Archive for Friday, June 19, 2009

Trying to catch the wind

State poised to capitalize on renewable energy

June 19, 2009

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In the wheatfields of north-central Kansas stand what officials as high up as the governor are hoping will be the state’s next great crop: wind turbines.

Poised as the third best state in the country for wind power and on the cusp of a renewable energy revolution, Kansas has the potential to be at the epicenter of the wind industry, state leaders say.

Along with the millions of dollars the wind industry could bring through construction and leasing arrangements, it could also attract manufacturers to the heart of the country’s wind belt.

“This is the best news that rural Kansas has had in a long time,” House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, said.

But to capitalize on its wind potential, the state — along with the rest of the country — will have to find ways to move power from thinly populated areas blessed with a steady supply of wind to urban centers and beyond. That task will require the building of hundreds of miles of high-voltage electrical lines — a billion-dollar or more feat.

Already transmission lines are tapped out in the western part of the state, said state Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence.

“There are times during the year when there is so much congestion, so much power trying to get through the transmission lines, that the wind turbines are turned off,” Sloan said. “There is just no room to get the electrons through.”

Progress on wind

The past two years have been historic for wind energy in Kansas. During that time, four wind farms have been built, boosting the state’s wind power from 362 megawatts to more than 1,000 megawatts.

In May, Gov. Mark Parkinson’s agreement to allow a coal-fired power plant in southwest Kansas came with a mandate to have 20 percent of the state’s electricity come from renewable energy sources by 2020.

With the coal-fired power plant, Sunflower Electric Power Corp. would build two transmission lines, each carrying up to 1,000 megawatts of electricity to Colorado.

Another agreement was reached a few weeks later. A settlement had been reached between utility companies allowing for a high-voltage transmission line to run through Kansas from Nebraska to Oklahoma.

All of those transmission lines, which are about four years away, will open the state up to move more wind energy.

“By 2013, we will really have the potential to address this nation’s energy needs,” Sloan said.

A wind exporter

A few years ago, it wasn’t even clear whether the state’s own utilities would be able to tap into Kansas’ wind resource, Parkinson said.

“The first sort of real wind question was, ‘Will Kansas get its act together to use wind for its own companies?’ And we have definitely answered that question in the affirmative,” Parkinson said.

“The second question — and the answer to the second question is still up in the air — is whether we will now use this wind resource to provide electricity to other states and utility companies outside the state of Kansas.”

It’s a role that could be similar to the one Kansas plays in supplying wheat to the country’s bread industry, Sloan said.

Wind farms aren’t the only draw. State leaders are hoping to attract wind manufacturing, capitalizing on its central location in the wind belt and access to major interstate highways.

So far, Kansas has lagged behind the less windy states of Colorado and Iowa in winning over wind-related businesses. Those states have progressive renewable energy policies and incentives in place.

However, this spring the German-owned Siemens company announced plans to locate a wind turbine plant in Hutchinson, bringing with it 400 jobs.

“I really believe that, if the right decisions are made, Kansas can be the renewable energy capital of the world in the same way that we are the air capital of the world,” Parkinson said. “I say that not just out of hope, but because of reasons you can objectively look at it.”

The quest to bring both wind farms and manufacturers to Kansas would be bolstered if federal legislation is passed to require states to have a percentage of electricity come from renewable energy, said Christine Real de Azua, a spokeswoman for the American Wind Energy Association.

Neighboring states with less wind power can meet their renewable energy standards by buying power from Kansas wind farms. And, a growing demand for wind would mean more businesses looking to locate within the United States.

After a bumper crop of wind farms in the country last year, construction slowed down with the economy. A national renewable energy standard would help return the wind industry to where it was in 2008.

“In a time like this, we are circling back to policy,” Real de Azua said. “Policy is what is going to help drive the market.”

Wind’s limitations

Of course, wind is only a piece of the energy pie. Studies suggest that wind energy should provide no greater than 20 to 30 percent of the energy supply.

Because wind is an intermittent resource, other energy facilities such as natural gas, nuclear and coal plants have to be built to cover all of the energy needs for the times when the wind stops blowing.

Technology is being developed that would help store some of the wind’s excess energy, but it’s years away, said Greg Greenwood, who is vice president of generation and construction for Westar Energy.

And, until higher powered transmission lines are in place, there will be a lull in wind energy projects, Parkinson said.

He predicts another 1,000 megawatts more of wind power could be built before new lines are needed.

While the best wind dynamics are in the western part of the state, the eastern half is home to most of the high-voltage transmission lines and population.

For companies like Westar, which is looking to add another 500 megawatts of wind power to the already 300 megawatts it brought on last year, transmission line capacity is a concern.

“It’s an issue that we think a lot about today,” Greenwood said.

In the long run, wind isn’t more expensive than coal and is cheaper than natural gas, Greenwood said. But, there is a price tag to not being able to generate electricity on demand.

“Wind can be a piece of the answer, but it is going to take all types of generation to meet customers’ needs in the future,” Greenwood said.

Comments

compmd 5 years, 11 months ago

"During that time, four wind farms have been built, boosting the state’s wind power from 362 megawatts to more than 1,000 megawatts."

If I understand what they are saying here, then we're well on our way to generating 1210 megawatts from wind, allowing the great state of Kansas to make a DeLorean travel through time using renewable energy.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 11 months ago

"Because wind is an intermittent resource, other energy facilities such as natural gas, nuclear and coal plants have to be built to cover all of the energy needs for the times when the wind stops blowing."

Only in the short term. 20 years from now, no more than 20% of total generation should come from natural gas, nuclear and coal, combined, and continuing to decline from there.

mdfraz 5 years, 11 months ago

So are you trying to say, bozo, that in 20 years the wind WON'T be intermittent? I think that's the point of the limited capability of wind. I'm all for it too, but unless you want to stand out there and blow really hard on calm days, wind power will always be limited. Or is there another energy source you are thinking of?

devobrun 5 years, 11 months ago

“In a time like this, we are circling back to policy,” Real de Azua said. “Policy is what is going to help drive the market.”

If the technology is competitive in monetary and energy production terms, manufacturers would not need "policy" to justify the development of wind energy. Current technology is not cost or energy efficient and the manufacturers know this. Thus, they must redouble efforts to subsidize their projects. This is difficult in uncertain economic times, so they are backing off of current implementation of wind turbines.

Bozo: "20 years from now, no more than 20% of total generation should come from natural gas, nuclear and coal, combined, and continuing to decline from there."

Given that wind and solar are intermittent, what will change in 20 years to make up for the unreliable energy sources? As an engineer, I look at thermal and chemical storage possibilities, and don't see a viable storage method. How will the energy be stored, Bozo?

Wind and sun are variable. Denmark has been using about 20% wind for years now, and they must buy a lot of nuclear electricity from France to buffer their turbine generators. Many in Denmark are saying that 20% wind is too much and the electrical system is having problems. Spain is backing off of their wind turbine plans.

I think the current lull in new wind production systems is going to last for a while. Maybe Bozo has an energy storage technology that is viable that I don't know about. Otherwise, wind electricity in Kansas will top out at no more than 15%.

TopJayhawk 5 years, 11 months ago

I'm not an engieer. I don't know anything about this really. Can't you use the electricity from wind and solar to crack water for hydrogen? Then store the hygrogen to run generators?
I'd like it if someone knows about this to comment. Bozo? Any ideas?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 11 months ago

There will continue to be energy storage methods created for wind, solar and other forms of renewable generation.

However, the single biggest component of reducing or eliminating the use dangerous, polluting, non-renewable sources such as natural gas, coal and nuclear will be reductions in our baseline needs for electricity.

TopJayhawk 5 years, 11 months ago

Good question Reticent. What would happen if you just release it. I dunno. When you burn it, wouldn't it return to water? Isn't the atmosphere large enough to even things out until it is returned to water? Both cracking and burning would be going on at the same time. I mean, I really don't know. Is that the big hang up with it? Where does the O2 come from when burnt hydrogen turns to water? I confess I did not pay attention in chemistry, my bad. Give me a lesson on this.

jeremyhay 5 years, 11 months ago

Devobrun says:- "As an engineer, I look at thermal and chemical storage possibilities, and don't see a viable storage method. How will the energy be stored, Bozo?"

Dear Devobrun, Here in Europe we store energy in Hydroelectric schemes (as I am sure you do in the US - TVA etc.) and pumped storage - at least three in the UK and at least one here in Hamburg, North Germany (despite being so flat). You also make the mistake of assuming when there is no wind in one location then this is true of other locations - usually false. Off-shore wind is only just starting to be exploited in Germany and Denmark - and this is proven to be highly efficient. Incidentally, it's news to me, as a power industry buff in northern Germany, that the Danes have problems - in any case little French nuclear power flows this way - why should it with abundant Norwegian Hydro power available? Even as a humble electricity consumer in Hamburg I tap into this (sometimes) as my power comes from Flensburg (German border with Denmark). (My contract is with the Flensburg municipality). Incidentally if you are really are an engineer in this area should you not be promoting high voltage DC transmission lines? Very low loss and an ideal way of transferring - e.g. solar generated power from the Sahara to Europe. Not a pipe-dream - Siemens etc. are getting deep into this.

compmd 5 years, 11 months ago

TopJayhawk,

There are several problems with electrolysis of water. 1) It is horrendously inefficient. Since you are already generating electricity from wind and solar, you are wasting a huge amount of energy to perform a chemical reaction on water. 2) Storing hydrogen is expensive, difficult, and not without risk. 3) Increased system complexity. If I have a solar and wind system of complexity A+B and I get energy E from it, then by adding additional generators as you suggest yields a system of complexity A+B+C producing energy e<E. So you spend more, have more maintenance cost, more risk of failure, all for less output.

Bottom line is that conservation of energy wins here. You can't get any more out of the wind and solar system than what goes into it.

For storing power however, there is a lot of work being done with ultracapacitors. These devices can store huge amounts of electricity and are quite efficient and relatively easy to work with.

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