The big missing piece to the wind-solar puzzle is….

April 15, 2008

SolveClimateThis file is from the Open Clip Art Library, which released it explicitly into the public domain, using the Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication: A massive energy storage system that can guarantee uninterrupted power delivery. Meaning: clean electricity all the time, even when the winds aren’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining. And now there’s a battery unit being produced in Japan that claims it can provide just that. They’re called sodium-sulfur systems. And they offer a way to store power from the sun and wind, and then dispatch it to the grid when demand is greatest.

It’s welcome news if they can pull it off. Because without that missing piece, solar and wind will continue to play second fiddle to fossil fuels. Bloomberg has the full story on the sodium-sulfur batteries — and their Japanese maker too, NGK Insulators Ltd.

In Japan, the NAS storage units — as NGK calls them — have been a hit. They’re used at over 30 sites already, totaling 28 megawatts. But in the US they’re still an anomaly with just two customers. American Electric Company is one of them. The coal giant has been testing a 1.2 megawatt NAS system since mid-2006 but not in connection with renewables at all. And Xcel Energy is the other. It will be the first American utility to use NAS for wind energy storage beginning in October, when it starts testing a one-megawatt system in Minnesota….


With ambitious EU legislation, wind energy can provide huge benefits to Europe

April 2, 2008

Energy Daily: Manuel Pinho, Portugal’s Minister of Economy and Innovation, warned that if quick steps were not taken towards a better use of renewables, the EU would go from importing 55% of its energy to 66% by 2030, making the economy even more dependent on energy from third countries. He presented Portugal’s renewable energy mix, a combination of hydro and wind power, as a combination ideal for providing flexible, indigenous electricity at competitive energy prices.

“Wind has delivered the most promising results out of all renewable energy technologies so far, with 57 GW of total capacity installed in the EU by the end of 2007. In order to ensure that this trend continues, we need to have a secure and favourable EU legislative framework”, EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs told delegates at the opening session of the European Wind Energy Conference (EWEC) today in Brussels. The EU Commissioner – Chairman of the EWEC 2008 Conference also emphasised the need to consider renewable energy solutions beyond 2020 and far into the future.

A swift adoption and implementation of the European Commission’s proposed Renewable Energy Directive is essential to ensure a secure, sustainable and competitive energy future in Europe, delegates heard this morning. Decision-makers at national and European level stressed the importance of a stable, flexible legislative framework. They outlined their vision for the EU legislation and how this will deliver a new generation of energy supply.

Transmission issues — the key to alternative energy?

March 20, 2008

PowerlinesThis Yakima Herald Republic story highlights a major obstacle to the acceptance of renewable energy – transmission lines: … Renewa bles — wind, solar and biomass — make up about 2 percent of the state’s current energy sources. Customer interest also is adding to the push for wind. “On the customer side, we have heard that they want their utility to be moving into the area of clean power,” said Andy Wappler, senior public relations manager for Puget Sound Energy, which has 1 million utility customers in Western Washington and Kittitas County and has the most wind capacity developed. Puget Sound is in the hunt for another 1,000 megawatts of wind energy to meet the 2020 target.

But the biggest reason for the growth of wind lies just out of sight from Wild Horse: the Columbia River with its huge hydroelectric generating capacity and the transmission lines that crisscross the state and region. Because of its intermittent nature, wind energy needs a solid base of other sources to sustain delivery of power to homes and businesses. Hydro dams are that base.

Other states, principally Montana and North Dakota, have better wind than Washington. But the lack of transmission is stunting development . The nonprofit Renewable Northwest Project, a primary proponent of the initiative, estimates Washington, Oregon and Idaho have potential for 20,000 megawatts of wind energy. Montana has as much as six times the potential as the three other Northwest states combined.

“The Northwest, I think, proves to be more attractive than you would think based on the wind potential because wind is very compatible with the hydro system,” said Tim Stearns, a senior energy policy analyst for the state Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development. While wind development has taken off in the last couple of years, developers have long been looking at the region, said Doug Carter, senior vice president for Chicago-based Invenergy Wind North America LLC.

…Energy planners agree the region has the existing facilities to handle up to 6,000 megawatts of wind energy with minor improvements to the system. But near the 6,000-megawatt barrier, major investments will be needed to keep the energy coming for a growing region.

The federal power-marketing agency, the Bonneville Power Administration, estimates the cost of new transmission lines range from $300,000 to $2 million a mile depending on costs due to terrain, capacity and land acquisition. Bonneville is preparing to take those costs into account when it proposes new rates for 2009.

“What it gets down to is we owe it to our customers to make sure the proper parties are being charged for the cost of running the system,” said Scott Simms, Bonneville spokesman in Portland. “As we look at some of these wind farms, where they are located and where they are going, a large part of the wind is serving customers beyond BPA borders.” The search for new wind sites has brought developers to Yakima County. The county hearing examiner is mulling a request by Northwest Wind Partners, a joint venture between Goldendale’s Ross Management and EnXco, a French company, to place meteorological stations on four parcels, three north of Sunnyside and the other south of Moxee….

Power lines, Tony Boon, Wikimedia Commons 

Striking idea — combining wind and solar in leaf PV shingles

March 2, 2008

Inhabitat: Our friends at Ecolect, the go-to sustainable design and materials community, have launched a monthly spotlight on sustainable design called Limelight – and the first feature is tough act to follow. Teresita Cochraine’s sustainable design group, SMIT (Sustainably Minded Interactive Technology) has a compelling new project called GROW that’s an innovative and aesthetically arresting solar and wind power solution. Combining the best of green tech and ecology, GROW draws inspiration from ivy growing on the side of a building – resulting in a hybrid energy delivery device of leafy, fluttering solar shingles that provide power via both sun and wind.

Xcel Energy launches wind-to-battery project

February 29, 2008

Energy Daily: Xcel Energy soon will begin testing a cutting-edge technology to store wind energy in batteries. It will be the first use of the technology in the United States for direct wind energy storage.

Integrating variable wind and solar power production with the needs of the power grid is an ongoing issue for the utility industry. Xcel Energy will begin testing a one-megawatt battery-storage technology to demonstrate its ability to store wind energy and move it to the electricity grid when needed. Fully charged, the battery could power 500 homes for over 7 hours.

“Energy storage is key to expanding the use of renewable energy,” said Dick Kelly, Xcel Energy Chairman, President and CEO. “This technology has the potential to reduce the impact caused by the variability and limited predictability of wind energy generation. As the nation’s leader in distributing wind energy, this will be very important to both us and our customers.”

Xcel Energy has signed a contract to purchase a battery from NGK Insulators that will be an integral part of a project. The sodium-sulfur battery is commercially available and versions of this technology are already being used in Japan and in a few US applications, but this is the first U.S. application of the battery as a direct wind energy storage device.

The 20 50-kilowatt battery modules will be roughly the size of two semi trailers and weigh approximately 80 tons. They will be able to store about 7.2 megawatt-hours of electricity, with a charge/discharge capacity of one megawatt. When the wind blows, the batteries are charged. When the wind calms down, the batteries supplement the power flow….

Wind turbine from below, Dirk Ingo Franke, Wikimedia Commons

3Tier signs multiple contracts for FirstLook assessment

February 28, 2008

North American Windpower: 3TIER, an independent provider of wind, solar and hydro power assessment and power forecasting, has announced that seven companies have signed contracts worth more than $400,000 within the last three months for the company’s FirstLook assessment for wind.

“FirstLook simplifies and shortens a traditionally complex assessment process, but still delivers the thorough, detailed information we need to move quickly on a project,” says Sean Finnerty, senior vice president of Competitive Power Ventures (CPV). CPV, a wind developer with projects in the U.S. and Canada, says it uses the FirstLook tool and reports to identify potential sites and obtain the information they need to acquire land for their projects.

Many of the FirstLook contracts are bundled deals in which the companies are purchasing multiple reports for a discounted price. Individual FirstLook Professional reports cost $2,500.

Harvesting wind far from shore

February 27, 2008

Ecogeek: …A Norwegian company called Sway is developing a deepwater system that will allow turbines to be situated farther out to sea where winds can be steadier and stronger, and where the turbines are hidden from all save a few passing ships. “The SWAY® system is a floating foundation capable of supporting a 5MW wind turbine in water depths from 80m to more than 300m in some of the world’s roughest offshore locations.” This could allow wind farms to be farther off shore where they would be out of sight.

Off-shore wind turbines have needed to be situated in relatively shallow waters to be able to have sufficient footings to anchor and support them. This new deep-water turbine uses a floating tower to support the turbine, and is anchored to the sea bed with a single tension rod. Because the turbine body floats itself, the rod only needs to help the structure resist the forces of wind and waves, but does not need to support the entire structure.

The SWAY concept, which is covered by several patents, is based on a floating elongated pole extending far below the water surface with ballast at the bottom part. Since the center of gravity in this manner is placed far below the center of buoyancy the tower has sufficient stability to resist the large loads and weight from the wind turbine placed on top of the tower.

The more compelling part of the Sway system is that it keeps the tower upright against the wind forces that would otherwise overturn it. (The wind pressure on the rotor for a 5MW turbine is approximately 60 tons.) The Sway tower maintains a nearly vertical configuration, and only tilts less than 1 degree from its equilibrium position in storm conditions so as not to lose power.

There is some added cost in situating these turbines further from shore and from the end energy users. But the tradeoff with political acceptability and availability of wind may make these turbines more than useful for providing wind power. Sway wind-power towers could also be used near off-shore oil and gas rigs, and provide clean power for their operation, instead of the diesel generators these platforms utilize presently.

Diagram from Sway’s website