One of these exists: A wind farm along the Eastern Seaboard of the United States or a wind farm at the mouth of the Yangtze River in China. If you can figure that out, then it should be easy to figure out which country aims to be a leader in wind-based energy production that includes ten major wind farm facilities along its ocean coastline. The other country is mulling studies about how desirable and efficient an ocean-based wind farm strategy could be.
I juxtapose these two so far unnamed countries, not out of a sense of wagging a finger or trying to make one look better than the other (at least not much), but because in this evolving world of alternative energies the pathways are becoming clearer (the outcomes, not, of course). Wind power has come with its share of detractors, and some real world difficulties, coastal wind farms in particular. So it’s not unrealistic to point out that shoreline wind power is not necessarily appropriate. On the other hand, those who favor wind power…well, let’s dig into this a bit.
The United States has no wind farms with feet in the waters of the Atlantic. It could have them, of course. A new paper by researchers at the University of Delaware and Stony Brook University makes the case for a coordinated system of wind farms along the Atlantic coast.
The researchers analyzed five years of wind observations from 11 monitoring stations along the U.S. East Coast from Florida to Maine. Based on wind speeds at each location, they estimated electrical power output from a hypothetical five-megawatt offshore turbine. After analyzing the patterns of wind energy among the stations along the coast, the team explored the seasonal effects on power output.
“Our analysis shows that when transmission systems will carry power from renewable sources, such as wind, they should be designed to consider large-scale meteorology, including the prevailing movement of high- and low-pressure systems,” [Willette] Kempton [professor, University of Delaware] said.
[Brian] Colle [associate professor, Stony Brook University] explained the ideal configuration. “A north-south transmission geometry fits nicely with the storm track that shifts northward or southward along the U.S. East Coast on a weekly or seasonal time scale,” he said. “Because then at any one time a high or low pressure system is likely to be producing wind (and thus power) somewhere along the coast.”
The paper addresses one of the common complaints about wind generation, which is variability. Like solar energy, which makes a good compliment to wind power, there are days without much energy production, and days with perhaps too much. This can be overcome by having the wind farms geographically distributed according to meteorological patterns, as would be the case along the U.S. east coast.
It would also be true for the Pacific along China’s coastline. The Chinese (People’s Republic of China) are about to inaugurate their first 102 megawatt wind farm, located at the mouth of the Yangtze River.
Chinese officials announced plans last month to request bids for three to four large-scale offshore wind power projects generating up to 1,000 megawatts total. Beijing-based energy consultancy Azure International predicts that China will install 514 megawatts of offshore wind over the next three to four years, and by 2020 will have invested $100 billion to install up to 30,000 megawatts. That’s equal to all of the onshore wind farms currently installed in China, already the world’s largest market for wind power.
[Source: Technology Review]
The plan is to build ten regional wind farms by 2020 and tie them to the grid. Like the United States’ east coast, the winds coming from the continental land mass are less energetic than those that blow off the oceans in the west. However, for both countries a large concentration of population is along the coast, and power needs are pressing.
The Chinese are developing their own wind generation equipment, mostly by Sinovel, and have run into quality problems – some in the export market, which have hurt them. However, the long-term commitment and government support has kept both the incentive and pressure to improve.
Companies in the United States are also planning for east coast wind farms, but the projects (such as the Cape Wind project off Nantucket in Massachusetts) have been tied up in regulatory process. The NIMBY factor (Not In My Back Yard – locals who object to the large windmill towers blocking or changing cherished views) has been important. There is still concern about the cost competitiveness of wind power, although development of the technology and the mass production of large scale installations are lowering cost ratios. Some countries, notably Denmark, Portugal, and Spain are producing above 10% of national energy requirements with wind power. Globally, wind accounts for about 2% of energy use – a figure that has doubled in the last three years.