Print RSS

Risk is on the Wind

Periodic commentary about the wind energy industry, focusing on news of interest involving wind turbines, wind farms, wind energy projects as well as associated technology and social/political issues. Brought to you by Valentine, your source for superior insurance for wind turbines and wind farms worldwide.

Global Wind Day, June 15, 2011

Viktor Lawryniuk - Thursday, June 09, 2011

It’s less than a week away! Will you be participating? The parachute drops from a wind turbine tower sound fun, but looking at the map I just realized I would need to travel thousands of miles to the nearest event. This is a particularly sad thing considering all of the wind turbines within just hundreds of miles of my Seattle home base.

 Global Wind Day 2011 Events

If you want to find out where and how to participate go ask Elke Zander at the official Global Wind Day site. According to that site:

The European Wind Energy Association - EWEA - and the Global Wind Energy Council - GWEC - coordinate the Global Wind Day through a network of partners. The day started as a European one in 2007 and went Global in 2009. On 15 June, thousands of public events are organised all over the world.

It may be too late to get something going in the Pacific Northwest this year, but if you are interested in helping organize, they have a link for that:

Want to organise an event yourself? It’s easy!

Click here to find out more.

I’ll leave you with some quotes from the EWEA press release:

"With wind, we can achieve a genuine energy revolution, and on 15 June, people on all continents celebrate the promises that wind power holds for our planet", stated GWEC's Chairman Klaus Rave.

"Fukushima, the Arab spring and the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico have created enormous public interest in the future of energy" said EWEA President Arthouros Zervos. "Global Wind Day encourages citizens to find out for themselves how wind can make our energy supply more secure and environmentally friendly".

Have you seen our other blog?

Viktor Lawryniuk - Wednesday, June 01, 2011
We maintain a daily news blog with links to articles on the web that mention wind turbines, wind farms and wind power. You can find it on the Industry News page. Going forward I will be renaming the daily blog posts to make it easier to search. For instance, today's post was named Wind Turbine News for June 1, 2011 instead of Wednesday Wind News Roundup. The previous naming convention ended-up combining all of the Wednesday posts together in the archive and was awkward. In any case, our site search works well enough and you may be surprised by how much you will find because of that blog. You can also subscribe to our blogs using RSS.

While I'm in the mindset for improvements, please feel free to let me know what more you would like to see on this site. Always interested in providing a higher level of service.

P.S. I will be renaming the old blog posts to the new convention bit-by-bit. Hope that helps.

Reinventing Fire

Viktor Lawryniuk - Thursday, April 14, 2011

Another optimistic data point came my way this week when I accepted my friend Chris Rathe’s invitation to go hear Amory Lovins, co-founder, chairman and chief scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute, give his April 11th Reinventing Fire talk at Seattle’s Town Hall. Unlike the paper by Stanford researcher Mark Z. Jacobson and University of California-Davis’ Mark Delucchi I cite in an earlier blog post, Cause for Optimism, which claims the world could be powered entirely by renewable energy in 20-40 years, RMI has set their objective to actually move the U.S. off fossil fuels by 2050 by using whole-system thinking and integrative design and led by business for profit. Listening to Lovins I can absolutely believe it.

If you don’t know who Lovins is, check out his biography under staff on the RMI website. It doesn’t come out and say it but the “genius” is obvious. How many people do you know who became Oxford dons at age 21? Receiving a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” doesn’t hurt one’s reputation either. The proof for me that Lovins is a polymath genius is how he peppers his speech with puns and other humorous touches. One riff that surprised me was his mention of “peak oil,” but not in the way you would expect. Instead, he pointed-out that oil consumption was what had peaked and quoted statistics showing world oil consumption reached an all-time high in 2007 followed by a decline of 0.71% in 2008 and another 1.63% in 2009. I’ll bet 2010 comes in further down or at least even as well.

The two most remarkable points he made is that this all-renewable USA can be achieved using current technology, just as Jacobson and Delucchi posit, and that it would not require any new mandates by the federal government. He deliberately steered clear of ideology even when baited with questions at the end and stuck to his conviction that focusing on outcomes, not motives, is essential. Also important is for all energy sources to compete on a level playing field, on which he believes renewables will win.

The key is to evangelize the possibility so it becomes probable, then irresistible. As stated on the RMI website, “RMI's goal with Reinventing Fire is to change minds and clarify choices by showing what exists, what works, what makes sense and what makes money. We aim to move the conversation from ‘it’s impossible’ and ‘how much will it cost?’ to ‘here’s how’ and ‘how can we invest?’” So here’s Lovins on the road charming them by the hundreds.

The Reinventing Fire initiative goes beyond just renewable energy. Their website puts it so succinctly:

“In the web of interconnections spanning how energy is produced, transported, distributed and used, all the points along the way are fair game for intervention. But decades of research into how energy moves from fossil-fuel sources to uses have revealed key leverage points in four sectors: transportation, buildings, industry and electricity.”

Lovins gave examples of where progress is being made in each sector, from ultra-light carbon fiber autos aerodynamically designed to hug the road even in high crosswinds to buildings intelligently designed to be highly energy efficient. He showed-off his recently-remodeled home in the Rockies (and RMI’s original headquarters) which is a scientific experiment complete with an atrium producing crops of bananas that actually pushes power back to the grid. See this Wall Street Journal article for a more detailed description of “Banana Farm 2.0.”

I am excited about the Reinventing Fire initiative which will be launching fully later this year. I like the idea that it is possible to achieve a non-fossil, non-nuclear future without mandates that always come with unintended consequences. Jevon’s Paradox may surprise us, but I am convinced that by 2050 we are going to be surprised by way more than that.

If you get the chance to catch Lovins on his tour, don’t miss it as his unedited wit is well worth it. If not, here’s a taste from YouTube:

AWEA Releases 2010 Industry Statistics

Viktor Lawryniuk - Friday, April 08, 2011

If you like having the facts at your disposal, it is hard to beat what the American Wind Energy Association provides in their reports:

AWEA Quarterly Market Reports
AWEA U.S. Wind Industry Annual Market Reports
AWEA U.S. State Fact Sheets
AWEA Wind Energy Fact Sheets

I’m sure you are aware of these if you are a member. If you are not a member yet (and why not?) you can purchase reports through the AWEA store.

I was surprised to learn that over the past four years in the United States more power generating capacity was added (35% of the total) from wind than from nuclear and coal combined. Natural gas was in first place. In 2010 5,116 MW of new wind power capacity was added to stand at a total of 40,181 MW at the end of that year.

Adding over 5 GW to get to over 40 GW sounds pretty impressive until you realize China added 19.9 GW in 2010 to make its total capacity 44.7 GW. China now ranks first in the world as the country with the most installed wind energy capacity.

The Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) recently updated these Chinese numbers for 2010 to show that global wind power capacity grew 24% in 2010 reaching a total of 197 GW worldwide. Total worldwide wind power capacity increased by 38.3 GW in 2010, slightly down from 2009’s 38.6 GW.

“China has become the single largest driver for global wind power development. In 2010, every second wind turbine that was added anywhere in the world was installed in China.” said Steve Sawyer, GWEC’s Secretary General.

I didn’t check to see if the oft-quoted “China adds one coal-fired power plant each week” is true, but the magnitude of their growth continues to amaze. I’m hoping to see the Chinese continue their expansion into wind power.

The US appears to be at least maintaining its 2010 pace with 5.6 GW of new wind power capacity under construction inQ1 2011. However, that pace is down from 2009 (10,010 MW), 2008 (8,366 MW) and is about even with 2007’s 5,258 MW added. Hmm, anything happen since 2007 that would slow construction down?

The 40+ GW installed in the US is a small fraction of the total potential capacity, estimated as 10,400 GW onshore and 4,150 GW offshore.

Good News When You Look for It

Viktor Lawryniuk - Tuesday, March 29, 2011

I just read a blog post by AWEA CEO Denise Bode (www.awea.org/blog) and wanted to make sure the facts it outlines are seen as far and wide as possible. Denise makes the case that “wind energy is clean, affordable, homegrown and abundant.” Old news largely except for the affordable part. Did you know that the price of electricity from new wind power plants is competitive with other new power plants? This is based on the 2009 Department of Energy estimate that electricity from new wind plants costs 4-9 cents per kilowatt-hour. I must admit I still thought it was more expensive, didn’t you? And this is a price not subject to geopolitical risk (fuel price spikes) or regulatory risk (largely, except for perhaps future mitigation rules which may drive costs up as more land is required, etc.)

Here are the bullet points from her post I think are worth repeating here and elsewhere:

  • In the past four years, wind turbines accounted for 35% of all new generating capacity installed in the U.S., more than coal and nuclear combined.
  • In 2011, U.S. wind farm plants will produce nearly as much electricity as 10 nuclear power plants.
  • In the past three years, the new wind farm capacity installed is enough to generate as much electricity as five nuclear power plants.
  • To generate as much electricity as U.S. wind turbines will generate this year, more than half a million barrels of oil a day would be required (210 million barrels all told, or nearly 9 billion gallons).
  • To generate as much electricity as U.S. wind turbines will generate this year, a coal train more than 6,000 miles long (more than the distance from Los Angeles to Tokyo) would be required.
  • During the Bush Administration, the U.S. Department of Energy found that wind energy could supply 20% of U.S. electricity (roughly what nuclear supplies today) by 2030. To do that, wind would have to generate as much electricity as 75 nuclear plants.
  • The U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates total U.S. wind resources at 14 MILLION MW--enough to generate roughly 10 times all of the electricity our nation uses.

I believe in Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns and fully expect we ain’t seen nothing yet. New technologies will make wind turbines more efficient, less expensive and available in a myriad of forms and sizes.

Wind Turbines in Japan

Viktor Lawryniuk - Friday, March 25, 2011

I’ve been keeping close watch on the events in Japan following the Great Tohoku Earthquake, probably more so than most due to my daughter Clara’s presence in Japan up until today. I greeted her at SeaTac this morning and feel a bit relieved despite sharing her disappointment that the University of Washington abruptly canceled her program at Keio University along with the rest of their study abroad programs in Japan. Sadhappy is the appropriate word. (I’ll be posting a more detailed account on my personal blog.)

I won’t be going into the pros and cons of nuclear power in this article other than to point out that much of the hysteria is completely ridiculous. I actually had someone tell me that my daughter had to leave Tokyo immediately (this was last week) and that if she ingested even a single atom of plutonium she would die. A quick look at Wikipedia shows that some people in the 1940’s inhaled much more than an atom’s worth and never developed lung cancer. I do find it amazing that, despite the obvious design and siting flaws, reactors that were designed in the 1960’s, built in the 1970’s, which were not expected to survive a once-in-a-millennium 9.0 earthquake and tsunami held up as well as they did. For some generally good information on the ongoing drama at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant I invite you to check-out the Brave new Climate blog.

So how did wind farms in Japan fare during this catastrophe? Very well it seems. As it happens, the Takine Ojiroi Wind Farm is located nearby the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and the turbines there performed as designed, detecting the sway they stopped spinning, electronically checked themselves and automatically restarted.

Quoting from a story on CNN’s website (see our Wind News Roundup blog for that and other news stories): "Except for one turbine that was very close to the nuclear power plant, all the turbines were up and running after the quake," said Sean Sutton of Vestas, the world's largest manufacturer of electricity generating wind turbines.  “And the damaged turbine we were able to monitor remotely," he said.

The Takine turbines continue to generate power for the grid despite being isolated within the nuclear exclusion zone. That’s the good news. The bad news is the familiar story of scale. The 23 turbines at Takine Ojiroi can produce just 46MW, typically enough for just 30,000 households.

In comparison, consider the contribution the six reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant made—4,696MW, or more than enough for over three million households. Small wonder blackouts have been scheduled throughout the Tokyo region and areas north.

According to that CNN story, Japan gets 27% of its power from coal, 26% from gas, 24% from nuclear, 13% from oil, and 8% from hydro. The remaining 2% is occupied by renewables such as geothermal power stations, solar and wind. Not surprisingly, those proportions are due to change and that rate of change likely will accelerate due to the Fukushima Daiichi situation as well as the on-going unrest in the Arab world and its effect on petroleum prices. Perhaps Japan will be able to significantly exceed the projections, previously considered optimistic, that renewable could attain 10% of Japan’s energy mix by 2050.

A continued bull market for wind power is a certainty.

A Bolt out of the Blue

Viktor Lawryniuk - Tuesday, March 08, 2011

I was looking for a topic to write about for this blog and decided to google “wind farm turbine damages” as that would seem to fit with the theme of this website. Go ahead, try it yourself. Are you as surprised as I was to see (as of today, results may vary in the future) that the top three results and seven out of the ten results on the first page to be about the January 5, 2009 incident at Conisholme, Lincolnshire on the east coast of the UK?

According to The WindPower database, the Conisholme Fen wind farm has 20 Enercon E48/800 turbines with a rotor diameter of 48 m rated at a total installed power of 16 MW and an estimated annual production of 40 GW.h with. In brief, one of the turbines at this Ecotricity-owned wind farm was heavily damaged through loss of one blade entirely and with another badly crumpled in what was described as a collision with an unidentified flying object, (see "Breaking News" from the Grimsby Telegraph). And I do mean UFO! In a Mail Online story you can view photographs of unusual lights in the sky taken by an eyewitness and read reports of strange sightings. They also post the theory offered by the UK Ministry of Defence that a test run by an unmanned stealth bomber known as the Taranis was possibly responsible!

As you can imagine, we don’t often get stories remotely as curious as this when dealing with commercial property losses at Valentine Insurance. Lightning strikes are vastly more common. Mechanical failure of one sort or another even more so. And guess what? According to a February 10, 2009 report in This is Grimsby we learn that, “talk of aliens trashing a wind turbine is a load of hot air, an investigation has concluded.

“The owners of the Conisholme wind farm on Fen Farm have ended speculation surrounding the destruction of two of the propeller blades on one of their wind turbines in January – it was caused by a faulty bolt.

“A spokesperson said: “Following several weeks of forensic examination of the turbine’s components the manufacturer, Enercon, has today ruled out “collision” as a possible cause.

“An interim report has concluded that bolts securing the blade to the hub of the turbine failed due to ‘material fatigue’. “Enercon has ruled out bolt defect due to the nature of the failure and the investigation is now looking into ‘supporting components’ – those parts on either side of the bolts. If one of these supporting components failed it would induce stress in the bolts beyond their design limits and cause failure.”

I’m sure that this report is not why this story ranks so high on that Google results page. Perhaps we will see a clip of a UFO clipping a wind turbine someday on the History Channel’s Ancient Aliens show. Hey, even the “Taranis collides with a wind turbine” storyline is more interesting. Yes, bolt defects are truly mundane and that is why we cover that sort of thing. It could happen to you.

Are your bolts sound and tight?

New Design for Micro Wind Turbines?

Viktor Lawryniuk - Thursday, February 03, 2011

Did you even realize people were considering building micro wind turbines? Picture this: a wind turbine with 25-centimeter-long paper blades generating less than 10 watts of energy that could be used to recharge a mobile phone or light LEDs. What’s more is that the design was inspired by dragonfly wings! According to a February 2, 2011 article in New Scientist, “the way a dragonfly remains stable in flight is being mimicked to develop micro wind turbines that can withstand gale-force winds.”

The research was conducted by Akira Obata of Nippon Bunri University in Oita, Japan and focused on the aerodynamic properties of the swirling vortices created by insect’s wings. Obata discovered that his tested models showed smooth flow with little drag at low speeds. He and his colleagues used their insights to develop a micro wind turbine with paper blades that have bumps on their surface similar to what creates the dragonfly vortices. As the tested wind speeds increased (to 145 kilometers per hour!) the blades bent into a cone effectively disengaging the mechanism. Large turbines require either computerized systems or other special designs to cope with high wind speeds which otherwise could damage the generator.

Kudos to Obata and company for the clever implementation! I’m imagining a row of these micro turbines unobtrusively adding to energy independence. For the full article, please go to: http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20927975.000-dragonfly-wings-inspire-micro-wind-turbine-design.html

Cause for Optimism

Viktor Lawryniuk - Thursday, January 27, 2011

Are you as surprised as I am to hear that, as the headline on today’s KurzweilAI.net newsletter proclaimed “the world can be powered by alternative energy, using today’s technology, in 20-40 years”? I certainly expect such a result based on the accelerating trends in technology (as Ray Kurzweil likes to point out with his Law of Accelerating Returns). The breakthroughs in solar power generation efficiency seem to come weekly and I believe we will see the cost of solar power undercut pretty much everything else before the decade is done. Who knows what breakthroughs are gestating today let alone 20 years from now? But based on current technology? Apparently yes.

The KurweilAI.net article cites Stanford researcher Mark Z. Jacobson and University of California-Davis’ Mark Delucchi two-part paper in Energy Policy in which they share their analysis and plan showing the feasibility of converting the entire planet to renewable energy sources, primarily wind and solar. Jacobson is quoted saying “based on our findings, there are no technological or economic barriers to converting the entire world to clean, renewable energy sources. It is a question of whether we have the societal and political will.”

Some highlights I spied:

  • They envision an electric world with 90% of the power coming from wind and solar.
  • The remaining 10% breaks down as 4% geothermal, 4% hydroelectric, 2% wave and tidal.
  • Electrically-produced hydrogen would be used in fuel cells to power vehicles or just straight-up to power commercial processes and aircraft.
  • If not hydrogen-powered, then electricity would drive the remaining vehicles, ships, trains and commercial processes. Homes would be entirely powered by electricity or passive solar.
  • Their plan results in a 30% reduction in world energy demand. Interestingly, Jacobson said “when you actually account for all the costs to society – including medical costs – of the current fuel structure, the costs of our plan are relatively similar to what we have today.”
  • They address base load issues and have a solution, although it depends on additional infrastructure. “With a system that is 100% wind, water and solar, you can’t use normal methods for matching supply and demand. You have to have what people call a supergrid, with long-distance transmission and really good management,” Jacobson said.
  • Imagining a world covered with turbine, power lines and solar panels? They ran the numbers and claim that to power 100% of the world’s power needs, the footprint needed is 1% of the world’s land (0.4% for the actual footprint and 0.6% for the spacing between). Again from Jacobson, “The actual footprint required by wind turbines to power half the world’s energy is less than the area of Manhattan.” If half the wind farms were located offshore, a single Manhattan would suffice.

Never mind Sputnik! We’re talking truly large-scale project development. But feasible.

For more detail, see http://www.kurzweilai.net/the-world-can-be-powered-by-alternative-energy-using-todays-technology-in-20-40-years?

Unintended Consequences Can Be Good Too

Viktor Lawryniuk - Tuesday, December 21, 2010

During a recent scan of Science Daily headlines I saw one that read “Wind Turbines Help Crops by Channelling (sic) Beneficial Breezes Over Nearby Plants” (http://bit.ly/g5pSsM) and thought how perfect! Many farmers are leasing sites for turbines on their land for the cash and now they may receive and added bonus!

Apparently, “the giant turbine blades that generate renewable energy might also help corn and soybean crops stay cooler and dryer, help them fend off fungal infestations and improve their ability to extract growth-enhancing carbon dioxide [CO2] from the air and soil.”

Using lidar, Julie Lundquist, assistant professor, Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, at the University of Colorado at Boulder said, “Our laser instrument could detect a beautiful plume of increased turbulence that persisted even a quarter-mile downwind of a turbine.” 

"The turbulence resulting from wind turbines may speed up natural exchange processes between crop plants and the lower atmosphere," said Ames Laboratory associate and agricultural meteorology expert Gene Takle. According to Takle, who is also a professor of agricultural meteorology and director of the Climate Science Program at Iowa State University, the slow-moving turbine blades that have become a familiar sight along Midwestern highways, channel air downwards, in effect bathing the crops below via the increased airflow they create.

No word on the effect of this turbulence on the farm houses. I’m sure the occupants would welcome some breeze on a hot night, but now?