Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Biodiesel Stalls Bus

Cold weather is the bane of alternative energy. Wind turbine blades ice up, solar panels get covered with snow, and biodiesel congeals.

In January 2007, a bus stalled in the middle of the night on Interstate 70 in the Colorado mountains. The culprit was a 20 percent biodiesel blend that congealed in the freezing weather, according to John Jones, the transit director for the bus line, Summit Stage. (Biodiesel is a diesel substitute, typically made from vegetable oil, that is used to displace some fossil fuels.)

The passengers got out of that situation intact, but Summit Stage, which serves ski resorts, now avoids biodiesel from November to March, and uses only a 5 percent blend in the summertime, when it can still get cold in the mountains. “We can’t have people sitting on buses freezing to death while we get out there trying to get them restarted,” Mr. Jones said.

Winter may pose even bigger safety hazards in the vicinity of wind turbines. Some observers say the machines can hurl chunks of ice as they rotate.

“It’s like you throw a plate out there and that plate breaks,” said Ralph Brokaw, a cattle rancher in southeast Wyoming who has 69 wind turbines on his property. When his turbines ice up, he stays out of the way.

The wind industry admits that turbines can drop ice, like a lamppost or any tall structure. To ameliorate the hazard, some turbines are painted black to absorb sunlight and melt the ice faster. But Ron Stimmel, an expert on small wind turbines at the American Wind Energy Association, denies that the whirling blades tend to hurl icy javelins.
Which would tend to indicate that at this stage of alternative energy development that cold weather is a hazard to energy production. Not to mention life and limb.

This could be a difficult problem especially for wind which produces its highest output in winter when the winds are the strongest.
...as renewable energy becomes a bigger part of the nation’s power mix, the seasonable variability could become more of a problem. Already, power developers are learning that they must make careful plans to avoid the worst impacts of ice and snow.

Trey Taylor, the president of Verdant Power, which has put small turbines in the tidal East River in New York City and plans more for the St. Lawrence River in Canada, said that ice chunks could slide over one another “like a deck of cards,” pushing ice below and harming turbines. That may rule out parts of otherwise promising sites like the Yukon River in Alaska, he said.

Kevin Devlin, the vice president for operations of Iberdrola Renewables, a wind developer, said that winter was probably the hardest time of year to maintain turbines, because workers must go out in snow and ice. Occasionally, he said, the turbines will shut down or set off alarms if it is too cold, and workers must brave the elements to fix them.

For homeowners, the upkeep of their power sources can also be a bother.

Mr. Stankevitz keeps his panels tilted 40 degrees or higher, but they still become covered with snow — and experts say that if even one cell in a panel is covered, the panel will not produce power.
With alternative energy only at about 1% of grid power the variability of the sources with the weather is not a big consideration. However, as the proportion rises the difficulties in maintaining the flow of electricity in all weather conditions will get more serious.

No doubt solutions will be found over time. However, forcing the introductions of these technologies before the problems are solved is a waste of resources. And you know what wasting resources does, don't you? It causes pollution.

H/T My Climate Buzz

6 comments:

LarryD said...

"...highest output in winter when the winds are the strongest..."

But if the wind is too strong, the wind turbines have to feather the blades, and they don't produce power either. A lot of people don't realize that wind turbines only work in a range of wind velocities, either too low or too high, and you get no power.

rumcrook said...

carol browner the new global warming czar is an outright socialist who is a socialist international member. and this committed socialist has a cabinet level position.

David said...

"experts say that if even one cell in a panel is covered, the panel will not produce power"...why is that? Are all cells in the panel in series/

M. Simon said...

David,

Yes.

PS said...

Blade feathering and winds too strong for generation are factored into output forecasts. Winds that exceed turbine capabilities are rare and not a significant loss of power.

If we waited until every possible kink was worked out of new technology, it would never develop. That would be a true waste of our resources and those of future generations. It would be incredibly short sited to never develop anything until the technology is perfect.

M. Simon said...

If we waited until every possible kink was worked out of new technology, it would never develop. That would be a true waste of our resources and those of future generations.

And going too fast is a waste of resources too.

The idea of making alternative energy 10% of the mix by 2020 is nuts. A better goal is 2%. That along with gradually reduced subsidies will bring us down the cost curve faster. Once the cost is below the cost of other methods of electrical generation the economy will get a boost from deployment instead of the losses that are now generated.

Some losses have to be accepted - R&D. However, they should be modest.