Wind Turbines Store Energy For Less Breezy Days

August 8, 2013 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

From Mother Nature Network’s Sami Grover:

I have something to confess. I am a huge fan of renewable energy, but I never paid much attention to science lessons in school.

That means I get awfully confused at the difference between MW and MWh. I develop a headache at discussion of the “capacity factor” of wind turbines. And I usually have to take a nap if someone starts explaining the market dynamics of “selling electricity to the frequency regulation segments of regional grid power markets”.

But here are a few things I do know:

  • The wind isn’t always blowing
  • The sun doesn’t always shine
  • Energy demand is not constant either

For many armchair critics of renewable energy, these three factors alone debunk the vision of a grid running largely or solely on clean, non-polluting sources of electricity. For others, they are simply a challenge that needs solving.

From reducing demand with aggressive efficiency and conservation efforts through better matching demand with supply through a smart grid to electric cars acting as storage for excess electricity supply, we’ve seen plenty of concepts that may help smooth out some of clean energy’s intermittency problems.

Now we can add to the roster of potential solutions a new wind turbine that generates more electricity at lower wind speeds, stores some excess energy for sale to the grid later (allowing owners to take advantage of higher prices), and also does a better job of analyzing and predicting the supply of wind energy too. In short, many clean energy advocates are pretty excited about GE’s 1.6-100 and 1.7-100 wind turbines and power management system.

Specifically, here are some of the features that clean tech geeks are getting excited about:

  • Improved blade designs resulting in a 47 percent increase in “swept area” (the square feet of the rotor) compared to previous models – meaning a 20-24 percent increase in power.
  • More energy harvested at lower wind speeds, resulting in a class-leading capacity factor of 54 percent. (Detail alert: the capacity factor is the actual power output over time, compared as a percentage to the theoretical power output of the turbine if it was producing at its maximum output at all times.)
  • A battery storage system that allows wind turbine operators to save excess electricity — either because they are producing more electricity than the grid needs at a given moment, or because they’ll get a better price for it later.
  • A sophisticated package of analytics equipment and software, which helps owners predict both when power will be needed and when the wind will be blowing, allowing communication between turbines in what’s been described as “an industrial Internet”.

A short ad from GE explains a little more:

Individually, each of the developments represented in the Brilliant turbines are a big deal. Collectively, says Andrew Burger of CleanTechnica, they have the potential to be game changing. In an enthusiastic, three-part series on the Brilliant turbines (see also part two, and part three), Burger explains why all this really matters to the rest of us – namely that the cost of wind energy has come down by 60 percent in recent years, making it competitive with new coal and natural gas plants. And that’s before you even start calculating all the hidden, but very real economic costs caused by our reliance on fossil fuels.

With conservative economists saying that damage from coal costs the U.S. economy more than the electricity it generates is worth, climate change slowing down the world economy already, and threatening to derail the gains made in fighting poverty too, any rational, real world cost-benefit analysis of clean energy versus fossil fuels should be a foregone conclusion.

Thankfully, even without putting a price on carbon or forcing polluters to pay for the health problems they create, advancement’s like GE’s Brilliant wind turbines may be tipping the scales in the favor of clean energy anyway.

And that can only be a good thing.

Also on HuffPost:

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  • Top Renewable Energy Sources

    Renewable energy made up 9 percent of all energy consumed in 2011, according to the a href=””U.S. Energy Information Agency/a, and that number is a href=””predicted to grow throughout the next decade/a.

    Here’s a breakdown of the top sources of renewable energy in the country, from wind to water and everything in between.

    emInformation courtesy of the a href=””U.S. Energy Information Agency/a./em

  • Solar Power – 2 Percent

    Solar power and photovoltaic cells make up the smallest percentage of U.S. renewable energy production, but its future looks fairly promising. Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway a href=””invested $2.5 billion in Calif. solar company SunPower/a earlier this year.

    Also, unlike other sources of renewables, energy can also be generated by small-scale solar installations (like on the rooftop of a home or business), anda href=”″ declining costs/a have made solar much more affordable.

    emInformation courtesy of the a href=””U.S. Energy Information Agency/a./em

  • Geothermal – 2 Percent

    Geothermal power captures naturally occurring heat from the earth to turn it into power. The renewable source is geographically dependent, a href=”″but the Western half of the U.S./a has many promising locations for power plants, a href=””like The Geysers in Calif./a, the largest geothermal power plant in the world.

    The U.S. is the largest producer of geothermal power on the planet, but growth hasn’t kept up with wind or solar development in recent years.

    emInformation courtesy of the a href=””U.S. Energy Information Agency/a./em

  • Waste – 5 Percent

    Believe it or not, burned garbage accounts for 5 percent of all renewable energy created in the U.S. each year. More than 29 million tons of municipal solid waste was burned in 2010 to create steam to spin turbines and generate power, a href=”″ and there are more than 75/a waste-to-energy plants in the country.

    Emissions regulations have been in place at waste incineration plants since the 1960s, but the a href=””EPA warned in a 2006 report that the toxins released/a during the process could pose a serious environmental risk if not strictly enforced.

    emInformation courtesy of the a href=””U.S. Energy Information Agency/a./em

  • Wind – 13 Percent

    The amount of wind power has grown for each of the past three years throughout the U.S. and accounted for the a href=”″largest growth in capacity/a of any energy resource in the country last year. Wind turbines now supply more than a href=”″50,000 megawatts a year,/a enough to power 13 million homes, according to Reuters.

    Federal tax credits, which were set to expire at the end of 2012, have made wind farms an attractive form of renewable energy. Congress a href=””approved an extension of the credits/a through the end of 2013.

    After production, wind turbines are net zero, meaning they require no energy and produce no emissions. The only problematic thing generated in some cases other than clean power has been a href=””a whole lot of noise/a.

    emInformation courtesy of the a href=””U.S. Energy Information Agency/a./em

  • Biofuel – 21 Percent

    Biofuels, like ethanol, are created from organic matter like corn or soybeans. Gasoline in the U.S. contains 9 percent of the resource by federal mandate under the a href=””Renewable Fuel Standard program,/a and more than a href=””40 percent of the corn crop/a last year was turned into biofuel.

    The resource is slightly more unstable than other renewables because it depends on the productivity of farms – a href=””drought or other environmental problems/a can significantly lower yields and increase prices.

    On average, a href=””ethanol has 20 percent fewer emissions/a than traditional gasoline but some types, like a href=””cellulosic ethanol,/a cut greenhouse gas emissions more than 85 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

    emInformation courtesy of the a href=””U.S. Energy Information Agency/a./em

  • Wood – 22 Percent

    Timber accounts for nearly a quarter of all renewable energy created in the country. a href=””Rising energy costs /ahave led to an upswing in wood burning over the past decade, and nearly a href=””20 percent of New England homes /ause wood for heating, according to a National Geographic report.

    Although it may be a cheaper alternative, wood burning stoves and fireplacesa href=”” release more emissions of fine particles /a than other home heating methods, according to the EPA. Burning a href=””good wood in an efficient burner/a lowers toxic emissions and lost energy. Oh, and always have working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors handy.

    emInformation courtesy of the a href=””U.S. Energy Information Agency/a./em

  • Hydroelectric – 35 Percent

    Almost all of the current hydroelectric power plants in the U.S. were a href=””built before the mid-1970′s/a, but it’s still the highest producing renewable energy source in the country.

    In 2011, 8 percent of all power created in the U.S. came from hydroelectric sources, but it’s also one of the most geographically dependent sources of energy. The Pacific Northwest gets more than half of all power via hydroelectric due to prime geography.

    emInformation courtesy of the a href=””U.S. Energy Information Agency/a./em

  • How To Really Go Renewable

    Watch this TED talk on the missing link in the future of renewable energy.

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