Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Wind turbines get better

Siemens has just installed a wind turbine with a 154-meter rotor. This is an exciting development because the higher you go, the harder and steadier the wind blows. A report by the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (h/t The Economist) recently looked at the new generation of giant turbines in terms of the areas they open up for productive wind farms:

They made this calculation by assuming a need for a gross capacity factor of 30%. The larger turbines achieve that over a much larger area than those in common use today.

I'd be interested as to the average capacity factor of these larger turbines in areas with optimal wind conditions. Danish offshore wind farms average a capacity factor of about 40%, compared to a US average (consisting overwhelmingly of onshore turbines) of 29%. However, the wind behaves differently over oceans as opposed to on land. It's probably reasonable, as a back-on-the-envelope calculation, to suppose that onshore installations the size of offshore turbines would achieve a capacity factor that would be intermediate between the two.

Improvements in photovoltaic cells get a lot of press these days, but it is worth noting that wind energy is not a stable technology either. It is rapidly getting cheaper and more productive. Now if we as a country would invest in a grid that can ship power cross-country and manage demand with dynamic pricing, you could really see renewable energy explode.

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