Tag Archives: wind energy

Europe’s emerging wind energy markets

In Europe, wind energy generation was initiated by a few countries more than 20 years ago. Since the early 2000s, and stimulated by energy and climate policies from the newly formed European Union, it has spread across much of western Europe. Now the EU turns its attention to emerging markets in central and eastern Europe, the new frontier for Europe’s wind energy generation. While wind energy in these emerging markets is important for their own economy’s, it is also important in that it is hoped to offset the predicted future declines in Europe’s more mature markets.[1] At the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) annual event, Robert Clover of MAKE consulting said that by 2050, wind energy will be at the center of Europe’s power needs, producing 50% of Europe’s electricity demands, and “after 2020 wind is the cheapest technology, it is scaleable and it has minimal water requirements.”[2] He also added that in Europe by 2015, onshore wind generation will become equal to the other electricity generating technologies feeding the grid.

On Sept. 27 of 2001, the EU adopted a directive on the promotion of electricity produced from renewable energy sources to meet 22% of the EU’s total electricity consumption from renewable energies in a decade.[1] This directive gave every Member State a specific target. Eight eastern and central European countries joined the EU in 2004 and a few more in 2007.  These newer added countries, which adopted the EU’s energy policies, were more reliant on coal and nuclear and had less developed renewable energy technologies than the 15 western European Member States. This addition caused the EU’s overall renewable energy target to be reduced to 21% of electricity consumption, considering the starting point of these added countries.[1] The adopted EU directive stimulated investments in wind energy and other renewables.

Figure 1.1

[1]

From 2005 to 2011 in the EU, there has been a substantial rise in the amount of electricity produced from wind power. In 2005, the EU-15 (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, UK) produced 40,500MW of wind power capacity, more than 200 times the capacity of the EU-12 (Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia), which produced only 208MW of wind power capacity.[1] By 2011, the gap was reduced by ten fold, where the EU-12 installed 4,197MW of wind capacity compared to the 89,997MW installed in the EU-15.[1] It can be clearly seen that the emerging EU countries (EU-12) have a much faster growing renewable energy capacity compared to the early EU members (EU-15). From 2005 to 2011, the total installed wind capacity in the EU-12 increased by 4 GW (around 665MW/year) for an increase of over 1900%, while the total installed EU-15 wind capacity increased from 40GW to almost 90GW during the same period (around 8,330MW/year) for an increase of 122%.[1]

Figure 1.3

[1]

The rate of development of wind energy has been diverse and uneven in the 12 newer Member States. From 2005-2011, while some countries in the EU-12 (Malta, Slovenia, and Slovakia) did not install any wind power, others like Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary had a monumental increase in the total wind capacity installed. Both Poland and Hungary’s wind power capacity grew by over 1800%, with Poland’s capacity reaching 1,616MW.[1] Of the 12 newer Member States, 88% of the total wind capacity installed (3,690MW of 4,197MW) is located in only five countries, Poland, Romania, Hungary, Czech Republic, and Bulgaria.[1]  By the end of 2012, Poland had 2.5GW, Romania 1.9GW, and Bulgaria 0.7GW of wind power capacity installed.[3] The EU-12 plans to increase wind power capacity from the current 6.4GW to 16GW by 2020, which would be enough electricity to power 9 million households.[3] It is clear that for the future of the European wind energy industry, it’s important that these newly emerged and emerging markets are helped to achieve their full potential.[1]

Works cited:

[1] Eastern winds-Emerging European wind power markets. A report by the European Wind Energy Association – February 2013 <http://www.ewea.org/fileadmin/files/library/publications/reports/Eastern_Winds_emerging_markets.pdf&gt;

[2] <http://www.ewea.org/blog/2013/02/wind-will-be-cheapest-electricity-generating-technology-by-2020/&gt;

[3] <http://www.ewea.org/press-releases/detail/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=2022&cHash=8038d5b6fd3f880c51b099ae3f4e5f54&gt;

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Policies Concerning Subsidies for Wind versus Fossil Fuels

Recently, a Bloomberg New Energy Finance report stated that wind energy in Australia is now cheaper than fossil fuels by a significant amount.  The price of electricity from an Australian wind farm is $84 per megawatt hour, while it costs natural gas and coal $119 and $147 per megawatt hour, respectively (1).  The article cites higher financing costs and natural gas prices as reasons why fossil fuel driven electricity prices have been driven up, while lower equipment expenses for wind generation have turned prices in its favor.  However, this large difference also is partly due to the government’s carbon emissions tax imposed last year.  The tax charges $23 per metric ton of carbon emissions produced, meaning that electricity produced by fossil fuels will be hit hardest.  The article, unfortunately, neglects to mention what the relative electricity prices would be without these new taxes, a point that would have been useful for the reader to make comparisons. 

Still, this seems to be a trend for much of the civilized world.  While richer nations believe they can afford to tax their energy in the name of the environment, the third world is making large strides in energy production, in the process creating emissions that would horrify the most steely of EPA regulatory commissions.  Countries like China have to keep up with their population’s demand for energy, and as a result, emission concerns take a back seat unless they are hosting the Olympics.  Nevertheless, western countries continue to impose taxes and regulations on our energy providers, at enormous expense to them and, as costs are passed to the consumer, us. 

The cost of keeping pace with seemingly arbitrary restrictions dished out by the EPA is prohibitively expensive.  Power plants that must buy new scrubbers to comply with updated regulations can find themselves resorting to buying additional power or building new electricity producing plant components that don’t have as many emissions.  In the case of a KY power plant, the cost of complying with these new regulations comes at the measly cost of $1,000,000,000, or one billion dollars if the eye gets tired halfway through all the zeroes, just to buy a scrubber system (2).  Is this number fantastical?  Is the price tag an anomaly?  Unfortunately no, and this power plant is now shockingly investigating other alternatives.  The average electric bill would have increased by $31 per month – hardly a trivial amount to the average residential electricity consumer.  Industries and sectors that make large profits are always branded with the word “Big” by those who find the idea of companies making money for delivering a service unsavory.  Thank God that Big Coal has money.  If it didn’t, it would cease to be “Big” and become “nonexistent” when regulations finally overwhelm its ability to provide electricity to the consumers at a reasonable price.  Where would our electricity and energy come from then?  Perhaps we can slowly regulate the fossil fuel industry out of existence at the same rate that the government subsidizes and props up the renewable energy sector. 

While some power plants try to upgrade to meet environmental guidelines, entrepreneurs try to wrap their minds around the initial cost of building one.  The regulations and hoops to jump through can be prohibitive enough to banish the thought of building a power plant.  Lucky for the people in the wind and solar energy fields, not only do they not get regulated to the point where they can barely hold onto their jobs, but they receive subsidies that make all other energy subsidies insignificant in comparison on an energy produced basis.  It is somewhat difficult to pinpoint how large the gap is because different sources use different ways of defining subsidies.  One website, devoted to a “vision for a sustainable world”, says that in 2009 renewable energy subsidies were between 1.7 and 15 cents per kilowatt-hour, and fossil fuel subsidies were between 0.1 and 0.7 cents per kWh (3).  These quoted estimates seem to be pretty consistent with numerous other sources, where subsidies for renewables per kWh can be one to two orders of magnitude higher than subsidies for fossil fuels.  Subsidies for solar energy are positively through the roof when taken on an energy produced basis, helped by the fact that many have gone bankrupt and taken tens to hundreds of millions of the tax payer’s dollars with them to their sunless graves.  Wind gets substantially less subsidies, but even then it is $52.48 per MWh compared to $3.10 for nuclear, $0.84 for hydro, $0.64 for coal, and $0.63 for natural gas (4).  That means that wind, which receives far less subsidies than solar, takes more than 80 times the amount of money per MWh produced when compared to coal or natural gas.  I have seen another number that puts wind subsidies per MWh at 25 times the combined total of all other electricity producers (5).  In addition, wind also gets land perks and additional state tax breaks.  This same line of action is why the title of the article proclaims “Australian wind energy now cheaper than coal, gas, bnef”.  It is… if you decide to dissociate the concept of money and the word “cheap” being related altogether.  It is this line of action that allows wind producers to be able to pay people to take their electricity yet still make a profit, an occurrence that happens 8% of the time or more per year in West Texas (4).  How can other energy producers survive when their competition can afford to pay people to take their product yet still stay profitable?  In no other business anywhere else in America would this ever be allowed to happen.  Let’s say that an Abercrombie and Fitch (A&F) clothing store is sitting side by side with an American Eagle (AE) clothing store.  If A&F can pay their customers to buy their clothes and still make a profit, how can American Eagle compete with that, when AE actually has to operate under the novel market concept that people have to pay for their clothes?  Everybody would skip the AE store and go straight to the A&F store to get some money to stuff into the pockets of their free pants.  In the energy world, I’m guessing the coal fired electricity plants don’t much like this type of “negative pricing”.

I’m not even saying that subsidies for renewables are such a terrible thing – they’re so commonplace that it becomes hard to draw a firm line in the sand.  However in an ideal case, the case of the free market, there would be no subsidies, and companies and research would be funded privately.  People tend to forget that the money given out in subsidies and handouts by the government came from its citizens in the first place.  Once you start out on the road of giving out subsidies it’s hard to stop, and problems arise when the government favors certain recipients more than their competitors.  Physical and quantifiable things like technology and cost effectiveness no longer lead the way forward; rather, the road is paved with the ideals of government, the cobblestones of their dictates piled on top of industries and technologies that the government deems unfit.  Instead, things like wind and solar energy are being propped up despite their inability to survive on their own amidst competition in the free market.  When John F. Kennedy announced to the world in 1961 that the United States would put a man onto the moon before the end of the decade, our country had only 3 weeks earlier put a man into space, though we lacked the skill to allow him to orbit the Earth even just once.  Eight years and $24 billion later, the Apollo 11 mission sent two men a couple hundred thousand miles through space to land on the moon, from which they returned safely (6).  Subsidies for wind energy alone since 1992 has cost, conservatively, the same amount of money spent on the Apollo program, but at least we got a man to the moon and mounds of technological advances with the NASA program – $24 billion later, wind energy is still not a viable alternative energy (4).  Let’s hope that the additional tens of billions of dollars that the taxpayers will be subsidizing wind energy over the next decade will bring more promising results.               

 

(1)    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-02-06/australia-wind-energy-cheaper-than-coal-natural-gas-bnef-says.html

(2)    http://www.courierpress.com/news/2012/may/30/utility-pulls-plug-costly-louisville-power-plant-u/

(3)    http://www.worldwatch.org/fossil-fuel-and-renewable-energy-subsidies-rise

(4)    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324481204578179373031924936.html

(5)    http://www.masterresource.org/2011/05/big-wind-sen-alexander/

(6)    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_program

 

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Smart Grid and Infrastructure Security Implications

Image via Washington Post

It’s time for real talk. Existing power generation in Texas is having a tough time meeting the state’s rising power demand. The February 2, 2011 cold snap took the state by surprise and temporarily disabled the Oak Grove coal-fired power plant. The 1.6 GW shortage cascaded across the state and disabled back-up natural gas turbines, forcing the Electric Reliability Counsel of Texas (ERCOT) to issue rolling blackouts across the state. It’s not to say that Texas is unprepared for these kind’s of surprise weather conditions, but current demand management techniques are falling short. ERCOT would like the state’s peaking power reserve margin to sit at 13.75% of the state’s total generation capacity, but this number is pretty idealistic when considering how quickly Texas is growing.

So what’s the solution? Depending on who you ask, integrating a smarter infrastructure with distributed renewable energy sources is the way to go. This means installing new smart grid technologies with renewable power sources like wind and solar and taking dependence off centralized peaking power stations. The US Department of Energy is enthusiastically embracing this modus and has already allocated $4.5 billion in grants to smart grid technologies, along with setting clean energy generation targets to 80% of national generation by 2035. This is good news for Texans, where 10.9 GW of existing wind infrastructure is ready to help offset demand loads, not to mention all that untapped solar potential. So how exactly does a smart grid help?

It’s all about information feedback. By giving the power generators insight into how electricity is being consumed and where the faults lie, we collectively gain more control over how we use electricity. Smart grid  is often touted as a self-healing technology, in that it can respond to system outages much quicker than the existing electro-mechanical infrastructure. In addition, smart grid is expected to combat the rising cost of energy. By 2050, utilities are expected to increase by up to 400% of current prices. With smart grid in place, we can expect these to increase by about 50%. Not bad. However, an underdeveloped smart grid network could have catastrophic consequences for national security.

In 2010, the US media revealed that uranium enrichment plants in Iran had been catastrophically damaged by a very complex computer program known as Stuxnet. The malicious code was specifically engineered to damage industrial control systems and SCADA networks. These networks can be found in the oil and gas industry, water management,  power generation, etc. In the case of the Iranian enrichment facilities, the code was able to gain control of the uranium centrifuges and effectively destroy them before operators realized something was awry. The truly alarming thing about Stuxnet, though, is that it was operational and in the open for a full year before anyone realized it. The code is designed to install and exploit system back doors, known as rootkits, and can be installed on any media plugged into infected hardware. That means a flash drive plugged into a corrupted system becomes an infectious vector for other industrial infrastructure. Like a smart grid network. Stuxnet is kind of like the bull in the china shop. It’s very capable of causing a lot of damage, but it isn’t too particular about what it breaks. That means any existing industrial control system can be implicated.

There isn’t solid proof as to who designed Stuxnet. The United States has been implicated, as well as Russia and Israel. However, it is an extraordinarily complex piece of work and is almost assuredly the product of a technologically developed government. This would make Stuxnet the first form of cyber-warfare that is capable of targeting entire infrastructures. Scary stuff, especially if your entire electric infrastructure is tied to an integrated smart grid system.

It’s often said that no network is impenetrable, but good people are doing a lot of pioneering work to make sure that the bad guys can’t get in. Smart grid is a very promising avenue to bringing electricity generation into the future, but we need to be confident that we’re not unnecessarily introducing vulnerabilities into existing infrastructure.

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Where should Japan go?

Japan has few for not say any domestic energy resources and it is all but energy self-sufficient. These facts coupled with a technologically advanced economy that made it stood in 2011 as the third-largest economy in the world after China and the U.S., has made over the years that Japan became the third-largest oil consumer as well as the third-largest net importer of crude oil, and even more important the world’s largest importer of LNG and coal. [1] [2]

In 2008, Japan’s total primary energy consumption was just over 22 quadrillion BTU. Oil with 46% represents the most consumed energy resource. Then goes coal with 21%, which has decrease its participation towards both increasing natural gas (17%) and nuclear (11%). This last one does not give credit towards a Japan that is the third largest consumer of nuclear power in the world, after U.S. and France. Hydro represents only 3% and renewables account for a simple 1%. [1]

On March 11th 2011 a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and latter on a large tsunami hit Japan, generating chaos all over its land. Both killed thousands of Japanese’s, however no one would ever account in the numbers that they will kill one of the most important assets and players in the electric generation in Japan, it killed or it leave to vegetative state the nuclear power industry. The earthquake and tsunami resulted in the meltdown of Fukushima Daiichi plant and a year latter that all but one of Japan’s 54 commercial nuclear reactors were shut down with a foggy future of when they could be restarted. [3] [5]

For a country with a technologically advanced economy, it seems somehow ridiculous to have just 1% of renewable energy sources; however, renewables own performance made them not the best dependable source not only in Japan but mostly all around the world. Nevertheless, it seams that Japan will have to switch towards its renewable energy sources if it wants to keep its third position in the global economy and if it wants that their people don’t migrate to countries that will be more than willing to have them, like Australia, New Zealand or Canada. It seems that the government and companies already know this and are working on different projects to get ride of the dependence of foreign energy sources.

Related to wind, it seems that Japan has too much of the wrong sort of wind. Sometimes it is simply too powerful, as a consequence of typhoons, or is just simply not useful, as a consequence of the mountain terrain of Japan. However, engineers at Fuji Heavy Industries (FHI), a large manufacturing company, are constructing a turbine that can withstand the first ones and also use the last ones. The secret for that is FHI’s downwind design, which differs from a traditional one in the location and setting of the blades. The location of the blades are behind both the nacelle and pole; thus allowing the rotor plane to be tilted so that it faces directly the useless winds that blowing up the hill. Additionally, this design is less temperamental in high winds, thus making it stand the normal typhoons of the area. [4]

An old source that is just coming to the energy sources game is geothermal. Hot springs or onsen have been in Japan since almost always up to the point that it is part of Japan’s traditional culture. According to geothermal industry promoters in Japan, “Japan sits on about 20,000 MW of geothermal energy, or the equivalent of 20 nuclear reactors, though not all of this could be developed”, but still is a huge amount that even cut to half of it would help a lot the country to continue leading the international markets. As with silver bullets, sometimes is out of your reach, in this case Japan face an important community that is against developing this source. Onsen owners and local communities argue the tapping of heated aquifers in volcanic Japan will drain the onsen dry, increase pollution and ruin a cherished form of relaxation, therefore plenty opposition is in place making the government have a bad time trying to overcome all the power lost from the vegetative or killed nuclear power industry. [5]

Japan future seems murky, however they have always been good at thinking out of the box and came with a good plan and idea or even more with new technologies. In times where they required the most, Japan would have to face cultural traditions, and geographical issues to overcome its energy problem, while they decide if its big robot and buddy (nuclear) should be decommissioned or should be reengineered to face the 21st century standards.

[1] http://www.eia.gov/countries/cab.cfm?fips=JA

[2] https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ja.html

[3] http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/09/world/asia/japan-shutting-down-its-nuclear-power-industry.html?pagewanted=all

[4] http://www.economist.com/blogs/babbage/2011/04/technology_monitor_2

[5] http://www.economist.com/node/21552207

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The Generation and the Transmission

Texas recently hit a milestone: as reported in the New York Times on their “Green, Inc.” blog, early in the morning on March 5, 19% of the electricity in the ERCOT grid was wind-generated. The article, Setting Wind Power Records in Texas” goes on to describe how one of the greatest challenges associated with the developing wind power is ensuring access to the electric grid. While the absence of transmission is a constraint in many areas, Texas has been further out front than many areas in making sure we invest in the transmission lines to make greater wind development possible.

Having been in New York during the blackout in the summer of 2003, I can easily remember that the next few months featured many articles and exposes on the poor condition of much of our national electricity infrastructure. Following 9/11, more policymakers began to worry about the vulnerability of the grid as a national security matter. While the odds of a cascading blackout like in 2003 are incredibly low, such “black swan” events severely disrupt lives and economies.

Major Challenges: Growth, Deregulation, and Adding New Generation

The 2002 National Transmission Grid Study from the Department of Energy describes many of the present and future challenges for grid management. Largely built a century ago by vertically-integrated utilities, interconnection slowly grew in order to help transfer power during periods with heavy loads. (3)

One of the greatest challenges is the sheer growth in demand – DOE estimated in 2002 that peak summer demand and capacity would grow by almost twenty percent per year for the next ten years. (4) As grid operators have struggled to meet this growth and changing usage patterns, “bottlenecks” have grown, causing many more near-overloads and forcing the purchase of more expensive local sources, increasing the price of electricity for consumers. Deregulation brought many changes in the different businesses and actors directly involved in grid operations and management.

According to a study by Electric Transmission Texas, there are three additional challenges to incorporating wind power: the fact that both wind availability and load are variable and constantly changing; conditions in one part of the grid affect operations in other areas; and “[t]he power system has to be continuously prepared to withstand the sudden failure of any generator or transmission line.” (5)

The National Response

Investment in new transmission fell steadily from the 1970s to 2000, so that at the time of the DOE study, only 6 percent growth in the transmission system was expected, in contrast to the 20 percent growth in load. (7) The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) last year provided $11 billion for different transmission-related activities. Almost half of the funds went to the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability at the Department of Energy; the rest went to the federal Power Marketing Authorities such as ERCOT for modernizing the grid. Much of the focus is on “smart grid” technology to increase the flow of information between individual consumers and the grid. This month, an additional $100 million was made available for more transmission-related projects. Some ARRA funds to stimulate growth in the wind industry have gone to fund studies on how to incorporate large amounts of wind power in transmission; one of the grants came to UT.

Texas has been ahead of the national curve on dealing with the challenge of providing additional transmission for wind projects. The Public Utilities Commission approved a plan to add 18,500 MW of transmission lines to for wind power in ERCOT through the Competitive Renewable Energy Zone 2 (CREZ 2) in 2008. A year later, it awarded $5 billion in contracts to build the lines. However, in January, a Texas court delayed the project by siding with the City of Garland, who claims that they could construct the lines more cheaply than private contractors. Hopefully, this dispute can be resolved quickly – it can be difficult to secure funding for new renewable energy projects unless there are transmission lines in place or forthcoming.

As described in the DOE study, the grid is “an interstate highway system for wholesale electricity commerce.” (xi) Large-scale investment to improve the capacity and reliability of transmission can increase energy security, reduce the cost to consumers, and increase the return on investment in renewable energy sources and smaller-scale “distributed generation” facilities. But only if the investment is done well. Transmission lines are expensive; line-losses increase as electricity travels hundreds of miles from generation to distribution, and as a town in California learned the hard way last week, there are significant environmental and scenic consequences.  Short-sighted or uncoordinated efforts are missed opportunities.

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Energy, Technology, and Policy across the Pond

As a British native I would like to write briefly on what is happening on the other side of the pond in terms of Energy, Technology and Policy, and in particular the reduction of Carbon Dioxide emissions. This is obviously of great interest to me but I also believe it is very useful as a comparison to the US.

The United Kingdom has a population of around 60million, around 20% that of the US.  In 2006 the UK was Consuming 9802 Quadrillion Btu of Energy a year, this represents 10% of US consumption of 99856 Quadrillion Btu of Energy in 2006. This was broken down by 1738 thousand barrels of Petroleum per day (US: 20,680), 74.21 short tons of Coal per year (US 1,112.39) and 3,202 billion cubic year (US: 21,653).  While per person use in the UK is less this post is not designed to be a tip of the hat to the UK, nor wag a finger at the US. There a lots of reasons for the lower energy usage, milder climate in both winter and summer, higher gas prices,a  more dense population on a national and city level, an economy with very little heavy industry and factory production, and a smaller GDP per person help to  contribute to a lower consumption level. However even despite this the UK is still 9th largest consumer of fossil fuel energy in the world, and as such is a significant part in reducing global carbon usage.

In attempting to reduce Carbon emissions the UK has many physical limitations when compared to the US. Utility scale Solar is a non-starter with regular cloud coverage across the UK rendering Solar thermal impossible and Solar PV of limited use. This leaves wind, wave, and tidal as the main opportunities in the UK, which as an Island nation there are plenty of resources. However there are further constraints on Wind as there is very little undeveloped land in the UK and many of the windiest locations in the UK are in protected national parks. This leaves offshore wind as the biggest opportunity, along with wave and tidal energy. Offshore wind, wave, and tidal have their own problems as they are inherently difficult to engineer and as such is proving expensive to get to scale, however the UK does have expertise in drilling for Oil and Gas in the North Atlantic and hope to transfer these skills in installing these projects.

The UK has signed up to the European renewable energy directive in 2006, which requires them15% of their energy usage  to be from renewable by 2020. In response to this the recently re-branded UK ‘Department for Energy and Climate change’ published  its Renewable Energy strategy in 2009. This detailed how it expected the UK to achieve 15% of energy usage to be from renewable sources.  To achieve this over 240 TWh will have to be produced from renewables by 2015.

This will be achieved 49% in electricity production, 30 % from heat, and 21% from transport fuel. The biggest portions of this will be from offshore and onshore wind and renewable transportation (Hybrids).

The UK, will leverage its expertise in drilling for offshore oil and gas in the North atlantic to install off shore wind installations on both the West and East coasts of England. By 2015 it is hoped that over 5GW of electricity will be produced by offshore wind installations. With a further round of installations hoping to take that to 10GW by 2020.

There is however hope that we will be able to develop both wave and tidal power at significant scale with 2GW of installed capacity in the Ocean by 2020.

If they are successful the UK is hoping to make significant reductions in the use of fossil fuel usage over the next 20 years to the extent that there will be around a 30% reduction in Gas and Coal and 10% reduction in Oil.

With the failure of the Copenhagen summit to produce a binding agreement, it is going to be up to individual states to manage their own carbon reductions. The UK seems to have a plan to make significant reductions, however the plan also illustrates how carbon emission reduction can only achieved slowly over time. The sheer scale of the reductions being targeted by states such as California is put into perspective by this plan. It also illustrates how different parts of the world require different solutions and technology in order to be able to make these reductions.

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Windy Texas

The Associated Press reported recently that NRG Energy is in the process of purchasing a 101 MW wind energy farm in Texas.  This will be their fourth purchase of a wind farm in Texas.  For those of you who do not know, NRG Energy is a fortune 500 company that owns and operates one of the largest energy portfolios in the United States.   They provide over 24 GW of power to the nation and deal in major sources of energy, such as nuclear, wind, solar, natural gas, and coal.  So, why is this major company buying so much wind from Texas?  Because Texas is a major wind state!

Texas is the largest provider of wind out of any other state.  The total potential wind energy in Texas is 481 TW/year and its average potential output is 136 GW.  Now, this is only POTENTIAL wind energy, meaning it has not been fully utilized yet.  However, Texas does provide almost one-third of the nation’s total wind capacity with a whopping 8,796 MW of power installed.  But that’s not all, they are currently in the process of installing 660 MW more of wind energy [1].  The most important factor for wind energy is wind speed.  Figure 1 illustrates the average wind speed in Texas [2].

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Figure 1: The average wind speed is depicted by color. The graph in the corner relates the colors to the different classes of wind speed and even shows how wind speed changes with elevation.

Much of Texas is in class 1-3 for wind speed, which is actually quite poor, but there are small locations throughout the state where wind speed is high.  It is in these locations where wind farms are built.  Combining this with the large number of wind farms in Texas, as shown in Figure 2 [3], equals the largest wind power producer in the country.

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Figure 2: Many wind farms are located in the North or in the far West, where wind is of the highest class. Many wind farms are also on the Gulf Coast where ocean winds can be utilized.

A tip of the hat must also be given to the legislation at work promoting wind energy in Texas.  In 1999, Texas made its first renewable energy mandate.  The current goal for the state is to reach a capacity of 10,000 MW of renewable power by the year 2025.  Financial incentives for wind energy are also available in the form of tax deductions and tax exemptions for companies that own wind farms or manufacture wind turbine parts.  Wind is utilized by our very own Austin Energy which has contracts with wind farms in McCaney and Sweetwater, Texas, producing about 439 MW of electricity to power 55,000 Austin homes [4].

Is it clear now why NRG Energy has so much invested in Texas wind energy?  Being the nation’s leader in wind production counts for something and with the vast potential of more wind out there, it seems like Texas wind will be here to stay.

  1. “Texas Wind Facts.”  NationalWind.  March 4, 2010.  http://www.nationalwind.com/texas_wind_facts#1>
  2. “Wind Power in Texas.”  State Energy Conservation Office.  March 4, 2010.  <http://www.seco.cpa.state.tx.us/Maps/re_maps-wind-tx.htm>
  3. “Virtual Earth Maps:  Public Wind Data Map.”  West Texas A&M University.  March 4, 2010.  <http://www.windenergy.org/maps/ve/public/>
  4. “GreenChoice–Energy Sources.”  Austin Energy.  March 4, 2010.  <http://www.austinenergy.com/Energy%20Efficiency/Programs/Green%20Choice/sources.htm>

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