Thursday, March 22, 2012

Alpha Ventus

Three of the RE Power 5 MW offshore units sitting atop jacket formations at this wind farm. For reference, it is 92 meters (302 feet) from the turbine hub to the average water level, and each blade is 61 meters long (about 200 feet). The towers are about 75 meters tall.

The Alpha Ventus wind farm is a "pilot" project, and it consists of 12 x 5 MW offshore wind turbines - six from RE Power and 6 from Areva (ex-Multibrid). The project cost somewhere in excess of $300 million, and is a partnership of 3 of Germany's 4 big grid operators/large power producers. These were set up to get real world data on what the new version (from a few years ago) of "commercial scale" would perform like in real world conditions. These are located in the North Sea about 30 miles offshore of Germany in about 30 to 40 meters of water depth. It's really windy here, with an average wind speed at hub height near 10 m/s. Data was obtained from a nearby offshore meteorological tower for several years as a part of this project that documented the very abundant wind resource as well as dangerous wave conditions.

Like any pilot project, there were things learned - especially with regards to the "jacket foundation", where 4 large (2 to 3 meter diameter x 30 meter long) pipes are rammed into the seafloor (sand and mud, in this case), and the 4 legged support structure is then lowered onto them/attached to them. There was some mechanical issue with the Areva units, so they had to be dis-assembled, brought back to shore, repaired and then re-installed. That does not come cheap, as the vessels to do that have to remain stable and be able to lift a 350 ton object off a 4 meter diameter pole that is 92 meters above the water (75 meter tower plus the 17 meter above the water jacket structure) and then do the opposite once repairs were made.

But, it worked out. And as reported in many places (including here - where the picture came from -, the wind farm just completed 1 full year of electrical generation. A total of 267 GW-hr of electricity was delivered to the mainland in 8760 hours, for an average production rate of 30.48 MW, and an average net efficiency of 50.8%. The turbines were operable for 97% of the year. Anyway, the owners and turbine manufacturers were quite happy with that result, and they called a press conference/gave out a press release.

The RE Power units feature a 126 meter rotor and a "conventional" 3 stage gear speed increaser/ 6 pole generator (750 to 1170 rpm). The power ratio (swept rotor diameter to generator capacity) is 2.49 m^2/kw; on the basis of experience like this RE Power upped the generator size to 6.15 MW (new power ratio would be 2.02 m^2/MW). More information on these can be found at

The Areva units feature a 116 rotor diameter (power ratio = 2.11 m^2/kw). They feature permanent magnet generators that operate at 45 to 148 rpm and a single stage gear speed 10:1 gear speed increaser - all designed to minimize weight. Areva recently introduced a "medium wind speed offshore turbine" with a 135 meter rotor diameter and power ratio of 2.86 m^2/kw - these would be quite appropriate for places like the Great Lakes. More information can be found here:

Since the Alpha Ventus project was started, several wind farms in the North Sea/French coastline have been announced. Areva (mostly owned by the French government, and also actively involved in selling new nukes) has plans to take the German designed "Multibrid" and manufacture in large scale in France. France recently tendered 3 GW of offshore wind proposals, and the winners should be announced soon.

And not be be outdone, the French company Alstom announced their 6 MW wind turbine (gearless) is also ready for sale: The Haliade unit was installed on the French coastline; it features a 150 meter rotor diameter (power ratio = 2.94 m^2/kw). The first offshore units will be installed near the Belgium/French coastline later this year. They and Areva are strong contenders for the French initial 3 GW tender.

All of these offshore units feature helicopter pads to land maintenance people/facilitate minor repairs. These are not toy turbines by any means, and as has been shown by the Alpha Ventus site, these are serious power generation systems.

And certainly not to be outdone, Germany announced a 200 BILLION Euro intention for offshore wind ( After all, when 22 nukes get shut down (17 so far), the make-up electricity has to come from somewhere. This should be about 50 GW of capacity, and about 25 GW on a delivered basis. So it looks like ditching that vile and potentially nasty nuke habit was...good for employment and business opportunities. That translates into about $US 260 billion, and is about 400,000 direct job-yrs of employment/close to 2 million job-years once "spin-off" jobs are counted. And that is Germany's jobs program, economic stimulus program, and a big part of their export drive. That's roughly 200,000 jobs, with ZERO expenditure of taxpayer dollars, Not bad, eh?

All done via that infernal Feed-In Tariff system of theirs. Hey New York, get the hint?


Saturday, March 10, 2012

Fukushima - It's Been a Year since "Oops" Had an Exclamation Mark

From the good folks at the Union (of Concerned Scientists):

And the GOOD news is that we got lucky - it could have been SO much worse. And we all love some good news, right? Details at

A lot of people who saved the bacon of a lot of other people are in for some nasty cancers after getting excessively dosed as a result of trying to calm down and clean up around the 3 reactors that melted down. But, once they melted down and made mass (as in tons) quantities of hydrogen gas, the vented H2 gas then blew up, massively and spectacularly, in each reactor, as can be seen in this picture for one of the later ones. Those will be brutal deaths, as the radioisotopes that were inhaled act like fully automatic machine guns on a molecular level, tearing up the important molecules in cells, and allowing mutations to happen much faster than they can be dealt with. Plus that radiation damage depresses the ability of the body to fight off other infections; radiation poisoning is also painful - all over. It's a good use for injectable amounts of morphine....

Luck was also in the air with respect to wind direction - at least for the humans in Tokyo, one of the world's most populated metro areas. A lot of the radioactive emanations and stuff launched airborne went out to sea, or went northwest towards relatively unpopulated areas. But there are hundreds of square miles where "hot spots" of radioactive cesium (134 and 137) exist, much like blood spatter from a real machine gun fired at close range on living beings (an effect also observed at Chernobyl). A Geiger Counter is a required traveling companion in those regions. And evidently the Yakuza (Japanese highly organized crime) is in the money again as they get a fee for recruiting the desperate or none to smart or too old for children to work "Cleanup" - these hot spots get shoveled up and stashed away. It's a messy business, and dust will get inhaled through dust-masks.

Anyway, welcome to nukes, the reality version, the reality being that these are at best a Faustian bargain. Much like the Jurassic Park tales, chaos seems to creep into the picture, and one unlikely but inevitable event (a big earthquake) trashed one reactor by damaging the cooling water feed line, so it was just plain doomed anyway; even if the pumps could get electricity, the cooling water was going nowhere. But 45 minutes later comes the follow-up tsunami, with a 45 foot tall wall of water overwhelming the 18 foot tall seawall, and mowing out the back-up generators lined up along the lagoon formed by the seawall and also the diesel gensets in the basements of the reactors. Combined with the loss of external power when the grid lines were severed, that led to a "station black-out", which is NEVER supposed to happen. And that led to LOCA - Loss Of Coolant Accident - also never supposed to happen more than a station blackout, especially to THREE reactors plus a fourth (and bigger, too, and with plutonium fuel (MOX) just for good measure), on refueling shutdown. And then one after another, boom, and a nasty rad-puke. Reactor 3 and 4 had a common vent line system, and the explosion in #3 vented into and damaged #4, especially the spent fuel rod swimming pools. Fun, wow!

The company that owns them (TEPCO) used to be one of the biggest companies in the world, and they had recently partnered with some US ones (NRG, owner of the local Huntley coal burner) for a two nuke new complex in Texas, near the coast where hurricanes are known to cross over, along with massive storm tides. But that is no more. TEPCO is the corporate equivalent of the walking dead, a zombie whose assets are dwarfed by the damage that has been caused by its reactors, and probably its negligence, too. Of course, TEPCO owns a big chunk of the Japanese business and government establishment, too, and damage control with respect to the loss of wealth is also in effect. Of course, with the right connections and incentives applied to those connections, such business losses can get socialized, and who knows, they may crawl back from the corporate grave. But, don't buy TEPCO stock... or bonds, unless you really like those wild, low probability of success bets...

So far, all Japan has done is shut most of their nukes, and fired up a lot of oil, coal and natural gas fired generators, as well as gone on a crash energy conservation program. There was a recent report that some floating wind turbine designs will be tried offshore from Fukushima (water gets really deep really fast there), and thus the 5000 MW or more of transmission lines can at least get reused. We keep waiting for them to go on a massive renewable energy construction binge, but entities like TEPCO are fighting that as hard as they can. Sometimes bad habits are hard to kick....

Last year the US had 4 close calls (see UCS story at top link) - two from tornadoes trashing the grid connections/adjacent switchyards, one from an earthquake and the last from an epic flood in Nebraska - another one of those "once in 500 year floods" that seem to pop up at least once a decade in these Global Warming times. In Alabama, not all of the emergency generators worked as they were supposed to... and the earthquake at the North Anna unit in Virgina was so wimpy compared to what Japan got nailed with last year, though it was above the design limits for that reactor.

And guess what, as the icesheets retreat/melt/decompose and as the planetary warm-up alters our weather patterns, seismic activity gets instigated/initiated. All that massive weight (mile thick glaciers, for example) of frozen water presses down on land, but when it melts (Greenland is a prime example, as is Alaska), the inelastic earth rebounds, and cracks widen, strains result, and earthquakes happen. Who'd a thunk - see

Besides say the pro-nuke crowd, what's the alternative to nukes - burning more coal and fracking the beans out of the southern half of NY State? Ugh. I think I will let this really cool advertisement from Wind Power Monthly say it, picture-wise, not that the pro-nukers want to hear or care. Actually, they do care - they don't want the object of their religious affections messed with, economically. And who cares about some small town Japanese, of Japanese farmers and fisherman? You can't make an omlette if you don't break a few eggs... casualties happen, and there are plenty more humans to take the place of those who don't make it...

Advertisement from Global Wind Power ( as seen in Wind Power Monthly, March 2012: (

And by the way, lots more jobs are to be had via this approach than milking old nukes for a few more years (but more importantly, making huge profits on fully depreciated investments), fracking for losses in the Marcellus regions (right now a big money loser - see ) and strip-mining coal. So if you want job maximization (as in several times for the same quantity of money invested) and at affordable electricity prices, stick with the really photogenic and cool owl... But if you are really hard up for a job, maybe you might see your local Yakuza rep, as there seems to be an endless need for radioactive soil scoopers in Japan, and not many questions will be asked...


Saturday, March 3, 2012

A New NY Feed-In-Tariff (FIT) Effort

There are 5 sort of commercial scale wind turbines working in Antarctica (three at New Zealand's base and two at Australia's), and they are among the more productive ones presently operating in the world (defined as average output divided by rated output) - all are Enercon gearless units with either 30 or 33 meter rotors (E-30and E-33). The high net output comes from the fact that the air is cold and thus dense, and it is really windy on that continent - one recent month had an average wind speed of 20 m/s at NZ's Scott Base, or twice what is considered an awesome average wind resource of 10 m/s at hub height. Total installed capacity is 1.6 MW for that still-frozen continent, and probably more are on the way. That is more than the installed capacity of of all but 8 of NY State's 62 counties, so that obviously leaves a lot of room for improvement in NY State...

It is really difficult and expensive to install wind turbines in such extreme conditions and ones so far away from anything. First a concrete "foundation" has to be made of precast concrete blocks that are bolted/tied together once some bedrock is found; these are often "glued in place" with some water that rapidly turns to ice, and a metal base ("spider") is also put on top of the concrete blocks. Not only do the wind turbine parts (and foundation blocks) but also the crane to install them (and just plain everything...) have to be shipped in by an icebreaker rated cargo vessel, often with icebreaker assistance. The construction season might last a couple of months (summer is December and January, with average temps still below the freezing point of water), when hopefully a few relatively calm days will be found (cranes can't do any serious lifting if it is too windy, as was noted during the installation of Steelwinds 1 in Lackawanna). But it is worth it, because the electricity made displaces diesel fuel, which is also really expensive to haul down there, just like the turbines and crane. Plus, these turbines don't pollute the air (particulates, CO2 and water vapor), and have negligible waste heat (though that is often desired at these scientific outposts). Such air pollution can make a mess out of the measurements and experiments being run at these bases, and besides, they ever seem to run out of those Katabatic winds ( And they sure beat the disaster of a "mini-nuke" that was installed at the U.S. McMurdo Sound base (lots of rad-waste spills) and operated from 1962 to 1972 (

But seriously, outperformed by outposts at the "edge of the world"? Granted, wind turbines in the five NY City boroughs might need to be situated in the water, as it is very crowded, but what about the other 49 counties? What does it take to get serious about producing renewable energy in NY to replace the 13,000 MW of pollution sourced electricity we now use? Or what about replacing the roughly 700 billion cubic feet per year of natural gas (out of roughly 1.2 trillion) just used for residential and office/commercial heating via (mostly) electrically powered heat pumps? When are we going to catch up with the 21st century? Hey folks, here's a hint - it's here already....

Actually, for NY State, it will probably take a whole new way to price renewable energy, and an understanding that replacing the pollution sourced electricity (nukes, natural gas, coal) can provide a working career for hundreds of thousands of NY'ers. That would put a dent in the estimated 1 million NY'ers who need a decent paying jobs, or just plain any job, even though it would not drop the "official" U3 unemployment rate one bit. Yes, a massive capital upgrade of our electricity generation system is also a massive jobs program, whether it is paid out of taxpayer or ratepayer dollars. So are things like transmission system upgrades, new transmission lines between upstate and downstate and pumped hydro facilities that would allow NY to go 100% renewable for all of its electricity.

The existing way that renewable electricity, and in particular, the lowest cost to produce renewable after our existing hydro facilities (wind turbine sourced electricity), is not going to be installed in meaningful quantities using the existing way that renewable electricity is priced in NY State. And since the to date $2.7 billion of wind turbine investment has only created in NY State a tiny fraction of the manufacturing jobs associated with these (total of 40,500 job-years associated with the manufacture and installation, most of that being manufacture) as well as the "spin-offs" from the "multiplier effect" of around 160,000 job-years, maybe we should try a system that actually works....

The most successful pricing system for renewables are known as FITs, for Feed-In Tariffs (Ontario, Spain, Germany, Denmark), and the second most successful one is the variation of the Quota/Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) one where ratepayers pay the full tab (Quebec is a good example of that one). New manufacturing jobs, supply chain, real wealth creation are the goals, and the by-product is clean electricity that displaces pollution based electricity and often fuel imports that also require money (= real wealth) exports.

An effort is presently being undertaken to have the Western New York Environmental Alliance (WNYEA) adopt FITs as an integral part of an environmental advocacy effort. No matter what you particular "flavor" of environmentalism is, odds are, FITs fit in nicely. After all, even the most efficient society will still need energy (and especially electricity) if food, heat, transportation, communication, lights and industry (which allows population levels we now have to exist without massive human "die-backs") are desired. And unless renewable energy is economically viable, it is just fluff - a hobby, a subterfuge, a ruse to justify an unsustainable, pollution based energy system powering our society, and one where depletion of fossil fuels is finally starting to get noticed (which seems to be more than can be said for Global Climate Change - see,, and, for starts).

So, if you want details of how FITs work and what they can do, here's another link to the most excellent Green Paper written by Bill Nowak for the Sierra Club:

And if you want a high condensed summary in the form of a powerpoint presentation (.pdf format), check out the easy on the eyes one recently given at the Climate and Energy committee of WNYEA: (it takes a 20 second delay to download - it's the price of "free"). And if you are interested in a presentation/discussion of this for a group, email me at After all, there is a lot of "misunderstanding" and "lack of awareness" as to what renewable energy can do. In Germany, it's their industrial policy, nuclear reactor replacement and their "economic stimulus" all rolled into one. And with the exception of their North Sea wind resource, they are over-populated and "under renewable energy resourced", unlike our country/NY State - so we should be "sitting pretty" with such efforts, but we are not. All you need for starts is a will to do right by the world, and if you don't know about FITs, a will to learn about them. For starts...



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