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wind energy

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Wind Energy



 Wind farms are springing up all across West Texas, and in other parts of the US.  Is this trend on that will last?  What should be done when the wind stops blowing?  Or if subsidies run out?



    see also:  Renewable and alternative energy  ,    Clean-tech and environmentally conscious investing ,   energy industry , Environment issues , solar energy  ,  wind energy  ,hydroelectric power  , wind energy in Brazil


Table of Contents:




Why now?

  1. federal tax credits
  2. increased federal funding for R&D in renewable energy
  3. states passing new standards requiring renewable energy
  4. public distaste for "dirty" energy, such as coal (greenhouse gas issue)



Where the Wind blows:


Wind Maps: 


In the US:  according to the PickensPlan;  "Studies from around the world show that the Great Plains States are home to the greatest wind energy potential in the world — by far.  The Department of Energy reports that 20% of America's electricity can come from wind. North Dakota alone has the potential to provide power for more than a quarter of the country."




Current production is small...with big potential


Wind power currently accounts for 48 billion kWh of electricity a year in the United States — enough to serve more than 4.5 million households. That is still only about 1% of current demand, but the potential of wind is much greater.


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.  source:  PickensPlan



Main technology being explored?

  1. direct currents - as opposed to alternating currents, are seen as the key to unlocking the storage and delivery of more energy efficient systems such as solar.
  2. New turbine technology:  Today's wind turbines stand up to 410 feet tall, with blades that stretch 148 feet in length. The blades collect the wind's kinetic energy. In one year, a 3-megawatt wind turbine produces as much energy as 12,000 barrels of imported oil.




Wind Energy in Emerging Markets


wind energy in Brazil





Off shore wind farms


WINDS sweeping across New England, in the north-east of the United States, blow at an average of about 4 metres per second (m/s). But a few hundred metres offshore they blow more than twice as fast. This increase in speed is found offshore in much of the world. But although engineers know how to build turbines to turn offshore wind into electricity, they can do that only in waters up to about 40 metres deep. Wind-turbine towers are pounded deep into the seabed, or anchored in massive blocks of sunken concrete.


Now wind power could be taken into deeper waters. Building offshore wind farms is expensive: a turbine can cost at least 50% more than one built on land. But the stronger winds out at sea can generate more revenue: a wind of 10m/s can produce five times as much electricity as wind blowing half as fast, and this greatly favours building more offshore wind farms, says Walter Musial, a senior engineer at the National Wind Technology Centre, a government research lab in Boulder, Colorado. Yet just 300 to 400 offshore wind turbines have been built worldwide, most of them in British or Danish waters. None have been built in America. The main reason why there are so few is that people think they ruin the view and spoil the immediate offshore area.


read more from the economist 




Barriers to adaptation


Power transmission


Given the gigantic distances in America especially, remote generators require miles of nuts-and-bolts infrastructure to get the power to population centres.  Transmission is expensive and often an afterthought, at least for consumers. Even within windy areas the generators are often scattered across wide expanses, which makes gathering it and bringing it to market difficult. Rob Gramlich of the American Wind Energy Association calls transmission the industry’s “biggest long-term barrier”. 


Putting transmission underground, through a dense suburban area like Boston’s, can cost up to $20m per mile.

In Texas, $3-6 billion more is needed for transmission, according to a recent filing by ERCOT, the Texas electrical grid operator. Overall, across America, between $12-15 billion per year is being spent on transmission infrastructure, according to Lawrence Makovich of Cambridge Energy Research Associates. Costs are worsening with the rocketing prices of steel, copper and engineering services.


All of which raises the pesky question of who pays. One way or another it is generally the users, who naturally resent the extra charges. But being fair to everyone is complicated. A transmission system is a network; when you connect a new line to an existing system, it affects power flows throughout. The actual costs can be hard to predict. The electricity industry’s answer is “socialisation”—the cost of any new capacity is spread evenly among a state’s consumers. This can be an effective quick fix, but it risks burying price signals and creating some thorny interstate issues.


read more from the economist.com



European transmission (potential solution?)


A grandiose plan to link Europe's electricity grids may recast wind power from its current role as a walk-on extra to being the star of the show


The question of whether the world would be powered by direct current (DC), in which electrons flow in one direction around a circuit, or by alternating current (AC), in which they jiggle back and forth, was decided in the 1880s. Thomas Edison backed DC. George Westinghouse backed AC. Westinghouse won.


The reason was that over the short distances spanned by early power grids, AC transmission suffers lower losses than DC. It thus became the industry standard. Some people, however, question that standard because over long distances high-voltage DC lines suffer lower losses than AC. Not only does that make them better in their own right, but employing them would allow electricity grids to be restructured in ways that would make wind power more attractive. That would reduce the need for new conventional (and polluting) power stations.



Wind power has two problems. You don't always get it where you want it and you don't always get it when you want it. According to Jürgen Schmid, the head of ISET, an alternative-energy institute at the University of Kassel, in Germany, continent-wide power distribution systems in a place like Europe would deal with both of these points.


The question of where the wind is blowing would no longer matter because it is almost always blowing somewhere. If it were windy in Spain but not in Ireland, current would flow in one direction. On a blustery day in the Emerald Isle it would flow in the other.


Dealing with when the wind blows is a subtler issue. In this context, an important part of Dr Schmid's continental grid is the branch to Norway. It is not that Norway is a huge consumer. Rather, the country is well supplied with hydroelectric plants. These are one of the few ways (but not the only way, see article) that energy from transient sources like the wind can be stored in grid-filling quantities. The power is used to pump water up into the reservoirs that feed the hydroelectric turbines. That way it is on tap when needed. The capacity of Norway's reservoirs is so large, according to Dr Schmid, that should the wind drop all over Europe—which does happen on rare occasions—the hydro plants could spring into action and fill in the gap for up to four weeks.


Put like this, a Europe-wide grid seems an obvious idea. That it has not yet been built is because AC power lines would lose too much power over such large distances. Hence the renewed interest in DC.


Westinghouse won the battle of the currents in the 1880s because it is easier to transform the voltage of an AC current than of a DC current. High voltage is the best way to transmit power (the higher the voltage, the smaller the loss), but high voltage is not usually what the user wants. Power is therefore transmitted along high-tension AC lines and then “stepped down” to usable voltages in local sub-stations.


Edison was right, however, to argue that DC is the best way to transmit electricity of any given voltage. That is because the shifting current of AC runs to earth more easily than DC does. To avoid this earthing, AC lines have to be built a long way from the ground—and the higher the voltage, the farther away they need to be. At 400 kilovolts, a standard value for long-distance transmission, an alternating current 30 metres (100 feet) from the ground has a fortieth of the loss of a similar cable at ground level. But even at this height an overhead DC line will beat an AC line at distances more than 1,000km (600 miles), while ground-level DC will beat AC at distances as short as 30km.


Dr Schmid calculates that a DC grid of the sort he envisages would allow wind to supply at least 30% of the power needed in Europe. Moreover, it could do so reliably—and that means wind power could be used for what is known in the jargon as base-load power supply.


Base-load power is the minimum required to keep things ticking over—the demands of three o'clock in the morning, or thereabouts. At the moment, this is supplied by traditional power stations. These either burn fossil fuel and thus contribute to global warming, or use uranium, which brings problems such as how to get rid of the waste, as well as political opposition.


Though wind power has its opponents, too, its environmental virtues might be enough to swing things in its favour if it were also reliable. Indeed, a group of Norwegian companies have already started building high-voltage DC lines between Scandinavia, the Netherlands and Germany, though these are intended as much to sell the country's power as to accumulate other people's. And Airtricity—an Irish wind-power company—plans even more of them. It proposes what it calls a Supergrid. This would link offshore wind farms in the Atlantic ocean and the Irish, North and Baltic seas with customers throughout northern Europe.


Airtricity reckons that the first stage of this project, a 2,000 turbine-strong farm in the North Sea, would cost about €2 billion ($2.7 billion). That farm would generate 10 gigawatts. An equivalent amount of coal-fired capacity would cost around $2.3 billion so, adding in the environmental benefits, the project seems worth examining. Such offshore farms certainly work. Airtricity already operates one in the Atlantic, and though it currently has a capacity of only 25 megawatts, increasing that merely means adding more turbines.


Nor is this the limit of some people's vision. The Global Energy Network Institute, based in San Diego, California, reckons high-voltage DC lines could be used to bring solar energy to market from places such as the Sahara. Wind and geothermal power could be gathered from as far afield as South America and Siberia. Such a globalised market has its attractions. Whether the world is ready for the Organisation of Electricity Exporting Countries to take over from OPEC, though, remains to be seen.


source: economist





Wind Energy Industry Summary



Mankind has utilized wind as a form of energy ever since the first sail was hoisted on a crudely built boat thousands of years ago. In the 12th century, it was used to power the first windmills. It is only natural that wind should be viewed as an attractive means of generating electricity. As of the end of 2007, wind was approaching the point where it will generate 1% of electricity consumed in the U.S.  That ratio is growing rapidly thanks to the continual construction of new wind farms.
Today, wind-powered generating plants are springing up in many parts of the U.S. and in Europe. Windmill manufacturers have continually enhanced technology. As a result, windmills are much taller than before, with vastly wider blade spans. Modern windmills have extremely high output and are less costly to maintain for a given amount of generation. As a result, windmill farm development became more effective, both economically and in terms of total power created. Nonetheless, government incentives remain essential to make construction of such plants financially appealing. For example, the U.S. Congress has steadily extended the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind power producers. In addition, electric utilities are more and more likely to be required by local or national governments to use renewable, sources such as wind, for a significant portion of their total power generation. Consequently, many major utility firms and energy concerns have been investing significant amounts in new windmill farms.
By the third quarter of 207, America’s wind generating capacity had reached 13,884 megawatts, with another 5,720 under construction. The greatest concentration of wind power in America is in Texas, where there were 3,953 installed megawatts of capacity as of the third quarter of 2007, up from 2,768 at the end of 2006. Texas had an additional 1,357 under construction. California ranked second at 2,375, with 45 under construction. Wind turbine installation has been so brisk in the U.S. that foreign manufacturers have recently opened manufacturing plants in America.
Intense worldwide demand for wind turbine equipment has created a serious backlog of turbine orders. Global wind generation capacity reached 74,223 megawatts in 2006, up from 59,091 megawatts in 2005, according to the Global Wind Energy Council. This represents an increase of 25% over the previous year, making wind the fastest-growing energy source on a percentage basis. Wind power is expanding at the same rate in 2007. Wind energy is growing so quickly in Europe that by 2020 it will generate about 12% of all of Europe’s electricity needs. At the end of 2006, Germany had the world’s highest installed capacity with 20,621 megawatts, with Spain and the U.S. in second and third place, each with more than 11,603 megawatts installed. However, those numbers are changing rapidly due to intense construction activity. Wind energy is also growing rapidly in China, Canada , throughout much of Europe, the U.K. and many other areas.
The cost of generating electricity from wind has fallen dramatically. In the 1980s, wind power generation cost as much as 30 cents per kilowatt-hour. Today, that cost has dropped closer to five cents to seven cents per hour, after factoring in tax credits and government incentives. The industry’s goal today is to enhance wind technologies and systems to the point that wind is competitive without government aid.  New technologies for capturing and storing excess wind generation for later use may be the answer.  New technology is also enabling wind turbines to grow to massive size. For example, the GE model 1.5SL stands 262 feet tall to the center of the blade hub, featuring blades of 253 in diameter that spin at 18 RPM. The overall height of the unit is 389 feet. Energy companies are also creating economies of scale by building larger wind farms to reduce construction costs per unit.
New, ever-larger wind turbines (of up to 460 feet across with the capability to generate up to 7-megawatts of electricity) are being designed for use offshore. Two offshore wind farms, Egmond aan Zee in The Netherlands and Barrow in the U.K., are each 65 feet deep and already in operation as of late 2007. Scientists are hoping to find a way to anchor the platforms in deeper water past current limits. A professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology proposes using offshore oil well technology to anchor wind platforms to the ocean floor using tense metal cables. The process saves on building materials and makes installation far easier than the “monopiles” currently used to support offshore windmills. With the cable technology, wind platforms could be used in water of up to 600 feet.
In addition to the larger and larger turbines under development, residential customers can also invest in small turbines of about 24-feet in diameter that stand on towers from 35 to 140 feet high. These systems have the potential to save users between 30% and 90% on their electric bills. Prices for the systems (including installation) run between $8,500 and $80,000, depending on the size and capacity of the equipment.
Noteworthy new projects include the 2006 completion of the world’s largest wind farm to date. FPL Energy’s 735-megawatt Horse Hollow Wind Energy Center in Texas spreads across 47,000 acres and is comprised of 291 1.5-megawatt turbines and 130 2.3-megawatt turbines. 
Irish wind power company Airtricity, in partnership with GE Energy, recently completed the Arklow Bank Wind Park in the Irish Sea. The park has seven GE 3.6-megawatt turbines and can power approximately 16,000 homes per year. In 2007, Farm Energy, a wind power company in the U.K., released plans for the Atlantic Array farm off the British coast that include 370 turbines capable of generating 1,500 megawatts.
In India, wind-generating equipment manufacturer Suzlon Energy is ranked as of 2006 as the fifth-largest producer by installed megawatts of capacity in the world. Suzlon is likely to continue to expand rapidly, since India’s historic shortages of electricity continue today. In addition to serving the Indian market, Suzlon also sells machinery to companies in the U.S., China and Australia.
An exciting breakthrough in wind power technology may allow surplus energy to be stored for use during peak hours. More than 100 municipal utilities in Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota in the U.S. are spending $200 million to build a 268-megawatt storage system 3,000 feet underground.  The system will direct surplus electricity to a compressor that pumps air deep into layers of porous sandstone underneath dense, almost impermeable shale.  The sandstone expands, trapping the air, which is later released.  As the air rushes upward, it fires a turbine on the surface, thereby producing energy.  The project is expected to be complete by 2011.  This technology is referred to as "compressed air energy storage" (CAES). If this prototype is successful, it could make wind generation significantly more efficient and more cost competitive.
Wind power is not without its detractors. There are those who find the turbines to be noisy and unsightly, and others who have concerns about the blades endangering birds and bats. The fact that continued government subsidies and incentives have been required point out the inefficiencies of the technology. However, wind power saves millions of tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions each year. For example, if wind power provides 12% of the world’s electricity needs by 2020, it will result in the reduction of 1,832 million tons of CO2 per year.
Spotlight: General Electric
In a major leap for alternative power, General Electric, a top Fortune 500 company and one of the largest technology manufacturing firms in the world, has been investing in both wind and solar energy. After the collapse of Enron in 2001, many of Enron’s subsidiaries were put up for sale by bankruptcy trustees to relieve the corporation’s astronomical debt. In 2002, most of Enron’s wind assets, including turbine and generator technology, factories and a services segment, were picked up by GE Energy (formerly GE Power Systems), a subsidiary of global powerhouse General Electric. Using the existing 750-, 900- and 1,500-kilowatt systems as a model, the new GE Wind Energy division has developed wind turbines capable of generating up to 3.6 megawatts per windmill. GE has put these gargantuan, 340-foot-diameter wind turbines on the market for areas with very high wind speeds. Wind Energy is one of the fastest-growing divisions at GE.
GE made its move into solar power with the acquisition of AstroPower, the largest American manufacturer of photovoltaic cells. With modules ranging from 30 to 165 watt capacity, GE now has a solid base of proprietary solar technology, and it has a keen interest in cutting edge photovoltaics based on polymers. In 2007, the company acquired a minority equity interest in PrimStar Solar, Inc., an emerging solar thin-film technology and manufacturing company.
Although these acquisitions are minor for a global powerhouse like GE, the company’s interest has been piqued. GE and other multinationals that have shown interest in renewable energy (such as Siemens AG and Sharp Corporation), have the capital, expertise and marketing might to launch the alternative energy business to new heights of commercialization by rapidly advancing the technology, stepping up production and lowering costs.
To highlight the company's newfound interest, GE recently opened a laboratory on the campus of the Technical University of Munich, Germany that focuses almost entirely on alternative and renewable energy, including hydrogen, fuel cell, wind and solar energy. The $52 million facility employs approximately 150 scientists.






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