Sunday, September 14, 2008

Wind Harvesting

Wind-power, a compelling vision.

How wonderful it would be if we could harness the wind and the tides and provide the energy needed to fuel our infrastructure.  Like the old water mill's and wind mill's that had once helped drive our society's advancement, the lure of harnessing seemingly free and plentiful energy, is powerful.  
in 2005 Willett Kempton, a University of Delaware professor in the school’s College of Marine Studies,..with a team of students, led by Amardeep Dhanju, .found that Delaware’s coastal winds were capable of producing a year-round average output of over 5,200 megawatts, or four times the average electrical consumption of the entire state. “On the wholesale electricity markets,” Dhanju wrote, “this would produce just over $2 billion” in annual revenue.

It so happened that the day Dhanju’s semester-long research project was discussed, Kempton had invited several wind entrepreneurs to class. Mandelstam was the only invitee to show up in person. It was then that Mandelstam had his eureka moment. The amount of power Dhanju was describing, Mandelstam knew from Kempton, was but a small fraction of an even larger resource along what’s known as the Mid-Atlantic Bight. This coastal region running from Massachusetts to North Carolina contained up to 330,000 megawatts of average electrical capacity. This was, in other words, an amount of guaranteed, bankable power that was larger, in terms of energy equivalence, than the entire mid-Atlantic coast’s total energy demand — not just for electricity but for heating, for gasoline, for diesel and for natural gas. Indeed the wind off the mid-Atlantic represented a full third of the Department of Energy’s estimate of the total American offshore resource of 900,000 megawatts........
Last year, onshore wind power added more than 5,200 megawatts of new electrical capacity to the grid — or nearly a third of America’s new generating capacity, surpassing all other forms of new generation except natural gas and amounting to enough electric capacity to power one and a half million homes. While it’s true that wind is still a tiny part of the energy picture — just 1 percent of the total electricity portfolio in the United States and 3.3 percent in Europe — more than a quarter of the 20,000 megawatts of the world’s new wind capacity last year was installed in North America, where all the global wind-energy players have set up shop, lured by the low U.S. dollar and the high rate of returns. “In America,” explains António Mexia, chief executive for Energias de Portugal, which bought the Texas wind company Horizon Energy, “you can put up a 200- or 300-megawatt wind park. You can’t do that in Europe.” Indeed, in the continental United States, resources are vast — with more than eight thousand gigawatts of potential electricity blowing overhead. “The amount of wind energy potential in this country,” says Walt Musial, a principal engineer at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s National Wind Technology Center, “is bigger than the national grid itself.”
The potential of this capability is compelling, but the issues of intermittency and variability lead to more issues regarding storage; the issues of subsidy lead to legitimate questions of how to measure real benefit, how to choose between competing technologies, who chooses, and whose ox gets gored.  

Mark Svenvold's discussion with the wind entrepreneur Peter Mandelstam, helps to fram the issue, put it in perspective, and makes an argument for moving forward.  MORE....


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