Kyoto – A Perspective (Part 27)

Posted on Sat 05/24/2008 by


WIND POWER (Part 2) Infrastructure concerns.

This image is of wind towers along the
ridge of the Allegheny Front in Southern Pennsylvania. Click on the image for a larger picture in new window.
This photograph was taken by ‘Dhaluza’
and is a Creative Commons Image.

I remember back when computers started to become something that a personal user could actually do something with. It was around the late 80’s and I was still in the Air Force. They never really interested me much, but a little later, I liked playing some of the early games on them. In the early 90’s two games interested me, that first Lemmings game, and the original SimCity. When I got my first computer, I got hold of my own copy of the SimCity game and played it on my PC with Windows 3.1 for Workgroups, (remember back that far)
Why I loved that game was that it wasn’t like the Space Invaders, Mario, or PacMan games.

With this game you had to plan things.
You could design streets, roads, build houses, places of work, and sometimes you could play for hours, save the game, and come back to it. Sometimes it got out of hand, but it was always challenging. One of the first things you had to do was to build a power plant, to supply electrical power to those houses and work places you were placing on the game grid. That plant was always built away from those houses, so that you could have room for expansion.

As was always the case, the game grew, and houses gradually closed in on that power station. As the number of houses reached a certain level, you were prompted to construct a new power station, and on it went.

In real life, the situation is basically similar really. Power stations are constructed in places that might seem out of the way when first constructed, and in the main, they are located in places where housing really won’t be built, encroaching upon the environs of the Plant. The situation has been effectively solved by the introduction of a power grid, so plants can be constructed where they are out of the way, and housing will not become a future problem. Look at the photographs of the plants in earlier posts I have made. Most plants are by a river, for supply of the water for the steam, sometimes near coal mines, for ease of cutting out transporting the coal to the plant, or else placed in precincts designated for power plants or Industrial zones.

This image shows a section of the towers
at Altamont Pass in California. These first generation wind towers were constructed
in the early 80’s in response to the first
great oil shock of the late 70’s, and are
now considered almost obsolete, each
unit generating very little power, mostly in the region of 125KW each. Click on the image for a larger picture in a new window.
This photograph taken by L. Kluft and is a Commons Image.

However that is not the case with Wind tower power generators. It’s not like it’s just one large power plant, because just one tower is virtually useless, only generating up to 3.5 MW maximum and usually only around 2 to 2.5MW, compared with a Combined cycle plant producing around 500 to 1000MW or a large coal fired or nuclear plant generating 2000 to 2500MW. A hydro plant is built near a dam, so again housing close by is not a problem.

However, Wind plants need at least 20 towers to be viable, and some up to a hundred or even more, and those really large ones are still only producing 300MW of power decreased to an actual average output of only one third of that.
Now it’s never going to get to the stage of having hundreds and hundreds of these in the one place similar to what is at Altamont Pass in California, so the estimate might be around there being say 200 or so at the absolute maximum, so you can see straight away that the scenario I painted in the previous post of huge blocks of them producing vast amounts of power is virtually out of the question.

Also, the reason for this was also canvassed in that previous post, that being the immense cost, that being an up front cost, with little reality of seeing a significant return in the short term. So, even going by the towers at Moosic Mountain near Scranton, and there’s only 43 of them producing 64.5MW (around 25MW averaged) they cover the whole length of the ridge line there. Not because it’s out of the way, but due to the fact that the wind is strongest in that area.

It’s not like you can construct them in an unobtrusive out of the way place bunched close together. No. They have to built where the wind blows strongest. Because they are not bunched together as it might seem when you view the picture of Altamont Pass, efficiency dictates the distance apart that they are placed, hence they take up pretty large areas. From that you can now see how unviable it is to have vast numbers of them in the one place, because that then effectively ties up that huge area, and because the wind is only strongest in virtually a tight area, then constructing vast numbers of them over a huge area would see that the ones at the perimeters might be virtually useless. So now you can see why this form of power generation will only be of a boutique nature and on a smaller scale than you might perceive.

This image is of some of the wind towers
at San Gorgonio Pass Near White Water
in Southern California. These units are a little larger power than the ones at Altamont but still relatively small at around 200KW per unit, and the 3200 of them supply around 600MW to the LA grid.
This photograph taken by Jan Tangring
and is a Commons Image.

Infrastructure problems also need to be taken into account.

Environmentalists have the idea, but then engineers have to construct the towers, and when the environmentalists see the end product, they sometimes think that the engineer has missed the point, when in actual fact it is they who have missed the point. The engineers have designed the towers so that they work at the absolute limit of efficiency.

Hence the three blades, the size and height of the tower, the ability of that tower to support the nacelle with the CSD and the generator.

The limit of the blade size is dependent upon the speed that the tip of the blade is doing, so around the maximum length of the blades is 200 feet give or take a little, giving a rotational diameter of 400 feet close to the top end. To this end the tower then has to be quite tall, so the blade is well off the ground, hence towers are in the vicinity of 250 to 300 feet. Now, another unthought of idea that environmentalists have not taken into account is the strength of the tower, and for strength of that capability, you’re looking at high strength carbon fibre, and now you can see that this is not something that is inexpensive to construct.

Then, also consider where these towers are. They are not built in industrial zones, but usually in pristine areas that stay pristine bar for the tower rising out of the trees or grasslands. If the tower has to be so strong, to support what is now a huge weight, you cannot construct it on site. It has to be brought in whole because something that needs strength on this scale has to be a one piece unit, and not modular. So now you see another problem, that of the base of the tower, and the size of that piece. The modules can be of a vertical nature, so you can build them one atop the other, but the base itself is huge. The problem here is actually transporting that size piece into the area where the tower will be constructed.

You can see now that the problem is not in just how big you can make them, but how small while still being big if you can see that point. That size base when combined with it’s height for attachment to the next piece of the tower.

The costs now can be visually seen to be rising.

So, when environmentalists mention power that is free from the blowing winds, again, the truth is at the opposite end of the spectrum that they envisage.
This isn’t a case of people finding a way to make a huge dollar from something that is basically free. It is just simple economics.