Wind energy – storing the power

A new contender against nuclear?

Wind energy – storing the power

There are two big problems with wind turbines. One is cost. The other is the variable nature of wind. It doesn’t always blow when there is demand for power. So storage of generated power is vital if wind power is to become widespread. Seamus Garvey has been working on these problems and is speaking to Annette Langbehn.

via Wind energy – storing the power – Science Show – 17 July 2010.

The basic outline:

  • A new approach for wind: these wind turbines will float far off the coast and not be visible from land.
  • They will compress air, not generate electricity.
  • The compressed air is stored in large rubber balloons deep under water, about the size of your house.
  • These balloons use the pressure of deeper sea water to maximise the pressure that the air is stored at, making the rubber materials cheaper than trying to store all that air in steel strong enough to take compressed air on land.
  • With good wind, the turbines blow the compressed air straight into generating electricity. When the wind is low, the balloons take over supplying the compressed air to move the turbines.
  • It’s cheaper than any storage so far: Batteries are at about $500 thousand per mWh, Pumped hydro is about $80 thousand per mWh of storage, but these compressed balloons are only about $1 thousand per mWh!
  • Claims that the whole UK could run on wind without Brits even seeing the turbines because they are all so far off-shore!

My comments:

  • It’s a long way from being commercialised. The first balloon is only 1.8 meters across, the quarter scale balloon is later this year, and a full scale balloon will be tested next year in 2011.
  • Seamus admits that wind will have to store about a day of power: but even he admits that the winter wind can die down for about 3 days straight.
  • But where does this leave our nuclear campaign?
  • As I always answer: we have to start deploying reliable base-load clean energy now, not in 10 or 15 years when the kinks and quirks of some new technology might have been ironed out.
  • In GenIII nuclear plants we have a demonstrated technology that can keep the lights on and our electric cars running as peak oil and global warming hit. These will generate waste to fuel the soon to be released GenIV reactors that we know work, but are yet to be fully deployed at a commercial scale.
  • Are people really so frightened of safe, clean, cheap nuclear power that they’d have us gamble with catastrophic climate change? Do they really want us to delay solving climate change on the whimsy and rumour that the many expensive problems with unreliable renewables will one day be fixed? Do they really think reality will just bend to their whims and wishes? They’re kidding themselves if they are.
  • FINALLY, if this new compressed air wind turbine does prove reliable and cheaper than nuclear power, no one will be happier than myself! We can save our uranium for a moon or Mars base.
  • I would be glad to announce that renewable energy could finally do the job! But until I read a broad scientific consensus that a new individual renewable generator could reliably provide ample cheap base-load power, I’m not budging. I’m no longer convinced that we can rely on a grid where ‘a bit of wind at one time and a bit of solar at another will do the job’. We need power that we can rely on whatever the time of day or night, whatever the weather, and whatever the season. Today’s renewables just cannot do that!
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3 Responses to Wind energy – storing the power

  1. Nick Palmer says:

    Hi. Reminds me of my hopes for tidal generation which, of course, does not suffer the problems of unpredictability. Most of the other problems are because the generators are right there in the turbines in the briny – corrosion – complexity – maintenance etc.

    I reckon if, instead of generating electricity directly, they used the tidal turbines to power simple hydraulic pumps to create high pressure fluid piped to a central location – ideally on land – most of the difficulties would fall away. Hydraulic pumps are rock solid, simple and robust.

    BTW, if no-one’s thought of this before, please send me tons of money as a reward…

  2. eclipsenow says:

    used the tidal turbines to power simple hydraulic pumps

    Interesting, but isn’t this similar to pumped hydro-power storage which is already costed out at about $80 grand per mWh? I’m not an engineer and so might be missing something basic in what you are suggesting.

  3. Nick Palmer says:

    I wasn’t suggesting this as a method of storage. Unlike wind, tidal power is totally predictable and can form a sort of “base load” for the grid it is attached too. I was just pointing out that the engineering challenges with current “underwater propeller” designs are largely caused by the underwater electrical generation part of the apparatus making things complicated. I was suggesting that if numbers of turbines hydraulically drove one central generator, which could easily be above the water level, the maintenance etc would be much easier. I suspect costs would be less too.

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