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New US Wind Energy Potential Update

by nb41 Fri Feb 19th, 2010 at 11:29:05 AM EST

There is a newly released blurb on the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) website (see http://www.awea.org/newsroom/releases/02-18-10_US_Wind_Resource_Larger.html) that is definitely worth a look, a mirror of one from the US Dept of Energy:
http://www.windpoweringamerica.gov/filter_detail.asp?itemid=2542

This is about a serious update of the wind energy potential that was last estimated in the 1979-1981 era (see http://rredc.nrel.gov/wind/pubs/atlas/), and which was woefully out of date. This new one used wind speeds present at 80 meter heights (most commercial scale units installed in the US are have been on 80 meter tall towers for several years). This is still a pretty conservative estimate, and the details are a bit sketchy.

But, the estimate is that 37 million gigawatt-hrs/yr (an average of 4220 gigawatts (GW) of continuously produced power) could be made with wind turbines putting out an average of 30% of their rated gross capacity (i.e. no shutdowns for maintenance and inspections). Since the average net output (the electricity put on the grid and which turbine owners get paid for) is about 94% of the gross output, that's still close to 4 Terawatts (TW) of average output. It would take about 10.5 million GW of wind turbine capacity, or about 4.2 million x 2.5 MW wind turbines to supply this rather large quantity of power/energy.

And there is only one problem - the US only used an average of 425 GW in 2009. So, using the net output basis, we have 9.3 times too much wind capacity. And even if we replace all the natural gas heating with renewable electricity, that would only boost the demand to around 750 GW. We have too darn much wind capacity - what are we to do with all this useless potential, eh?

Maybe we could get Goldman Sachs to write up some CDS's on all this unusable potential....just kidding.

There is another small point about this study - just what constitutes a wind speed needed to get a 30% gross energy output? For that, we will have to wait for the full report to come out, which will hopefully be in the near future. As expected, the midwest really shines (for example, Texas could more than power up the country, and Nebraska could almost do it). Of course, there is also the matter of getting the electricity from where it is made to where it will be used by actual human beings and in the factories, offices and homes they use. Or maybe it's time to start transplanting people to where the energy is (but then there is the water problem....). So maybe it's easier to keep most people where they are.

This study does not touch upon offshore (Great Lakes, Atlantic and Gulf, or the deepwater potential of the very windy west coast (it's shallow on the Atlantic side, not on the Pacific side)). And it excludes a lot of potential in more populated areas, or in the southeast, because of the requirement in this study for the 30% gross output.

Here is why that is important. Different wind turbines tend to be targeted to different wind regimes. A turbine designed for fast winds (like Altamont Pass wind canyons) will not work so well in more moderate wind regimes. And one designed for more moderate winds like those in NY State (onshore anyway) will get torn to shreds in the windy zones - the blades are too big for the generator, and the unit would self-stop for a considerable part of the year. Anyway, here are some examples of wind speeds at hub heights that will give a 30% gross output at close to standard conditions (15 C air temperature, sea level).

Wind Turbine  ...........................  Wind Speed needed for 30% Gross Output

Vestas V-100 x 1.8 MW  ...........  5.8 m/s
Vestas V-90 x 1.8 MW  .............  6.1 m/s
Vestas V82 x 1.65 MW  .............  6.3 m/s
Vestas V-90 x 3 MW .................  8 m/s
GE 1.5s 1.5 MW x 70 m rotor ....  6.8 m/s
GE 1.5sl 1.5 MW x 77 m rotor ...  6.5 m/s

The Vestas numbers (V-90) correspond to the rotor diameter. And since the power in the wind is proportional to the cube of the wind speed.... well, the V-100 x 1.8 MW unit tapping 5.8 m/s wind is getting a 30% gross out from winds with about 71% of the power of those needed by the GE 1.5sl (now the most widely used wind turbine in the US). Those same 5.8 m/s winds have less than 39% of the power that are needed for the Vestas V90 x 3 MW unit (they do best in 9 m/s average wind speed zones...).

So, by using turbines designed for more mellow wind resource areas, a lot more land gets opened up. Another trick is to use a taller tower - as is often done in Europe. Winds at 100 meters above the ground could easily be more than 5 to 10% faster. Tower heights in Europe are often 113 meters (the tallest is 160 meters). And really big turbines, like the Enercon E-126 x 7.5 MW unit need tall towers just to keep the blades in windy zones (the E-126 would reach up to 204 meters above the ground).

Anyway, this is great timing. President Obama has just decided to pursue the "nuclear option" - no, not to get rid of the filibuster in the Senate and pass some modest Health Care proposal, but to pay back a big campaign contributor - Exelon (formerly Illionis's biggest utility, Commonwealth Edison, now sort of spun off as a nationwide electricity generator  - see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exelon). Those new nukes proposed for Georgia would, if they ever do get built, deliver electricity at more than 20 c/kw-hr - and with no mandate for high level trash disposal or catastrophic insurance (that one is probably worth $500 million/yr per reactor, assuming it was even possible). Oh well, now that the Yucky Mountain trash disposal site is no longer an option, I hope the folks in Georgia understand that the disposal site for that trash is going to be located...at the site where those reactors get installed (in adjacent "swimming pools). Won't THAT do wonders for property values...

Maybe the President can make a better PR announcement for this stinker of a project in Georgia on April 26... assuming he has a shred of courage. Hint, April 26 is one of those anniversaries that a lot of people would really like to forget about... especially the nuke crowd). See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chernobyl_disaster.

Also cross-posted on http://www.dkgreenroots.com

Nb41


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I recently signed up for the email list of the Great Lakes Wind Collaborative a project of the Great Lakes Commission, and they sent out an email about this today.  The excel spreadsheets are even more interesting, because you can get an idea of the potential in each state, this just being on shore. (Did you see that a Canadian firm is planning a 1400 MW wind farm on Lake Erie south of Windsor?)

The cool thing is that you can match these numbers with the numbers from the Energy Information Administration to show just how doable wind energy is in many state.

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Fri Feb 19th, 2010 at 05:30:22 PM EST
I did not see the Lake Erie reference, yet (was that Trillium?). That company recently signed on to buy about $15 billion worth of Vestas V-112 offshore wind turbines that are tailor made for the (sorta) moderate (at least by North Sea standards) winds of the Great Lakes - the 7.5 to 8.5 m/s at hub height winds.

Anyway, welcome to the Collaborative. We haven't got around to a Hive Mind arrangement yet, so a diversity of thought is still appreciated.

The one thing to remember about wind energy capacity is to ask the question "At what price?" which implies "At what hub height wind speed?". Using some of the newly introduced "big rotor" turbines (like the Nordex N-100 x 2.5 MW, the Siemens S101.2 x 2.3 MW, the Fuhrlaender FL-2500 (100 meter rotor diameter) in combination with 95 to 100 meter tall towers introduces even more wind turbine electricity potential to the US. These turbines are very well suited for the NE and Great Lakes region, where the presence of trees and hills degrades the wind resource near the ground.

Nb41
NB41

by nb41 on Sat Feb 20th, 2010 at 01:41:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The one thing to remember about wind energy capacity is to ask the question "At what price?" which implies "At what hub height wind speed?". Using some of the newly introduced "big rotor" turbines (like the Nordex N-100 x 2.5 MW, the Siemens S101.2 x 2.3 MW, the Fuhrlaender FL-2500 (100 meter rotor diameter) in combination with 95 to 100 meter tall towers introduces even more wind turbine electricity potential to the US. These turbines are very well suited for the NE and Great Lakes region, where the presence of trees and hills degrades the wind resource near the ground.

I think that a great example of this is onshore potential in Ohio.  If you look at the 70 meter hub height, the potential doesn't look great, about  2500 MW viable on shore.  But if you look at 100 meters, the picture is much, much better, the estimate is  201,220 MW viable. Now of course that's nameplate, and actual generation is maybe 30% of that, but that's still about half the state's current electrical production. And counts nothing offshore.

Bottom line, even in Ohio, where the onshore potential isn't nearly as great as in Indiana or Michigan, a serious effort could easily get wind to 5-10% of total generation.  I don't think that the seasonal variation in wind is as bad on shore as on Erie.

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Sat Feb 20th, 2010 at 02:28:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Those new nukes proposed for Georgia would, if they ever do get built, deliver electricity at more than 20 c/kw-hr
As a shareholder of Exelon I find that number pretty laughable, especially as the loan guarantees are slotting in now and should lower capital costs pretty radically. Further, the new nukes in Georgia (Vogtle) are not Exelon projects, they're Southern Company.

and with no mandate for high level trash disposal or catastrophic insurance (that one is probably worth $500 million/yr per reactor, assuming it was even possible)
That number is even more absurd.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Fri Feb 19th, 2010 at 07:17:00 PM EST
According to EPRI, the correct (for them) discount rate on a nuke with respect to construction and commissioning is supposed to be 14%. Given the huge outlays of capital and the 8 to 10 year construction time period, a nuke quoted at $10.8 billion per 1200 MW capacity (expected to be around 1 GW average delivered output) gets really pricey, really fast. The recent pair of them rejected in Ontario is instructive:

http://climateprogress.org/2009/07/15/nuclear-power-plant-cost-bombshell-ontario/

But, this one may be more your style:
http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2009/01/nuclear_power.html

Nukes have been "commercial" since 1960, but 50 years later they still need extensive government subsidies. Like loan guarantees, and sticking the costs to the rate-payers years before those come on-line, virtually guaranteeing no responsibility for cost overruns. In most states, that rate-payer con is not allowed. It just got dis-allowed in Florida, so there won't be any (very aptly named) add-ons to the "Turkey Point" complex.

As to catastrophic insurance, lets says there is a Chernobyl style "oops". With damage of $1 trillion just in money damage as wide swaths or area get evacuated/degraded. Who is going to write an insurance policy that might have to pay out $1 trillion (plus also insure that  the publicly observed death by radiation poisoning of all senior level corporate officials involved, as watched on You-Tube, is carried out)? What kind of premiums do you pay when the down side is $1 trillion for a facility with a 50 year lifetime, as well as the shear impossibility and non-applicability of using Gaussian probability functions to estimate what the risk of said "oops" would be? $500 million/yr seems pretty reasonable. And what about trash disposal costs? Is it $10 million per ton of spent fuel rods? There is 16 tons/yr of that garbage that has to go somewhere. What about $25 million/ton?

All this for companies with an acute focus on meeting short term financial performance goals, and a "screw the long term aspects - just make the quarterly numbers at all cost!" mode of operation. Eventually, the wrong choice between shutting the things down for repairs/inspection versus keeping them operating will be made by the CEO's; after all, profits are only made when those systems are making electricity.

As to the Georgia location, the nuclear club in the USA is a pretty chummy one. Also very tight with what remains of our bomb making infrastructure. Georgia was picked because of the expected ease of approval - it is rabidly Rethuglican, after all. And it is home to the Savannah River nuke weapons complex. Their hope was that once the precedent has been broken (lack of new nukes in the USA), several more in other redneck states could get built. And Exelon will be angling for their sites, along with Entergy and Constellation. They would then attempt to finesse the rad waste problem later (but in reality, the nuke reactor site will be the site for permanent storage of the unwanted rad-waste).

But, it will not be enviros or peace-niks or renewable energy advocates who kill off nukes, again. It will be the bean counters - accountants. An "oops", even just a scary "near-oops", will just hasten the process. Once the economics of these financial turkeys gets exposed, it won't be pretty.

Besides, there are alternatives to nukes, including designing houses so they are not such huge electricity pigs for air conditioning. Or maybe its time to start putting a real price on big homes modeled after a New England suburban climate in the US sub-tropics, where air-conditioning allows for a "modern" skank-free way of life. August without air-conditioning in Georgia is, I am told, a religious experience, and not the heavenly kind, either. AC is one of the main drivers for electricity usage in the southern US. Maybe fewer people need to be living there... or they need to adapt to a lifestyle where dealing with the heat is done with half or a quarter of the kw-hr/yr per person as is now the case.

Nb41

by nb41 on Sat Feb 20th, 2010 at 02:33:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
According to EPRI, the correct (for them) discount rate on a nuke with respect to construction and commissioning is supposed to be 14%. Given the huge outlays of capital and the 8 to 10 year construction time period, a nuke quoted at $10.8 billion per 1200 MW capacity (expected to be around 1 GW average delivered output) gets really pricey, really fast

If you use those kind of fantasy numbers, it's hard not to get the plants unprofitable. Still, they are absolute fantasies. 14 % discount rate? Even after loan guarantees? Riiiight. 8-10 year construction? Yeah... 83 % capacity factor? If you've slept for the last 25 years...

Not to mention "Chernobyl" style accident? You do know those cannot happen in LWR's, do you? It's like saying that we must insure wind farms extremely highly, because what if they result in a Chernobyl style accident? What do you mean, that can't happen? We should insure them against that anyway. </snark>

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Sat Feb 20th, 2010 at 02:39:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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