Friday, March 13, 2009

Something To Study

This is an update on my previous post Superconductor Generators For Wind where I stated that American Superconductors were working on superconducting generators for wind. That turned out to be incorrect.

It turns out that the DOE is now sponsoring a program to develop superconducting generators for wind and American Superconductor Corp. is in the thick of it.

American Superconductor Corp., Devens, Mass., recently announced that it has entered into a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and its National Wind Technology Center (NWTC) to validate the economics of a full 10MW-class superconductor wind turbine. Under the 12-month program, AMSC Windtec, Klagenfurt, Austria, a wholly owned subsidiary of AMSC, will analyze the cost of a full 10MW-class superconductor wind turbine, which will include a direct drive superconductor generator and all other components, including the blades, hub, power electronics, nacelle, tower, and controls.

The NWTC will then benchmark and evaluate the wind turbine’s economic impact, both in terms of its initial cost and its overall cost of energy.
OK. It is just a study. But it is a start.

Why is this important? A couple of reasons. First off is that the superconducting generators proposed will eliminate one of the high cost and high weight items in a wind turbine generator set. The gear box. It should also lower the weight of the generator as this article on superconducting motors shows a weight reduction of 50% for a 36 MW motor is possible.

And the weight reductions have multiple benefits. It lowers the weight of the generator support structure at the top of the tower and also lowers the weight of the supporting tower. There are big cost savings possible if American Superconductor can turn the study into an actual generator.

Ten megawatts is probably above the size where wind power costs less than coal fired electrical power. If only the mopes in Congress had been putting more into research we might not be spending a fortune on wind generators that produce electricity (unsubsidized) at a cost of 2X of coal fired electricity. Better late than never.

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