Saturday, July 11, 2009

Wind Energy Losing Steam

I'm a huge fan of wind energy (just think if we could turn Joe Biden into an energy source!), and as part of a portfolio of energy sources, wind has a great future here in the US. As PART of a portfolio. Likely to be only a SMALL part. But a part nonetheless.

But wind is running into, well, headwinds. It is expensive to plant turbines in the seabed (or on land for that matter). The downturn in the worldwide economy leaves little investment capital available for those companies who would generate the power in the first place.

Of equal importance though is the availability of transmission paths from generation site to "the grid". I looked at this problem quite a bit in my last job, and I found myself somewhat flummoxed by the complexity of it all. There really isn't a "grid" in any real sense. There is an inelegantly engineered, cobbled together patchwork of generation, conditioning and distribution capability, none of which any one entity owns enough of for the investment in its upgrading to make much economic sense. I remember doing a little research and finding that about 8% of all electrical power generated in the US is lost--to line loss and transformation loss. This is billions of dollars worth of power, but between the generators, the distributors, the wholesalers and the power companies--no one suffers "too much" loss, so it becomes a cost of doing business simply passed along to the customer (who does wind up paying for it).

It costs a lot of money to take the power generated by wind (think about it, the turbines spin at a rate caused by the strength of the wind, so that electricity generated is all over the map--as opposed to a constant speed generator) and condition it for distribution. Folks gotta step's where the "gubment" DOES have a role. The free market will be slow to develop national infrastructure appropriate to this task--if at all. Again--no one has enough of a skin in the game to justify the capital expenses. I am a fan of the federal government doing as little as is necessary to carry out its enumerated Constitutional authority. Unscrewing the nation's electrical generation and distribution system falls into this category.


"The Hammer" said...

I'm certainly not an expert on this subject but wind farms are dangerous to wildlife and as you were saying, transferring the energy is also a problem. Why aren't we looking at it like the folks did with the old windmills? Wouldn't it be better if individual windmills were located in everyone's backyard? One could be on the grid and use energy as they needed but a good bit could be generated on site. Save a lot of energy I would think.

Dan said...

Sorry Bryan, I have an issue with the title of this post, "Wind Energy Losing Steam." All you have done is further complicate the energy transferral process by mixing metaphors. Wind and Steam?
A more apropos title might have been: "Wind Energy in the Doldrums."

Roger from Solar Power Facts said...

I was under the impression that the latest wind generators are designed to provide a constant power supply, and that to achieve that their rotational speed is capped regardless of the wind conditions.

Also the larger new models actually rotate fairly slowly. It is true that older windmills chopped up birds and flying fish, but even an elephant would be able to dodge the slowly rotating mega windmill blades.

The Conservative Wahoo said...

A large wind generator capped would provide constant power--provided that there was a strong enough wind blowing to produce the cap rotation. Herein lies one of the problems...on the range of speeds up to the cap, the generator is still capable of producing electricity. That electricity must be conditioned and transformed so that it can be distributed.

As for the bird strikes, etc...I think the issue is overdone.

The Conservative Wahoo said...

I'm sorry--I should have started out my previous comment with "My understanding is that....". I don't want to sound like a mechanical engineer or turbine designer. I am neither.

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