Tag Archives: wind

The Future of Power

We are now at what appears to be the dawn of an energy transition. It will take a couple of generations to accomplish but it will happen. The transition is from an energy economy based on burning fossil fuels to clean sustainable electric energy generation from wind turbines and solar. We will transition from a few large power plants to a much more diffuse collections of wind farms, solar farms, and even more dispersed home solar photovoltaic arrays, all connect to a robustly interconnected transcontinental grid.

The technology exists and is operating on a small scale now but to bring in the future much will need to be done to strengthen, expand, and interconnect our electrical infrastructure. There are several drivers for the technological revolution. Fossil fuels are in limited supply, global warming is real, and large power plants are ideal targets for terrorism, an unfortunate reality in today’s world.

Fossil fuels are in limited supply so we continue to form alliances with despotic regimes and fight wars for access to oil. Even with the advent of new drilling technologies such as hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, we still need to import well over half of the crude oil we use in this country. Coal may be abundant here but it’s extraction and utilization has many negative consequences. The new energy economy can end this vicious entanglement, and produce energy in ways that are much, much cleaner.

Global warming is real and a real threat to all life on the planet. Not only is it getting hotter, but it is getting hotter faster. Although the global climate has changes over geologic time, we are driving changes to the climate at rates that in the past have lead to severe die-offs. Although we may survive without reversing global warming, it will be in a world with drastically reduced biological diversity. Producing our energy cleanly and renewably is the only realistic approach to reversing the dangers inherent in global warming.

Global economic inequity breeds despair, anger and, rightly or wrongly, attempts at retribution against the “haves” by the “have-nots.” Terrorism is a reality around the world, not just the near east and north Africa, but everywhere. An attack on a single large power plant could not only darken the the night, but threaten the well being and lives of hundreds of thousands of people in a single stroke. Widely distributed energy resources such as wind and solar coupled with a robust and redundant grid make that kind of threat essentially nonexistent.

The development of the new energy economy will not come with out costs, but the benefits of a sustainable energy future , and more stable ecological and political climate will far out way those costs. The process of developing, constructing, and maintaining the new energy infrastructure will provide jobs. The future energy economy will require a degree of technical expertise that generates well paying jobs the continue into the future and can’t be exported.

The upward arc of civilization is marked by our level of cooperation. The more we work together and the more of us that work together the more likely will be a bright, clean, and stable future.

near a wind farm in western Oklahoma

Anatomy of a Scam

In 2008 reports of a new style of wind turbine for producing electricity began showing up on “techie” web sites. The turbine was touted as a small powerful shrouded turbine which would produce energy in low winds and because of the shrouded design much less likely to be dangerous to birds and bats. On a website in 2008 Phillip Ridings claimed that his turbine design, patent-pending, was so efficient that it produced more energy than simple physical principles would allow. His turbine is called the dragonfly-turbine.

When asked about the violation of the physical law known as Betz limit, Mr Ridings replied “I did read “Betz Law” and it does not affect it because of Dragonfly’s unique design. If you want to apply Betz Law then its about to be broken.. just like the sound barrier!“

In 2010 Mr Ridings was interviewed on another website and claimed that his as yet unbuilt turbine would produce 2.4 to 4 times as much energy as a conventional turbine (or was 60% more efficient depending on which part of the interview one was reading.)

Although as of this writing there is still no real turbine, Mr Ridings claimed to have orders for turbines and was establishing a network of dealerships. None have been built, much less tested, other than via computer modeling.

Dragonfly Industries International was founded in Texas with Phillip Ridings as the managing member of the limited liability corporation in September 2014. The company is seeking or has purchased a 311 acre parcel of land in Northwest Arkansas to develop a wind farm. They claim to have a 1 megawatt (MW) shrouded turbine design ready to be built. The plan is to deploy 80 of these turbines on only a small portion, 80 acres, of the site, hence an 80 megawatt wind farm.

This is physically impossible. On a land use basis alone the farm is highly unlikely. Wind farms require a lot of space because turbines create wind shadows and turbulence. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a division of the Energy Department, reviewed the data for wind sites around the country, mainly in the midwest where winds are strong and found that the average area needed per megawatt of energy captured was 85 acres. That’s 85 acres per MW. Dragonfly claims to need only 1/85th as much land to produce the same amount of power, 1 acre per MW.

The proposed 20 foot diameter turbine is claimed to be able to produce 1 MW of power from a 17 mph wind. It is unlikely that there is a consistent 17 mph wind in Northwest Arkansas, but regardless, a turbine of this size cannot produce that much power. The maximum amount of power in wind can be calculated if you know the swept area of the turbine and the wind speed. For the claimed turbine the maximum power available is slightly less than 8 kW. But due to Betz limit it is about 5 kW and for a turbine of this size considering mechanical inefficiencies about 3 kW is realistic estimate. Not 1000 kW.

A simple analogy is instructive. Take an orange and squeeze the juice out. You could get about 2 to 3 ounces. If however you were as good at squeezing as this turbine is at producing power, you could get 2 to 3 gallons! If it sounds too good to be true…

wind-farm

Opposition to Transmission Line

Pope County Quorum Court opposes clean air, stable climate!

Recently the quorum court voted unanimously to oppose the construction of Plains and Clean Line’s High Voltage Direct Current transmission line. The HVDC line has been proposed to run from Guymon, Oklahoma to Memphis, Tennessee. If built it will move 3,500 MegaWatts of wind generated electricity from the Midwest to Arkansas and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) power grids.

The resolution reads in part “If this power line is built, it will be an enduring eyesore to Arkansas and Pope County, affecting the natural beauty of this area and damaging property values with little positive effect…”

This proposed transmission line is an eyesore compared to what? The welter of transmission lines emanating from Arkansas Nuclear One? Or would it be an eyesore compared to the transmission lines coming from the powerhouse at the Lake Dardanelle Dam. Maybe it is an eyesore compared to the transmission line running from the half a dozen or so other power plants in Arkansas.

Power lines, be they large transmission lines or the smaller distribution lines are a fact of life. Literally hundreds of miles of transmission and distributions lines, owned by both private (Entergy) and co-op (Arkansas Valley Electric) corporations, criss-cross the county already.

It has been suggested that we could free ourselves of these and future electric grid improvement “eyesores” by the utilization of underground cables. That is certainly an option, but a very expensive one. Installation costs for underground transmission lines can be 8 to 10 times that of overhead lines. Although buried cables are less likely to fail due to weather events for example, when they do fail repair times are greatly extended. Repairing or replacing buried cables can require days or weeks rather than hours.

Another option would be distributed electrical energy sources such as roof-top solar PV to avoid the need for large transmission lines but even here there is a need for a wide area distribution grid. Roof-top solar is also much more expensive than utility scale wind power. Many states including Arkansas, are enacting legislation to make roof top solar even more expensive.

Another point in the quorum court resolution is that the line will provide “little positive benefit.” People that appreciate clean air and a more stable climate might quibble with the little part of the resolution. The proposed line will carry the power equivalent of five or six coal fired boilers. That could mean millions of tons of coal not burned every year. Just for perspective, those interminably long coal trains that snarl traffic as they pass through Russellville carry tens of thousands of tons of coal every day from Wyoming strip mines to one power plant in Redfield Arkansas.

The real irony of the quorum court vote is the simple fact that each and everyone of the JPs gets electricity to his or her home via the grid. That means many folks “upstream” have to suffer eyesores and devaluation of their property to keep the lights and big screen TVs powered up in the JPs’ homes. A similar resolution was passed by the Johnson County Quorum Court. Hypocrisy much?

Biofuel is Inefficient

The United States attained the position of a superpower to a very large degree by our ability to utilize fossil fuels. Our way of life requires burning massive amounts of those fossil fuels. The wastes released by burning these fuels is leading to global warming and ocean acidification. If we want to preserve any semblance of a natural environment on this planet we must stop.

To maintain our lifestyle we have to adopt energy production systems that are free from carbon pollution and have long term sustainability. Direct solar, wind, and biofuels derived from crops are three strategies being exploited on a small scale already.

These three energy sources all derive from the sun but are they of equal efficiency? The short answer is NO, in capital letters. Not only are biofuels very inefficient in terms of land use, but also compete with food crops for acreage, fertilizer, and water.

Although the direct tax credits for biofuels like Ethanol and Biodiesel have been discontinued, we continue to subsidize these energy sources by crop price supports and mandates for biofuel use. This is certainly good for agribusiness, but is it good for society?

Consider the productivity of Ethanol from corn. In the United States, we use about half the corn we grow for ethanol production, roughly 50 million acres per year. For this we get 3 billion gallons of gasoline equivalent from ethanol. The problem is that we use over 130 billion gallons of gasoline a year. If we put every arable acre of land in the country in corn (580 million acres), we still would only be able to produce less than half of the fuel we need.

And we would have nothing to eat! The problem with biofuel is that photosynthetic efficiency is very low. That’s why it took hundreds of millions of years to accumulate the fossil fuels were are now consuming.

Of course, there are alternatives to biofuel.

wind turbines

wind turbines

If that same land area is used for wind turbines, solar thermal or photovoltaic applications, much more energy can be harvested. The 60 gallons gasoline equivalent per acre from corn ethanol represents less than 2000 kilowatt-hours per acre per year. Dedicate that same land mass to wind turbines with “good” winds and you get 130,000 kilowatt-hours per acre per year. And the land beneath the wind farm is still available for crops or pasture.

Photovoltaic systems are even more productive.rooftop_PV Virtually anywhere in the US, 800,000 kilowatt-hours per acre per year is attainable with current technology, That is 400 times as efficient as corn ethanol. We don’t need cropland, we can do it on our roofs. We get to eat.

In summary, photosynthesis is a very poor choice when it comes to energy production because it is so inefficient and it competes with food crops for land and water. Solar energy production methods such as photovoltaics and wind with current technology can sustainably power our future, now.