Wind already beat fossil fuel power generation in many locations, even without incentives. The road ahead is clear, the costs of renewable energy has nowhere to go but down, whereas the cost of fossil fueled generation will only rise as natural resources diminish. The renewable energy industry must maintain its momentum though, and that will require innovation throughout the entire value chain.
Daniel Shreve, MAKE Consulting, www.consultmake.com
Wind energy has long been recognized as a mainstream form of power generation, accounting for over 185 GW of grid connected capacity over the past five years. The competitiveness of wind has been driven by the frantic pace of product evolution among the world’s largest turbine OEMs. The market entry of power generation giants such as GE and Siemens in the early 2000s ushered in an era of innovation and intense industry rivalry, resulting in technology advancements that no one thought feasible in so short a time. Tiny kW class turbines in California flying 47-meter rotors on 50-meter steel lattice towers have evolved into 8MW behemoths featuring 164- meter rotors soon to be operating in the North Wind already beats fossil fuel power
And, profits matter, regardless of how green a technology may be it must be financially sound to attract investment. Energy is big business, and access to actionable market intelligence is critical to making sound business decisions. This is especially true for power marketing groups and independent power producers worldwide. As the penetration of intermittent power increases, wind and solar forecasts become more important, and not just for wind plant owners, but for the fossil fired generators marketing their power into a market against those renewable assets. Regional transmission operators need assistance as well, balancing intermittent renewable energy with consistent power generation sources to ensure the safe operation of the grid.
Technology providers are working vigorously to introduce energy storage products into the market to assist the balancing effort, but the scale and cost of these storage solutions are not financially viable. Turnkey wind and solar power models harnessing detailed observation data and robust analytical tools are the most cost effective means to achieve harmony on the grid. Finally, it is every bit as critical to maintain the availability of wind assets while controlling operational expenditures.
As noted before, turbine blade technology has come a long way, going so far as to employ exotic carbon fiber structures to ensure blade stiffness at a reasonable component weight. This approach has proliferated as of late with some unintended consequences, namely a substantial increase in blade damage due to lightning strikes. Lightning protection systems are employed on all turbines, generally consisting of copper electrodes embedded in the skin of the blade tip and conductors that channel the current to ground protecting the turbine’s electrical systems. Unfortunately, turbine blades still experience a good deal of damage in these incidents, costing owners thousands in repairs and associated downtime for repair and/ or replacement. The technologies exist to detect and understand how lightning interacts with wind turbines but new solutions are needed that are light on expensive hardware and heavy on intelligent information and clever controls. Blade maintenance is one of the hottest topics in wind services and low cost solutions addressing major maintenance issues are top of mind. In summary, the future is bright for renewable energy.
Technology advances will continue to drive down the LCOE of wind, putting on pace to reach grid parity globally in the 2020 time frame. These gains will be driven by turbine OEMs increasing the scale of their turbines to increase energy capture while providers of mission critical services will ensure that power is properly integrated into the grid. A harmonious integration of intermittent resources will continue to draw investment and at the same time ensure a greener future for all. Sea. Onshore development has maintained pace, with massive concrete and steel hybrid towers standing over 140 meters tall in Northern Europe, towering over forested canopies. All of this in just over ten years. The next phase of product evolution will be every bit as exciting; however, a change in focus is in order for manufacturers and asset owners alike. Turbine technology is certain to evolve further, but the development, operation and optimization of the latest generation of wind assets must be addressed as well.
Wind sites are all different. Different terrain, different wind resources, different turbulence will be the norm. In order to achieve maximum performance, asset owners need to select the right turbine for each site, and that means proper profiling of site wind conditions. Meteorological masts have long been the standard, but when blade tip heights reach over 150m, asset owners are left with mathematical extrapolations to determine wind conditions on the upper sweep of the turbine rotor. This is a notoriously dangerous extrapolation and so the industry is finally moving towards acceptance of remote wind sensing technology such as SoDAR and LiDAR to help measure the upper reaches of large turbines. These devices can profile wind conditions up to 200 meters in many cases, offering a wealth of data on wind shear that can be used for turbine siting and even turbine control optimization increasing the profitability of the project.
This article first appeared in Vaisala News, Energy Issue 2014
Filed Under: News, Policy