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Railroads and Wind Turbines

by nb41 Sun Dec 9th, 2007 at 07:13:32 PM EST

I'm not sure if this applies for a lot of Europe's train lines, but in the U.S. and Canada, rail lines typically occupy about 10% of the property owned by rail companies. This is because the track section (rails and ties) is only about 2 meters wide/track, while the property containing the track would typically be about 30 meters wide. Then there are the rail yards, sidings, and "abandoned" land which used to have some function associated with the rails.

For rail companies, income is derived from not only the trains running down the tracks, but also leasing activities, especially for other utilities, like electric lines, gas, oil, petroleum pipelines, fiber optics, cell-phone towers, microwave towers and maybe even the odd Ammonia line (~ 3000 km of those in the U.S.). However, one thing that they apparently do not have is income from wind turbine leasing...

Diary Rescue by Migeru - rescued by autofew <skrr>


[editor's note, by Migeru] Fold inserted here for the front page.
As far as a train would be concerned, a wind turbine on the side of the tracks would be just like a big tree growing alongside the rails, one that is 4.2 meters at the base, and probably 80 meters tall. A modest sized redwood, so to speak. Only this tree would provide about $4000/MW-capacity per year income, which is more than most trees provide. Odds are, some cell-pone antennae could also be attached to the tower (but below where the blade could interfere), provided this is economically justifiable. Another source of income would be in how the turbine (tower, blades and nacelle) and much of the construction equipment (crane, concrete, etc) get there. It turns out that wind turbine shipments via rail are so much more logical and a low cost solution, especially for long hauls (300 to 3000 km, for example). And many rail companies are doing more and more business in this area; its also about 7 to 10 times more energy efficient to use rail instead of trucks.

So far, I have been unsuccessful in finding any examples of commercial scale turbines placed next to rail lines in the U.S. The amazing thing is that this actually seems like a novel idea.....it's so simple, and why hasn't anyone else thought of this? But, maybe this lack of examples is just a North American thing, since our wind resource (at < 10 c/kw-hr generated power cost at a 15% IRR) is several times the current U.S. total electrical demand. In Canada's case, they have a similar wind resource, but about 10% of the U.S. population. So we have no shortage of wind sites, and instead, have a shortage of wind sites with existing transmission capacity to provide electricity in the 4 c/kw-hr range.....with some exceptions. The exceptions occur in states with relatively high natural gas usage to make electricity, such as New York and Texas, and most of New England.

And, looking to the future, this might also get to be a way to making electrically powered trains in the U.S., with some or most of the needed electricity provided by turbines installed on the side of the tracks. But that may be a ways off, even as we close in on $4/gallon for diesel fuel.

So, if anyone has an example of a commercial scale unit put next to a RR track, please put in a comment or zap me a line at Tantalum73@verizon.net. Pictures would also be nice, but not necessary.

Thanks

Nb41

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Reminds me of a post I made a while ago when considering how a string of Danish wind turbines I saw looked rather more elegant than a string of pylons festooned with cabling.

It appeared to me that there could be a "self funding" solution there, too.

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Sun Dec 2nd, 2007 at 12:35:55 PM EST
Something similar (in this case using wind turbines to power the train network) was discussed here a year or so ago.

Given that I keep reading about supply of wind turbines lagging behind demand (I'm sure I read that a norwegian manufacturer has full order books to 2011, and that was a year ago), is there any reason why govts. (or private businesses) aren't rushing to build them?  Is it a tech. issue, a materials issue, a skills issue?  There must be something I'm missing.

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Sun Dec 2nd, 2007 at 01:46:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
'utilities' are buying them by the gross. City- and state-level government agencies are getting into the act in many areas. Apparently, it is catching on quickly. You don't read about the U.S. market for them in Europe, because the media talk mostly about the federal level of activity, which is practically nihil.

rg - an update on Milo. Things are moving. Will probably have something on paper by the end of this month and may be incorporated soon thereafter. As soon as I draft some articles of inc. and suggested bylaws, I will contact you for your review. (I will have an article on a land scheme during this coming week.)


paul spencer

by paul spencer (spencerinthegorge AT yahoo DOT com) on Mon Dec 3rd, 2007 at 12:50:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
hold back because of the PTC mess. The PTC is the tax credit that supports wind projects in the USA. It's only renewaed for a year or two each time, which ensures that their is a certain market in the US for only 2 years at most. And PTC renewal was a mess in the recent past, and was delayed in several instances, resulting in years with almost no construction of wind farms in the US in 2000, 2002 and 2004:

That really hurt the turbine manufacturers in the past - first by keeping some brand new factories idle after they invested to cover expected demand, and then by making them rush the next year to cover extra orders, and having supply and quality problems. Both things made them lose money, and the industry was really, really hurt in 2004-05.

So turbine manufacturers will underinvest as long as the PTC is not renewed for longer than a couple of years, which doesn't look like it's happening this time round, again.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon Dec 3rd, 2007 at 05:04:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There are even instances where manufacturers closed assembly or blade facilities when the PTC died out.  I believe Micon suffered as well as Vestas, which led to Micon's downfall and resultant purchase by Vestas.  The boom and bust cycles affect affect the entire supply chain, for example when tower manufacturers open and close.  The end result is the absence of economies of scale and long-term infrastructure investment planning.

The PTC currently expires at the end of 2008, and significant Capex has already been made.  Most analysts had no worries of an extension until recently.  There was talk of decoupling renewables from the contentious energy bill, where the dinosaurs are fighting it out.  Several days ago Pelosi announced that there was some kind of agreement bringing renewables back into the mix, but that remains to be seen.  Since there is general bipoartisan support for the PTC it's hard to imagine it wouldn't be extended, but i've seen weirder things happen around energy policy in amurka.

AWEA was going for a 5 year extension, and i believe at least 3 years can be counted on.  But the risk of no extension has surfaced over the past two months.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaļs Nin

by Crazy Horse on Mon Dec 3rd, 2007 at 08:09:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The boom and bust cycles affect affect the entire supply chain, for example when tower manufacturers open and close.

I understood that there has been steady demand these past few years, worldwide I mean.  Have I got that wrong, or was/is there a reason why US manufacturers aren't in the export business?

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Mon Dec 3rd, 2007 at 08:15:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It was just near Palm Springs off of I-10 on the way to Los Angeles from Phoenix.



The struggle of man against tyranny is the struggle of memory against forgetting.(Kundera)

by Elco B (elcob at scarlet dot be) on Sun Dec 2nd, 2007 at 12:44:49 PM EST
I believe that wind farm is a relic of the 70's.  It's been there since I was a little child.
by Zwackus on Sun Dec 2nd, 2007 at 08:18:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
San Gorgonio Pass. (Full list of projects at AWEA site.) '80s not '70s. (The first commercial wind turbine was built by Danish carpenter Christian Riisager only in 1975.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Dec 3rd, 2007 at 04:46:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
great diary, that's a brilliant idea, blindingly simple, stunningly efficient.

welcome to ET, Nb41!

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sun Dec 2nd, 2007 at 01:49:24 PM EST
The answer is Blowing in the Wind....

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Dec 2nd, 2007 at 01:50:29 PM EST
A very crappy photo of a wind farm I made from a train window (Mosonmagyaróvár, Hungary):

Check this diary for another photo of the same farm, where you can just make out the pairs of railway line catenary poles -- for scale.

In Europe, railway right-of-way usually doesn't extend beyond the full track -- where I include not only the rails, sleepers and trackbed, but the earthen foundation and the water trenches, too. So for a two-track mainline, say ten metres wide.

On your argument of transporting wind turbine parts on railway: unfortunately, this is less good an idea than it looks on the face of it. On one hand, catenary would be a problem for big cargo. Less so in the US with its mostly diesel mainlines, still, tunnels might cause a problem for bigger parts. On the other hand, the length of blades would be beyond the length of railcars, for the biggest even the length of spacing between catenary poles -- one would need specialised coupled wagons and special rules of no traffic in the other direction (hanging into the cross section in curves).

I am not sure whether there are rules taking into account potential break-off of blades, but that may also be a problem.

Another issue might be that wind turbine placement usually takes into account relief and wind directions and the placement of other turbines, so placing them along a railway line might not be the best option.

However, one plus for placing wind farms near railway lines might be power lines: railways need them anyway, so they could be coupled.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Dec 2nd, 2007 at 02:32:10 PM EST
However, one plus for placing wind farms near railway lines might be power lines: railways need them anyway, so they could be coupled.

This might not be the case in much of the US, with its diesel engines.

by Zwackus on Sun Dec 2nd, 2007 at 08:20:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Indeed. In spite of no power lines, improvements are on the way.

I'd guess that trains are a somewhat undiscovered frontier for eco-efficiency. But maybe that's just my ignorance speaking... I think the ICE 3 feeds back electricity into the net when it brakes, but I don't know of any other trains that do so. DoDo?

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Sun Dec 2nd, 2007 at 09:05:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Almost all modern electrics do feedback, the power electrics for the AC motors make that easier. (And it can be done most efficiently just on the power system also used by the German railways.) In fact, I believe the regular S-Bahn multiple units of the latest generation (not in Berlin) absorb a greater percentage of braking energy with regenerative braking than ICE-3 sets.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Dec 3rd, 2007 at 01:32:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This is called regenerative braking, isn't it?
by Gag Halfrunt on Tue Dec 4th, 2007 at 02:12:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, proper link. But see last sentence in my comment :-)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Dec 4th, 2007 at 03:37:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
AFAIU, the Cityrail sparkies (electrics) in Sydney (and out to Wollongong, Newcastle, and the Blue Mountains) put their regenerative braking into the grid, and they are DC. The mechanical brakes mostly just do the last little bit to bring the train to a full stop.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Dec 9th, 2007 at 08:28:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In Europe, railway right-of-way usually doesn't extend beyond the full track -- where I include not only the rails, sleepers and trackbed, but the earthen foundation and the water trenches, too. So for a two-track mainline, say ten metres wide.

AFAIU, most US inter-urban ROW west of the Mississippi ... which just so happens to include some of the best wind resource states ... were allocated for four track lines and a buffer zone, and land values between cities are normally not high enough to justify sorting out the complex structures of outright ownership, perpetual rotating leases and transport easements making up the right of way in order to grab small slivers of land.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Dec 9th, 2007 at 08:33:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
  1.  Seems to me that there is the additional advantage that putting in the infrastructure for moving the power around would be incredibly easy. (Along the tracks?)  

  2. And, well, there could be linkages back to this 'spine' of a power grid.  

  3. And, as we electrify the rails ever more, the wind turbines could help power the transportation grid.

  4.  Finally, the rails could become the backbone of a HVDC grid, with the wires going underground within the railroad right of ways.


Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart. NOW!!!
by a siegel (siegeadATgmailIGNORETHISdotPLEASEcom) on Sun Dec 2nd, 2007 at 09:35:45 PM EST
It's a nice idea, but I'm not sure that railway lines are necessarily in the places where the wind is best (or even sufficient) for wind turbines.
by IdiotSavant on Mon Dec 3rd, 2007 at 04:58:50 AM EST
Something else that can be done (that's an as well - not an instead) is to use much of that space for solar panels, and for micro algae growth (to create second generation biofuel).

That's especially true in the US of course: lots of flat sunny land, with not a house in sight...

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed. Gandhi

by Cyrille (cyrillev domain yahoo.fr) on Mon Dec 3rd, 2007 at 06:47:12 AM EST
Could you actually fit the required foundations into the right-of-way?
by tjbuff (timhess@adelphia.net) on Sun Dec 9th, 2007 at 08:36:59 PM EST
I wrote an article on this several years ago, "Wind Powered Electric Railroad Potential in the United States",  presented at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Wind Energy Symposium,  New Orleans, LA,  Jan. 1994.    
by Don Robert Smith on Mon Dec 10th, 2007 at 02:58:36 PM EST
Welcome to ET!  Will you write us a diary?

Our knowledge has surpassed our wisdom. -Charu Saxena.
by metavision on Mon Dec 10th, 2007 at 05:28:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If you are the same Don Smith who did all the performance reporting for the Altamont Pass windparks, and was virtually the lone voice of sanity at PG&E, providing ponytail backup along the way, the welcome to ET.

If you're not, still welcome to ET.  And how about a summary of your report?

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaļs Nin

by Crazy Horse on Tue Dec 11th, 2007 at 11:29:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not sure about this, but I think there might be some serious electrical engineering problems if you try to run the trains by the electricity from trackside windmills. First off, a heavy freight train frequently has four or more locomotives, each capable of several thousand horsepower at full throttle. That works out to about 10 MW of power per train, which is at the upper limit of one of today's windmills--when the wind is blowing hard.

Of course the wind isn't going to be blowing full speed all the time, and the locomotives aren't going to be close to a windmill all the time, and the locomotives aren't going to be running at full throttle all the time--they might be doing regenerative braking. So with a setup consisting of multiple windmills, multiple trains, uphill and downhill sections of the line, etc., the flow of the electricity in the system gets very complicated.


These two locomotives can provide approximately 7 MW of continuous power, roughly what you get under perfect conditions with three or four large onshore windmills.

I'm not sure that today's network modeling and real-time control tools are sophisticated enough to do the required management of this sort of power grid configuration. A single grid of this sort would be comparable in complexity to that of the entire country, and today's electrical distribution systems are very fragile because of this problem.


Graphical models of power grids show sharp boundaries between areas in which a system arrives at a stable equilibrium and those in which it becomes unstable or runs away. In the computer representation shown here, which was done by Cornell University's James Thorp, the interactions of two generators are mapped, each point representing the angle by which each generator is out of phase compared with a reference generator. Light blue areas represent grid stability, while the dark red, light red, and purple areas show the grid to be unstable or vulnerable to collapse. Small changes in the state of either generator can produce large and unpredictable changes in the grid's stability.

http://www.spectrum.ieee.org/print/4195

At least in the American West, there is enough open space in good wind areas that the use of railroad right of ways isn't really needed. Also, when trains replace cars, there will need to be more train tracks--LOTS more! I can't wait!

by asdf on Tue Dec 11th, 2007 at 12:09:01 AM EST
First off, a heavy freight train frequently has four or more locomotives, each capable of several thousand horsepower at full throttle. That works out to about 10 MW of power per train, which is at the upper limit of one of today's windmills--when the wind is blowing hard.

So where is the problem? We have high-speed trains that can withdraw 17.6 MW from the catenary (two coupled sets of TGVs), that's no problem for the electric system. And we can place at least 100 turbines of the 2 MW class along a 50 km stretch of track.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Dec 24th, 2007 at 02:06:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Here's a photo taken w/ my handy at EWEA Offshore Windpower 2007, from an exhibit at the entrance.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaļs Nin

by Crazy Horse on Tue Dec 11th, 2007 at 11:54:49 AM EST
Entschuldigung, i forgot to say this was from an exhibit of award-winning windpower photos hosted by EWEA, and the artist's name was Malbete (Albert???), who i found on the net but not this photo, though he's well known in france i gather.  Please excuse the qualy, i just had to try for this diary.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaļs Nin
by Crazy Horse on Tue Dec 11th, 2007 at 01:20:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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