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Saturday, March 10, 2018

WIND ENERGY: A Success Story

Every time I get depressed that everything I've proposed is yet to come, I turn to wind energy.  I initiated this effort in Hawaii soon after the first energy crisis in 1973, chaired the Wind Energy Division of the American Solar Energy Society in the mid-70's and went on to help pass the historic wind energy bill in 1980 when I worked in the U.S. Senate.  It is with considerable pride, then, that I can declare wind energy as a success story.

How is Hawaii doing?  Winds generate almost 7% of electricity consumed, higher than the world average.  However, there has been a pervading community backlash, and several major wind farm projects were cancelled.  There is no ongoing major windpower construction activity today.  Future developers need to re-gain the confidence of the local people.  What went wrong?  Same as geothermal energy.  Not in my backyard has become the standard attitude.  How can you get otherwise sensible citizens to recognize the value of cheaper and cleaner sustainable options, rather than more fossil fuel electricity?  You can almost predict major anguish from whale lovers if any floating wind farm is ever attempted in Hawaii.

Denmark has seen spectacular success, for last year their winds provided 43.6% of all electricity consumption:


The latest statistics seem like a giant waffle, but, pulling together sources (worldwide):
  • more than a million jobs
  • 104,934 wind turbines
  • 539,291 MW (about  the equivalent of 500 nuclear powerplants)
  • 42.8%:  China's share of global wind installations
  • more than 3.7%:  percentage of global electricity generated (that figure was for 2015)
  • $10,000:  amount a farmer in Iowa can earn from 1/10 hectare (2.5 acres), versus $300 to grow corn for ethanol--and there is no reason why they can't do both
  • 29 countries have at least 1000 MW of installed wind power
According to Investopedia, the top three wind stocks as of February 2018 are General Electric (GE), Vestas Wind Systems (VWDRY) and Pattern Energy Group (PEGI):  
It was only a month ago that I reviewed the State of Renewable Electricity.  I finished with a table comparing all the electrical production methods--and this includes natural gas, any solar, nuclear, coal--showing geothermal and wind energy as the lowest cost generation sources today.


Click on the indicated link to understand what those bars mean.  If you can't quite read the details, just click on that graphic.  Note that those solar photovoltaic panels homeowners have installed come in at twice the cost of electricity from windfarms.  Regarding that horizontal axis, divide by 10 to convert to cents/kWh.  These numbers represent anticipated costs and expected environmental actions.

Geothermal energy is especially valuable because it is baseload.  The sun and winds come and go.  Doubly comforting to know that my energy responsibility before windpower was the Hawaii Geothermal Project (above photo) in the early 1970's, where I was the reservoir engineer.  Yes, there also is no relationship between this field and biochemical engineering, but that, too, has been the story of my life. This is about the only sustainable energy project I participated in where success was found on our first attempt.  Puna Geothermal Venture now produces 38 MW and has permits to expand to 60 MW.

So like those solar photovoltaic systems now found on residential roofs, why not install your own wind generator?  After all, isn't wind energy much cheaper than solar? Don't, the odds are overwhelming that the winds where you live aren't good enough.  That article says that the Department of Energy recommends a minimum average wind speed of 10 MPH.  Nope, most wind farms don't do well if the wind speed averages below 14 MPH.  The key to this technology is that power increases with the cube of the velocity.  Thus, a 14 MPH site would produce 2.7 times more energy than a 10 MPH location.  A 20 MPH farm, compared to 10 MPH, would generate 8 times more (2x2x2).  Plus, some consider these turbines to be noisy and maybe even dangerous.  

I've always thought that floating wind farms between the islands were ideal for Hawaii, as the best wind regimes are located there.  Those darker gold to maroon areas mean an average wind velocity of more than 19 MPH!  Further, there is less turbulence than in mountainous sites.  What happens is that, for Alenuihaha Channel, the trade winds are amplified because of the presence of volcanoes Haleakala and Mauna Kea.

Ideally, these farms would not be moored so that the system can move in a controlled gyre, returning to the original site over time.  Hydrogen can someday be produced using bladders in the ocean for storage.  The first floating (moored) wind farm is now producing 30 MW off the coast of Scotland, so the early effort has begun.

I will someday soon speculate on the future of wind energy, which could feature vertical axis blades, bladeless vortex machines, wind kites and dirigibles:


Forty-four years ago I sat back after a meeting chaired by Dean of Engineering John Shupe at the University of Hawaii and reflected on my next challenge.  This gathering was in response to a command by Governor George Ariyoshi for the university to do something about the energy crisis.  Of the ten invited faculty members I had the least seniority, so was the final one to select a topic, and only wind energy was left.  Now what could a biochemical engineer with no experience in this field do to develop this field in Hawaii?  

If I was able to get into Stanford, surely, this should have been a slam dunk.  Expectedly, the early days were difficult, but, to my surprise, in fact, shock, the field not only prevailed, but did spectacularly well.  During that period I also co-authored a book, Solar/Wind Handbook for Hawaii.

This publication impressed the office of U.S. Senator Spark Matsunaga, so off I went to Washington, DC in 1979.  (Sorry, but this is the only photo I have showing both Sparky and meThat person in the middle was the Sergeant at Arms.)  As in life, one thing leads to another, and my three year assignment in the U.S. Senate might well have changed the course of history.

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