Energy

Happy Windsday

By Ryan McGreal
Published April 30, 2008

About a year and a half ago, Raise the Hammer wrote about a planned project to construct giant floating wind turbines offshore that can be towed into place to take advantage of the sustained winds that blow at sea.

Now Norway is, er, taking the plunge to build a similar wind farm there, leveraging the offshore skills of the oil industry on more sustainable energy production.

Not only do offshore turbines benefit from stronger, steadier winds, but also they can dispense with aesthetics and noise reduction, two issues that drive up the cost of turbines that operate close to human habitation.

In nearby Denmark, which was early getting into the wind business and produces 20 percent of its electricity from offshore turbines (mounted into the seabed, not floating), an interesting problem has arisen:

On windy days, the turbines generate so much surplus power that the price per kilowatt hour drops to zero. Dong Energy, the Danish utility company, is partnering with an American firm to take the excess power on heavy wind days to charge electric cars.

Another strategy they're following is to retrofit fossil fuel power plants to be more flexible in response to varying wind conditions.

"It's an increasingly difficult challenge for us," said Dong CEO Anders Eldrup. "We have to make our traditional fossil-fuel plants more flexible. That way we can turn power plants down, or even off, when the wind is blowing."

Farther south, Spain recently made headlines by producing 40.8 percent of its electricity from wind, or nearly 10,000 megawatts of power.

Last year Spain actually broke the 10,000 megawatt mark, but that record was a smaller percentage of the total.

Meanwhile, stateside, the forward-looking Rock Port, MO. produces all of its electricity from wind turbines.

The turbines actually produce more power than the city of 1,300 needs, generating revenue for the city's tax base.

Farther southwest, Texas oil billionaire T. Boone Pickens is putting his money where his mouth is, pulling together a $10 billion plan to build a giant wind farm.

Pickens makes it clear that while he likes the environmental benefits of wind power, he's in this to make money. He made news a few years ago when he stated flatly that global oil production is going into decline.

All of the recent growth in demand for wind power have produced some growing pains in the industry:

Want some turbines to build a wind power park? Get in line.

High demand - coupled with the engineering challenges of building turbines that can extract hundreds of kilowatts or megawatts of power from the wind - has created a shortage. Wind park developers, thus, are being forced to jostle their plans and supply line relationships to keep projects on track.

If you order now, you might not get turbines until late 2009 or later.

Ah, the burden of success.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted May 01, 2008 at 15:53:25

Discovery Channel has a special on the construction of the wind turbines and how they generate electricity. Very cool...

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