Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Another Green Boodoggle

Instapundit links to an article on underwater turbines for electricity generation.

Underwater wind turbines — it's an idea so simple you wish you’d patented it. Actually, they're called tidal turbines, and their rotors are propelled by tidal currents instead of wind. The largest test of this new type of power production is under way in New York City's East River, with six 35-kilowatt turbines scheduled to be installed by mid-March in a channel that's off-limits to large vessels.
Our major rivers all have significant barge traffic. So most of the best sites are off limits to these turbines because generating electricity is not the only use for a river.

Utility scale wind turbines are now being produced in the 3 MW (peak) range. About 100 times more output than these 35KW jobs. Even if you count the fact that winds are not constant, a standard wind turbine will produce about 30 times as much electricity as one of these water jobs.
As the 16-ft.-dia. rotors spin, as close as 6 ft. to the water's surface, they'll provide power to a supermarket and a parking garage. Once the test wraps up in June 2008, Virginia-based Verdant Power hopes to add hundreds more turbines, potentially reaching a total capacity of as much as 10 megawatts — enough to power 4000 homes.
Ten 3 MW wind turbines can provide the same amount of electricity. Probably at a much lower cost with fewer maintenance problems. You don't need a commercial divers license to maintain a wind turbine.
The test should answer real-world questions, such as whether the rotors will become encumbered by barnacles. But with researchers estimating that our rivers and estuaries could provide up to 130,000 gigawatt-hours per year — about half the yearly production of the country's dams — it's only a matter of time before major energy utilities begin testing the waters.
This sounds like a lot of energy. In fact it is about 3% of total US energy production from a system that would be a cost and maintenance nightmare.

The whole idea is a boondoggle.

America is the Saudi Arabia of wind. Wind is now lower cost than natural gas electricity and at the best sites costs the same as a coal fired electrical generator. With costs continuing to decline as wind turbines get larger.

Wind is intermittent you say? That is true. However, the wind is always blowing somewhere. You get enough turbines in an area and the electrical production averages out. In a large enough wind system you can use the wind for base load at 20% of the turbine's rating. Not very good? Actually year around production from a well sited turbine is only 33% of nameplate rating.

This test is a PR gimick.

If we were really serious about getting off fossil fuels and we didn't want the landscape covered with huge moving sculptures we ought to be researching and developing Easy Low Cost No Radiation Fusion.


Susan's Husband said...

Wind power still suffers from the inconstancy problem. Modern electrical distribution grids require very steady power generation, which is something that is very difficult for wind power. That's the primary reason I don't see large scale adoption.

That said, there is some interesting work going on with energy storage systems, which can smooth out wind power on scales long enough to make it a viable contributor.

M. Simon said...

Inconstancy is not a problem until wind reaches 20 to 25% of total grid power.

After that storage is necessary.

BTW we are still in the ramp up phase of wind.