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.)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.
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.
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.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.
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.
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