How to Save Money on Gas

My guest writer is Robert Lobitz of Performance Chips Direct.

There is nothing more fun than taking a leisurely drive and enjoying the exploration and excitement that comes with a new location. RefuellingThe trouble is, increasing costs have limited not just what people want to do, but also what they are actually able to do.

In today’s economy it is ever more important that we conserve on fuel and try to do things that will help to raise our gas mileage. There are several things that can be done that can save you money on gas. Some are simple changes in behavior, and others require more complex things such as installing a Honda performance chip.

Without any cost, one simple way to help add some miles per gallon is to use your brakes properly. Some people may not know that a vehicle consumes the majority of its gas while it is accelerating. Once you are moving it really doesn’t require much to keep going if you are using your gas right, but many drivers seem to need to constantly use their brakes, particularly in traffic. As a simple rule of thumb, try and keep your ride as smooth as possible, limiting both your acceleration and your braking to what is necessary and don’t get worked up by other drivers.

Another good idea is to not run your air conditioner unless you need to. Your air compressor adds to the load the motor in your car is pushing and as a consequence you need to burn more gas. If it’s a hot summer day, and it’s not too much of a burden, try simply rolling down your window.

Whenever possible, use your cruise control when you can. Unnecessary braking and acceleration lower the fuel efficiency of your car.

Try and limit your weight. It is a simple law of physics that the more weight you have the more energy you need to move your car. Don’t keep your vehicle full of items and remember it is not meant to serve as your storage. Your car is for your transportation and it needs to be attended to regularly. If at all possible, try and set aside a time once a week where you can clean out your car and do a little maintenance. It really only takes a few minutes to unload and check the fluids and tires. Low tires can add to resistance and also lower your miles per gallon.

There are some technological things that you can do as well to save money over the long run. There are smart phone apps that can be downloaded for free that can tell you where the nearest and cheapest gas station is located. Then there are performance chips which can enhance the ability of your vehicle. Tuning chips alter the function of things like timing to work your engine in such a way that is optimal for fuel efficiency.

Finally, and probably the most obvious, just try to drive slower. This may not be the simplest thing to do, but it has been proven that the faster a vehicle goes the more drag it experiences and as a consequence it loses efficiency. The faster a car is going the more this is true and you may not see a notable effect changing your speed from 65 mph to 60 mph, but if nothing else you will at least be a little safer.

Kaysville City Conservation Charge

Conservation Charge

History

Over eight months ago I wrote about the city conservation charge for electricity that was not detailed on resident’s utilities service bills. At the invitation of Mayor Steve Hiatt I brought this to the attention of Kaysville City Council five days later.

From Kaysville City minutes of 1 June 2010:

Richard Willoughby stated that he has a concern with how the City bills for electricity. He explained that billing is on a tier system. If the bill goes over 1,000 kwh in a month the customer pays an additional amount, which is about 20.6%. That is not explained on the bill. To make it more clear, a software change should be made so that there is a better explanation on the bill. (Public Hearing Minutes)

Finance Director Dean Storey said at the meeting, if I recall correctly, that this change was already being planned before I brought up the issue. From the same minutes:

Dean Storey explained that he is looking at revising the utility bill to include additional information and historical usage. He explained that residential meters are on a two tier system where people pay more after 1,000 kwh to promote conservation. It also costs the City more to buy additional resources.

At the meeting it was also stated that the utility bill was being redesigned and would make it clear at what rate(s) electricity was being paid.

Questions

  1. Eight months ago the change was already in progress. Is this update more complicated than it first appeared?
  2. The redesigned bill of January 2011 (see image below) has no reference to the conservation charge. Is another redesign planned?
  3. Is there an estimate available for the implementation of the planned software change? Note that the calculations are already in place, they are just not printed on the bill.
Utilities Service Bill

January 2011 bill with document revision date and usage circled (click to enlarge)

Answers

  • If you have any answers to the questions above, or just want to add to the discussion, please comment and I will insert a summary of any answers here.
  • I will also be glad to correct any part of this post that is in error.

Conclusions

Understandably, this is not a high priority. However, it would be helpful for residents to have Kaysville City remind them that there is a conservation charge being levied. This is best accomplished at the time of billing, as is the practice of other power companies.

I am appreciative of the hard working Kaysville City employees and understand that not every request by residents can be implemented, but…

Trying to incentivize residents with a hidden conservation charge has little chance of success.

Sources and Notes

Updates

10 March 2011 — A question arose about the new utilities service bill. On the January and February 2011 bills there is an “Energy Use Tax” that has a dollar amount of “.00” as the second entry in the “Description of Current Services.” Is this the conservation charge or some other fee/tax to come later? The conservation charge is still currently hidden within the “Electric” entry.

For example, looking at my electric bill of $96.29 (excluding sales tax of $3.66):

(1,000 kwh X .09 = $90.00) + (58 kwh X .1085 = $6.29) = $96.29

So the new bill is worse than the old in that it can give the impression that there is no energy surcharge for exceeding 1,000 kwh whereas there is an additional markup of 20.6%.
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All Is Well In Kaysville Again

Jake and Rachel at the budget hearing

Jake and Rachel at the Kaysville City Budget Hearing

All is well in Kaysville again for me but maybe not for many others. I went to the Kaysville City budget hearing this evening, as suggested by Mayor Steve Hiatt, to request that the electricity billing be improved. Jake and Rachel came with me to lend support. We arrived early before most people showed up. Eventually there were around 80 people in attendance, three-quarters of them Kaysville City employees. Several of them spoke about salaries (there are no raises this year) and some requested newer equipment. The Mayor made sure everyone who wanted to had a opportunity to speak, just like he said he would do during his campaign.

As I pondered what they were saying it reminded me of the 5% pay cut I took three years ago, along with many other engineers at Hill Air Force Base. It wasn’t until this year that my wages finally caught up. Cuts in wages and/or benefits are not easily forgotten and when circumstances change in favor of the employees one shouldn’t be surprised when they leave for better prospects.

Speak Before The Council

When it was my turn to get up and speak to the Council I found it a different experience than speaking in Church. At Church there are maybe 300 to 400 in the congregation but most of them I know. The Council on the other hand, I do not know and have only spoken to Mayor Hiatt once when he wasn’t the mayor but wanted to be. At Church a good number of the congregation is being distracted by children, or are talking to each other, looking around, not listening, or have fallen asleep, some with their eyes open. And once I start speaking a few more will fall asleep. However, there are several in the congregation giving smiles of encouragement and many others that look like they might be interested in what I have say.

As I stood before the Council they were all paying close attention, looking at me intently, and not a smile on any of their faces. It was somewhat intimidating but I pressed on. Fortunately I felt I was well versed in the facts of my request.

A Redesign

One of the city employees, the Finance Director, Dean Storey, told the Council that the utility bill was being redesigned and would make it clear at what rate(s) electricity was being paid. Dean also explained about Demand Charges for commercial customers. If a customer demands a lot of power in a short time period they have to pay extra power charges. This does not apply to residences.

So all is well in Kaysville again. At least for me. For now.

External Articles

Davis County Clipper: Employees raise serious concerns with Kaysville budget
Kaysville City Public Hearing held June 1, 2010: Minutes

Updates

7 February 2011 — I have changed the post to improve clarity by adding headings and replacing “Budget Man” with “Finance Director, Dean Storey.”
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A Kaysville City Annoyance

Kaysville City bannerThere are some annoyances in life that are minor enough to be ignored. They don’t bother me at all unless I am reminded of them, and even then I forget about them quickly. One such annoyance is my Kaysville City Utilities Service Bill.

Although my utility bill arrives promptly each month it is just four times a year that the aggravation arises. To be specific it is the billing for the December, June, July and August electricity use that is the source of irritation. Not the cost of the power but the way the power is billed.

I will explain.

The first 1,000 kilowatt hours of residential electricity is priced at 9 cents per kilowatt hour (kwh). Thereafter the price rises to 10.85 cents per kwh. That is an increase of 20.6% in the unit price cost. Take a look at my January bill:

Kaysville City meter readings

There is no indication that the usage of 1,265 kilowatt hours for a cost of $118.75 is any different than last month, except it is higher. Yet the numbers do not add up, unless you know of the two-tier rate. To demonstrate:

Kaysville City Residential Energy Rates
Single tier — 1,265 x $0.09 = $113.85
Two-tier — 1,000 x $0.09 + 265 x $0.1085 =  $90.00 + $28.75 = $118.75

Perhaps the biggest disapprobation is that there is no indication on the bill that an additional charge is being added.

In a Good Cause

Well, you say, the additional fee is for a good cause. Probably to reduce global warming by encouraging conservation. Or perhaps to offset the same tiered charges the city pays on the open market. Very unlikely I reply. This is because the commercial rates are tiered, but in reverse. In other words, commercial users obtain a discount the more energy they use, which of course is how many products are sold. Consider:

Kaysville City Commercial Energy Rates
First 1,000 kwh — 9 cents per kwh.
Next 9,000 kwh — 6.5 cents per kwh.
All additional kwh — 4.75 cents per kwh.

Perhaps I am missing something here and my readers have an explanation. In the meantime Kaysville City has proposed an increase to power rates of around 7.5 to 8 percent. The last increase was 7.5% in May 2007.

These increases cause me no irascibility. But the hidden tier is reason for vexation. But only a little, and not for long — and soon forgotten.

Electricity rate source: Consolidated Fee Schedule 2009 (PDF), see page 8. If no longer available at the source, try this link.
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Milford Wind Project: Utah Power For California

An update to the original November 2009 article.

An event happening last year near Milford, Utah caught my attention. The first phase of the Milford Wind Corridor Project was completed and is the largest wind facility in Utah and one of the largest in the West. Here is what the official press release had to say:

Located in Millard and Beaver County, Utah, the first phase of the project will generate 203.5 MW of clean energy, making it the largest renewable energy facility in Utah. At a ribbon-cutting event at the project site near the town of Milford, First Wind officials were joined by Utah Lt. Governor Greg Bell, officials with the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM), state and local officials, as well as officials with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), the cities of Burbank and Pasadena, and the Southern California Public Power Authority (SCPPA).

The Milford Wind Corridor is the first wind energy facility permitted under the Bureau of Land Management’s Wind Energy Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Western US states. But why wind power when Utah has plenty of cheap coal? This electricity is bound for California to help achieve the Los Angeles goal of 20 percent renewables by 2010.

Updates

Since the original story in November of last year there have been a few events concerning the Milford Wind Project.

February 11, 2010 — Kelsey Mitchell, a senior at Millard High School, will be the first recipient of a one-time scholarship of $3,000 through the First Wind Scholars program. In March the program was expanded to include as many as 10 scholarships for qualified students. In addition, one renewable scholarship of $5,000 for up to four years will be awarded to the most qualified student.

February 24, 2010 — First Wind was recognized during the Excellence in Renewable Energy award in Austin, Texas. The Milford Wind project received the “Reader’s Choice Award” by the readers of RenewableEnergyWorld.com, a widely read renewable energy news source.

April 27, 2010 — After a morning visit with Governor Gary Herbert in Salt Lake City, Interior secretary Kenneth Salazar visited Milford High School to congratulate the renewable energy class of Andy Swapp, whose students were instrumental in gathering information used in creation of the 204 megawatt wind farm.

May 9, 2011 — First Wind announced Monday that the construction of the 102-megawatt Milford Wind Corridor Phase II — Milford II — project has been completed and commercial operations have begun.

Why Wind Power?

Milford Wind Turbine Project

Milford Wind Turbine Project

Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of generating electricity by wind. Perhaps you can think of some I have missed.

Advantages

  1. Wind turbines do not generate pollution or radioactive waste.
  2. Their construction and installation has less environmental impact.
  3. Individual homes can be supplied independent of power lines, ensuring electricity during natural disasters.
  4. Using larger turbines connected to the grid, power can be generated for large numbers of people.
  5. No non-renewable resources, like coal, natural gas, or oil are consumed.
  6. Wind is a domestic source of power.
  7. No water required (compared with 490 gallons per megawatt-hour for coal).

Disadvantages

  1. The cost of electricity is more than coal, natural gas, or nuclear.
  2. Subsidies are required.
  3. An undesirable appearance.
  4. Because of their height, they can be damaged by lightning.
  5. The blades of wind turbines can hit birds.
  6. Some turbines produce noise.

Technical Details

The Milford Wind Project consists of:

  • Generation of 203.5 megawatts.
  • 97 wind turbine generators.
  • A 90-mile transmission line connecting the wind farm to the IPA in Delta, Utah.
  • 13 meteorological towers.
  • A 34.5K volt power underground collection system linking each turbine to the next and to the Facility substation.
  • A Facility collector substation.
  • An interconnection facility at the connection between the Facility transmission line and the IPP substation.
  • A Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition (SCADA) system.

From the press release:

Featuring 97 total wind turbines including 58 Clipper Liberty 2.5 MW wind turbines and 39 GE 1.5 MW wind turbines, the first phase of the project has the capacity to generate clean, wind energy to power about 45,000 homes per year. Managed by the dedicated team at RMT, Inc., construction on the 203 MW first phase of the Milford Wind Corridor project began nearly a year ago in November 2008.

Economic Benefits

The town of Milford and Beaver and Millard counties can harness this energy source to help the local economy.

  • Providing employment through construction jobs and long-term operations and maintenance positions.
  • Leasing land from area residents.
  • During construction and operation, increased use of local goods and services.
  • Reduced dependence on costly imported fossil fuels.
  • Tax revenues received from wind farms.

One of the substantial costs of wind power is building the transmission lines. In the map below the eventual route chosen was the IPP Corridor Route to the west across BLM land.

Milford Wind Corridor Project Map

Milford Wind Corridor Project Map

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Are You Really Driving On The Cheap?

Honda Civic GX trunk

Reduced trunk of the Honda Civic GX. Anyone for beans on toast with a glass of milk?

Are you really driving on the cheap? That’s the question an owner of a NGV may be asked occasionally. The only monetary disavantage of a NGV is the initial cost which can be alleviated by buying used. In my prior post I listed CNG advantages, many of which are monetary, which is the focus of this article.

As the owner of a Honda Civic GX, for the last two and a half months I have collected data to see how much I am saving and how much you could save.

The CNG savings I have split into two groups, fuel savings and vehicle savings.

Fuel Savings

For a period of 2 1/2 months from 23 November 2009 to 5 February 2010 I noted several metrics. At each refueling I recorded miles driven, gallons used, price per gallon of CNG, and the cost of regular gasoline. I also calculated averages over this time period.

I drove 2,381 miles, needing 18 fill ups, 5 of which were only partial. By this I mean that a NGV is dependent on how well the fuel is compressed. Lower PSI means less fuel in the tank. It isn’t a big deal, it just means you get to drive less before the next fill up.

I refueled on average every 4.1 days, having averaged 132 miles. The most I drove between refueling was 184 miles, the least 91 miles. The range was reduced by the partial fill ups. New 3,600 PSI pumps are being installed which will add 15% more fuel to the tank. My average MPG was 31 which was all city driving.

The cost per gallon was 93 cents, which includes 8 1/2 cents Alternative Fuels Tax, except for one fill up at the University of Utah which was $1/gallon. A Division of Fleet Operations & Surplus Services Gascard is required at the U of U, Utah State, and Jordan, Alpine, and Granite School Districts. The average fill up was 4.32 gallons costing $4.03 (not a typo).

The most I filled my tank was with 5.688 gallons. The rated capacity is 7.2 gallons at 3,000 psi and 8 gallons at 3,600 psi. In theory one could drive 240 miles on a full tank. Don’t ask me what you do if you run out of gas, I don’t like to think about that.

In summary, I spent $72.62 on CNG to drive 2,381 miles while regular gas would have cost $220.89. Regular gas varied from a low of $2.49 to $2.71 a gallon, the average being $2.57. My savings was $128.27, the difference between CNG and gasoline.

Vehicle Savings

There are vehicle savings because of my switch from a 2007 Honda Accord V6, rated at 18 mpg in city driving. By driving the Civic GX the savings amounted to $141.20 over the same time period. This is the difference in the cost of gasoline the V6 would have required.

EMPG

A coworker and I use Equivalent Miles Per Gallon (EMPG) as a fun measure of the value CNG delivers. EMPG is the mpg you would get if the extra cost of gasoline was converted to mpg using a NGV thus:

Cost of gasoline / Cost of CNG x CNG mpg = Equivalent mpg

Using our formula I came up with an average of 86 EMPG. This will easily exceed over 100 EMPG this summer.

Summary

The total savings is $269.47 over 2,381 miles or 11.3 cents a mile. Or put another way: it cost 3 cents a mile. The savings will increase this summer when gasoline rises. CNG prices will likely be fixed at 93 cents even when gasoline crosses $4 a gallon. At least for a time.

The biggest downside is the reduced range and sparse filling stations. A minor inconvenience is the reduced trunk as shown in the photograph. But these are not monetary disadvantages, it just means a few more minutes to stop and refuel.

If you live in Utah it is well worth it for 93 cents gas.

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Owners of NGVs please comment on your experiences.

Will Coal Power Climate Studies Supercomputer?

NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center

NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center

The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) will build a new climate studies supercomputer. NCAR is headquartered in Boulder, Colorado but a new $66 million facility that will house the supercomputer will be built in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

The primary reason is cheap electricity. In Wyoming for an industrial user the price is 5.16 cents per kilowatt hour. In Colorado it is 6.89 cents per kilowatt hour. This makes a big difference when you will be running one of the world’s most powerful supercomputers, consisting of more than 100,000 processors. It will be 20 times more powerful than the current NCAR computer.

The overall project is called the NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center (NWSC), encompassing the design and construction of a world class center for high performance scientific computing in the atmospheric and related geosciences. Says NWSC:

Our goal is to build a world class scientific supercomputing facility that does not compromise on energy efficiency or sustainability, and that is adaptable to the ever-changing landscape of high-performance computing.

In 2007, Wyoming’s electricity generation was 45,633,000 megawatt hours. 43,127,000 megawatt hours came from coal and 1,484,000 megawatt hours from renewables. Coal generates 94.5% of Wyoming’s electricity and renewables 3.25%.

I wonder how much of Wyoming’s cheap coal will power the new climate studies supercomputer?

Related Articles

Wyoming gets supercomputer for climate studies
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Driving On The Cheap

Honda Civic

Take a look at the car in my driveway. It appears to be just a plain 2005 Honda Civic. I purchased it last Friday to help me drive down the cost of transportation. With only V6 engines in my other vehicles I decided to make a change, ready for higher gas prices next summer.

How much cheaper is this Civic for me to drive? Well this is Utah and this Civic is a Natural Gas Vehicle (NGV). With Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) at a subsidized 93 cents GGE throughout the state I really am driving on the cheap.

CNG Advantages

Natural Gas Vehicle

Natural Gas Vehicle

These advantages potentially affect me directly or indirectly economically:

  • Park for free at Salt Lake City parking meters with a Salt Lake City “Green Vehicle” parking permit.
  • Use the Express/HOV Lanes for free while driving alone.
  • Subsidized fuel at less than a dollar GGE.
  • $2,500 tax credit on a first time registration in Utah.
  • CNG is free from adulteration and theft.
  • Less maintenance costs as compared with other fuel-powered vehicles.
  • Fuel system is sealed, preventing any spill or evaporation losses.
  • Increased life of lubricating oils.
  • Mixes easily and evenly in air.
  • Less likely to auto-ignite on hot surfaces.

These advantages affect the community directly or indirectly:

  • Non-toxic and free from benzene.
  • Produces significantly less emissions of pollutants as compared to gasoline.
  • Produced in Utah.
  • Delivered to the service station by pipeline.
I test drove and filled a Cavalier.

I test drove and filled a Cavalier.

CNG Drawbacks

  • Fuel storage needs a greater amount of space.
  • Limited availability of refueling stations.
  • Reduced driving range.
  • Higher vehicle cost.
  • Less choice of vehicles.
  • Converted vehicles have 5% — 10% reduced power.
  • For CNG only vehicles running out of fuel can be very inconvenient.

Summary

CNG_Pump

Me by a CNG pump,

I filled up for the first time last night. It was straight-forward though a little different. The pump was the old style non-digital readout type (not the one pictured). The car gas gauge (interesting that it is still called a gas gauge) was reading 1/4 left. It cost $4.56 to fill and took about the same time as filling a gasoline tank with the same amount of fuel. That is probably enough for about 150 miles. I expect to get 200 miles out of a tank. If there is interest I will post my mileage and CNG use in a future post. I’m used to larger cars but this Civic surprised me with quite some zip. It was a gas to drive.

If you are interested in a used CNG car yourself, check out the CNG Utah website where I purchased my Honda. The folks there were low pressure and friendly. Perhaps you already own a CNG powered vehicle. How do you like it? What have been your savings? Would you purchase another CNG?

By now you may have figured out that my purchase of this CNG Civic was purely economic. As far as the environment is concerned I am against Cap and Trade. The threat from CO2 (plant food) has been greatly overstated. The earth has enough and to spare. Just relax and use the resources God has given you and go out into the world with a little less fear and trembling. You will do just fine in your stewardship despite what Al Gore says.

Updates

14 Dec 2011 — There is now a CNG station right in my hometown.
1 Jan 2012 — Without the 50 cent a gallon federal subsidy the price has risen to $1.50/gge in Utah.

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1.3 Billion Wind Turbines Needed to Replace Coal

McFadden Ridge Wind Project

Tennessee wind turbines similar to McFadden Ridge
Tennessee wind turbines similar to McFadden Ridge

Construction of Rocky Mountain Power’s McFadden Ridge I wind project is underway in Albany County, Wyoming, near the towns of McFadden and Rock River. The project consists of 19 General Electric wind turbines, capable of generating a combined 28.5 megawatts of electricity.

See the Update section at the end of this post for a recalculation of the number of wind turbines needed to replace coal.

1.3 Billion Wind Turbines Needed

Now for a little back-of-the-envelope math. The McFadden Ridge project has 19 wind turbines producing 28.5 megawatts of electricity. Each wind generator therefore produces 1.5 megawatts. In the United States in 2007 coal was responsible for generating 2,016,456 gigawatts of power (see USA Electricity Generation 2007 Chart). As 1 gigawatt equals 1,000 megawatts you would need 1.3 billion (2,016,456,000 megawatts / 1.5) wind turbines to replace coal. And coal only accounts for 48% of electricity production.

651 Million More Wind Turbines

Petroleum liquids (49,505,000 megawatts), petroleum coke (16,234,000 megawatts), natural gas (896,590,000 megawatts), and other gases (13,453,000 megawatts) account for a total of 975,782,000 megawatts. To replace these sources of power you would need an additional 650,521,333 wind turbines. In these calculations we are not replacing the 21% of electricity generated from nuclear power. Even so, removing fossil fuels from the equation mandates the need for 2 billion wind turbines. And remember, wind power costs twice as much as electricity from coal.

Growing Electricity Needs

Rocky Mountain Power says:

To meet the growing electricity needs of its customers, Rocky Mountain Power is investing in new generation, transmission and distribution facilities in Wyoming and other states, as well as purchasing the output from wind projects owned by other entities.

These wind projects are to meet the growing electricity needs of its customers, not to replace coal generating plants. Construction of the McFadden Ridge I wind project is not even included in the 2 billion number cited. The wind turbines being constructed today are to meet growing demand, some of which will be met by even more expensive solar power. I would be very careful about trusting politicians that want to eliminate fossil fuels without giving an explanation of how we are going to replace them with the needed 2 billion wind turbines.

But whatever happens, please don’t put me in charge of turbine maintenance.

Update

A co-worker, Josh, pointed out to me that my calculations were wrong. First the 1.5 megawatts output of the wind turbine needs to be multiplied by the number of hours in a year. Then the ratio of the maximum possible output to the typical output, called the capacity factor, needs to be calculated. For our purposes I will use a capacity factor of 30%. So now we arrive at the following:

1.5 megawatts x 24 hours x 365 days x 0.3 capacity factor = 3,942 megawatt hours.

Now with a more realistic divisor we arrive at the number of wind turbines needed to replace coal:

2,016,456,000 megawatt hours / 3,942 megawatt hours = 511,531 wind turbines.

I still don’t want to be in charge of turbine maintenance.

External Articles

This list is updated occasionally, with newer additions listed first.