Saturday, July 19, 2014

Rethuglican Obstruction of Renewables - Mission Accomplished in Maine

The headlines of this article really do speak many thousand words, or $US 2.5 billon dollars - take your pick: “Company that dropped Maine project invests $2.5 billion in wind farm off the United Kingdom”  from

Well, when it comes to competent management of a state such as Maine, you can’t really include their present Governor (Paul LePage) near such a statement, because it is such a contradiction in terms. The Governor is a bit like a recurring grenade with a loose pin - a hazard to anyone nearby. And while he can grift with the best of them, he seems to delight in making things worse for most residents of Maine. In fact, he seems to be their very own “Resident Evil”, which only they can make go away by not splitting the election ticket as was done in 2010.

That state of Maine is “gifted” with what appears to be prodigious offshore wind resources in the Gulf of Maine, and extremely impressive winds along its coastline. It is also located less than 200 to 300 miles away from one of THE major electricity markets in the USA - the Boston metropolitan area, home to around 8 million people, many with significant purchasing power. Matching that electricity demand (perhaps an average of 8 GW) with the “permanent gale” in the Gulf of Maine and the very decent winds closer to shore, and couple that to a state in severe need of industrial jobs and a great competency  in marine operations/construction (including the shipbuilding capability at the Bath Iron Works) would be a great thing to do. That’s something like $40 billion worth of opportunity plus many tens of billions more when the electricity markets in the NY City metro regions (even just 10% of that would be around 5 GW, or $25 billion worth of opportunity).

But LePage being LePage, well, he thumbed his nose big time at a company called Statoil when they asked the Gov to allow them to experiment with floating offshore wind turbines a few years ago. So what (or who) is Statoil? Well, it’s a huge corporation from Norway, mostly owned by the people of Norway through their government - see - 67% by the Norwegian government. It also happens to be the 23rd biggest corporation in the world if just profits are concerned and many times larger than the GDP of the State of Maine/bigger than the government of Maine. All this from a mere 23,000 employees, Statoil is particularly adept in offshore oil and gas operations in the North Sea, which has waters even more hazardous than those near Maine.

Statoil is big in both petroleum discovery/refining/production as well as electricity production. They have decided to diversify their hydrocarbon efforts with offshore wind farms, which is part of their core competency (offshore operations in the North Atlantic Ocean). See They currently own half of the Sherringham Shoal wind farm (UK) - 317 MW - which is made up of of 88 x 3.6 MW Siemens wind turbines and 2 pretty large offshore substations (partnered with another Norwegian company). The Shoal array makes and average of 1.1 TW-hr/yr (40 % net average yield) from the 107 meter rotor diameter. If the is turbine had been available with 120 meter blades at the time, odds are net outputs would average 50%. This project was “only” around $US 1.2 billion one - the up coming Dudgeon project will be about 402 MW, and the more speculative Dogger Bank A (1200 MW) will involve a total investment of close to $US 6 billion.

So, when you screw over the likes of Statoil, don’t expect them to “come back for another screw-over”. They have better things to do with their billions than to get worked over by an apparently crazy person. They can go elsewhere with their money and expertise, which is what they did. In this case they went to Scotland and England, and laid a few billion on the table.

Meanwhile, not to be outdone by the antics of LePage comes the Republican controlled US House of Representatives, which represents the persons known as “Big Corporations” almost to the exclusion of anyone else. It seems that are trying to stop the $US 2.6 billion development called the Cape Wind project in nearby Massachusetts - see Evidently, fealty to even one of the “errant Koch boys” trumps immediate economic sense. But, even William Koch has a few billion at his disposal, and he also has friends, and really, all that matters is campaign contributions. And a few tens of thousands of “contributions” to Congressional campaign reelection funds in many cases buys loyalty from greedy or “hungry” or worried right wing Congresscritters.

Oh well, just about 2 months units most primary elections are happening, and then its but a couple more until November. We have yet to see the worst of this years re-election behaviors, especially by the sub-set of Congress-critters with zip for principals and a working motto of “money buys legislative love”. Fasten your seats, as this will get ugly, and fabulously immoral. But, thanks to some recent decisions by “The Supremes”, it’s now The American Way….

Monday, July 14, 2014

Offshore Wind Grows Up - Bastille Day Thoughts

The Sylwin Alpha offshore HVDC converter platform, just installed in the North Sea for some of Germany’s many offshore wind projects ( It may have taken a while to get the Germany industry revved up, but now they are going at it with great gusto. This unit will take high voltage AC electricity made at several wind farms and convert in to ~ 400 kv DC, and it can also do the opposite. The DC electricity is then transmitted to shore by buried cable (only one wire needed per circuit, as the ocean is the “ground wire”). At 864 MW, this could well supply over 1 million German households with renewable electricity for a lot of the year, and on average at least 400 MW. Must be nice…. Also this week the Helwin2 platform was just installed:

If you go to the website there is a VERY EXTENSIVE listing of offshore wind farms that are either operating, under construction, in planning or in a more speculative form of planning. So far, there are 7866 MW of operating offshore wind farms (mostly in northern Europe), dating from the Vineby project in 1991, though China and Japan also have some. There are also 5032 MW of projects “under construction” (a lot of them in China), and also some related work, such as the HVDC converter stations being built in the North Sea to handle the massive increases in generation expected in the near future.

That’s at least $US 35 billion worth of investment just in existing offshore wind farms, and another $20 billion worth being built. There is also several billion dollars worth of new factories built or upgraded, such as this one where supermassive monopole foundations for 6 MW Siemens wind turbines are now being built. These will be almost 25 feet in diameter, 218 feet long and weigh in at around 1040 tons. Hey, why not go for the gusto instead of just try and do it for show….

And meanwhile, in NY, where we have the giant load center of metropolitan NY City and Long Island, well, offshore wind is at least being talked about. But of course, only the really expensive kind, with massive turbines and turbine parts pretty much all to be made in Europe, and with the wind farms located so far offshore that, thank the lord and praise any sainted one no human being will be able to see them from the shore on those rare clear days when fog, humidity, precipitation or night would prevent the tiny percentage of that regions population from being… influenced…. by said offshore spinners. And we can’t have that, so we’ll be ever so happy to pay at least twice as much for the electricity and for the tax avoidances as we would if they were located close to the coast, like this considerable array located in the Irish Sea. The Gwynt y Mor project ( is 576 MW made up of 160 x 3.6 MW turbines, but because it is located much closer to the coast, no need for an HVDC converter (though it does have two very considerable offshore sub-stations as part of this project. Also note the typical weather in the region and the barely perceptible coastline in this picture:

The amazing thing about offshore wind is how dependable it is - especially in the windy season (usually winter months). In January, the London Array (630 MW) produced at essentially full power for the entire month. In general, some electricity will be made at least 90% of the time in these systems, and sometimes even more. And as the effect of having several geographically dispersed wind farms becomes known in Great Britain, their popularity among grid aficionados and operators will get even more widespread. 

These offshore wind farms are also a significant economic threat to the natural gas, coal and nuke industry, as is onshore wind (which is still cheaper than offshore wind, and probably always will be), And that is a good thing. Its sort of a renewable energy version of “Storm the Bastille” day ( And in case you are history deficient, Bastille Day is when the downtrodden of Paris, France had finally had it with their beaten down and impoverished state in stunning contrast to the excessive greed of the oligarchs of their day (the French royalty soon was no more after this event). Anyway, there is an analogy in there for the peaceful replacement of our corrupt societal arrangement that so heavily subsidizes pollution based energy to the detriment of more sensible possibilities.

Offshore wind and its more well established big brother onshore wind could easily power up America and Canada, many times over, and at a real, unsubsidized price NO other approach can come near, and with minimal consequences. All we have to lose is is our unemployment. And we won’t really even notice any change in our electricity prices, since even natural gas is once again becoming too expensive to compete against coal and thus gas is the one thing that makes coal and nukes profitable, AGAIN! We could get rid of that scam, and employ 1 million people directly, and roughly 4 million additionally via that 1 million new manufacturing jobs.

But so far, there is no evidence that NY’s Governor has gotten that memo, or if he and his aides did, they can’t seem to be able to translate it into opportunities to enrich their banker, banister and Hedge Fund financiers sufficiently (as in, more than via pollution based approaches). So if you want to see how renewables are getting done in the offshore wind biz, don’t bother with this state. Instead, hop a plane to northern Europe, while we can still afford the liquid fuels needed to make jet airplane travel possible for all but the obscenely rich, or those working directly for those overburdened with too much money. It doesn’t have to be that way, but all evidence points to that being the case. And it is an election year….

Oh well, when all else fails, and we just can’t get a decent amount of renewables put down in this state, maybe its’s time to resort to Widespread Panic:

A well executed smile
the Wind, Sand and the Stars
Words living in translation
flowers under glass
Oh the future slipping past
Save me, slowly take me
Don't apologize
with philosophy
Come closer, take me
Don't you recognize we are not enemies

Sure beats converting Long Island and NY City into a fish farms when rising ocean waters (caused by guess what, Global Warming and in the not too distant future, too unless we change our pretty evil ways...!) do their own form of urban redevelopment…

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Pushing the Efficiency Limits

Gamesa recently got their first US order for a variety of turbine (G114) that could be more revolutionary even though it is more of an evolutionary development of their 2 MW family of turbines. This is a new variety of Low Wind Speed Turbine - ideal for MOST of NY State’s winds - and capable of delivering electricity at very reasonable prices. It could save hundreds of billions of dollars versus the “PV option”, and it was “born” less than “grid parity”. It should be capable of delivering electricity for around 8 to 10 cents/kw-hr , a number that actually includes a profit for electricity owners, So if you have $5 million or so that is burning a hole in your pocket or you can borrow that much, call up Gamesa in Pennsylvania and “order up”. Union made, too… Oh yes, getting a nice 20 Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) from a NY utility (NYPA, LIPA and the private monopolies, some of which are still US corporations…), well, that’s still apparently not possible, unlike in most states of this country. But we are NY State - who says the dominance of fossil fuel pushers and their bankster buddies who make so much money speculating and running commodity betting parlors (Futures Prices for Natural Gas) does not rule the roost? Why would you expect that which is obvious to most to be obvious to our nominal leaders? It’s almost like “How dare you!” Or maybe it IS obvious to our leaders. Maybe THAT is why you can’t get PPA. Anyway, due to the truly wacky way we price electricity in NY, while a big “wind boom” is going on throughout out much of North America, we only have a few crumbs of that economic action happening near Horning, NY, and nothing else for the rest of the state. And from a Global Warming perspective, that’s awfully crummy, for starts.

When wind turbines were first going commercial, only places with fast winds were even considered. Turbines were small by todays standards (20 meter long blades, towers often only 50 meters tall), and those making blades really had not gotten the act down (many had recently evolved from making small boats - they did have expertise in fiberglass reinforced polyester and epoxy resin fabrication). In general, it was easier to put a more powerful generator and put it on a medium sized tower but use smallish blades. For example, one of Vestas’ early efforts was a 1.65 MW turbine with a 66 meter rotor diameter, which has a power ratio of around 2 kw/m^2. This turbine needed to be located where there was more or less constant gale force winds; it performed very poorly in “moderate winds” such as at NY’s Madison Wind Farm (

These days, the cost to produce electricity (Cost Of Energy) from a commercial scale wind turbine is roughly:

COE = Capital Investment * Discount Rate/(Annual Energy Output) + 1 c/kw-hr

The capital investment per MW of capacity has stayed more or less constant of late, while the “Discount Rate”can vary considerably (basically, this is the rate that investors and banks “rent” their money out at). Some have tried to produce their turbines in slave labor countries like China, but that has rarely worked well in either the US or Europe; de-facto slave labor and complicated high quality systems just don’t seem to mesh well, and if a turbine with 8000 parts malfunctions for any reason, well, it does not work, and does not earn its owner any money from the sale of electricity. So if there is little that can be done about the installed cost (Capital Investment) or the Discount Rate. The penny per mw-hr is the "Operations and Maintenance" (O&M) part, including everything from insurance to land rent to warranties to spare parts.

However, cranking out more electricity from a given investment WILL do something to drop the COE. And thanks to improvements in design and quality, longer blades with a better design and much greater reliability have now hit the market. After all, the forces on a blade go up with the square of the diameter, at minimum. It turns out that the mass of the blade - which is most of the cost of the blade - also goes up with the 2.5 power of the diameter. That 55.5 meter blade probably weighs 2.4 times as much as a 38.5 meter blade (for an 80 meter rotor). But since the blade costs only about 15% of the total installed turbine, this might raise the cost of a $4 million turbine (2 MW) to about $4.8 million. Raising the tower height to 93 meters from 80 meters probably adds $200,000, so this new system should cost around $5 million to install.

Boosting the rotor diameter from 80 meters to 114 meters (1.425 times) can increase the energy output by a factor of 2 (1.425 squared). This also allows power to be produced in winds where a fast wind turbine would not (such as the 3 to 4 m/s range); in “mild wind” areas, this means that some power can be made 85% of the time instead of less than 75%.

So increasing the blade length - which might cost $1 million - would raise a turbine installation from $4 million to $5 million. However, with almost double the annual energy output, this is definitely a better deal. And that is why the stampede to the “Low Wind Speed Turbine”- LWST - design is occurring. But only part of the reason.

Wind farm owners were intrigued by these larger blades, but there was the question of whether these blades would be able to stand up to faster winds, or if the would break under the added strains, or if the newer bearings that were needed with the bigger blades would be dependable enough. Evidently, they can handle fast wind conditions…. And now wind farm developers are putting LWST units in fast wind areas. Examples include Vestas V100 x 2 MW turbines (PR = 3.9 kw/m^2) for the “Border Winds” project in North Dakota (a very fast wind area - see, the Slate Creek project (Kansas -, the Pleasant Valley farm in southeast Minnesota ( or the GE 1.7 MW x 103 meter blades (PR = 4.9 kw/m^2) in Illinois (

In many of these projects, net energy outputs of close to 50% on average is likely to occur. Such high operational yields until now were quite rare (such as in certain wind canyons - and But instead of rare geographies located often quite farm from “anywhere”, LWST allow for very high yields for wind turbines across the most of the Great Plains, and near the Great Lakes, for starts. 

For NY State, this means that instead of 35,000 turbines such as the GE 1.5 sle (now no longer made, a 1.5 MW unit with 77 meter blades), only about 16,000 turbines would be needed to power up the state with enough electricity to allow the closure of the 13 GW of pollution sourced electricity - coal, natural gas and nukes. Yes, they would still be seen - which is probably the ONLY reason that people oppose them, though opposition to wind turbines in NY is actually funded by those living large on pollution based electricity - but so what? Are electricity lines, cell phone towers and ESPECIALLY billboard advertising nice to look at? Wouldn’t you rather see some big spinners making home grown electricity instead of exporting billions out of state for natural gas (wind turbine towers can also double as cell phone towers)?

Anyway, the reason that wind sourced electricity production costs have been falling of late is all due to efficiency increases brought on by bigger blades on taller towers. The actual cost per turbine has either stayed the same or gone up. But squeezing more juice (well, electricity) from new turbines  than has been the case from previous years’s models has made for this nifty result.

So, if you want low cost renewable electricity, look for the spinners. Nothing else comes close to delivering electricity that is clean, has a super high social and energy return on those investments (typically, it takes between 6 to 9 months to pay back all of the energy used to make it) and nowadays, is generally made in America. What’s not to like? Well, if you listen to certain corporate master wannabes (or may actually be, or has beens for a long time…), nothing could be worse than not using all of the available fossil fuels not yet extracted from beneath the surface (and some of it is actually quite pricey, especially compared to most wind farm sourced electricity). Maybe we need to put a filter on that kind of trashy untruthiness…. allowing it to be ignored.

The Gamesa G-114 x 2 MW - this is a picture of the world’s first installation of this system (Alaiz, Spain) with the record low “specific power rating” of 196 watts per square meter (W/m^2) - or a “power ratio” of 5.2 kw/m^2. It comes with 55.5 meter long blades (182 ft long) and towers of either 93 meters or 140 meters in height (the latter one is a “hybrid tower - lower section of concrete and upper parts of steel). This unit is designed to extract the maximum amount of energy from mild to medium winds. The initial 10 turbines are slated for installation at the Big Turtle wind farm of Heritage Sustainable Energy in Michigan. For more information, check out These turbines will most likely be made in Pennsylvania mostly in the Pittsburgh area… So how cool is that? Unfortunately, that's as close as that comes to NY State.....


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