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Earth Power Technology

Belgium Plans Artificial Island To Store Wind Power 242

bmcage writes "Belgium wants to build an artificial energy storage island within 5 years. The island will store excess energy produced at night from the offshore wind farms already present in the North-Sea. From the article: 'Belgium is planning to build a doughnut-shaped island in the North Sea that will store wind energy by pumping water out of a hollow in the middle, as it looks for ways to lessen its reliance on nuclear power. One of the biggest problems with electricity is that it is difficult to store and the issue is exaggerated in the case of renewable energy from wind or sun because it is intermittent depending on the weather. "We have a lot of energy from the wind mills and sometimes it just gets lost because there isn't enough demand for the electricity," said a spokeswoman for Belgium's North Sea minister Johan Vande Lanotte.'"
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Belgium Plans Artificial Island To Store Wind Power

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  • by Tx ( 96709 ) on Friday January 18, 2013 @06:59AM (#42624295) Journal

    While your questions have some merit, I find it strange that with announcements like this, people always seem to assume that no thought or planning has gone into it whatsoever. Without any specific knowledge on the subject, I find it pretty likely that the answers to your questions are

    a) No suitable onshore site exists. Abandoned mines have a risk of contamination if there is a leak, and would be too expensive to make safe.
    b) Cost-benefit analysis has been done and favoured the island over other options. Storing large amounts of electricity is a very expensive business.
    c) Island to be built in coastal waters outside any shipping lanes.

    Of course, I could be wrong...

  • by JaredOfEuropa ( 526365 ) on Friday January 18, 2013 @07:07AM (#42624327) Journal
    This is similar to Plan Lievense [wikipedia.org] (translation [google.nl]), a 30 year old idea. The original plan did call for storage on land, by pumping water into a reservoir. Only problem is that a breach of the reservoir had the potential of creating a massvice flood.

    As for room on the North Sea, there are already plans for wind farms to be built there. Since ships have to steer well clear of these, you could build this reservoir in the middle of it.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 18, 2013 @07:09AM (#42624333)

    After being named "the emperor of Ostend" Vande Lanotte needs to clean up his public image.
    Accusations of various conflicts of interest exist on the guy.
    A broader approval of this project is needed.
    He better makes sure this is a viable project and not a "prestige project" like some of the Dubai venture of the same companies proposing this.
    A similar approached is used with fresh water in Germany, unfortunately salt water is a lot more aggressive.
    Furtunately Belpex gives some verifyable data:
    How long will the big spread in this data be profitable ?
    Are there some other ways of arbitraging this spread to a lower value ? Yes there are (smartgrid etc....),
    the same politicians and electricity monopolies are standing in the way of using these.

  • Tidal (Score:4, Interesting)

    by lobiusmoop ( 305328 ) on Friday January 18, 2013 @07:21AM (#42624365) Homepage

    If they're going to this much effort to store/release coastal water, wouldn't it be easier to just rely on the daily tides instead? No wind turbines required.

  • AKA pumped storage (Score:5, Interesting)

    by david.given ( 6740 ) <dg@cowl a r k . c om> on Friday January 18, 2013 @07:21AM (#42624369) Homepage Journal

    This is a very old idea, although most countries don't need to build artificial islands to do it. For example, the Ben Cruachan [wikipedia.org] pumped storage plant in Scotland uses two lochs at different levels. Energy is stored by pumping water from the low one to the high one.

    Pumped storage power stations are typically used for short-term handling of power spikes; if you get sudden load on the electricity network, you can spin up a pumped storage plant in minutes --- sometimes seconds if you know that a spike is due and can prepare --- while traditional oil, coal and nuclear can take hours. So the pumped storage plant handles the load while the big power stations rev up.

    Drawbacks involve not being very efficient ---Wikipedia says 70-80% [wikipedia.org] --- and they don't store that much energy. Ben Cruachan, for example, can only generate 440MW for 22 hours before running dry. They're also environmentally rather poor (although not nearly as bad as the alternatives, which are usually fast-start gas turbines, of course).

    Using an artificial island is an interesting idea. If you're using off-shore wind farms then the power generation is local and you save on infrastructure and transmission costs; you avoid destroying valuable mountainside (although at the expense of destroying valuable sea bottom); it's close to the coastal cities which would be using the power... does anyone have a link to more technical information? Like how big it is? The linked article is almost entirely content-free.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 18, 2013 @07:24AM (#42624385)

    As a US DoD acquisitions type ... we do "cost analysis" ... The problem is that we're using cost estimates made by analogy, handcuffed by regulations and instructions that add an order of magnitude to cost and complexity of all projects, working with contractors who are so bad at business that they can only get government contracts.

  • by ledow ( 319597 ) on Friday January 18, 2013 @07:26AM (#42624393) Homepage

    d) The guy who owns the company that would be contracted to do it is the golf-buddy of the guy who makes the decision.

    Unfortunately, that particular link I have witnessed on scales from the education secretary down to local headteachers in everything from primary schools to academies (privatised schools that break the rules that state schools aren't allowed to break, and get private "sponsorship" which allows them to sign exclusive, long-term contracts with manufacturers owned by the guy from the same army regiment as the "superhead" appointed by a parliamentary Lord to run the academy).

    The councillor in charge of waste management in my local London borough "just happens" to own the independent waste management company that they contract out all their services to. It's declared on something called the "Register of Interests" but I can't help feeling that that's a conflict of interest whether you state it or not.

    It's really that common in politics and the only question is whether you can prove it or not. I've worked in places where it was literally so bad, we used to Google the directors of the company of any van that pulled into the car park. Glaziers, carpet-fitters, electricians, IT cabling guys, you name it, we managed to find direct links back to those people authorised the contracts (and, in some cases, they directly profited from the companies that were employed to do those contracts - but it was all "okay" because they declared their interests in some obscure paperwork that was almost impossible to find).

  • by DeathToBill ( 601486 ) on Friday January 18, 2013 @07:40AM (#42624431) Journal

    The economics of this are quite complex. So long as the stored energy is insignificant relative to the market, it's quite attractive. Buying energy when there's an excess also means buying when it's cheap. Selling in a shortage means selling when the price is high. In other words, a classic market arbitrage situation.

    But as storage becomes larger, of course it starts to feed back into market prices and smooths out the highs and lows of the market. Eventually it should settle to a point where the cost of storage equates to the average difference between buy and sell price, but what that cost might be I don't think anyone knows yet.

  • by FreeTherapy ( 2768701 ) on Friday January 18, 2013 @07:43AM (#42624455)
    Better import from Germany! They export energy at the lowest price. Even after shutting down their nuclear plants, they still have too much energy. That's because they have lots of solar power and wind turbines. On land. Maybe offshore has higher efficiency once it's built, but construction costs are so incredibly high eventual electricity price is almost double of wind turbines on land, says Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cost_of_electricity_by_source [wikipedia.org] So Germany exports power for next to nothing. But wait, Germany is the only country Belgium doesn't import power from! How fucking stupid is that? Actually very smart, considering a corrupt government. Belgium lacks behind other European countries dramatically when it comes to renewable power. Government tells people renewable energy is expensive. Meanwhile they keep not importing German power and building expensive offshore wind turbines! As if they want renewable energy to be expensive.
  • by arnodf ( 1310501 ) on Friday January 18, 2013 @07:59AM (#42624513)

    1. there are no mines near the coast. Who would mine sand since that's all there is?
    2. transportation from the sea to the coast would be incredibly expensive because you need to build pipelines, several pumps (as compared to only a few to pump it from the sea into the doughnut). We have (this will sound chauvinistic but I'm allowing my self to do so in this case) the best dredging companies in the world (Jan de Nul and Deme).
    3. It's 3km off the coast... that's nothing. The shipping lanes are way out into the see. The only thing that may cause perhaps some problems is the harbour of Zeebrugge. The distance between Calais and Dover is what? 60km?

  • by ai4px ( 1244212 ) on Friday January 18, 2013 @08:39AM (#42624625)

    Does anyone ever do an analysis of the costs of doing a cost analysis?

    Amen brother! They've been doing an environmental impact study for years to consider deepening the Charleston SC harbor channel by something like 2 meters. They've spent MILLIONS on the study and more time than it would have taken to have simply deepened the channel.

  • by mrvan ( 973822 ) on Friday January 18, 2013 @09:02AM (#42624693)

    "We" made a similar island for storing contaminated sludge in a part of the IJsselmeer. This reservoir island is 1km across (so slightly smaller but same order of magnitude) and 45m deep.

    Some links: google maps [goo.gl], Dutch wiki [wikipedia.org], google translated Dutch wiki [google.nl].

    According to this page [waddenzee.nl], this island cost around 250 million to build. At 1 km across and 45m deep, it can hold around 35E6 sq meters of water=3.5E10 kgs of water. No idea whether it works that way, but the potential energy might be m*g*h=3.5E10 * 9.81 * 22 (avg.) ~ 7E12 joules, or the output of a 3500MW power plant for 7E12/3.5E9 2000 seconds or about half an hour, assuming 100% efficiency and no fuckups in my orders of magnitude.

    I'm assuming it is easier to build this in the ocean than to dig it in a shallow lake (the lake around the reservoir is about 2.5m deep), because otherwise why not just dig it in the shallow lake? Since the north sea is about 50m deep [uni-kassel.de] offshore from the low countries, a reservoir of 3km accross wil hold 9 times as much energy, or around 5 hours of output from one plant. Whether that is enough or not I have no idea. I would suppose that the cost could be around 9*250 million = 2.5 billion euro, which is cheaper than building a new plant but nothing to sneeze at.

  • by Teckla ( 630646 ) on Friday January 18, 2013 @10:29AM (#42625219)

    I've been told that the power required to make enough aluminium for a windmill exceeds what that windmill can generate in its service life.

    Windmills are, and have been for quite a while, profitable over their lifetime, even if you discount any subsidies.

    Since the energy cost of all the materials in a windmill are built into the overall cost of a windmill, it becomes obvious you've been misinformed.

    Also, the meme that windmills kill wildlife is just hype. You've been misinformed there, too.

    It sounds to me like you need to listen to more reputable sources. Yours are misleading you, or just plain lying to you, for whatever reason.

  • by RicktheBrick ( 588466 ) on Friday January 18, 2013 @11:14AM (#42625561)
    What about the marine life? I live near the fifth largest pumped storage plant(it was the largest when built). It is on the shores of Lake Michigan where the marine life is much smaller and they maintain a net around the inlet so they do not pump a lot of fish into the man made lake. I guess the turbine blades are not too healthy to them on their small trip. I can just see them discovering a whale or a dolphin cut to pieces inside this island. I suppose they could construct a huge barrier to the inlet but it would have to be much stronger than the net they put around the Michigan pumped storage plant.
  • by microbox ( 704317 ) on Friday January 18, 2013 @12:41PM (#42626277)
    People constantly trash the government because it is the cool thing to do, but really, what do you know at how well the government operates compared to a fortune 500? Nothing? I used to work for both, and can say firsthand that there is plenty of institutional madness to go around.