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Earth Power Technology

How Viable Is Large Scale Wind Energy? 345

New submitter notscientific writes "Renewable sources of energy are obviously a hit but they have as yet failed to live up to the hype. A new study in Nature Climate Change shows however that there is more than enough power to be harnessed from the wind to sustain Earth's entire population... x200! To generate energy from the wind, we may however need to set up wind farms at altitudes of 200-20,000 metres. To be fair, the study is purely theoretical and does not look at the feasibility of such potential wind farms. Regardless, the paper does provide a major boost to backers of wind-generated energy. Science has confirmed that the sky's the limit."
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How Viable Is Large Scale Wind Energy?

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  • Hmm... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by RevDisk ( 740008 ) on Friday September 14, 2012 @08:08AM (#41333215) Journal
    Yea, I'll wait for more wind farms to actually be build.

    I know folks that build those giant wind turbines. They think they build a good product (and they do), but not a single one thinks it'll be more than a supplemental. If for nothing else... Not In My Back Yard.
  • by MtViewGuy ( 197597 ) on Friday September 14, 2012 @08:13AM (#41333245)

    ....No one has actually _built_ a wind power turbine setup that operates at well above the ground. I mean, consider the issues involved:

    1. How are we going to keep those turbines up at altitude?
    2. What are the costs of tethering these high-flying wind turbine installations?
    3. Will these installations become hazards to migratory birds flying at high altitude, let alone passing airplanes of all sizes?

    I'd rather build hundreds of nuclear reactors based on the safe liquid fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR) technology instead in the short to medium term, and in the longer term build space-based solar power arrays parked in geosynchronous or near-geosynchronous orvbit.

  • Weather Impact (Score:1, Interesting)

    by GeneralTurgidson ( 2464452 ) on Friday September 14, 2012 @08:22AM (#41333287)
    How would this affect the local weather?
  • by gl4ss ( 559668 ) on Friday September 14, 2012 @08:30AM (#41333343) Homepage Journal

    the real reason it's expensive is that the parts cost and take energy to make.

    now, something that might be feasible could be covering for example entire alps in small http://www.windside.com/ [windside.com] installations. if only for the reason that such installations don't depend on massive 50 meter blades.

    of course, nature freaks would freak from that.

  • Re:Hmm... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by alexander_686 ( 957440 ) on Friday September 14, 2012 @08:48AM (#41333487)

    I know people who work with both the turbines and the energy grid.

    Wind power is ready for prime time. Gas is cheaper, but if you factor in a reasonable cost for it's carbon footprint Wind is right there.

    Storage, on the other hand, is not ready for prime time. Without storage it's going to be hard to break 20%. I understand that some parts of the country have maxed out how much wind they can have. They have to turn on / off the gas turbines to make up for sudden power surges / drops that it's not worth it anymore. There are a lot of interesting ideas but they have yet to prove themselves.

    Give it a few years and then we can see if wind can break the 20% mark.

  • Re:Hmm... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by h4rr4r ( 612664 ) on Friday September 14, 2012 @09:05AM (#41333653)

    Water heaters should not be running at all unless someone is taking a shower. It is called on demand hot water, tank style heaters need to go. Normally this is gas fueled, not electric.

  • by kiwimate ( 458274 ) on Friday September 14, 2012 @09:19AM (#41333803) Journal

    It's being done in the U.S. as well [pjm.com]. Also known as pumped storage or pumped hydro.

  • Re:Hmm... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by h4rr4r ( 612664 ) on Friday September 14, 2012 @09:43AM (#41334047)

    A little more? We are talking about 25% more.

    You would have to boil the water at 2am and insulate the heck out of the tank if you wanted to have hot water at 10am
    I would imagine more likely we will use a large thermos style bottle connected to an on demand system. At night it would fill the thermos and only then run again if needed.

    Old style thin tank heaters are going away.

  • by Medievalist ( 16032 ) on Friday September 14, 2012 @09:59AM (#41334269)

    My basement is almost a museum of water heater technology - when we moved in, there was a huge multi-fuel (coal or oil) Victorian segmented iron boiler sitting right next to a 1970s style uninsulated storage water heater.

    I ripped out both (I broke a 1-ton come-along pulling the boiler up and out) and installed a state-of-the-art Aquastar on-demand gas water heater and lived with it for four years. Then I ripped that out and replaced it with a heavily insulated storage water heater.

    Want to guess which one was cheapest and most efficient in real world use? Hints: I have two teenagers in the house these days, and I have my own well.

    Don't make on-demand water heating a golden hammer. [wikipedia.org]

  • Re:Hmm... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ItalianScallion ( 145653 ) on Friday September 14, 2012 @10:07AM (#41334341)

    Water heaters should not be running at all unless someone is taking a shower. It is called on demand hot water, tank style heaters need to go. Normally this is gas fueled, not electric.

    actually, on demand water is only slightly more efficient than a well insulated water tank heater, and i think the tradeoffs make it not worth the switch. effectively, the tank acts as an energy storage system, which means that you can use a much slower flow of energy over a longer time to heat the water.
    this instantaneous demand requirement means that the equipment is much more complicated and expensive to make, needs regular servicing, and has a shorter lifetime, meaning even more manufactured costs, not to mention reinstallation costs. also, since instantaneous heating demands are *much* higher than conventional heater requirements, often a new exhaust flue, and sometimes even a new incoming gas pipe of larger size must be run for the install.

    it is more important to make sure your existing heater and all your hot water pipes are very well insulated, and if you really want to spend money in pursuit of efficiency, get a solar water heating system if your climate and situation allow.

  • by rgbatduke ( 1231380 ) <rgbNO@SPAMphy.duke.edu> on Friday September 14, 2012 @10:28AM (#41334527) Homepage
    space-based solar power arrays parked in geosynchronous or near-geosynchronous orvbit.

    Ah, I once thought as you do, but then a measure of common sense asserted itself. Consider the fact that the cost of getting to geosynchronous orbit is, per kilogram, larger than the energy output of a kilogram's worth of cells over a lifetime of "forever" (or damn near). Consider further that a gigawatt's worth of space array, beaming its energy back to the ground (at some cost in efficiency, transmission losses) is more or less a gigawatt-scale space weapon if it is aimed somewhere other than whatever patch of ground set aside as a receiver. What can go wrong? Consider that you can avoid this problem, sure, by using a very weak beam, but then you have to use a very large piece of ground as a receiver, one that increases in size with the geometry of latitude giving you a second trade-off between area of receiver and atmospheric loss at higher latitudes versus the difficulty of very long distance power transmission from the equator to the temperate zone. Consider that TOA insolation is only a factor of two or so larger than BOA insolation (so it's not like you get a lot more power by being out of the atmosphere) and land is cheap in the desert, and there is plenty of desert. Finally consider that land is REALLY cheap on your own rooftop, which very likely contains ALMOST enough area to completely supply your own house's energy needs and can "store" energy by simply dumping surplus back into the grid during the day at reverse cost to be drawn out again at night "for free", even without an ever-improving local storage option.

    Consider that the cost of actually putting 5 kW of solar cells on your roof NOW is more than break even on a 20 year amortization or less (in many parts of the country) with the amortization schedule dropping with the cost of solar cells and other improvements in the technology. The cost of solar cells per delivered watt has been dropping exponentially with a halving time of around a decade for the last three or four decades. It is currently between $1 and $2 per watt, plus installation and hardware costs. At $1/watt -- already available to large commercial buyers -- the amortization time for a 5 kW rooftop installation is order of a decade: it will generate order of $1000 worth of electricity per year, enough to pay off a $7000-8000 loan and even make a profit over that time. I've spent more than that on high efficiency furnace/AC for my house -- several times over, sadly -- with an even longer amortization. And, of course, anything that is "profitable" on the scale of individual rooftops is far MORE profitable on an industrial scale with industrial economies of scale. $1/watt retail is $0.50/watt wholesale in volume, and even allowing for installation and operation and maintenance costs, POWER COMPANIES will be GIVING you units to put on your roof -- as long as they can sell you slightly discounted power from those units. Or building large arrays themselves, but then they have the pesky problem of buying kilometer-square chunks of land here and there.

    So the real problem with putting solar cells in space is that if the price drops, as one can very reasonably expect, to under $1/watt full retail over the next decade, solar generation will proliferate like a weed all over the world not to save the whales or lower carbon footprint but because it is the cheapest or second cheapest way to make electricity. This will happen even if there ARE no breakthroughs in gigawatt-scale 24 hour plus storage, although I personally think that physicists and engineers will beat the storage problem too within the next decade -- the payoff for doing so is huge. Sure, we'll still need bridge power -- nuclear and probably coal or natural gas -- but the actual draw on those facilities will decrease to a fraction of what it is today. Whence, then, the incentive to put a massive Dr. Evil prequalified space maser up there at a cost of hundreds or thousands of dollars per watt, vulnerable

The intelligence of any discussion diminishes with the square of the number of participants. -- Adam Walinsky