2011 April 04 Monday
Wind Energy Growth Slowed By Lower Demand

A Wall Street Journal article reports on a big drop in demand for new wind power installations. Demand for electric power dropped when recession and economic crisis hit in full force and has yet to fully recover. It is hard for wind to compete against existing power plants. Wind really needs rising total electric power demand to grow. But the US Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration expects wind to become competitive with current low cost leader natural gas electric by 2016 in the windy plains states.

The Energy Information Administration projects that, in 2016, the cost of producing electricity from a new wind farm will be about equal to that from a new gas-fired plant in the windiest parts of America's midsection, such as the Dakotas and Colorado. It forecasts that producing wind power still will cost about twice as much as producing gas-fired power in less-windy places such as the Mid-Atlantic coast and the Southeast.

Natural gas probably has more pricing risk though. If the current low costs of natural gas do not continue then it won't remain the low price leader. Coal and wind would become more viable in the great plains states.

What I'd like to know: What would be the cost of transporting great plains wind electric power to the coasts? Political opposition to a big transmission lines build-out from plains to coasts might prevent this. The opposition comes both from people who do not want high power electric lines built near them and also from owners of electric power plants who do not want more competing electric power sources. But absent that opposition would the long distance transmission lines make economic sense?

In New England electric power costs almost double the costs in the plains states (mostly due to cheap coal from Wyoming and North Dakota and regulations in the Northeast). That difference in costs is not a recent development. Yet the long distance power lines haven't been built to exploit those price differences. Connecticut especially has extremely high electric power prices at over 19.29 cents/kwh. In North Dakota the price is a mere 8.09 cents/kwh.

The fact that (at least in America) the wind blows hardest where electric prices are lowest is a real stumbling block for wind power's growth. But that's not the only stumbling block. Bird lovers celebrate when a big wind turbine farm is blocked.

(Washington, D.C., April 4, 2011) American Bird Conservancy (ABC), the nation’s leading bird conservation organization, today said that the cancellation of the Xcel Energy Inc. 150-megawatt, $400 million wind farm in southeastern North Dakota reflects how serious bird mortality issues are in connection with the burgeoning wind farm industry.

Opposition to wind noise near human populations seems to be growing with local complaints about wind turbine noise and health at many sites.

I'd rather see more geothermal (which to make scalable might require the same fracturing techniques that make environmentalists upset about shale natural gas) and serious development of thorium LFTR reactors. Smaller footprints. There is no ideal energy source.

By Randall Parker    2011 April 04 11:06 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (19)
2011 March 31 Thursday
Low Wind Power Output Too Frequent In Britain

A study from the John Muir Trust finds that British wind power output sometimes falls to less than 5% of peak (nameplate) capacity.

The report, Analysis of UK Wind Generation, is the result of detailed analysis of windfarm output in Scotland over a 26-month period between November 2008 to December 2010 using data from the BMRS (Balancing Mechanism Reporting System). It's the first report of its kind, and drew on data freely available to the public. It challenges five common assertions made regularly by wind industry and the Scottish Government:

1. 'Wind turbines will generate on average 30% of their rated capacity over a year'
In fact, the average output from wind was 27.18% of metered capacity in 2009, 21.14% in 2010, and 24.08% between November 2008 and December 2010 inclusive.

2. 'The wind is always blowing somewhere'
On 124 separate occasions from November 2008 to December 2010, the total generation from the windfarms metered by National Grid was less than 20MW (a fraction of the 450MW expected from a capacity in excess of 1600 MW). These periods of low wind lasted an average of 4.5 hours.

3. 'Periods of widespread low wind are infrequent.'
Actually, low wind occurred every six days throughout the 26-month study period. The report finds that the average frequency and duration of a low wind event of 20MW or less between November 2008 and December 2010 was once every 6.38 days for a period of 4.93 hours.

4. 'The probability of very low wind output coinciding with peak electricity demand is slight.'
At each of the four highest peak demand points of 2010, wind output was extremely low at 4.72%, 5.51%, 2.59% and 2.51% of capacity at peak demand.

5. 'Pumped storage hydro can fill the generation gap during prolonged low wind periods.'
The entire pumped storage hydro capacity in the UK can provide up to 2788MW for only 5 hours then it drops to 1060MW, and finally runs out of water after 22 hours.

What I wonder: over how big a geographic area would wind farms need to be built and connected up via long distance transmission lines to allow wind farms to provide back-up for each other? Britain does not cover a large area as compared to, for example, the North American continent. Would wind power output be sufficiently uncorrelated over a couple of thousand mile range to allow a much higher worst case power output? California alone suffers very low min outputs across its wind farms.

Political opposition to long distance electric power transmission lines already makes it hard to sell wind electric power hundreds or thousands of miles from where it is generated. So wide geographic distribution of wind farms does not currently enable distant wind farms to back up each other as electric power sources. Costs of long distance lines might also argue against trying to use wind as base load power. If wind can't work as base load power it will hit a wall over how much its use can grow.

By Randall Parker    2011 March 31 11:18 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (9)
2011 February 04 Friday
Vertical Axis Wind Turbines For Offshore

An article in Technology Review takes a look at the use of vertical axis wind turbines to lower the center of gravity in order to enable a cost reduction by cutting the size of the flotation system.

French oil and gas engineering company Technip and wind-power startup Nenuphar recently announced Vertiwind, a two-megawatt wind turbine that they plan to float in Mediterranean waters by the end of 2013. The project employs a turbine with a main rotor shaft that is set vertically, like a spinning top, rather than horizontally, as in a conventional wind turbine. 

The benefit of the vertical-axis design is that it lowers the turbine's center of gravity. Vertiwind's design stands 100 meters tall, but places the generator, which weighs 50 tons, inside a sealed tube beneath the turbine's rotating blades, 20 meters above the sea. This makes the turbine less top-heavy, allowing for a significantly smaller flotation system, which would extend only nine meters below the surface of the ocean.

As the article points out, vertical-axis designs cost more than horizontal-axis designs on land. Offshore operation brings additional costs as well. So unless the wind quality is better offshore it is hard to see how offshore wind can compete with onshore wind - at least for regions that have high quality wind onshore. Wind farms in the US great plains will generate cheaper power than wind farms off of New England. But if assorted interest groups in the Midwest and New England block the construction of sufficient long distance power lines to bring the power from the great plains the offshore wind won't have to compete with cheaper onshore wind.

Every time I read about renewal energy technology advances my reaction is tempered by the thought that while renewables have at least the potential to be cleaner than fossil fuels so far they are substantially more expensive and less convenient. When I refer to potential to be cleaner my point is that you have to look at total lifecycle to measure total pollution. Fossil fuels get used to create capital equipment to generate new energy. Fossil fuel-driven capital equipment generation (e.g. extract and purify and transport minerals to use to make photovoltaics or to make magnets for wind turbines) itself generates pollution, as does the upkeep of that equipment). The more expensive that capital equipment the lower the odds that use of a form of renewable energy really cuts pollution.

I still see the renewable energy industries as worth having around because they do continuously innovate and they will eventually get their costs down. But the amount of money spent to subsidize renewable energy installations and the number of years the subsidies have been going on suggest a slow rate of innovation because the problems with making renewable energy viable are so difficult to solve.

By Randall Parker    2011 February 04 06:06 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2010 August 24 Tuesday
Nobelist: Wind, Solar As Biggest Future Energy Sources

Chemistry Nobel Prize winner Walter Kohn expects wind and solar power to become the biggest sources of energy after oil and natural gas production peak.

BOSTON, Aug. 24, 2010 — Continuous research and development of alternative energy could soon lead to a new era in human history in which two renewable sources — solar and wind — will become Earth's dominant contributor of energy, a Nobel laureate said here today at a special symposium at the American Chemical Society's 240th National Meeting.

Walter Kohn, Ph.D., who shared the 1998 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, noted that total oil and natural gas production, which today provides about 60 percent of global energy consumption, is expected to peak about 10 to 30 years from now, followed by a rapid decline. He is with the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Peak Oil is going to cause a lot of problems in the short to medium term. Why are oil companies drilling in deepwater tens of thousands of feet down? Because that's where substantial quantities of oil are still to be found. That's a sign, and not a good one.

A new energy era beckons.

The global photovoltaic energy production increased by a factor of about 90 and wind energy by a factor of about 10 over the last decade. He expects vigorous growth of these two effectively inexhaustible energies to continue during the next decade and beyond, thereby leading to a new era, the SOL/WIND era, in human history, in which solar and wind energy have become the earth's dominant energy sources.

Note that he doesn't put nuclear energy up there as the next big energy source. Whenever will fusion energy become viable?

Wind still isn't providing one whole percentage point of US energy usage. Solar's at .11 quads as compared to wind at .70 quads. So wind is much bigger than solar. Not surprising because it is substantially cheaper.

The estimated U.S. energy use in 2009 equaled 94.6 quadrillion BTUs (“quads”), down from 99.2 quadrillion BTUs in 2008. (A BTU or British Thermal Unit is a unit of measurement for energy, and is equivalent to about 1.055 kilojoules). The average American household uses about 95 million BTU per year.

Energy use in the residential, commercial, industrial and transportation arenas all declined by .22, .09, 2.16 and .88 quads, respectively.

Wind power increased dramatically in 2009 to.70 quads of primary energy compared to .51 in 2008. Most of that energy is tied directly to electricity generation and thus helps decrease the use of coal for electricity production.

Solar's cost is falling more rapidly than wind's and looks to be on path to continue to do so for years to come. So expect solar to gradually close the gap with wind.

By Randall Parker    2010 August 24 11:25 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (26)
2010 May 17 Monday
Wind Turbine Arrangement Boosts Efficiencies

Turbulence caused by wind turbines forces large gaps between turbines and therefore lowers efficiency and raises the cost of wind farms. Some Caltech researchers got inspired by patterns of swimming by schools of fish that suggested smaller gaps should be possible. Vertical turbines combined with alternating rotation patterns should allow much closer turbine placement.

Vertical turbines—which are relatively new additions to the wind-energy landscape—have no propellers; instead, they use a vertical rotor. Because of this, the devices can be placed on smaller plots of land in a denser pattern. Caltech graduate students Robert Whittlesey and Sebastian Liska researched the use of vertical-axis turbines on small plots during a class research project supervised by Dabiri. Their results suggest that there may be substantial benefits to placing vertical-axis turbines in a strategic array, and that some configurations may allow the turbines to work more efficiently as a result of their relationship to others around them—a concept first triggered by examining schools of fish.

In current wind farms, all of the turbines rotate in the same direction. But while studying the vortices left behind by fish swimming in a school, Dabiri noticed that some vortices rotated clockwise, while others rotated counter-clockwise. Dabiri therefore wants to examine whether alternating the rotation of vertical-axis turbines in close proximity will help improve efficiency. The second observation he made studying fish—and seen in Whittlesey and Liska's simulation—was that the vortices formed a "staircase" pattern, which contrasts with current wind farms that place turbines neatly in rows.

The researchers expect to be able to increase wind energy extraction in an area by several times.

Whittlesey and Liska's computer models predicted that the wind energy extracted from a parcel of land using this staggered placement approach would be several times that of conventional wind farms using horizontal-axis turbines. Once they've identified the optimal placement, Dabiri believes it may be possible to produce more than 10 times the amount of energy currently provided by a farm of horizontal turbines. The results are sufficiently compelling that the Caltech group is pursuing a field demonstration of the idea.

Looks like wind power costs have the potential to fall considerably.

By Randall Parker    2010 May 17 10:23 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (9)
2010 May 09 Sunday
Offshore Cape Wind Electric Power Expensive

While Cape Wind was fought against by rich and power people (can you say "Kennedy"? sure) who didn't want their views spoiled a more compelling argument against it is cost. (thanks "th" for the link)

Cape Wind, which wants to build 130 wind turbines off the coast of Cape Cod, and National Grid announced yesterday that they’ve reached an agreement to start charging customers 20.7 cents per kilowatt hour in 2013 - more than double the current rate of electricity from conventional power plants and land-based wind farms.

I suspect it would be a lot cheaper to build more wind farms in the Dakotas and build an HVDC electric power line to transport the electricity to Massachusetts. The political fight about upgrading power grids might be more of a fight about keeping wind power out of existing electric power markets than about subsidizing wind electric power distribution. But either way, if the people of Massachusetts are going to be expected to pay a high price for wind electric power they could probably do better by getting their wind electric from the plains states.

The price of Cape Wind electric power is going to go up at a percentage rate that is probably faster than the overall rate of increase of electric power and from a much higher starting point. The end point is nosebleed level of expensive.

Under the 15-year National Grid contract, the price of Cape Wind’s electricity would increase 3.5 percent each year, pushing the kilowatt price to about 34.7 cents by the time the contract ends.

Note that these are wholesale prices. To put them into perspective, currently the residential customers in Massachusetts are paying about 15.56 cents/kwh and nationally the average is about 10.54 cents/kwh. Those are retail prices, not lower wholesale prices. So Cape Wind electric power seems very expensive to me.

If I was in Massachusetts I'd oppose Cape Wind just on economic grounds without getting into the aesthetic issue.

An HVDC project that runs up the middle of the plains states (and why not Alberta?) and then cuts across a few times to the East Coast would make a much bigger and presumably more efficient market for electric power. I'd provide a way to get much cheaper wind power to the East Coast. Why not do that instead of Cape Wind? That bigger and more efficient market would probably undermine the argument for offshore wind unti such a time that offshore wind costs come way down.

It is also worth noting there's another way that Massachusetts could get very low carbon electricity at a lower price than offshore wind: nuclear power. Even if a nuclear power plant goes way over budget and ends up costing 12 cents/kwh it'd still be much cheaper than offshore wind.

So in a nutshell: I'd prefer nukes or onshore wind with HVDC lines over offshore wind.

Update: Another indication that offshore wind is very expensive:

Costs to install a turbine at sea are about 4 million euros per megawatt of capacity, said Mortimer Menzel, a partner at the Augusta & Co., a merchant bank. A turbine on land is about 1.5 million euros.

By Randall Parker    2010 May 09 05:38 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
Use Surplus Wind Electricity To Synthesize Methane?

Some German researchers are investigating the use of surplus wind electric power to generate natural gas.

With the rapid expansion of renewable energies, the need for new storage technologies grows massively. This is of special interest for energy utilities and power companies. "So far, we converted gas into electricity. Now we also think in the opposite direction, and convert electricity into ’real natural’ gas," explains Dr. Michael Sterner of Fraunhofer IWES, who is investigating engineering aspects and energy system analysis of the process. "Surplus wind and solar energy can be stored in this manner. During times of high wind speeds, wind turbines generate more power than is currently needed. This surplus energy is being more frequently reflected at the power exchange market through negative electricity prices." In such cases, the new technology could soon keep green electricity in stock as natural gas or renewable methane.

You might think wind power is too expensive to use to crack water to get hydrogen to bond to carbon to make methane. Normally that would be true. But tax incentives for wind electric power generation combined with strong winds at night when demand is low results in wind electric occasionally driving wholesale electric power prices negative. That's right, the wind farms pay to get their electricity used. They do that because as long as the negative price isn't bigger than the US wind production tax credit or equivalent tax credits in other countries the wind farm generates make money by paying people to take their electricity.

Now, you might argue as a taxpayer that you don't want your tax money going to subsidize negative prices and I'd agree. But even if the price of electric power sometimes went only to 0 (or even close to 0) the energy cost of generating synthetic hydrocarbons is low enough to make it worth considering.

To make the economics work the capital cost has to be low enough for the hydrocarbons synthesis plant to only operate part of the time. The lower the frequency of very low cost electricity the lower the capital cost needed for the hydrocarbons synthesis plant.

A hydrocarbons synthesis plant is probably not the only potential use for intermittently low cost electricity. Obviously, more long distance electric power grids would enable the wind electric power to be transported to places with higher electric power demand. How does the cost for the grid compare to the cost of a synthesis plant? Anyone have some good ideas on what to do with intermittently low cost electricity?

By Randall Parker    2010 May 09 04:13 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (18)
2010 April 11 Sunday
New US Record For Wind Power Growth

Another stellar year. Victory is inevitable.

The U.S. wind energy industry installed over 10,000 MW of new wind power generating capacity in 2009, the largest year in U.S. history, and enough to power the equivalent of 2.4 million homes or generate as much electricity as three large nuclear power plants.

At this rate it would take wind about 33 years to equal nuclear power in the total amount of electric power generated. This assumes nuclear power stands still in the mean time.

That 10 GW added capacity is on top of an existing 25 GW of existing wind capacity. So about 40% growth. But since wind grew by 8366 MW in 2008 but 10010 MW in 2009 wind's installation rate grew only 20% from 2008 to 2009. That's partly a reflection of the effects of the financial crisis. In order to become a much bigger player wind needs to grow at a much faster rate.

America’s wind power fleet of 35,000 MW will avoid an estimated 62 million tons of carbon dioxide annually, equivalent to taking 10.5 million cars off the road.

Wind provided 39% of new generating capacity installed in the United States in 2009 (see page 5). But it is not clear to me whether the comparison was made using nameplate capacity or capacity weighted for average output. Typically wind farms operate an average of 20-35% of nameplate capacity. Also, on page 6 you can see that wind provides 1.8% of total US electric power.

You might think that surely by now given all the press attention for solar power and the number of publically traded solar power companies that solar too has started to show up as a significant electric power source. But no. In 2009 in the United States wind provided 70,761 thousand megawatt hours of electric power versus solar with 808. So wind is about 87 times bigger a power source than solar. One caveat: those figures are for utility-installed wind and solar. A larger portion of solar gets installed on houses and other buildings, bypassing utilities (except when sold to utilities). Some of the solar power does not show up in that table. Anyone have a good source for what percentage of solar panel sales is retail versus utility?

Wind grew by 15,398 thousand megawatt-hours of actual output in 2009 or 28% (as distinct from the capacity numbers that the AWEA reports above). So nameplate capacity grew by more than actual output. You might think that the lower growth in absolute output as compared to potential output was due to installations happening late in the year. But here's what's odd: The absolute amount of electric power generated from wind in December 2009 (6,270 thousand megawatt-hours) is less than the amount for December 2008 (6,616). Was December 2009 a weak month for wind? How can output go down 5% while nameplate capacity goes up 40%? Wind has reliability problems.

So how does that absolute increase in output compare to other power sources? Natural gas electric power output grew from 882,981 thousand megawatt-hours in 2008 to 920,378 thousand megawatt-hours in 2009 for a difference of 37397. So natural gas electric power output grew in absolute terms by almost double wind's absolute power output growth. Hydro grew by 17300 in 2009 and again beat wind's growth. Maybe rains were favorable to higher hydro output? Coal, nuclear, and petroleum all registered declines in production. Cheap natural gas outcompeted coal for electric power generation on the margin. In a weak economy total electric power output declined in the United States in 2009.

We should expect wind's costs to rise as more wind power gets installed at less ideal wind farm sites. But with many states enacting renewable energy mandates where a percentage of all electric power must come from renewable sources wind looks set for continued growth. Solar costs too much and geothermal isn't taking off at the rate that wind is growing.

What I want to know about wind power:

  • How much potential does offshore wind have for cost declines?
  • As wind gets further built out and lower quality sites get used how fast will costs rise?
  • At what rate will innovations in propeller design, turbine design, and other engineering improvements lower the cost of wind power installations?
  • Have propellers maxed out on size for land-based installations? Is there a solution for the problem of how to deliver much larger propellers to land-based wind farms?
  • Does improved reliability have the potential to substantially lower the cost of wind farms?
By Randall Parker    2010 April 11 03:40 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (17)
2010 March 20 Saturday
Wind Turbine Oversupply Depresses Prices

The cost of wind power is going down about 13% from second half 2008 to first half 2011.

The market has “persistent” oversupply that will depress turbine prices to an average 1.08 million euros per megawatt in the first half of 2011 from 1.24 million euros in the second half of 2008, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Anyone know what percentage of total wind installation cost is from the turbines? The towers, foundations, and other costs add to the total. How much?

Also, what's the average percentage of nameplate operation in new wind sites? As the best sites get taken newer installations will have to go into lower quality sites. See page 50 of this wind power report to see why wind power costs slope upward with more capacity installed. Can the cost of the wind turbine go down faster than the quality of wind at remaining undeveloped sites declines?

By Randall Parker    2010 March 20 08:28 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2010 March 04 Thursday
Competitors Complain About Wind Unreliability Subsidy

An article in the Wall Street Journal reports on the debate within the electric power industry about whether it is fair for wind power generators to avoid paying a cost for the lower dependability of wind.

One grievance: Coal, nuclear and gas operators must pay for their own backup if an operational or maintenance problem prevents them from delivering power as promised. But if wind generators fail to deliver promised power because the wind doesn’t blow, the cost of backing up wind power companies is spread among all the generators, state officials say. This puts an unfair burden on nonwind generators, says the gas faction.

In the United States this amounts to a subsidy of wind electric power that comes on top of the Production Tax Credit and other incentives for wind. However, one could argue in turn that coal burners especially get a subsidy in the form of external costs imposed on the public at large by oxides of nitrogen, mercury, particulates, and other pollutants. But that argument doesn't apply to nuclear power. Why should wind get subsidies that put nuclear power at a competitive disadvantage?

Michael Giberson says the the debate within the electric power industry shows signs of the high stakes involved.

For a closer look at the behind-the-scenes battle, try searching the ERCOT website for information about “voltage ride through” requirements for wind generators or the actions of (and reactions to) the Wind Cost Allocation Task Force.  If you drill down beyond the meeting schedules and status reports, all the way down to the presentations, reports, and comments filed by individual parties, things can get a little sharp.

As wind's percentage of total electric power grows two things will make the debate over this issue even more intense:

  • A larger percentage of total electric power will be undependable.
  • A smaller percentage of total electric power generators will pay for providing replacements when generation sources fail

Both these trends mean that nuclear, coal, and natural gas plant operators will have to pay more money to fund back-up generators that swing into action when the wind stops blowing.

By Randall Parker    2010 March 04 10:32 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (16)
2010 February 21 Sunday
New Wind Power Maps For United States

Wired points to a new report on wind power availability in the United States.

The amount of wind power that theoretically could be generated in the United States tripled in the newest assessment of the nation’s wind resources.

Current wind technology deployed in nonenvironmentally protected areas could generate 37,000,000 gigawatt-hours of electricity per year, according to the new analysis conducted by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and consulting firm AWS Truewind. The last comprehensive estimate came out in 1993, when Pacific Northwest National Laboratory pegged the wind energy potential of the United States at 10,777,000 gigawatt-hours.

Huge potential for lots of energy. Ah, but at what cost?

Check out an accompanying PDF document, which makes the argument that wind could supply 20% of the electric power in the United States by 2030. This document (basically a PDF slide show you can go thru quickly - so don't be bashful about clicking on it) makes a number of interesting claims. Especially see page 20 for comparisons of costs of electricity from wind (at different quality levels depending on where sited), nuclear, natural gas, and coal with different levels of emissions control.

If these claims are correct then onshore wind at the highest quality locations is almost the same price as new coal plants using older style and dirtier combustion (at least without a carbon tax). Also, coal with integrated gasification and combined combustion (IGCC - the cleanest way to burn coal) is more expensive than wind or natural gas and without a carbon tax coal IGCC equals nuclear in cost. The fact that IGCC is so expensive explains why we do not see cleaner coal. Oh, and when we hear politicians tout "Clean Coal" without also stating that they want to require all new coal plants to use IGCC we can know those politicians aren't being sincere.

Since coal burned with IGCC without Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) already costs as much as nuclear power and IGCC emits CO2 whereas nuclear does not I do not see the point of "Clean Coal". Why not just use nuclear? Coal IGCC+CSS costs way more than nuclear. Again, see page 20. If CCS has a future it is probably with natural gas plants, chemical plants, and refineries.

Carbon taxes are still politically impossible in the United States. Given that fact and given that Obama believes CO2 emissions reduction is necessary in order to prevent global warming Obama's support for nuclear reactor loan guarantees in spite of anger from environmentalists is understandable. Even the the Waxman-Markey climate bill on Congress makes small steps with regard to coal CO2 emissions. Obama can't raise the cost of dirtier coal. So he's trying to lower the cost of cleaner nuclear. The US government has been doing the same for years with the Production Tax Credit for wind power. Wind and nuclear costs are being subsidized in order to lower their prices and make them competitive with dirty coal. This is politically easier to do than to tax pollution from coal electric plants.

You might think from looking at page 20 that wind is cheaper than nuclear and so why not just go with wind? Well, see page 50 for the problem with that line of thinking. In a nutshell: there's not enough of the cheaper higher quality wind from classes 4, 5, 6, and 7. We can't displace most of the fossil fuel electricity without getting into lower quality (more intermittent and slower) and therefore more expensive class 3 wind. But class 3 wind is very close to nuclear in price. Plus, nuclear has the advantage of working 24 hours per day and also nuclear works in areas where the winds are weak. The southeastern part of the United States has especially weak winds:

A wind resource map of the United States. Click on this map to go to more wind maps.

Note to Old South congressmen: Your future is nuclear if it is not coal.

There's strong wind offshore. But look again at page 50 and see the problem with offshore wind. Those blue bands on the right for offshore wind have really high prices. Offshore wind at 12 to 14 cents per kwh hour is even more expensive than coal IGCC+CSS. Nuclear is much cheaper than either of them.

Suppose the US government puts in place policies that lead to a huge ramp in wind production. What happens to US CO2 emissions? See page 60. Even if wind rises to 20% of total US electricity production in 2030 total CO2 emissions from the electric power sector will still rise. Without either stronger measures to curtail demand or a big build of nuclear or embrace of much more expensive coal IGCC+CSS plants CO2 production from burning coal will continue to increase. Again, in this light Obama's embrace of nuclear power in the face of howls from nuclear opponents is not surprising.

Currently coal provides 50% of US electric power. Coal IGCC+CSS to make coal into a carbon-free electric power source seems far too expensive. Why add 4 cents per kilowatt-hour to make coal clean when we can switch to nuclear and wind instead? Also, solar's cost continues to fall (unlike wind btw - see page 16) and solar will become competitive as an afternoon peaking power source in the US southwest probably by the middle this decade and in more areas each year beyond. Nuclear, wind, and eventually solar make sense as replacements for dirty coal. The much hyped "clean coal" might never make sense. What are the realistic prospects for lowering the costs of coal IGCC+CSS? I have greater hope for 4th gen nuclear reactors (or perhaps small modular reactors) to lower the costs for nuclear than for IGCC+CSS to mature into a competitive alternative.

By Randall Parker    2010 February 21 12:08 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (17)
2010 January 22 Friday
Eastern US Could Get 20% Electricity From Wind In 2024

The United States could get a lot more of its electric power from wind.

Today, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) released the Eastern Wind Integration and Transmission Study (EWITS). This unprecedented two-and-a-half year technical study of future high-penetration wind scenarios was designed to analyze the economic, operational, and technical implications of shifting 20 percent or more of the Eastern Interconnection’s electrical load to wind energy by the year 2024.

“Twenty percent wind is an ambitious goal, but this study shows that there are multiple scenarios through which it can be achieved,” said David Corbus, NREL project manager for the study. “Whether we’re talking about using land-based wind in the Midwest, offshore wind in the East or any combination of wind power resources, any plausible scenario requires transmission infrastructure upgrades and we need to start planning for that immediately.”

NREL says that while transmission infrastructure would need some big expansions the transmission costs would make up a pretty small portion of the cost of wind electric power.

If I understand this correctly 20% of wind power for the Eastern Interconnect would by itself mean 14% of total US electric power would come from wind.

“To put the scale of this study in perspective, consider that just over 70 percent of the U.S. population gets its power from the Eastern Interconnect. Incorporating high amounts of wind power in the Eastern grid goes a long way towards clean power for the whole country,” said Corbus. “We can bring more wind power online, but if we don’t have the proper infrastructure to move that power around, it’s like buying a hybrid car and leaving it in the garage.”

The Eastern Interconnect covers a large portion of the United States.

DOE commissioned the Eastern Wind Integration and Transmission Study (EWITS) (PDF 17.8 MB) Download Adobe Reader through its National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). The investigation, which began in 2007, was the first of its kind in terms of scope, scale, and process. The study was designed to answer questions posed by a variety of stakeholders about a range of important and contemporary technical issues related to a 20% wind scenario for the large portion of the electric load (demand for energy) that resides in the Eastern Interconnection. The Eastern Interconnection is one of the three synchronous grids covering the lower 48 U.S. states. It extends roughly from the western borders of the Plains states through to the Atlantic coast, excluding most of the state of Texas.

The full report is 242 pages long (PDF).

My interpretation of page 37 is that the northern plains states will continue to have low costs for electricity due to large amounts of high quality wind and low population density. Maybe big computer server farms will get moved into the Dakotas and Manitoba Canada.

Regarding costs see page 68. My interpretation of that graph is that the marginal cost of additional nameplate capacity goes way up as higher quality wind resources become more fully utilized and additional capacity gets built in lower wind areas and at even higher cost offshore. Costs more than double and the cost slope becomes very steep. Wind has real penetration limits. Beyond some point nuclear power makes more sense.

We can't displace coal for electric power generating using wind alone. Much more nuclear power is needed. Currently nuclear supplies about 20% of US electric power while coal is near 50%. To displace coal would require 20% of power from wind along with about a tripling of current nuclear power capacity.

By Randall Parker    2010 January 22 12:38 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (74)
2009 December 27 Sunday
Wind Energy Limits In Britain

A BBC article about the problems with micro wind turbines (in a nutshell: fuggedaboutit) ends up with an analysis of the wind energy potential in the UK. The problem is that Britain isn't big enough to produce enough power from wind to supply the whole (dense) population. This illustrates a larger problem.

Professor David MacKay, the new chief scientist at the Department for Energy and Climate Change, has done the maths on this. Instead of kW, he calculates power in kWh, and he estimates that if we put wind turbines across the windiest 10% of the country, we would generate only 20 kWh per day per person in Britain.


Add in offshore turbines covering a third of the available shallow water locations (44,000 turbines) and installing deep water turbines in a 9km-wide strip all round the entire British coast and you get an additional 48kWh day per person.

That's a lot of power, but even on quite conservative estimates the average UK resident uses 125 kWh day.

That 9kn-wide strip of offshore wind turbines all the way around Britain would be much more expensive than onshore wind as well. Plus, hey, sometimes the wind doesn't blow.

Europe is densely populated and it is pretty far north. These two facts are highly problematic for European efforts to gradually phase out fossil fuels in order to cut carbon dioxide emissions. Europe doesn't have enough land to put up enough wind turbines to supply all the power the continent needs. At the same time, solar power still costs too much and Europe is too far north to get enough solar energy during the winter anyway. In much of Europe demand for electric power peaks in the winter (not in the summer like much of the United States). So Europe can't shift over to running purely on wind and solar power.

Since Europe can't run just on wind and solar power either it must bring power in from distant places (whether renewable or fossil fuels) or it has to use nuclear power. The current ban on new nuclear power plants in Germany therefore is impractical.

Even provided enough electric power for all energy needs the migration to a pure electric economy is still very problematic. Airplanes need liquid fuels and liquid fuels are still much cheaper than electric power for vehicles in most cases. There's also still the need for chemical feedstocks. We still need many technological advances in order to migrate away from fossil fuels. Oil's liquid hydrocarbons are especially valuable.

By Randall Parker    2009 December 27 09:36 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (53)
2009 October 29 Thursday
Wind Turbine Transmission Technology

Recently a commenter asserted (with no evidence - correction: some evidence but not quantitative) that wind power has big reliability problems due to blades and the mechanical assemblies suffering high failure rates. No quantitative data was provided. This got me wondering if there is any publically available data on mean time between failures for assorted wind farms. Anyone know of such sources? Or are the operating companies tight-lipped about their problems? An article in Technology Review about the development of continuously variable transmissions for wind turbines mentions a number of hours that wind turbines are expected to operate: 80,000 hours.

The question is whether the CVT is tough enough. Viryd parent company Fallbrook Technologies has already commercialized its technology as a smooth-shifting alternative to gears and derailleurs in high-end bicycles and is working on larger vehicle applications. Wind power, however, is a particularly demanding application, according to Jason Cotrell, a senior engineer at the Department of Energy's National Wind Technology Center in Golden, CO. "Wind turbines are subject to very high torque for 80,000 hours of operation, so it's a very challenging environment," Cotrell says. "CVTs tend to be complex, and we haven't yet verified that they're suitably robust."

Well, there are 8760 hours per year. A wind farm that operated every hour of the year would run up 80,000 hours in about 9 years and 2 months. But if a wind farm only spins, say, 30 percent of the time then 80,000 hours of operation would occur over a period of 30 years.

I would be very surprised if a wind turbine's transmission could run for 80,000 hours without service. The spinning, vibration, temperature variations, humidity, and other stresses must take their toll. So do wind turbine transmissions last 80,000 hours before total replacement? How much maintenance gets done before total replacement? Do the transmissions or blades tend to fail first? Anyone know?

While I'm asking: What's more expensive, the blades, the transmission, or the generator?

By Randall Parker    2009 October 29 11:20 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (27)
2009 July 25 Saturday
Germans To Pay Much For Offshore Wind Power

Germany is phasing out nuclear power plants before the end of their useful lives, building more coal electric plants, and will make Germans pay thru the nose for expensive offshore wind electric power.

It was the revival of Kohl’s center-right Christian Democratic Union party under Chancellor Angela Merkel that delivered the concessions needed to kick-start the offshore-wind industry. In 2006 Merkel’s government—a coalition that also included the Social Democrats and the Christian Social Union—made power-grid operators responsible for running cables to offshore farms. That shaved about one-fifth off the average cost of a project. And last year Merkel improved the revenue side of the ledger, boosting the offshore tariff to 0.15/kWh (US $0.21/kWh).

The German government had to increase the payment to offshore wind operators in order to get enough investors to put up money to build offshore wind farms. Opposition to closer offshore facilities forced the wind farms into deeper water which drove up costs.

To put that 21 cents per kwh producers price in perspective at the time of this writing Americans on average are paying residential retail prices at 11.28 cents per kwh on average. The 21 cents per kwh that German grid operators will pay will get marked up to higher residential retails prices to pay for distribution and billing costs.

But that cost number for wind electric is even worse than that. Wind is not dispatchable power. You can't order it up when you want it in response to demand spikes. You get it when the wind blows and you don't get it when the air is still. Electric power generators that can ramp up in response to demand spikes normally gets sold for a higher price than baseload power (like a nuclear power plant that runs all the time). But baseload power is at least there when the demand is greatest just like it is there when demand is least. By contrast, wind isn't as reliable as baseload power. So that 21 cents per kwh wholesale for an undependable power source is a really high price to pay.

Update: A wind farm for offshore of Delaware's coast is supposed to come in at a much lower price of maybe 12 cents per kwh before a production tax credit lowers it to 10 cents per kwh. It is not clear to me whether the price is a binding agreement. What accounts for that lower cost? Shallower water? Stronger winds? Less political influence on markets?

By Randall Parker    2009 July 25 07:22 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (41)
2009 May 29 Friday
Wind Drives Wholesale Electricity Prices Negative In West Texas

If this analysis is correct a market for buying transmission line access in West Texas sometimes drives electric power prices negative when the wind is blowing and local demand is lower than wind generation capacity.

A surfeit of wind energy is pushing down the price of all electricity. The real time price of electricity in West Texas, where almost all generation is wind, was negative for 23% of April 2009. The negative prices spilled over to the rest of Texas for about 1% of the month. This may be the future of the electric industry, with negative prices for a substantial amount of time each month.

I suspect the wind power generators have an incentive to drive power prices negative due to a production tax credit on wind power generation. The wind generators can not earn the tax credit unless they sell what they generate. So they pay to use the transmission lines so they can sell their electric power to more distant customers.

What I want to know about wind power and electric transmission costs: Will industries with high electric power needs migrate to where the wind blows strongest? Or will transmission line build-out enable the wind farms of West Texas to eventually sell their electric power over much greater distances? Does anyone understand the economics of electric power transmission lines? How much power gets lost per hundred miles and how much do the lines cost as compared to what the electric power costs?

Recall my recent post where I argued that electricity demand will dip when world oil production starts declining. I do not see electric power as supply constrained. The world does not face a general energy shortage so much as a liquid fuels shortage.

Troubles getting nuclear power plants built mean that wind power does not face much non-fossil fuels competition right now. At the same time, the economics of solar power continue to improve. For silicon-based photovoltaics the cost improvement is most dramatic. When the price for polysilicon crystal collapsed $450 to $100 per kg some analysts said that a further drop to $50 per kg would make silicon PV cost competitive with First Solar's thin films. Now polysilicon has dropped even further to $65 per kg and silicon PV is looking very competitive with thin films.

Checks also suggest six inch solar wafer prices (in the spot market) have declined to US$3.50/piece, implying that finished solar wafers are now < US$1/watt. Assuming US$0.80/watt for turning wafers into modules, we estimate $65/kg poly to yield modules at a cost of US$1.60-US$1.80/watt. And even a rather aggressive GM of 20% implies si-based manufacturers could sell modules at US$2.10 (or EUR‚¬1.62, assuming 1.3 F/X) and compete head-to-head with FSLR.

This is all still much more expensive than wind power. But in areas where the sun shines the brightest solar becomes competitive much sooner.

What I want to know about polysilicon prices: At $65 per kg can polysilicon producers expand production profitably? Or are they selling at a loss now once capital costs are considered? Anyone know?

Update: Also see Gail Tverberg's post on The Oil Drum: Some Cautionary Thoughts about Wind.

By Randall Parker    2009 May 29 02:06 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (46)
2009 May 24 Sunday
On The Dependability Of Wind Energy During Peak Demand

Naturally on the Sunday before Memorial Day holiday I'm sitting at home reading the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) 2009 Summer Reliability Assessment for the North American electric power grid. I'm sure I'm not the only one doing this. Well, on page 52 of the PDF file I espy mention how in the US Midwest in one one grid region at peak demand time (hot summer afternoon) the worst case they've seen with wind generation was only 2% of nameplate capacity. That's pretty bad.

The variable resources for the MRO-U.S. (wind generation) expected to be available at peak times is 1,130 MW, based on 20 percent of nameplate capacity of 5,924 MW. For wind generation, nameplate capability is assumed as maximum capability, although simultaneous output of geographically disperse wind farms at 100 percent nameplate capability is highly unlikely. 20 percent of nameplate capacity is used by the Midwest ISO when determining capacity of variable generation. 20 percent is also assumed available at peak load by the MRO Model Building Subcommittee when building peak models. Historically, the Midwest ISO has recorded a maximum output of about 65 percent of wind nameplate capacity operating simultaneously throughout the Region during peak demand. The Midwest ISO has also recorded approximately 2 percent of wind nameplate capacity operating simultaneously throughout the Region during peak demand. Saskatchewan, which has about 172 MW of nameplate wind, and Manitoba Hydro, which has about 100 MW of nameplate wind, do not count wind resources for reliability/capacity purposes.

I wonder what year that was. The more recent it was the worse it looks for wind power reliability since in more recent years the number of wind farms and their geographical dispersion has increased.

I would like to know whether new wind farms get better and worse deals from electric power buyers if the new wind farms are respectively further away from and closer to other wind farms. The idea here is that the more geographically dispersed the wind farms the lower the chance that the wind will not be blowing at all of them at the same time.

I would also like to know what sort of biomass is burned to generate 331 MW of biomass electricity. Wood?

The biomass portion of resources for the MRO expected to be available at peak times is 331 MW.

Update: In a comment post Greg F points to Ontario wind farm output data and he created a graphical view of Ontario wind power output from May 1 to May 15. You can see that the wind power output is highly variable swinging from 0 to over 750 MW over the course of a few days with a very fast ramp-up where wind soared. Any back-up for wind has to swing up and down very quickly. I fail to see from this data how wind can get counted as baseline power for Ontario.

What we need: graphs like Greg's that are for different wind markets aggregated at different levels. When Ontario has no wind how far do you have to go to get to an area with heavy wind blowing? Is Alberta far enough? Kansas?

Update II: A key study in the debate over the reliability of win for baseload power was published by Stanford researchers Cristina Archer and Mark Jacobson in December 2007. They argued that with long distance transmission lines connecting very geographically dispersed wind farms that wind would become highly reliable.

Wind power, long considered to be as fickle as wind itself, can be groomed to become a steady, dependable source of electricity and delivered at a lower cost than at present, according to scientists at Stanford University.

The key is connecting wind farms throughout a given geographic area with transmission lines, thus combining the electric outputs of the farms into one powerful energy source. The findings are published in the November issue of the American Meteorological Society's Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology.

Wind is the world's fastest growing electric energy source, according to the study's authors, Cristina Archer and Mark Jacobson, who will present their findings Dec. 13 at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. Their talk is titled "Supplying Reliable Electricity and Reducing Transmission Requirements by Interconnecting Wind Farms."

Then 33% percent of average wind farm output could be used as baseload power. Note that is not 33% of max output (aka nameplate output). That is 33% of actual average output.

The researchers used hourly wind data, collected and quality-controlled by the National Weather Service, for the entire year of 2000 from the 19 sites. They found that an average of 33 percent and a maximum of 47 percent of yearly-averaged wind power from interconnected farms can be used as reliable baseload electric power. These percentages would hold true for any array of 10 or more wind farms, provided it met the minimum wind speed and turbine height criteria used in the study.

My understanding of this (and someone correct me if I'm wrong) is that then a group of wind farms that average 30% of nameplate output could then have 10% of their nameplate output go into providing baseload. That's not a lot. How much does a 2.5 MW turbine cost fully installed? That'd provide 250 KW of baseload. 400 of them would provide 1 GW. With a price for that 400 plus the cost of long distance transmission lines we could start doing comparisons with nuclear power plants.

The Stanford research about the need for geographical dispersion for dependable wind power strikes me as less optimistic than it seems at first blush. One big problem: High quality wind is not equally dispersed geographically. Not all high quality wind farm sites in the high plains of the US will have sufficiently distant matching sites to back up each other. Balancing new wind sites in core wind areas with other more distant sites becomes a problem if use of wind for baseload power is the goal.

By Randall Parker    2009 May 24 05:54 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (83)
2009 January 07 Wednesday
Method To Reduce Wind Farm Output Variation

Varying levels of wind farm energy output cause both short-term and long-term problems with demand matching. Some U Wisc-Milwaukee engineers propose a method to dampen the variation of output of wind turbines over shorter time periods.

Now, Asghar Abedini, Goran Mandic and Adel Nasiri at the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Power Electronics and Motor Drives Laboratory, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, have devised a solution to the electricity grid susceptibility to changes in wind speed.

The researchers have devised a novel control method that can mitigate power fluctuations using the inertia of the wind turbine's rotor as an energy storage component. Simply put, they have created a braking control algorithm that adjusts the rotor speed so that when incoming wind power is greater than the average power, the rotor is allowed to speed up so that it can store the excess energy as kinetic energy rather than generating electricity. This energy is then released when the wind power falls below average.

This approach, the team explains, precludes the need for external energy storage facilities such as capacitors and the additional infrastructure and engineering they entail. Their method also captures wind energy more effectively and so improves the overall efficiency of wind farming potentially reducing the number of turbines required at any given site.

An obvious way to try to store wind energy is to make heavier rotors. This would give the rotors more momentum. But that would increase the mass needed for the towers that hold up the wind turbines and propellers. An alternative would be to run a belt of some sort from the propeller to the ground to have the heavier rotor and electric generator at ground level. But the belt to do this would cost more money. My guess is that wind farm design engineers have considered these ideas and I wonder what impracticalities prevent their use.

By Randall Parker    2009 January 07 11:18 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (8)
2008 December 01 Monday
Turbine With Shroud Could Cut Wind Power Costs In Half

A shroud that reduces loss due to wind going around the blade might cut total costs of wind power by half or more.

FloDesign Wind Turbine, a spin-off from the aerospace company FloDesign based in Wilbraham, MA, has developed a wind turbine that could generate electricity at half the cost of conventional turbines. The company recently raised $6 million in its first round of venture financing and has announced partnerships with wind-farm developers.

So far the company has only a small prototype. They need to do a lot of work to show it can scale and that the net cost really is lower. But if it works it will allow much more wind power to be tapped per area of land.

Combine that advance with the prospect of an electric generator that can generate electricity over a wider range of air speeds and we might be looking at much cheaper wind power that operates over a wider range of wind speeds.

By Randall Parker    2008 December 01 11:07 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (8)
2008 November 16 Sunday
Variable Electric Generator Improves Wind Power Efficiency

An interesting article in MIT's Technology Review reports on a generator for wind turbines that can harvest electric power over a wider range of wind speeds.

ExRo Technologies, a startup based in Vancouver, BC, has developed a new kind of generator that's well suited to harvesting energy from wind. It could lower the cost of wind turbines while increasing their power output by 50 percent.

The new generator runs efficiently over a wider range of conditions than conventional generators do. When the shaft running through an ordinary generator is turning at the optimal rate, more than 90 percent of its energy can be converted into electricity. But if it speeds up or slows down, the generator's efficiency drops dramatically.

If the cost delta for this generator design is small enough then the 50% boost in electric power could greatly improve the economics of wind electric power. The generator works by switching in more magnetic coils as turbine speed increases.

ExRo's new design replaces a mechanical transmission with what amounts to an electronic one. That increases the range of wind speeds at which it can operate efficiently and makes it more responsive to sudden gusts and lulls.

Here's the company's description of their Variable Input Electric Generator (VIEG):

Rather than layering individual legacy machines one on top of the next, the VIEG uses a series of coils, configured in "balanced stages".The magnetic balancing allows the use of permanent magnets, yet still reduces cogging torque to a bare minimum, which allows the VIEG to operate at extremely low wind speeds (near zero).As available energy increases, the VIEG matches generator resistance to source energy by electronically adding generator stages. Conversely, the VIEG is able to drop stages as available energy (wind speed) drops, cycling up and down without hesitation and without mechanical friction.The need for a gearbox is eliminated, and a single VIEG generator scales up and down with available energy in a way that would take almost 70 individual generators to match.

My guess is that wipespread deployment of this generator would also reduce the problem of wind intermittency since wind power wouldn't drop off suddenly below a threshold. The power supplied would decay more slowly. This would tend to make load balancing easier I would think. Anyone know if this intuition is correct?

By Randall Parker    2008 November 16 07:59 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (16)
2008 October 05 Sunday
Offshore Wind Developments For Rhode Island And New Jersey

In the wake of a decision for a Delaware offshore wind farm two more wind farm projects in the US Northeast reach initial agreements for their development. 15% of Rhode Island electric power will come from an offshore wind project.

Governor Donald L. Carcieri today announced that Deepwater Wind was chosen as the successful developer to construct a wind energy project off the shores of Rhode Island that will provide 1.3 million megawatt hours per year of renewable energy – 15 percent of all electricity used in the state. It is expected that the project will cost in excess of $1 billion to construct – all from private investment sources. A team of experts assembled by Governor Carcieri spent several months evaluating the detailed proposals submitted by seven development groups.

Deepwater Wind was established to develop utility-scale offshore wind projects in the northeastern part of the United States. The company’s major investors are FirstWind, a major developer of on-shore wind projects in the United States, D.E. Shaw & Co., a capital investment firm with deep experience in the energy sector, and Ospraie Management, a leading asset management firm with a focus on alternative energy markets.

The supporters of this project expect the wind electric costs to be not greatly above other sources.

Deepwater and the state are now set to enter into a 90-day negotiation period, during which details of the agreement for the wind farm will be hammered out. Andrew C. Dzykewicz, the governor’s chief energy adviser and the commissioner of the R.I. Office of Energy Resources, said he expects the Deepwater wind farm to be generating electricity at a cost of 7 to 9 cents per kilowatt-hour by 2012 if the regulatory process stays on track. (National Grid’s current rate base calls for a 12.5-cent rate.)

The deal is driven by a state law requiring more energy from renewables. Many states have passed such mandates.

Deepwater is proposing to build about 100 turbines, which could provide 385 megawatts of electricity – meeting Carcieri’s goal of obtain 15 percent of the state’s electricity energy from renewable sources. A state law mandates that the state must be getting 16 percent of its energy from renewables by 2019.

The NJ utility regulatory agency has chosen a team to develop another offshore wind farm.

The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (NJ BPU) today announced that it has chosen Garden State Offshore Energy (GSOE), a joint venture of PSEG Renewable Generation and Deepwater Wind, as the preferred developer of a 350-megawatt wind farm off the coast of New Jersey. As the preferred developer, GSOE will proceed with evaluation of the project's environmental impacts and wind resources quality as well as begin the permitting process at both the state and federal levels.

GSOE's proposal calls for 96 wind turbines arranged in a rectangular grid 16 to 20 miles off the coast of Cape May and Atlantic counties (for map showing location in relation to N.J. coast, go to www.gardenstatewind.com). At this distance, the wind farm would be barely visible from shore, addressing one of the major concerns of beach communities. The wind farm could begin generating energy in 2012 with the entire project operational in 2013.

The New Jersey Energy Master Plan (EMP) calls for 20 percent of the state's New Jersey's energy to come from renewable sources by 2020, a major portion of which is envisioned to be from offshore wind. This decision marks the state's ongoing commitment to aggressively encourage the expansion and creation of clean energy solutions to meet the state's energy needs.

We will find out from the Delaware, New Jersey, and Rhode Island projects whether the considerable wind resources of the Mid-Atlantic Bight can be tapped in an affordable way. If these projects succeed that will bode well for our post-oil future. Throw in a success with getting the costs down on the Chevy Volt and we'll be able to keep moving when oil production goes into sharp decline.

New York might be next.

A year after nixing an offshore wind farm near Jones Beach, the Long Island Power Authority will explore a new, larger proposal with Con Edison for a field of up to 100 turbines off the coast of Queens.

LIPA chief executive Kevin Law today is expected to announce the formation of a working group with Con Ed to study the feasibility of a "significant" wind farm, possibly 10 miles off the Rockaways. If the two utilities can agree on a plan, they will draw up a request for proposals, perhaps early next year.

By Randall Parker    2008 October 05 08:25 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (9)
2008 September 14 Sunday
Delaware Offshore Wind Farm Pattern For Future?

A New York Times article on the politics of wind power looks at the long fight for political approval for an offshore wind power project off the coast of Delaware. The Mid-Atlantic Bight region has large quantities of fairly stable wind power.

The amount of power Dhanju was describing, Mandelstam knew from Kempton, was but a small fraction of an even larger resource along what’s known as the Mid-Atlantic Bight. This coastal region running from Massachusetts to North Carolina contained up to 330,000 megawatts of average electrical capacity. This was, in other words, an amount of guaranteed, bankable power that was larger, in terms of energy equivalence, than the entire mid-Atlantic coast’s total energy demand — not just for electricity but for heating, for gasoline, for diesel and for natural gas. Indeed the wind off the mid-Atlantic represented a full third of the Department of Energy’s estimate of the total American offshore resource of 900,000 megawatts.

Wind projects do not usually operate at nameplate (i.e. max) capacity for most of the time. An onshore wind project might average one third of max output. But wind offshore blows more consistently. I would like to know what average capacity utilization is expected for this Delaware project. I would also like to know how vulnerable a project like this is to a category 3 or 4 hurricane.

Wind still accounts for a pretty small amount of total electric generation capacity. The construction of new projects is subsidized by a production tax credit of about 2 cents per kwh. However, in defense of this subsidy coal generates half of the electric power used in the US and coal plants produce a lot of pollution (particulates, mercury, etc) that wind farms do not produce.

Last year, onshore wind power added more than 5,200 megawatts of new electrical capacity to the grid — or nearly a third of America’s new generating capacity, surpassing all other forms of new generation except natural gas and amounting to enough electric capacity to power one and a half million homes.

Was that 5,200 megawatts peak capacity or average capacity? Frequently news reports exaggerate the size of new wind and solar installations by quoting their capacity when the wind blows the hardest and sun shines the brightest. Whereas the average output is usually third or less of the peak for wind and an even lower average output for solar power.

Wind offshore costs more than onshore because the onshore facilities require less capital and are easier to construct and maintain. Some saw the 10 cents/kwh cost of offshore wind electric as too high.

Within Delaware itself, opponents of Bluewater focused on the economics of the project. One report financed by Delmarva Power argued that Bluewater would raise the average electric bill by $20 or more a month. If natural-gas prices flattened or decreased, the company could pass those savings on to its customers — but not if it were stuck in a long-term contract at the Bluewater price of 10 cents per kilowatt hour for the next 25 years.

That's with the production tax credit. So the real cost is probably around 12 cents/kwh. But to put that 10 cents/kwh wholesale electric cost in perspective in April 2008 Delaware residential customers were paying an average of 12.92 cents per kwh as a retail price with the costs of distribution included. That 10 cents for wind does not include distribution costs and billing costs. Plus, intermittent wind requires backup natural gas-fired electric power generation stations that further add to the average cost of electricity. So it seems fair to say that this deal will raise the price of electricity in Delaware in the short term. But in the long term as natural gas and coal prices rise the Bluewater project puts a partial ceiling on electric power costs and probably will reduce long term electric cost inflation in Delaware.

Given the recent increases in electric power prices that April 2008 price table for US state-level electric power costs understates current near future residential electric prices. The Atlantic Bight offshore wind is probably a better deal further north along the US Atlantic coast where as of April 2008 New Jersey residential customers were paying 14.16 cents/kwh while New Yorkers were paying 17.19 cents/kwh, and Connecticut residents were paying 18.56. But the US Middle Atlantic and New England states pay high prices for electricity as compared to most of the rest of the US. Heavy coal burning Kentucky paid only 7.19 cents/kwh and another big coal user Wyoming paid only 7.58 cents/kwh with the US average at 10.44 cents/kwh. Note that higher coal prices have pushed up electric prices since April and effectively coal's cost advantage is shrinking. California is listed at 13.92 cents/kwh. But that is going up substantially.

Key to the Delaware project's approval has been the recent pattern of rapid electric utility rate increases. The Tennessee Valley Authority is boosting electric rates 20%.

News came late last week that Tennessee Valley Authority’s electric rates are going up a total of 20 percent across the Tennessee Valley area, and, according to Fayetteville Public Utilities management, this is the largest total rate hike in nearly 30 years.


From December 2007 until July 2008, fuel prices climbed 50 percent for crude oil, 66 percent for natural gas and 128 percent for coal.

Pennsylvanians might be hit by as much as 34% higher electric bills by 2010.

THE ISSUE: Statewide, caps on electric rates have been expiring for the last few years, with PPL Corp. customers facing rate spikes of as much 34 percent in 2010.

Tampa Bay Florida area residents will pay 31% more.

While utilities push to raise electric rates 31 percent on both sides of Tampa Bay, millions of South Florida residents will see their bills increase by only 7 percent.

Virginia and Ohio will also see double digit percentage electric rate increases.

In West Virginia, the state’s largest natural gas utility is asking for a 42 percent rate increase. In Virginia, millions of Dominion Virginia Power customers are seeing their bills rise an average of 18 percent, the largest one-time rate hike there in three decades. And Ohio’s largest electric utility is seeking a 15 percent rate increase annually for the next three years because of high coal prices and a new state environmental law governing emissions that will cost the company money, a spokesman says.

These price increases are narrowing the price gap between wind and existing electric power sources. But this is happening in a way that suggests our medium term prices for electric power will be higher than what we are paying now. But I see a bright side to this. As world oil production declines and the push to substitute natural gas and coal for oil intensifies the ability to use wind electric power will put ceilings on future electric power prices that will leave electric power cheap enough to run modern industrial economies.

Electric power can partially substitute for liquid hydrocarbon fuels in many ways. For example, train lines can be electrified and pluggable hybrid cars can be (and will be) built. Also, electricity can power air-based and ground-based heat pumps for winter heating. So when oil production plummets we will be able to use electric power to keep many elements of our current lifestyles, albeit with considerable transition costs.

Update: In the comments be sure to read the comments by Willett Kempton, a UDel prof who did much of the research on the relative cost competitiveness of the offshore wind choice. He answers questions I raised above and provides additional information as well as links to more details on the study.

By Randall Parker    2008 September 14 02:39 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (9)
2008 July 08 Tuesday
T. Boone Pickens: Wind For Electricity And Natural Gas For Cars

Texas oil billionaire T. Boone Pickens proposes to use wind power to replace natural gas for electric generation and then use the natural gas to replace oil in cars.

A 2005 Stanford University study found that there is enough wind power worldwide to satisfy global demand 7 times over — even if only 20% of wind power could be captured.

Building wind facilities in the corridor that stretches from the Texas panhandle to North Dakota could produce 20% of the electricity for the United States at a cost of $1 trillion. It would take another $200 billion to build the capacity to transmit that energy to cities and towns.

That's a lot of money, but it's a one-time cost. And compared to the $700 billion we spend on foreign oil every year, it's a bargain.

Natural gas vehicles are less convenient (shorter range and less trunk space) than regular cars. But the fuel costs are substantially lower. You could implement part of Boone's plan by getting a natural gas powered car.

Boone is already putting his money ($2 billion through Mesa Power with a potential total cost of $12 billion by 2014) where his mouth is with a gigantic wind farm project in Texas. However, the US government is also contributing through a tax credit per kwh produced.

When a large wind power facility was built outside of town, Sweetwater experienced a revival. New economic opportunity brought the town back to life and the population has grown back up to 12,000.

In the Texas panhandle, just north of Sweetwater, is the town of Pampa, where T. Boone Pickens' Mesa Power is currently building the largest wind farm in the world.

At 4,000 megawatts — the equivalent combined output of four large coal-fire plants — the production of the completed Pampa facility will double the wind energy output of the United States.

If all of the natural gas used in electric generation was shifted to powering cars US oil imports would drop by more than a third. This would reduce the huge US trade deficit and partially shield the US economy from rising oil costs.

We currently use natural gas to produce 22% of our electricity. Harnessing the power of wind to generate electricity will give us the flexibility to shift natural gas away from electricity generation and put it to use as a transportation fuel — reducing our dependence on foreign oil by more than one-third.

How much sense this makes depends on where you think oil prices and oil supplies are going. I think we are within a few years of world Peak Oil. So I see a lot of merit to Boone's proposal.

On the Wall Street Journal's Environmental Capital blog Keith Johnson points to a claim that the lack of sufficient quantities of long distance electric power transmission lines serve as the biggest obstacle to much larger growth of wind power farms.

The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources tackled the transmission problem—that is, how to get electricity from the remote places it’s usually generated to the built-up places it’s used. The U.S. Department of Energy last month said lack of transmission is the biggest obstacle to making wind power a major source of electricity in the U.S.

The transmission lines are needed for two reasons. First off, each area has uneven amounts of wind. Distant areas tend not to have slow wind periods at the same time. So long distance transmission lines with sufficiently fancy switching mechanisms could keep the power flowing from wherever it is blowing hardest to the areas where the wind is weak. Plus, the US southeast as generally weak winds - except offshore where deep water wind tower costs mean much higher wind electric costs. So the US southeast would need lots of transmission lines flowing in from the plains states which have the most wind in the lower 48 states.

In the comments of Johnson's post Michael Goggin of the American Wind Energy Association says that the current regulatory structure serves as a disincentive against the construction of sufficient transmission lines.

Rather, the problem is getting the correct policies in place so that these benefits are properly internalized by the firm making the transmission investment decision. The benefits of transmission investment tend to accrue to consumers spread over large multi-state regions, but currently these out-of-state benefits are largely ignored because most transmission planning and cost allocation decisions are made at the state level. Once the federal and state governments are able to work together to implement regional transmission planning and cost allocation policies that fully account for the societal benefits of new transmission, investors will happily step up to pay for the new lines.

I suspect that Boone's biggest motivation in setting up an organization to promote his proposal is to work for policy changes in the US Congress that will change the regulatory environment to one where the capital markets will supply the large sums of money needed to build up electric transmission infrastructure that will enable huge growth of wind power.

A couple of weeks ago I was digging up information about natural gas vehicles for a high mileage friend. Looking at a map of Compressed Natural Gas refueling station prices in the United States (scroll around in it) I was amazed that the price in Utah is about a third to a quarter of the cost in California. Oklahoma also has very low natural gas prices. If you live in Utah or Oklahoma and have long commutes then take a hard look at natural gas vehicles. Honda sells the Civic CNG. But I've come across claims of several month long waiting lists. Another alternative: CNG Conversion is available for the 2008 Ford Focus and several other models.

Boone's plan isn't going to work unless a lot of people decide on their own that a natural gas vehicle makes economic sense. When I look at the CNG price map and see how cheap CNG is in Utah and Oklahoma I think that CNG vehicles ought to take off in these states in order for CNG to have a chance at the national level. Maybe we've just needed the really high cost of gasoline to make CNG viable. Time will tell.

Update: I question the extent to which wind power can displace natural gas electric power. First off, natural gas gets used a lot for peaking power. Natural gas turbines can get spun up pretty quickly to respond to spikes in electric demand. Well, wind power certainly can't do that. Second, all those existing natural gas power plant operators are going to argue that Congress (i.e. taxpayers) should not subsidize construction of a big electric transmission line system or the installation of natural gas refilling stations. Still, if the Pickens Plan just shines more light on CNG vehicles it will probably give a big boost to CNG vehicle sales - especially in parts of the United States (and southern Canada) where natural gas is cheap.

Update II: I think the move toward CNG cars should come before a big build-up of electric transmission lines. Natural gas is already substantially cheaper than gasoline for powering cars. If this is going to work it ought to be possible to ramp up CNG cars now given some incentives for the shift.

Update III: Pickens wants some government incentives for the move to CNG cars. He argues the needed incentives are small compared to some of the incentives going into other forms of energy.

Washington, Pickens adds, can encourage the move to natural-gas-powered vehicles by providing modest economic incentives for fuel retailers to invest in CNG pumps at their stations, for automakers to build CNG-powered cars and for individuals to convert their existing vehicles to CNG use. And it should continue to provide tax incentives for another 10 years to encourage wind energy's rapid development as part of an overall plan to wean the nation from foreign oil, he says.

"It certainly would be cheaper than what they're doing already for nuclear," Pickens adds. But he's also in favor of developing more nuclear energy, and every form of alternative energy to reduce oil imports. "Try everything. Do everything. Nuclear. Biomass. Coal. Solar. You name it. I support them all," he says. "But there's only one energy source that can dramatically reduce the amount of oil we have to import each year, and that's (natural) gas."

A large electric transmission system combined with dynamic pricing would allow wind to provide a much larger portion of all electric power. This would come at the expense of both natural gas and coal electric. But then more natural gas and coal would be available for transportation. Plus, more coal would be available for export to help pay for the import of oil.

By Randall Parker    2008 July 08 08:22 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (34)
2008 June 08 Sunday
Trial Of Offshore Floating Wind Turbine In Norway

A Norwegian fossil fuels company is going to try to use technology developed for offshore drilling to put up a floating offshore wind turbine.

The notion of floating wind turbines far offshore may have come a nautical mile closer to reality late last month, with the announcement of a collaboration between Norwegian oil and gas producer StatoilHydro and Germany's Siemens, a major wind-turbine producer. The new partners plan to install what could be the world's first commercial-scale wind turbine located offshore in deep water. StatoilHydro has allocated 400 million NOK ($78 million) to floating a Siemens turbine in more than 200 meters of water--10 times the depth that conventional offshore wind-turbine foundations can handle--atop a conventional oil and gas platform.

They will use a standard Siemens 2.3-megawatt wind turbine and a spar buoy very similar to what floating oil drilling platforms use. Initially they expect the electric power to be as expensive as solar power (i.e. very expensive). But they think they can get the costs way down.

What I wonder: How much of the higher cost is due to the cable that brings the electricity to shore? That part of the cost doesn't seem very amenable to cost reduction in the short to medium term.

By Randall Parker    2008 June 08 03:14 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (11)
2008 May 20 Tuesday
Wind Turbine Costs Up

If you are waiting for alternative energy sources to become much cheaper, well, keep on waiting. Wind turbine costs are up for both offshore and onshore sites.

Shell's decision to sell its stake in London Array shows how difficult it will be to meet those goals. After the announcement on May 1, Skaerbaek, Denmark-based Dong Energy and Dusseldorf- based E.ON, Germany's biggest utility, said they may reduce the size of the project.

``Rising costs of materials,'' including steel and turbines ``are the reasons for reassessment of our position,'' said Shell spokeswoman Eurwen Thomas.

The price of offshore turbines rose 48 percent to 2.23 million euros ($3.45 million) per megawatt in the past three years, according to BTM Consult APS, a Danish wind power consultant. By comparison, land-based rotors cost 1.38 million euros per megawatt after rising 74 percent in the same period.

Some of that price rise might be due to strong demand for wind power. But materials cost increases played a role too. Higher commodities prices have pushed up prices for steel, aluminum, copper, and other materials used in wind tower construction.

So far the only energy source which looks like it might be getting ready for big price drops is solar. But it is also one of the more expensive ways to generate electricity. So it has plenty of room for improvement. The future costs of energy look pretty inflationary to me.

By Randall Parker    2008 May 20 10:40 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (10)
2008 April 05 Saturday
Floating Platforms Could Cut Cost Of Offshore Wind Power

Some sources put the cost of offshore wind power at twice the cost of onshore installations. Yet the British government has announced plans to do big offshore wind farm builds. Companies in the Netherlands, Norway, and other countries might slash the cost of offshore wind by using floating platforms.

Offshore wind-farm developers would love to build in deep water more than 32 kilometers from shore, where stronger and steadier winds prevail and complaints about marred scenery are less likely. But building foundations to support wind turbines in water deeper than 20 meters is prohibitively expensive. Now, technology developers are stepping up work in floating turbines to make such farms feasible.

Noise and high spinning speeds have 2 blade turbines undesirable on land. 3 blade turbines get used on land instead. But offshore the trade-offs change and the advantages of 2 blades include lower costs due to a lighter structure.

Faster rotation also means less torque, meaning that the entire structure can be built lighter. (See "Wind Power for Pennies.") The rotor, gearbox, and generator of Blue H's 2.5-megawatt turbine will weigh 97 tons--53 tons lighter than the lightest machine of the same power output on the market. "This is a big advantage," says Jakubowski. "For us, weight on top is something we have to push up." The turbine and platform are correspondingly cheaper to build, he says. The net result, says Jakubowski, should be a highly competitive energy source. He estimates that Blue H's wind farms will deliver wind energy for seven to eight cents per kilowatt-hour, roughly matching the current cost of natural gas-fired generation and conventional onshore wind energy.

Natural gas prices will go up as natural gas fields get depleted. So wind could become preferred with natural gas relegated to back-up when the wind doesn't blow.

By Randall Parker    2008 April 05 10:21 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (11)
2008 January 27 Sunday
Subsidies Make Wind UK Farms Very Profitable

Taxpayer subsidies have made onshore wind farms highly profitable in Britain.

LAVISH subsidies and high electricity prices have turned Britain’s onshore wind farms into an extraordinary moneyspinner, with a single turbine capable of generating £500,000 of pure profit per year.

According to new industry figures, a typical 2 megawatt (2MW) turbine can now generate power worth £200,000 on the wholesale markets - plus another £300,000 of subsidy from taxpayers.

Since such turbines cost around £2m to build and last for 20 or more years, it means they can pay for themselves in just 4-5 years and then produce nothing but profit.

What I want to know: How many kilowatt-hours (kwh) are they saying comes from that 2MW turbine (which is probably running at 30% capacity or less on average) to net £200,000 (double that in dollars) on the wholesale market? The period of time sounds like a year. What are they selling the electric for on average at wholesale costs?

To put that in context, on average in the United States in 2007 the residential retail price of electricity was about 10.65 cents ($0.65USD) per kwh. That 2MW turbine running at a US site at 30% capacity for a year will produce .3 * 2000 kwh * 24 hours * 365 days = 5.265 million kwh per year. At retail that's a half million dollars or a quarter million pounds. But at wholesale it is probably half that amount or about £125,000. So are wholesale electric prices higher in Britain? Probably.

The revenue from the subsidy is bigger than the revenue from selling the electricity. That seems out of whack. But it is certainly a reason to be bullish on wind tower sales.

With the US dollar in the neighborhood of about 2 dollars per British Pound British wind subsidies are currently about the same amount of money as US wind subsidies.

According to Ofgem, the Labour government's wind subsidies currently stand at £485 million a year.

But the US has a lot more wind capacity. The US has more prime wind locations and so the same amount of subsidy money buys more wind power in the US than in Britain.

The British government now wants to allow the construction of unsubsidized nuclear power plants while simultaneously spending big money to subsidize a build-up of offshore (and therefore about 2 cents/kwh more expensive if some sources are to be believed) wind. Christopher Booker claims nuclear power would deliver just as much power at a quarter the cost.

At £2 million per megawatt of "capacity" (according to the Carbon Trust), the bill for the Government's 33 gigawatts (Gw) would be £66 billion (and even that, as was admitted in a recent parliamentary answer, doesn't include an extra £10 billion needed to connect the turbines to the grid). But the actual output of these turbines, because of the wind's unreliability, would be barely a third of their capacity. The resulting 11Gw could be produced by just seven new "carbon-free" nuclear power stations, at a quarter of the cost.

The EU's plans for "renewables" do not include nuclear energy. Worse, they take no account of the back-up needed for when the wind is not blowing - which would require Britain to have 33Gw of capacity constantly available from conventional power stations.

The same drawbacks apply to the huge increase in onshore turbines, covering thousands of square miles of countryside. They are only made viable by the vast hidden subsidies that wind energy receives, through our electricity bills. These make power from turbines (including the cost of back-up) between two and three times more expensive than that from conventional sources.

Europe is geographically not well suited to produce cheap wind or cheap solar in amounts large enough to let these sources produce most of Europe's energy. So the European solution appears to be to raise prices.

Meanwhile in the US a fight over wind power subsidies continues. Wind supporters want a continuation of the wind Production Tax Credit of 2 cents per kwh.

The 2005 energy bill provided exactly the kind of multiyear support the wind industry says it needs. The impact has been dramatic. Nearly one-third of all US power capacity added last year – about 5,244 megawatts – was in wind. Overall wind-generating capacity soared 45 percent last year, adding the clean-energy equivalent of 10 large coal-fired power plants, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) reported last week.


The production tax credit, or PTC, now pays utilities about 2 cents for every kilowatt of wind power they produce over the first 10 years of a project's operation. Congress's Joint Committee on Taxation estimated the cost to taxpayers at less than $1 billion a year, AWEA officials say.

Think of it this way: Those 5.244 GW of wind towers build in 2007 will probably run at about 30% of capacity. So we are really talking about the equivalent of a 1.57 GW nuclear power plant. The production tax credit of 2 cents per kwh, if applied to nuclear power, would clearly make nukes cheaper than coal. As things stand now a new nuke will probably cost a little more than coal electric.

Jerome a Paris, who lines up financing for wind projects in Europe, says the US wind production tax credit is so popular in Congress that it gets used to get other proposals enacted.

Oddly enough, the problem with PTC is not that it's unpopular in Congress, but the opposite: that it's hugely popular. That means that any law that includes it is likely to be supported by a strong majority, and then gets larded with more disputable - and disputed - items, which are then opposed. The PTC gets taken hostage, effectively... Crazy, but true.

The American Wind Energy Association wants a 5 year extension of the US Production Tax Credit. Curiously, in their argument for the extension they claim at least in New York State wind energy displaces mostly natural gas (PDF).

A recent New York study found that if wind energy supplied 10% (3,300 MW) of the state’s peak electricity demand, 65% of the energy it displaced would come from natural gas, 15% from coal, 10% from oil, and 10% from electricity imports

That is disappointing. I'd rather it displaced relatively dirtier coal. Probably in states that use larger percentages of coal for electricity wind displaces more coal than natural gas. But I'd be curious to hear from anyone who knows for sure.

Does the United States really have a coal electric tax credit?

The PTC provides a tax credit of 1.5¢/kWh (in 1993 dollars and indexed for inflation) for wind, closed-loop biomass and geothermal. Currently, the PTC for these technologies is 2.0¢/kWh. Electricity from open-loop biomass, small irrigation hydroelectric, landfill gas, municipal solid waste resources, and hydropower receive half that rate -- currently 1.0¢/kWh.

The duration of the credit is 10 years. However, open-loop biomass, geothermal, small irrigation hydro, landfill gas, and municipal solid waste combustion facilities placed into service after October 22, 2004, and before enactment of EPAct 2005, on August 8, 2005, are eligible for the credit for a five-year period. Refined-coal facilities will receive $4.375 per ton (indexed for inflation) for a 10-year term. Indian coal production facilities will receive an increase in tax credit during the seven-year period beginning January 1, 2006, in the amount of $1.50/ton through 2009, and $2.00/ton after 2009.

My take on these subsidies: If governments are determined to offer them then the subsidies ought to take the form of guaranteed minimum prices rather than fixed amounts per kwh. Then if the cost of electric power from other sources goes up (e.g. when natural gas production starts declining and prices skyrocket) the governments won't have to spend as much on the subsidies. Also, minimum price guarantees would encourage governments to more realistically estimate what wind power will end up costing and wind farm builders would have more incentive to get their costs down below the minimum prices.

If Europe achieves its goal of getting 20% of its energy from renewables it will probably get most of that energy in the form of electricity. In that case Europe's renewable electricity might even surpass nuclear power as an electric power source. I say might? Yes, might. You might be surprised to learn that as a result of France getting 80% of its electric power from nuclear power Europe gets a higher percentage of its electricity from nuclear power (a third) than the United States (a fifth).

Currently nuclear power produces around a third of Europe's electricity, with 15 of the 27 member states producing it.

France is still building nuclear power plants.

In this case the exception is the French nuclear energy company Areva, which provides about 80 percent of the country's electricity from 58 nuclear power plants, is building a new generation of reactor that will come on line at Flamanville in 2012, and is exporting its expertise to countries from China to the United Arab Emirates.

If we want to move beyond fossil fuels the two biggest practical ways to do it today are wind and nuclear power. Eventually solar photovoltaics and perhaps algae biodiesel will hit price points where they can be seriously considered as well. But so far only nukes and wind can scale to any appreciable extent for affordable prices.

By Randall Parker    2008 January 27 05:33 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2007 December 09 Sunday
British Governnment Decides On Massive Wind Farms

The Labour government of Gordon Brown has decided to strengthen their green bona fides in a big way.

Britain is to embark on a wind power revolution that will produce enough electricity to power every home in the country, ministers will reveal tomorrow.

The Independent on Sunday has learnt that, in an astonishing U-turn, the Secretary of State for Business, John Hutton, will announce that he is opening up the seas around Britain to wind farms in the biggest ever renewable energy initiative. Only weeks ago he was resisting a major expansion of renewable sources, on the grounds that it would interfere with plans to build new nuclear power stations.

But what will it cost?

Combined with almost 1 GW of existing capacity the proposed and planned wind farms will add up to 35 GW of capacity.

Mr Hutton's announcement, which will be made at a conference in Berlin tomorrow, will identify sites in British waters for enough wind farms to produce 25 gigawatts (GW) of electricity by 2020, in addition to the 8GW already planned – enough to meet the needs of all the country's homes.

But since this uses wind that does not always blow are they talking about max output? If so, then assuming 32% average operating capacity (guessing based on reports about existing wind farms) a more reasonable output estimate would be maybe 11 GW. They could accomplish the same goal of avoiding carbon dioxide emissions by building 8 GE ESBWR nuclear reactors (assuming 90% uptime). I wonder whether 7000 wind turbines, deep ocean towers, and cables to bring the power to shore will cost more or less than 8 nukes. Also, the wind towers will require a lot of gas or coal fired back-up electric power plants for when the wind does not blow. That's an added cost the nukes wouldn't have.

You might expect me to think this proposal is dumb because politicians didn't realistically weigh costs and nuclear power might be cheaper. But I'm looking at a bigger picture: Even the second cheapest substitute for fossil fuels for generating electricity is still an improvement over using fossil fuels to generate electricity. Now some of the more skeptical among you about global warming are thinking I've gone soft and sentimental. Not to worry. I'm still really worried about Peak Oil and I'm thinking more and more that we need to reserve natural gas and coal for transportation, fertilizer, and plastics. That'll still leave some libertarians among you unsatisfied. But sorry, I think a world of sovereign national oil companies in control of most of the remaining oil and hiding their real reserves is not a very efficient market. Plus, I think the market is making a massive mistake on energy.

To put that 34 GW number in perspective currently the United States has 13 GW of installed wind capacity. The US had only half that capacity 4 years ago. So a tripling of capacity before 2020 seems quite possible and perhaps even likely. Not sure if Britain will ever become the biggest producer of wind power. Right now Texas alone exceeds Britain in wind energy production.

The Scots don't want wind turbines they can see.

Up to 7,000 turbines could be installed off the UK's coastline in a bid to boost the production of wind energy 30-fold by 2020. The plans are likely to see a huge increase in wind farms off the coast of Scotland, although plans to situate new farms within 12 miles of the Scottish shore have been shelved.

Instead, the new farms will most likely be in deep-water locations up to 200 nautical miles offshore.

There's a growing movement in Britain against land-based and near shoreline ocean-based wind towers. The opponents share my esthetic reaction. Wind towers might be neat to go look at in a few places. But I want most countryside to remain more natural looking.

The British government might also pursue tidal power.

Mr Brown and his environment secretary, Hilary Benn, are expected to announce a range of measures including a tighter renewables obligation on electricity companies, a commitment to the Severn tidal barrage and an offshore Thames estuary wind farm capable of supplying a quarter of London's electricity with 341 wind turbines.

The UK's outstanding tidal resources could provide at least 10% of the country's electricity, the government's sustainable development commission has insisted.

What I'd like to know: So then is Brown's government going to abandon their flirtation with a revival of nuclear power? Or are they going to do nuclear and wind? If they do both they could save future dwindling supplies of natural gas for other uses.

By Randall Parker    2007 December 09 11:41 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2007 November 25 Sunday
Obstacles And Opposition To Wind Power

A couple of New York Times pieces on wind power illustrate some of the obstacles in the way of growth in wind power.

In the United States, one of the areas most suited for wind turbines is the central part of the country, stretching from Texas through the northern Great Plains — far from the coastal population centers that need the most electricity.

In Denmark, which pioneered wind energy in Europe, construction of wind farms has stagnated in recent years. The Danes export much of their wind-generated electricity to Norway and Sweden because it comes in unpredictable surges that often outstrip demand.

In 2003, Ireland put a moratorium on connecting wind farms to its electricity grid because of the strains that power surges were putting on the network; it has since begun connecting them again.

Denmark was able to scale up wind power because it can buy electricity from neighbors when the wind doesn't blow. But if the neighbors do it as well then Denmark will eventually need to build more fossil fuel backup power plants to run when the wind doesn't blow.

The article says that Sweden is better suited for an increase in wind energy because they can use wind electric to pump water up into reservoirs to flow downhill later to generate electricity when the wind doesn't blow. But what's the cost of doing that?

Germany is also hitting limits on wind power.

In Germany, where 20,000 wind turbines generate 5 percent of the electricity, advocates say wind will be critical to meeting the government’s goal of generating at least 20 percent of all power from renewable methods by 2020. But the industry’s growth is slowing for a variety of reasons.

Germany is running out of places to put the turbines because of restrictions on the location and height of the devices. And rising raw material prices are making wind farms more expensive to build.

Germany is responsible for over half the world's photovoltaic demand even though it is so far north and therefore receives lower amounts of sunlight. The Germans are trying very hard to get green with energy. But their country is so densely populated and so far north that they are not well suited for wind and solar as compared to, say, the US great plains for wind or Arizona for sun. The Germans are better candidates for nuclear power than the United States but greenie opposition to nukes there currently has nuclear power on a path to a phase-out there. German Chancellor Angela Merkel might succeed in turning around that phase-out though.

Rising raw materials prices are also making coal plants, nuclear plants, and other electric power plants more expensive to build as well. So it is not clear that wind's relative competitive position is declining due to cost reasons. I suspect in wind's case part of the problem is that manufacturing capacity needs to catch up with the surge in demand.

What I'd like to know: Are more advanced wind turbine designs going to lower wind's cost more rapidly than that of other electric power sources?

The Europeans are putting in wind farms in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Since we are running out of fossil fuels this is the wrong motivation. But fortunately these wind farms will provide needed energy when Russian oil deliveries start declining and later when natural gas deliveries start declining as well.

A proposal to put up 33 wind turbines to power 43,000 homes in upstate New York has heavily divided a community.

So on the road from Grand Gorge to Stamford you see the yard signs popping up in front of barns and houses — “Yes to Clean Energy” on some, “No Industrial Wind Turbines” or “Save Our Mountains” on others.

It’s a long way from the hellish fires in Southern California or the scary drought in the Southeast to the Catskills. But for those contemplating the issues of climate change and the roadway to greener energy, it’s not so far away at all. Whatever role climate change may be playing right now, it’s clear that even something so elemental as the wind is as subject to the vagaries of politics, self-interest and community dynamics as anything else.

“I will say this just once: not in my backyard,” Mr. Many said, when asked to characterize the discord. “People in Delaware County think it ought to be in the Adirondacks. People in the Adirondacks think it should be in the ocean off Massachusetts. Teddy Kennedy thinks it should be somewhere else. Everyone wants alternative energy, but no one wants it where they have to look at it.”

I love NIMBYism. In this era of so much faux concern for others it is refreshing to hear such clear selfish declarations. But can't we be more practical in our NIMBYism? Both nuclear and solar have much less esthetic impact. If I was going to get my view of mountains and valleys ruined by a wind farm that covers a wide area I'd argue for a nuclear plant that covers a much smaller area and produces far more power. I'd also argue for an acceleration of research on photovoltaic materials such as thin films and nanotubes.

Wind electric is growing most rapidly of all electric sources when looked at in terms of percentage increase.

Of the big four sources of net generation (coal, nuclear, natural gas, and conventional hydroelectric), only hydroelectric generation showed a decrease from August 2006 to August 2007, as it was down by 7.9 percent. According to NOAA, “severe to extreme drought” affected about 29 percent of the contiguous United States and approximately 44 percent of the contiguous United States fell in the “moderate to extreme drought” category. Coal generation in August 2007 was up 0.6 percent from August 2006 and net generation attributable to nuclear sources was up 1.0 percent over the same period. Natural gas-fired generation was up 13.6 percent from its August 2006 level as more peaking generation was needed in the warmer month. Petroleum liquid-fired generation was down 10.9 compared to a year ago, and its overall share of net generation was still quite small compared to coal, nuclear, and natural gas-fired sources. Wind-powered generation was 47.8 percent higher in August 2007 than it was in August 2006.

But a look at wind's contribution in absolute terms yields a different picture. The absolute increase in nuclear generation, at 6.2 million MWh more, was much greater than the absolute increase in wind generation, at 3.6 million MWh more. To put dollar signs on this keep in mind that average retail electricity sells for about 10 cents per kilowatt-hour. So that represents an increase in nuclear power sales of about $620 million and for wind power about $360 million. Maybe cut those numbers in half to get an idea of how much money was paid to the actual generating companies. Anyone have a more accurate way to estimate that?

The biggest absolute increase came from natural gas and the second biggest came from coal. Even the increase from petroleum liquids was greater than that from wind.

Year-to-date, net generation was 1.6 percent higher (43.1 million MWh more) than the same period in 2006, as the economy continued to grow, according to the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis. Net generation attributable to coal-fired plants was up by 1.4 percent (19.0 million MWh more) compared to the same period in 2006, and nuclear net generation was up by 1.2 percent (6.2 million MWh more). Generation from petroleum liquids was 19.8 percent higher (6.3 million MWh higher) while generation from natural gas was 6.9 percent higher (39.0 million MWh higher). Year-to-date, net generation attributable to conventional hydroelectric sources was 13.4 percent lower (down 28.5 million MWh) than it was in 2006 due to the aforementioned drought conditions. Wind-powered generation year-to-date was 21.0 percent higher than in 2006 and contributed over 3.6 million MWh, or 8.4 percent of the increase in net generation year to date. Even with these significant increases, the contribution of wind-powered net generation to the National total year-to-date was only 0.7 percent through August 2007.

At 0.7% wind power is still a very minor electric power contributor. Electricity, in turn, is only one of the ways we use energy. Given all the non-electric use of natural gas, oil, and other fossil fuels wind power's contribution to the total power usage is even smaller.

I find the increase electric generation from petroleum liquids puzzling. Oil is about 3 times more expensive than natural gas per million BTUs. So why the big increase in petroleum liquids for electricity? Anyone know?

We need to shift more uses of energy from oil to electricity. Oil production is near a peak and we are going to need to move away from it by using more electrically powered devices. Cheaper wind (though not in my backyard or on any mountain range I like to look at) is part of the solution. But we really need photovoltaics cost breakthroughs, more nuclear power, and more research into ways to make nuclear power cheaper. I think solar and nuclear power should be our biggest sources of energy in the future with wind in third place.

Update: Another New York Times article discusses the growing anti-wind movement in many countries due mostly to esthetic considerations.

Supporters see modern wind turbines not as Don Quixote’s ferocious giants but as elegant symbols of a clean-energy future. But as the industry expands amid global pressure to cut carbon emissions and fight climate change, an increasingly mobilized anti-wind farm lobby in Europe, North America and elsewhere is decrying the turbines as ugly, noisy and destructive, especially for picturesque locales that rely on tourism. “These are not just one or two turbines spinning majestically in the blue sky and billowing clouds,” said Lisa Linowes, executive director of Industrial Wind Action Group, an international advocacy group based in New Hampshire that opposes wind farms.

Greeks are fighting against wind because 16% of their economy is based on tourism. Englishmen don't want their views of castles and Hadrian's Wall ruined by 100 meter high wind towers with huge blades.

“The eyes are constantly drawn to them,” said John Ferguson, a member of S.O.U.L. (or Save Our Unspoilt Landscape), a group opposing the nine-turbine Barmoor Wind Farm in the lush northeastern English county of Northumberland. Several wind farm developers are considering Northumberland, whose castles and national parks are a big tourist draw.

There's a solution to this problem. It is called nuclear power. SOUL has used Photoshop or a similar program to show what huge wind towers will look like in different locations in English countryside. I've been unenthused about wind power for a long time on aesthetic grounds. I'm happy to hear opposition has become more organized. If you are wondering whether wind towers might get built near you check out maps of wind speed at 80 meters high above the ground.

By Randall Parker    2007 November 25 10:41 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (17)
2007 August 25 Saturday
Long Island Ocean Wind Project Cancelled Due To High Cost

A plan to build 40 wind towers a few miles offshore of Long Island New York has been cancelled due to spiralling cost estimates.

According to LIPA, the study by Pace Global Energy Services, a consulting firm, found that the premium for wind-generated power from the Jones Beach project, over a 20-year period, would translate to about $2.50 per month to the typical residential consumer bill, or a total $66 million per year for all of LIPA. PACE arrived at the figure by comparing the cost of electricity produced in a combined-cycle natural gas power plant on Long Island, which is about $137 per megawatt hour, and a megawatt hour of power produced by the wind farm, which it said "could be $291."

Some locals opposed the project on esthetic grounds. But Long Island Power Authority Chairman Kevin Law says his decision was purely based on costs.

Costs for new electric generation plants of all types have been escalating sharply due to rising raw materials costs. Also, increased demand for wind power has been engineered by tax and regulatory changes and the resulting increase in demand has outstripped capacity of the wind tower makers to respond. Hence they've raised prices. Wind should become cheaper in a few years once makers have time to expand capacity.

Since nuclear, wind, and coal plants are all getting hit by higher costs due to higher steel prices I'd really like to know how long steel prices will remain high. Does anyone know how much the steel industry is increasing capacity and how soon we can expect to see a drop in steel prices?

I also wonder at the $137 per megawatt hour for the natural gas plant. That's a rather expensive 13.7 cents per kwh. What price of natural gas is that based on? What will happen to the price of natural gas once oil production peaks? My guess is the natural gas electric will end up costing more than they expect.

The cost of this project has almost quadrupled.

The original estimate for the windmills was about $200 million. The price increased to $356 million when FPL Energy of Florida won the bid for the project in 2003. Then last year, rising costs nearly doubled the estimate to $700 million.

Deep ocean offshore wind has been touted by some as a potential source of more reliable wind power. But even this Long Island project which was only a few miles offshore turned out to be too expensive. So I'm skeptical about the economic feasibility of deep offshore wind projects. Though ,aterials advances could some day make deep water wind towers more economically feasible.

By Randall Parker    2007 August 25 08:03 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (11)
2006 December 28 Thursday
Standby Generator Costs Limit Wind Power

Writing for the New York Times Matthew Wald examines the economics of wind power.

He said that in one of the states the company serves, Colorado, planners calculate that if wind machines reach 20 percent of total generating capacity, the cost of standby generators will reach $8 a megawatt-hour of wind. That is on top of a generating cost of $50 or $60 a megawatt-hour, after including a federal tax credit of $18 a megawatt-hour.

Note that a tax credit on one party is a tax on another party. So that wind tax credit is not free and causes market distortions. Though other energy sources have their own external costs that cause market distortions.

By contrast, electricity from a new coal plant currently costs in the range of $33 to $41 a megawatt-hour, according to experts. That price, however, would rise if the carbon dioxide produced in burning coal were taxed, a distinct possibility over the life of a new coal plant. (A megawatt-hour is the amount of power that a large hospital or a Super Wal-Mart would use in an hour.)

A few things to note here. Take the $18 per megawatt hour US government tax credit away from wind and it costs from $68 to $78 per megawatt-hour plus another $8 per megawatt-hour for standby capacity coming from other electric power sources. That puts it at double or more the cost of coal electric.

But the economics above understate the problem with wind. Suppose we shift to dynamic pricing of electricity (which we should btw) so that the price of electricity varies as a function of demand and supply. Electricity would cost more at 2 PM on a hot summer day than at 2 AM on a cool fall day. Well, wind tends to blow when electric demand is lowest!

In many places, wind tends to blow best on winter nights, when demand is low. When it is available, power from wind always displaces the most expensive power plant in use at that moment. If wind blew in summer, it would displace expensive natural gas. But in periods of low demand, it is displacing cheap coal.

The wind power industry wants a far more sophisticated electric power distribution grid so that wind electric can get carried from wherever the wind is blowing to wherever it is not blowing. Some industry analysts are skeptical about the feasibility of such an undertaking and whether it would even work since we could have weak wind days over a very large area. I wonder what it would cost.

Curiously, wider usage of wind power would favor coal over nuclear. Why? Coal has a larger variable cost than nuclear because coal as fuel is a larger fraction of total coal electric cost than uranium or plutonium is as a cost for nuclear electricity. In a nutshell, nuclear plants have the highest capital cost but the lowest fuel cost. Next comes coal and then finally natural gas. Natural gas electric plants cost the least to build but have the highest fuel cost. So they are used for peak power. Wind is so unreliable that natural gas plants probably would cost too much as back-ups to wind and therefore coal would be the best back-up for wind.

Nuclear, by contrast, works best as baseload power. Nuclear plants cost so much to build and save so little in operational cost when idled that once a nuclear plant gets built it makes sense to run a nuclear plant continuously 24x7.

Photovoltaics (if only they didn't cost so much) have far more favorable supply characteristics as compared to wind. They produce the most electricity during summer days when demand is highest. Though they are far from perfect. First off, in the northern hemisphere (and a similar problem occurs in the southern hemisphere just 6 months out of phase) the hottest days are in July and August and yet the longest day of the year (when the most suns shines to generate the most electricity) is in late June. Also, electric power demand does not peak at high noon. As the day heats up people turn on more air conditioners into the afternoon as the sun is past its peak and into the evening when people go home and turn on air conditioners, TVs, computers, and assorted home appliances. Solar's output peak does not match the market's demand peak for electricity.

Wind (and solar and nuclear) economics would improve if a carbon tax was levied on coal and natural gas burned to generate electricity. But coal would still retain a large cost advantage even with a hefty carbon tax.

The economics of wind would change radically if the carbon dioxide emitted by coal were assigned a cash value, but in the United States it has none. Coal plants produce about a ton of carbon dioxide each megawatt hour, on average, so a price of $10 a ton would have a major impact on utility economics.

I've read estimates of the cost of full carbon dioxide sequestration of about 2 cents per kwh or $20 per megawatt-hour. That'd still leave coal cheaper than wind. Though full carbon sequestration would probably make nuclear cheaper than coal (see Phil Sargent's links in the comments).

When comparing between wind and coal the wind tax credit is economically similar to forcing coal burning utilities to do full carbon sequestration on coal in the sense that the wind tax credit narrows the gap between wind and coal by about the same amount as the cost of carbon sequestration. However, the wind tax credit does not cause a big shift in demand away from coal because wind costs too much. An elimination of the wind tax credit combined with a requirement for full carbon sequestration would cause a partial shift away from coal toward nuclear and would eliminate the economic argument in favor of wind.

The wind tax credit currently causes a small reduction in demand for nuclear power. How? To the extent that wind farms get installed the effect is to increase the demand for back-up power sources which are cheaper when not used all the time. The back-up power is needed for when the wind does not blow. Since coal plants cost less than nuclear plants they are cheaper as back-up power for wind.

Note that the relative cost of nuclear, coal, wind, natural gas, and other electric power sources varies within the United States and even more globally. For example, in the Middle East natural gas is far cheaper than in the United States and coal is far more expensive. Similarly, the amount and reliability of wind varies. In some regions (e.g. the southeastern part of the United States) winds are pretty weak. Whereas in other regions (e.g. the Aleutian Islands of Alaska) winds are very strong.

Note as well that the relative costs of electric power sources will change with technological advances. Photovoltaics strike me as having the greatest potential for big cost declines. But being the most expensive photovoltaics most need big cost declines. Nuclear, wind, and cleaner coal costs will decline as well. But how much and how soon?

Two more wild cards: dynamic pricing and better electric energy storage technologies. Big declines in battery costs would greatly help wind and photovoltaics. Electronic switches could charge batteries when electricity is cheapest.

By Randall Parker    2006 December 28 04:49 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (59)
2006 November 26 Sunday
Skystream 7 For Home Wind Power

Skystream sells a home wind electric power generator kit that they claim will pay for itself in 12 years or less in California.

Depending on the wind speed average and the amount of energy consumed every month, Skystream typically lowers a household electricity bill by 20% to 90%. It is not uncommon for Skystream owners with total-electric homes to have monthly utility bills of only $8 to $15 for nine months of the year (2005 data). The amount of money a Skystream saves you in the long run will depend upon its installed cost, the amount of electricity you use, the average wind speed at your site, and other factors.

For a typical home in California, where the cost of energy is $0.14/KWh, the Skystream 3.7 will produce 400 KWh per month. This will save a household $672 per year on their utility bill. At this rate, they will pay for their Skystream system in approximately 12 years (after rebates, payback is as low as 7 years. This example assumes: $8,500 installed cost, power in an 8 MPH breeze with full output achieved at 20 mph.

Skystream lists conditions you need to meet for their product to work for you. They say you need at least a half acre of land that is unobstructed. Note that eliminates most suburban and city homes right there. Also, you need zoning permission to put up a tower 42 feet high (12.8 meters). Plus, you need a utility that'll let you sell back excess electricity. All these factors shrink the market. Though I can imagine large commercial buildings putting up a batch of these things on their roofs.

The Skystream 3.7 just won a Popular Science magazine award.

FLAGSTAFF - AZ, November 7, 2006/PRNewswire/ -- Today Southwest Windpower announced its newest product, the Skystream 3.7™, has been awarded a 2006 Best of What’s New Award from Popular Science in the Home category. Each year, Popular Science reviews thousands of new products and innovations and includes the top 100 winners in its annual Best of What’s New issue. To win, a product or technology must represent a significant step forward in its category.

“Best of What’s New is the ultimate Popular Science accolade, representing a year’s worth of work evaluating thousands of projects,” said Mark Jannot, editor of Popular Science. “These awards honor innovations that not only influence the way we live today, but that change the way we think about the future.”

Skystream is a next-generation residential power appliance that hooks up to the home to help reduce or eliminate monthly electricity costs. Skystream is the first compact, user-friendly, all-inclusive wind generator (with controls and inverter built in) designed to provide quiet, clean electricity in very low winds. With Skystream, homeowners and small business owners now have the power to choose their electricity source.

For the sake of argument let us grant them their assertion that in many homes in California the Skystream can pay itself back in 12 years or even 7 years with government rebates. So should people in the rest of the United States (or the world for that matter) rush to buy Skystreams for their homes? That depends on local conditions, and not just wind conditions.

First off, that payback time depends on the ability to sell back excess electricity to your local electric utility when the wind is blowing hard and you are not using much electricity. Now, if you always use lots of electricity that might not matter. But if you live in an area where you can't sell back excess electricity and your energy usage is highly uneven then that'll make the payback time much longer.

Second, electric costs vary considerably around the United States. Electricity costs more in California than in most states. In 2006 (and all these numbers are up sharply from 2005) California's electricity is about 14.52 cents per kilowatt-hour (kwh) and in New England it costs about 16.23 cents per kwh with 16.72 per kwh in New York (wow!) versus a US national average of 10.41. The mountain states pay only 9.01 and Wyoming only 7.68. Other really cheap states (generally heavy users of coal but with hydro power too) include Tennessee and Utah at 7.7, .Missouri at 7.62, Nebraska at 7,48, North Dakota at 7.11, and South Dakota at 7.87. Down at the bottom are coal states Kentucky at 7.08 and West Virginia at 6.25. Idaho appears to have the cheapest electricity in America at 6.23 cents per kwh. Outside of New England and Californa the two other high cost electric states are Alaska at 14.74 and Hawaii at an incredible 23.53.

If you live in one of higher cost states then you should find out if you can sell electricity back to your utility. If you live in Hawaii and get a fair amount of wind then the ability to sell electricity your utility probably doesn't matter. These Skystream gadgets could be just the ticket to lower electric power costs.

Unless you live in a pretty windy place it would be imprudent to install one of these things without first installing some sort of cumulative wind speed measuring device at the same altitude as you'd install this device. Or find some other way to find out what your typical wind speeds work out to.

If you live in a lower cost electricity state then you save less in two ways. First off, when you use less utility power you save less money. Second, if you can even sell electric power back to your utility you earn back less money off your electric bill.

Cheap home wind power will make battery powered cars more desirable. Imagine we get cheap high energy density batteries that'll power a car for a couple hundred miles. That'd make all undependable energy sources (e.g. wind, solar, even hydropower from streams that run only when it rains) more attractive. You come home at night, plug in the car to the wind mill, and it charges only part of the time.

With batteries to charge up you won't care whether the wind blows in the afternoon, evening, or early morning. You won't even care if it blows every day. If your car can go hundreds of miles you don't need for it to get recharged every day. You just need to average enough to keep your car ready to go.

The restrictions on wind tower installation in suburban and urban environments makes photovoltaics a better longer term bet for local generation using renewable energy sources. But photovoltaics still cost much more than wind and utility power. For people living in rural areas home wind power could become pretty popular. It will deliver power even in the short days of winter when photovoltaics will deliver less electricity. Also, it will complement solar even in the summer by delivering some power at night.

By Randall Parker    2006 November 26 10:55 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2006 January 23 Monday
Wind Turbine Sales Growth Rapid In United States For 2005

The wind power market is growing rapidly in the United States

With wind farms popping up from New York to Texas to California, wind power is riding high in the saddle again. Explosive growth of more than 40 percent this year - 3,400 megawatts of new generation is expected - could make the United States the world's largest wind-power market, a new report shows.

State government mandates are a big reason why wind power equipment sales are hitting new records.

Among the biggest factors spurring growth are states taking the reins of leadership from the federal government on energy mandates. Eager to cut air pollution, global warming, and rising electric rates, at least 22 states have approved "renewable portfolio standards" - legislation requiring utilities to include renewable sources like wind, solar, hydro, and biomass in their energy mix.

At the rate wind power is being installed on the ridges and plains of North America - US and Canada - wind power will grow by 4,250 megawatts this year, compared with about 2,600 megawatts last year. If Congress renews the tax credit in 2007, the industry could be installing 6,000 megawatts a year by 2010, according to a new study by Mr. Chua.

Another source claims a 35% increase in wind power for 2005.

The industry added about 2,500 megawatts of wind power last year, a record 35 percent increase, according to the American Wind Energy Association, an industry trade group. The country's wind capacity is more than 9,200 megawatts in 30 states, enough for 2.4 million average U.S homes.

Wind power still makes up less than 1 percent of the nation's electricity, but experts expect wind to generate at least 5 percent by 2020.

Whenever I see claims about wind capacity I always wonder whether the numbers represent maximum output in high winds (I suspect the answer is Yes). If so, what the average operating output is for most wind farms? 35%? 40%? I also wonder what percentage of the time each wind farm generates little or no electricity.

Suppose wind does supply 5% of US electricity by 2020. Sound like much? Not really. First of all, US electricity demand will rise by a lot more than 5% by 2020. So wind power will not prevent an increase in fossil fuels burned for electric generation. Given the high cost of natural gas and declining US natural gas production expect the fossil fuel of choice for electricity generation to continue to be coal.

Electric power demand in the United States grew 1.7% in 2004 or about a third of expected electric power supply increase from wind by 2020.

The electric power industry continued growing in 2004. Electricity generation and sales rose for the third straight year to record levels, growing by 2.3 percent and 1.7 percent, respectively, over the 2003 levels, as the U.S. economy continued to grow.

3 years times 1.7% equals about 5%. So wind might supply 3 years or 20% of the electric power production growth that will occur in the next 15 years in the United States. Maybe wind could really take off and supply half of the future growth in demand. Yet even that rosier scenario would not prevent a big growth in fossil fuel (mostly coal) burning for electric power generation.

Wind power is not making gains due to falling equipment prices. The surge in demand for new wind turbine equipment was so strong that prices rose for 2006 deliveries.

The North American wind turbine market saw record growth in 2005; installations surpassed record levels seen in 2001 and 2003, with the majority of them onshore. From an industry that finally broke US$3 billion in 2005, the market is expected to more than double to just under US$7.5 billion in 2010. These figures, detailed in the EER study, factor significant price increases implemented for projects in 2006 and beyond, but also take into consideration greater vendor competition that will arise as local manufacturing capacity and new turbine models are introduced in the coming years. Improved competition will, however, not be sufficient to reduce prices to the extent they have risen for 2006.

Simply put, market share in 2005 was determined more by manufacturing capacity than by competitive strategies or items such as cost and product positions. All wind turbine vendors active in North America in 2005 sold-out of available capacity and therefore market share has been determined by how many turbines could be manufactured and delivered. The demand was even stronger than anticipated, and as a consequence, a turbine shortage transpired and availability became an important criterion for selection.

The oil price rise has driven up prices for a wide range of competing energy sources. The price of coal has doubled. In many parts of the country wood pellets have doubled in price. Natural gas is way up on declining domestic production and growing demand.

The price of coal will fall as more mines open in response to higher coal prices. Wind turbine prices will fall as factories ramp up production capacity.

By Randall Parker    2006 January 23 09:25 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (24)
2005 October 25 Tuesday
Lawrence Berkeley Group Develops Thin Film Photovoltaics

Yet another promising photovoltaics fabrication method:

Imagine a future in which the rooftops of residential homes and commercial buildings can be laminated with inexpensive, ultra-thin films of nano-sized semiconductors that will efficiently convert sunlight into electrical power and provide virtually all of our electricity needs. This future is a step closer to being realized, thanks to a scientific milestone achieved at the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab).

Researchers with Berkeley Lab and the University of California, Berkeley, have developed the first ultra-thin solar cells comprised entirely of inorganic nanocrystals and spin-cast from solution. These dual nanocrystal solar cells are as cheap and easy to make as solar cells made from organic polymers and offer the added advantage of being stable in air because they contain no organic materials.

Their point about stability is important. Think about how plastic and rubber (made from hydrocarbons) degrade under exposure to sunlght. The longer photovoltaics last the better the economics become. Also, rather than bolting the photovoltaics onto structure surfaces in separate apparatuses if the photovoltaics could get built right into structure surfaces even larger cost reductions become possible.

"Our colloidal inorganic nanocrystals share all of the primary advantages of organics -- scalable and controlled synthesis, an ability to be processed in solution, and a decreased sensitivity to substitutional doping - while retaining the broadband absorption and superior transport properties of traditional photovoltaic semiconductors," said Ilan Gur, a researcher in Berkeley Lab's Materials Sciences Division and fourth-year graduate student in UC Berkeley's Department of Materials Science and Engineering.

Gur is the principal author of a paper appearing in the October 21 issue of the journal Science that announces this new development. He is a doctoral candidate in the research group of Paul Alivisatos, director of Berkeley Lab's Materials Sciences Division, and the Chancellor's Professor of Chemistry and Materials Science at UC Berkeley. Alivisatos is a leading authority on nanocrystals and a co-author of the Science paper. Other co-authors are Berkeley Lab's Neil A. Fromer and UC Berkeley's Michael Geier.

While the initial conversion efficiency is still low the process lends itself to scaling up at low cost should they find ways to boost conversion efficiency.

In this paper, the researchers describe a technique whereby rod-shaped nanometer-sized crystals of two semiconductors, cadmium-selenide (CdSe) and cadmium-telluride (CdTe), were synthesized separately and then dissolved in solution and spin-cast onto a conductive glass substrate. The resulting films, which were about 1,000 times thinner than a human hair, displayed efficiencies for converting sunlight to electricity of about 3 percent. This is comparable to the conversion efficiencies of the best organic solar cells, but still substantially lower than conventional silicon solar cell thin films.

"We obviously still have a long way to go in terms of energy conversion efficiency," said Gur, "but our dual nanocrystal solar cells are ultra-thin and solution-processed, which means they retain the cost-reduction potential that has made organic cells so attractive vis-a-vis their conventional semiconductor counterparts."

Silicon crystals that are used in manufacturing current silicon photovoltaic cells represent a large fraction of total photovoltaics costs. Approaches that avoid the need to make lots of relatively thick crystals are probably essential for driving down the cost of photovoltaics far enough to make photovoltaic installations ubiquitous. So any new photovoltaic fabrication method that avoids the use of silicon crystals warrants notice.

Another advantage of this approach is low weight. Thin film solar cells with high durability and low weight could potentially get coated onto electric and hybrid car surfaces to recharge batteries.

Compare this report to my previous post UCLA Team Cuts Photovoltaics Cost With Plastics. Note the 15 to 20 year life expectancy for the UCLA approach. The Lawrence Berkeley material would probably last longer. But which group can boost conversion efficiency the most and the soonest?

By Randall Parker    2005 October 25 09:31 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2003 February 10 Monday
Wind Power Comes Wrong Time Of Year

Wind power isn't there when its most needed.

"We do want to include wind in the mix. Wind is becoming more price competitive at 3 to 5 cents per kilowatt," said Koszyk, noting coal generation costs about 3 cents per kilowatt and nuclear, 3 to 5 cents. "But the size of the farms is of concern to us. Electricity cannot be stored. We need the right amount of energy at the right time."

He also noted winds typically blow hardest at times of lower energy demand - spring and fall. Peak usage occurs in summer and winter.

Wind power needs to become much cheaper to compensate for its inconsistent availability.. Since its not always there when most needed then additional non-wind generating plants must be built and maintained for use when the wind isn't blowing. If wind power fell enough in price then it might become justifiable to convert electricity to another form of energy and then convert it back to electricity when needed. The development of cheap methods of storing mass quantities of hydrogen would be an obvious enabling technology for wind power. Electricity could be used to generate hydrogen by the electrolysis of water. Then the hydrogen could be used to run hydrogen fuel cells. Of course, that approach would also require a reduction in the cost of hydrogen fuel cells as well.

When hydrogen fuel cells become cheap and dependable enough for vehicle use then wind power could be used to generate hydrogen to power cars. This would be a more attractive proposition than the use of wind power to generate home and industrial electricity since the vehicles would need stored hydrogen anyhow.

By Randall Parker    2003 February 10 01:11 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
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