Dinosaur utility companies unwilling or unable to change are getting slammed by the fast-dropping price and expanding availability of solar energy and wind power. Relying on coal and nuclear is no longer feasible for utilities. Instead, it’s change or die. Texas is spending almost $7 billion to expand their grid, bringing wind power for rural areas to the cities. Traditional utility companies are getting hit hard.
“The transmission is finally there in Texas to bring all the wind power to the population centers and it’s a disaster for the generation companies,” Andy DeVries, an analyst at CreditSights Inc., said in a telephone interview.
Traditional power companies across the U.S. and Europe are struggling to compete in wholesale markets with newer generators supplying subsidized wind and solar energy. In Texas, wind has more than doubled in the past six years and now makes up 13 percent of the state’s generation capacity.
Now this is different! A three blade vertical offshore wind turbine combined with an underwater current turbine. It’ll be tested soon in Japan. This isn’t wave or tidal power, it’s current power. Has this ever be done before? Plus, the underwater turbine can power the wind turbine.
Combining a three-bladed Darrieus turbine on top, a Savonius turbine underneath, and a generator in between, the SKWID power generation concept is claimed to be the world’s first hybrid system “capable of maximizing the harvesting of ocean energy from wind and current“.
Texas has vastly more installed wind power than other states, routinely getting 9% of its energy from wind. On some days it’s 20%, with more and bigger wind farms being built. California isn’t even close. Yes, this gives traditional environmentalists fits. But Texas has always been a leader on energy.
WaPo reviews the ‘The Great Texas Wind Rush’ which chronicles how Texas became a powerhouse of wind. A big reason was that Texas focused on how wind power could be profitable and downplayed environmental reasons.
The tale begins in the late 1970s when a father-and-son team began to build new turbines, and by 1981, the second wind farm in the nation went up in northwest Texas. Thirty years and various disasters, backroom deals and fits of inspiration later, Texas had eclipsed California and every other state to become by far the biggest wind energy producer.
Former Enron CEO Kenneth Lay and then Texas Gov. George Bush play roles in committing the state to renewable energy. In 1996, Bush told a top staff member, “By the way, we like wind,” and when the dumbfounded aide starts to ask a question, Bush simply replies, “Go get smart on wind.”
They do things different in Texas. Heh.
When a national environmental group asked about the risks that turbines might pose to coastal migratory birds, one wind booster replied that the birds would get smarter over time and that the giant blades could also be “the first line of defense against avian flu.” The environmentalists reportedly were not amused.
The European Wind Energy Association says (PDF) development of floating wind turbines in deep water should be encouraged, as the amount of power they can generate is vast. Note: The turbines are indeed on floating platforms but are tethered to the ocean floor.
Using only North Sea sites with water over 50m deep as an example, the potential for deep offshore wind energy is vast. 66% of the North Sea has a water depth between 50m and 220m and could therefore be used to deploy the deep offshore designs. For illustration purposes only, assuming 6 MW wind turbines, the energy produced in this area could meet today’s EU electricity consumption four times over.
Having ample renewable energy isn’t enough, the power also needs to get to cities in a timely manner, especially when generated in remote areas. The US Midwest has increasing amounts of wind power but sometimes turbines must be idled because transmission lines can handle the power.
Shipley said the electric market and the wind farms were losing money because of the curtailments, as the pool is unable to sell power that the grid is incapable of transmitting.
“There’s enough resource there to power the United States a dozen times over by conservative estimates,” Goggin said. “A lot of that resource is concentrated in the middle of the country, far from where people live. There’s extremely cost-effective wind left out there. We just can’t tap it, because we haven’t built out the transmission system.”
Development of wind farms in Germany is becoming extremely controversial. Turbines are noisy, say those who live near them. Plus they kill insects and birds, mar landscapes, and may not even be cost-effective, especially when considering the huge transmission lines that must be built from remote wind farms to cities. ABC News details the ongoing battles in a translated article from Spiegel Online.
Germany plans to build 60,000 new wind turbines — in forests, in the foothills of the Alps and even in protected environmental areas. But local residents are up in arms, costs are skyrocketing and Germany’s determination to phase out nuclear power is in danger.
The underlying divide is basic and irreconcilable. On one side stand environmentalists and animal rights activists passionate about protecting the tranquility of nature. On the other are progressively minded champions of renewable energy and climate activists determined to secure the long-term survival of the planet.
The probable answer to all of this is offshore wind farms, where the turbines can be ginormous and are actually easier to assemble because parts can be transported by boat rather than on land, plus no one is around to hear them.
What offshore wind looks like. US still has none.Credit: statoil.com
A 12 MW $120 million floating offshore wind farm in Maine has been put on hold by Norwegian energy company Statoil after an amendment backed by the Maine’s flat earth governor re-opened bidding after the project had been approved.
The governor has taken NIMBY opposition to renewable energy to comically deranged levels.
The amendment appears to be the result of a decision by the office of Maine’s governor, Paul LePage, who is on record as opposing wind power. In an op-ed, local newspaper the Kennebec Journal said LePage has “even claimed that wind power is a fraud, saying that the University of Maine at Presque Isle’s windmill is turned by ‘a little electric motor’ and not wind, a statement that even he later admitted was laughably false.”
The United States still has no offshore wind. Statoil may move the project to Norway, where politicians do not live in Bizzaro World, and really, who can blame them?
The Scottish Wild Land Group opposes wind farms and explains why in a special issue of their newsletter, Wind Farms Gone Wild, which is available for free. A primary concern is cost. Wind farms are expensive. This hurts the poor because their cost of energy rises. The profits generally do not help the local community, and go elsewhere instead.
But it’s not just Scotland that needs reasonably priced renewable energy. The planet does too.
“… it has been apparent for some time that the costs of wind-power, on which the UK’s policies are dependent, are so high that the technology fails to offer the developing world a viable alternative to coal, and because of this our overall climate change policies lack credibility. Rethinking this position requires governments to admit that little or nothing has been achieved in the last two decades, in spite of vast subsidy expenditure.”
They also think wind farms, which can contain dozens if not hundreds of turbines, mar landscapes, kill birds, injure habitats, and pit communities against each other.
“I’ve recently noticed an interesting phenomenon in the world of environmental communications… If you are associated with the ‘green’ or environmental movement in any way, it automatically seems to follow that you must be a supporter of all forms of renewable energy, including mega-windfarms, because the alternatives (fossil fuels, nuclear power) are unspeakably pernicious. And if you don’t think that wind farms are a good idea, then you can’t be a ‘proper’ environmentalist…wind energy is renewable…but the often-fragile ecosystems associated with the hills and moors colonised by wind farms are not.”
That same damn-the-environment attitude is happening in California deserts too with solar power installations.