense of swing-away mirrors on all of their vehicles.

Have you ever wondered why there is enough space in the wheel-well of your car for a real spare tire but the manufacture has opted to short change you and has substituted a temporary or what is known as a compact spare instead?

You haven’t been short-changed, there is a reason and obviously it’s not to save space (these tires used to be called “space-savers”) as there is ample room around your compact spare tire to accommodate a real full size spare tire.

And it’s not to save money. If you were in the market to buy a new compact “temporary” tire (I have yet to meet someone who has) on average you’d be paying 20 to 30 per cent more due to the fact the tire manufacturer will build and sell thousand more regular tires to one space saver.

An example, one of the more popular sizes of tires can be bought for $114. The compact spare tire for the same vehicle costs $155.

Then it has to be weight, the less weight of a car, the better gas mileage it will get. That’s good reasoning except a space-saver isn’t all that far off the weight of a real rim and tire and isn't a big factor unless the spare is eliminated completely. This is the new trend that most automakers are following where 35 per cent (and climbing) of vehicles sold today do NOT have a spare tire. The backlash from consumers is now being challenged. Feeling the heat Honda has equipped all variants of the redesigned 2015 Fit with a spare tire after dropping the no-spare-tire feature on the previous model.

The most obvious reasons, saving space, better fuel economy, cheaper tires none of these are why you now have a compact “temporary” spare, it has to do with “shimmy.” “Shimmy” is the effect of tires not running in a pattern to which they were designed to run and causes the steering wheel to slightly vibrate back and forth.

If we go back in time, back to 1973 when automobile manufacturers swung away from installing the old style bias/belted tires in favour of the new radial ply tire. These new style tires were developed in the late ‘50s and into the ‘60s for jet airplanes that needed a superior handing tire for takeoff and landings. Radial tires were much like alternators and disc brakes, first for the airplane industry and now being fitted to automobiles.

Immediately the auto manufacturers were confronted with numerous customer complaints of a shimmy in the steering wheel and always after the vehicles tires had been rotated. The problem was simple, the owner or servicing garage wasn’t following the new way of rotating the tires of back to front and front to back and to NOT include the spare tire.

But that was contrary to the owner’s thinking, why not use the spare tire rather than to let it sit there doing nothing. Rather than follow the new way, the old way was used of Xing the tires for rotation. The spare to right rear, right rear to left front, left front to left rear and left rear to right front and everybody would be happy if it weren’t for the fact that this shimmy would occur. The spare was then included in tire rotation, regardless of what the owner’s manual said.

Radial tires when first installed and run in one direction and then changed and now spun in the opposite different direction ie. left rear spinning one way and now on the right front spinning the opposite way would create a shimmy.

The warranty claims were piling up something had to be done, thus the temporary or space-saver tire was created as a spare tire. The light bulb now on, owners and servicing garages adopted the new front to back, back to front that solved the shimmy problem once and for all.

One final item of why all the excess space when the compact spare is that much smaller? When a car is designed, it’s not only for the North American and European markets, it’s also for worldwide sales and distribution.

In some countries, especially the third world ones, the vehicles wouldn’t be bought if a regular spare tire was NOT sitting where it’s supposed to be, shimmy or no shimmy. Thus the bigger spare tire wheel well we all have .

First, it was VW, then Mitsubishi, now FIAT and make no mistake about it, the rest of the car industry is equally guilty of commonsense in the face of the fanaticism that prevails among the econazis., they just haven't been caught - yet!

What is going on and what should a poor car owner do?

The bureaucrats in the EPA and in Brussels looked up at the ceiling and in a moment of religious fervor, decided on the emissions levels that they wanted for carbon burning vehicles, never mind if they were achievable or not.

The engineers in the auto manufacturing groups knew instantly that these demands of purity could not possibly be achieved and many questioned the assumption that their petrol burning creations were even responsible for the the climate change that many doubted even existed, or had even been proven to a decent level of engineering credibility.

(There are so many well documented scandals concerning the way that beholden so-called scientists have fudged the figures on global temperature change that their credibility is in tatters.)

So what did all these practical engineers do?

They manipulated their engine management software to give the fanatics what they think they wanted, at the same time giving the car owner a car that was not only a lively, responsive thing to drive, but one that produced spectacular increases in fuel economy.

They should all be awarded a medal for practical commonsense in the face of stupid bureaucratic meddling.

So what now?

It all depends on what you get offered.
If you cannot re-licence your car until the software has been modified, you're screwed and your car will never feel the same again. Both from a driveability point of view or that of fuel economy.

The last thing you want to do is go anywhere a dealership that insists on changing your engine management soft ware.

If you get offered a cash payment with no strings attached, take it and be happy.

If you get offered a buy back, it will be at the depreciated, used car value, and not what you paid when the car was new. In this case it comes down to a financial calculation rather than one which directly concerns the vehicle.

The bottom line is:


Other blogs worth reading

41) In praise of the good old station wagon.

44) Future shock, the unending complication of electronic devices in you car.

47)  The case for annual safety inspections.

51) The piston engine is going to be with us for a very, very long time.

52) Avoiding rip offs in the car repair business.

58) Electronic brake force distribution.

61) Hydrogen vs electricity - no contest.

63) Why flushing brake oil makes sense.

64) When should I change my oil?

66) W/W antifreeze and long term warranties.

67) Nitrogen

68) Recirc A/C

70) Electric car radiation danger

71) Fuel saving devices that don't

75) Scheduling appointments.

78 Modern design of alternators and batteries.