Wind tops 10 percent share of electricity in five US states

Earth Policy News reports that a new picture is emerging in the U.S. energy sector and wind-power is remarkably on the rise.

According to Paul Ray, renowned sociologist and coauthor of The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World, “these growth rates for wind are the kinds of numbers that alternative energy experts, including me, have been waiting to see for decades. This all means that wind and solar can take their place as solutions to the climate crisis. Wind power is now becoming part of the grid. On the other hand, the most dangerous energy source, coal, is in steady decline. (The 36% annual growth rate for wind reflects the very small base of the percent to start with.) Most important is wind’s growing share of net electrical generation in the second graph. The other key benchmark is mentioned at the end: Germany’s leading wind power provinces have wind at 40% of electrical supply–the top US states should be able to equal or exceed that because they are far better wind territory. That shows the size of the potential.”

College Credit: Energy and Climate Change in Montana

Courses are not the same routine classroom experiences you may associate with College.  The Wild Rockies Field Instituteis offering seven courses for college credit this year, including Cycle the Rockies: Energy and Climate Change in Montana course, which runs from May 17 – June 12.

"Students on this course will explore Montana by bicycle while studying the ecological, social, and economic issues associated with energy production and use. We will traverse rolling plains and beautiful mountains, enjoying the changing landscapes and meeting with people deeply involved in energy and climate issues. Traveling by bicycle will give us a unique perspective and an appropriate pace for examining the past, present and future of energy and climate change in the West.
Montana offers prime examples of current energy production facilities, from traditional fossil fuel energy sites to exciting alternative technologies for producing power. Our route begins in eastern Montana at oil refineries and a coal-fired power plant in the industrial core of Billings. Then we will pedal north and west through grasslands and island mountain ranges on the central plains, visiting energy-efficient buildings and production sites for biofuels, and wind, solar, geothermal and hydroelectric power along the way.
After meetings with energy and climate policy experts at the state capitol in Helena, we will turn north along the impressive Rocky Mountain Front to Glacier National Park. We’ll cycle over the Continental Divide, spending time with climate scientists and park managers in Glacier before ending in Whitefish with a public presentation.
Among the things we will do along the way:

  • Visit facilities using or producing biodiesel, wind energy, solar power, geothermal heating, and biofuels.
  • Examine fossil fuel technologies and impacts at coalfields, power plants, and oil refineries.
  • Tour a hydroelectric dam.
  • Visit ranchers, land managers, and farmers who are facing the impacts of climate change along with various opportunities for energy production.
  • Meet local and state officials working on state energy and climate policy.
  • Explore "green" energy-efficient buildings in Billings and Central Montana.
  • Talk with Glacier National Park scientists about the regional impacts of global warming.
  • Read and discuss a wide selection of current articles on energy issues and climate change.
  • Complete academic assignments designed to integrate our experiences and learning.
  • Present experiences and learning in open forums using electronic media and public presentations.
  • Become competent bicycle travelers.

Our choices of energy sources and consumption are some of the most critical decisions we will make as a society over the coming decades. Montana has abundant quantities of coal, natural gas, and other hydrocarbon resources, which have the potential to accelerate global warming if developed. At the same time, Montana, with vast agricultural plains and abundant wind, sun, and geothermal resources, is well positioned to produce clean, renewable energy. At course end, students will be armed with the knowledge and experience needed to play a positive role in shaping our energy system and future climate for the state, and the Rocky Mountain region."

According to Adventure Cycling:

This is an amazing way to both expand your knowledge of energy options and learn or expand your knowledge of self-contained bicycle touring; the instructors and staff on this course are top-of-the-line. This is a truly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. In the immortal words of Levar Burton, you don’t have to take our word for it — check out their great blog, written on the road by participants. Even if you don’t take their course, it makes for some wonderful reading! If you’re interested in finding out more information, it is all available on their website.

Don’t wait! If you or someone you know is looking for a great educational adventure this summer, take advantage of this amazing opportunity which is limited to only 10 spaces. As an added bonus, all of the participants will receive a free one-year membership to Adventure Cycling!

Engineers enlist weather model to optimize offshore wind plan

From Stanford School of Engineering, WEngineering is interested in the application of modeling to modern issues.

Using a sophisticated weather model, environmental engineers at Stanford have defined optimal placement of a grid of four wind farms off the U.S. East Coast. The model successfully balances production at times of peak demand and significantly reduces costly spikes and zero-power events.

By Andrew Myers

Politics aside, most energy experts agree that cheap, clean, renewable wind energy holds great potential to help the world satisfy energy needs while reducing harmful greenhouse gases. Wind farms placed offshore could play a large role in meeting such challenges, and yet no offshore wind farms exist today in the United States.

In a study just published in Geophysical Research Letters, a team of engineers at Stanford has harnessed a sophisticated weather model to recommend optimal placement of four interconnected wind farms off the coast of the Eastern United States, a region that accounts for 34 percent of the nation’s electrical demand and 35 percent of carbon dioxide emissions.

“It is the first time anyone has used high-resolution meteorological data to plan the placement of offshore wind grid,” said senior author Mark Z. Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering. “And this sophistication has provided a deeper level of understanding to the grid plan.”

The team started with 12 randomly selected energetic locations (in magenta) between Long Island, New York and a shallows about a hundred miles to the east of Cape Cod, and narrowed their recommendation to four optimal locations, highlighted in red, with a total capacity of 2000 megawatts. Map: Mike Dvorak, Stanford School of Engineering

Beginning with 12 energetic potential locations, the engineers winnowed down the sites to four optimal sites. Total maximum capacity of the interconnected grid is 2000 megawatts, roughly equivalent to the yearly capacity of one-and-a-half conventional coal-fired power plants. Each farm would have approximately 100 turbines, delivering an individual maximum capacity of 500 megawatts.

“Two thousand megawatts and four farms are somewhat arbitrary figures. The sizes and locations could be adjusted for economic, environmental, and policy considerations,” said Jacobson.

“An offshore grid as an extension of the onshore grid in this region will improve reliability, while reducing congestion and energy price differences between areas,” said Mike Dvorak, the lead author of the study and a recent PhD graduate in civil and environmental engineering at Stanford.

Optimizing the grid

The optimized grid was located in the waters from Long Island, New York to Georges Bank, a shallows about a hundred miles to the east of Cape Cod. The nearshore locations take advantage of consistent sea breezes that occur naturally due to the daily difference in temperature between land and sea. The offshore farms experience stronger, though less regular, frontal storm activity. The four farms would be interconnected to help balance output across the grid.

“Until recently, large scale wind resource assessments have neglected the aspect of time.  We matched peak productivity with peak demand at specific times of day and year,” said Dvorak. “Our analysis matches production to demand.”

Wind farms on land, for instance, tend to see daily peak output at night, when demand is lower. Seasonally speaking, demand usually spikes in the late afternoons of summer when air conditioning needs are high, but this time of year is also known for a dearth of storms and a meteorological phenomenon known as the Bermuda High, a high-pressure center that affects winds along the entire coast.

“In some areas, like Massachusetts, the Bermuda High boosts sea breezes,” said Dvorak. “But south of Long Island, NY, where one offshore grid has been proposed, the Bermuda High has the opposite effect and often hinders sea breezes.”

Wind farmThe nearshore locations take advantage of consistent sea breezes that occur naturally due to the daily difference in temperature between land and sea. Image: Sergiy Serdyuk

Balance of power

Beyond matching production and demand cycles, the researchers had to balance several technical challenges in their models.

“The farms had to be in waters less than 50 meters deep to allow use of bottom-mounted turbines and near urban load centers like Boston and New York,” said Jacobson. “And, we wanted to smooth power output, ease hourly ramp rates and reduce hours of zero power.”

The engineers took a novel approach, choosing to interconnect the offshore farms. Offshore wind farms in other parts of the world today are connected individually to the onshore grids.

“The goal is to even out the peaks and valleys in production,” said Dvorak. “In our model, expensive no-power events — moments when individual winds farms are producing zero electricity — were reduced by more than half from nine percent to four by connecting the farms together.”

In the final analysis, the interconnected grid was able to yield a year-long capacity factor of over 48 percent, meaning that the grid could reliably produce close to 1000 megawatts on average over the course of a year.

“Generally, with wind farms, anything over 35 percent average capacity is considered excellent,” said Jacobson.

Location. Location. Location.

Among its findings, the Stanford model recommended a farm in Nantucket Sound, precisely where the controversial Cape Wind farm has been proposed. The Cape Wind site is contentious because, opponents say, the tall turbines would diminish Nantucket’s considerable visual appeal.

By that same token, the meteorological model puts two sites on Georges Bank, a shallows located a hundred miles offshore, far from view in an area once better known for its prodigious quantities of cod. The fourth site is off central Long Island.

The researchers last looked at the economics of installing their offshore grid, which they said would have the advantage of sharing costs across several states, potentially increasing political support for the plan.

“This paper should be seen as a tool for energy planners to better inform their renewable energy decisions across a densely populated area,” said Jacobson. “It is an opportunity to collaborate on a shared system that reduces costs while benefitting a large and important center of electrical demand in the U.S.”

This research was supported by the Charles H. Leavell Graduate Fellowship and the US Environmental Protection Agency and the Otto Mønsted Foundation. The NASA Advanced Supercomputing (NAS) Division and NCAR Computational & Information Systems Laboratory (CISL) provided access to computational resources and global weather datasets, respectively.