Thursday, February 13, 2014

Surprise - A Second Offshore Array for the US Northeast

From This is the trial version of the Halaide 6 MW wind turbine and it is located in the waters just off of France - and is the second operating one (the first is located on land adjacent to the ocean, also in France. It looks pretty spiffy, right? Too bad we don't have one in Buffalo's Harbor…..

Late in 2013, a company called Deepwater Wind paid enough money to a French Company called Alstom so that the magic 5% level of expected project costs was passed. This allows Deepwater to tap into the "Investment Tax Credit" - alias ITC - which means that Deepwater can take 30% of the total project cost for this wind farm as a passive income tax credit. And this means that a second offshore wind farm can be installed in the USA…..

Deepwater had already won the bidding rights to install wind turbines in the waters offshore of Rhode Island earlier in 2013. This will be called the Block Island Wind Farm, and it will be composed of 5 turbines. Installed, these turbines cost around $4.5 million to $5 million/MW of capacity, so these 5 turbines will probably cost AT LEAST $125 million to get up and running. But, because it is such a small array of them, all five of these will be delivered to Rhode Island  by April, 2014. Why it will take until 2016 to get operational is another matter…..

The wind farm is anticipated to produce 25,000 MW-hr/yr per turbine, or 125 GW-hr/yr, or roughly 14.26 MW average production rate. That is an average net efficiency of 47.5% which is amazing for the US northeast. This is possible because the Block Island region has a very decent wind resource (average wind speed is around 8.7 m/s at a 100 meter height above the water) and also because of the large size of the blades relative to the generator size. The blades are each around 73 meters long, with the rotor diameter of 150 meters (492 feet). The generator has a permanent magnet rotor and these is a gearless unit (no transmission to speed up the rotation rate from 10 rpm to around 1500 rpm). This is a very impressive piece of electrical generation equipment..

And due to its size, it really only makes sense to install them in water, so that the rotor, tower and nacelle can be barged in - no road traffic needed. It even has a helipad on the back part of the nacelle in case it needs to be services when it is too difficult to deliver people by boat. The tower will typically be around 90 meters tall, and that will be placed on a "jacket foundation" (4 legged underwater tower). Alstom and the French government are placing a lot of hopes (business, economic, skilled job and electricity generation) on this unit, as well as a competing turbine made by Areva - also to be made in France. There should be around 4000 people soon working in the french offshore wind turbine sector very soon, between those two companies. Of course, France also has an awesome offshore wind energy potential - westerly winds flowing over the Atlantic Ocean have thousands of mile of "fetch" and no resistance to their flow except for waves they create. And these are the replacements for the nukes that are starting to get old…..

Anyway, our country could be doing such things, but instead insists on acting like a petulant drug addict, hooked on fossil fuel and other dangerous energy approaches, like nukes. Oh well, our loss, and Europe's gain. So next time some American politician wants to get "enviro" by proclaiming our excellence at manufacturing renewable energy systems (and yes, it SHOULD be possible, and it COULD be possible), try and give them a look that says you know better. We tried really hard to take the work's most awesome wind resource and make it valueless by really convoluted and bizarre renewable energy pricing system. And, in general, mission accomplished: we only make around 4.5% of our electricity with wind turbines, and if we had half tried, by now we could be at 45%. The world does not look to the US for technology with the wind harvesting, by and large. For example, when China wants to steal technology, they go to Europe to do their pilfering, though in some cases it is US owned companies they rip off. But they know better than to go where the technology is inferior simply because it is so difficult to make money on it in this country. 

If you want to be the world leader in a market that typically does around $150 billion in sales each year (but could easily do 10 times that), according to the rules in our society, it has to be at least barely profitable, with the possibility of being decently profitable. Why is that so hard to understand? And since it is not a profitable business, by and large, we have to import our offshore wind turbines from France and Denmark. And while this should be a point of national shame, well, we seem to be way past being capable of experiencing that emotion on a collective basis. And the people of France and Denmark and Germany wish to thank our incompetent leaders for allowing them to take us to the cleaners and then some. But, who knows, maybe they will at least buy some corn and soybeans from us, as we still seem capable of growing raw materials and basic food crops…..

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