The continuing quest for cleaner power has finally brought humanity to kneel before Mother Nature, pleading for some help. We have damaged her planet so effectively, and now we are asking for her good favor in return. We’ve turned to the sun, the waves and also the wind.
And it is winds that many believe will be our salvation.
A recent study by Cristina Archer and Mark Jacobson, published in the November issue of the American Meteorological Society’s Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology, has presented a new way to use wind power.
One of the criticisms that has been directed at wind farms is the sporadic nature of their energy generation. One farm’s power generation capabilities are entirely dependent upon there being wind, 24/7; obviously, this is unlikely.
However, the study posits that if the wind farms were linked their chances of continual power generation would increase, allowing wind power to be a baseload power generator. Baseload power is the amount of steady and reliable electric power that is constantly being produced, typically by power plants, regardless of electricity demand.
“This study implies that, if interconnected wind is used on a large scale, a third or more of its energy can be used for reliable electric power, and the remaining intermittent portion can be used for transportation, allowing wind to solve energy, climate and air pollution problems simultaneously,” said Archer, the study’s lead author and a consulting assistant professor in Stanford’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and research associate in the Department of Global Ecology at the Carnegie Institution.
There is an analogy that is both unyieldingly cute, as well as perfect in its descriptive abilities.
Consider your power generation needs hinged upon a giant hamster you keep in your backyard. He must run around on his treadmill to provide you with power to watch television, surf the net or reheat leftovers. But the poor guy has to sleep at some point, and eat at others. So when he isn’t running, you don’t have any power.
But consider that you have a bunch of hamsters, each on different sleeping and eating schedules, and each with a treadmill connected to your power generation. Your chances of continual power generation increase with each additional hamster that is added. And because all are linked together, even if one is asleep at the wheel (sorry) then there’s a pretty good chance at least one of the others will still be running.
This analogy is the perfect explanation for how the study views connected wind farms.
“The idea is that, while wind speed could be calm at a given location, it could be gusty at others. By linking these locations together we can smooth out the differences and substantially improve the overall performance,” Archer said.
There is another advantage by linking together wind farms, and that’s the actual transmission of energy. Instead of having multiple wind farms, all providing power long distances, you would have one central point from which the energy is distributed, just like creeks and streams depositing in to one river, instead of all hoping to carve out their bit of countryside to reach the ocean.
Another type of cost saving also results when the power combines to flow in a single transmission line. Explains Archer: Suppose a power company wanted to bring power from several independent farms—each with a maximum capacity of, say, 1,500 kilowatts (kW)—from the Midwest to California. Each farm would need a short transmission line of 1,500 kW brought to a common point in the Midwest. Then a larger transmission line would be needed between the common point and California—typically with a total capacity of 1,500 kW multiplied by the number of independent farms connected.
However, with geographically dispersed farms, it is unlikely that they would simultaneously be experiencing strong enough winds to each produce their 1,500 kW maximum output at the same time. Thus, the capacity of the long-distance transmission line could be reduced significantly with only a small loss in overall delivered power.
“Due to the high cost of long-distance transmission, a 20 percent reduction in transmission capacity with little delivered-power loss would notably reduce the cost of wind energy,” added Archer, who calculated the decrease in delivered power to be only about 1.6 percent.
Archer believes that if countries started implementing such a design, from a master plan, the long term costs would decrease, and it would heighten market penetration. Already the most inexpensive clean and renewable energy source, wind power would eventually have a marked difference on a solution to global warming.
So the only question is, what’s stopping you?
Excerpts courtesy of Stanford University via PhysOrg – Study finds that linked wind farms can result in reliable power