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Massive offshore wind-power backbone inspired by marine scientist’s model

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offshore wind turbinesRenewable energy made big national headlines October 12 as a group of investors, including search engine giant Google, announced plans to build a 560-kilometer offshore wind power transmission "backbone" off the U.S. eastern seaboard. The developers of the plan say it will make wind power more economical and enhance the reliability of the existing grid.

The proposed high-voltage direct current (HVDC) cable, dubbed the Atlantic Wind Connection (AWC), would run from southern Virginia to northern New Jersey, occupying shallow trenches on the seabed of federal waters some 15-20 miles off the shore. The line would connect with the mainland at four points—southern Virginia, Delaware, and southern and northern New Jersey. And if all goes according to plan, it would have a whopping 6,000-megawatt (MW) capacity—roughly equal to that of five large nuclear reactors and capable of powering some 1.9 million homes.
 
Trans-Elect, the Maryland-based transmission line company heading up the plan, expects the project to cost $5 billion in total, not including financing and permit fees. It hopes to begin construction in 2013, and estimates the first phase—a $1.8 billion, 240-kilometer stretch—could be completed by 2016. The entire project will not be complete until 2021 at the earliest. Google’s initial stake is 37.5 percent of the equity portion of the project.

Certain details of the plan were at least in part inspired by research led by Willett Kempton, a professor of marine science policy at the University of Delaware. In a paper published April 5 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Kempton’s group described offshore wind data collected over a five-year period along a 2,500-kilometer stretch of the U.S. eastern seaboard. The researchers used a mathematical model to show that, thanks to ocean wind patterns, a system of turbines placed strategically and wired together could be counted on to produce a steady supply of power—unlike land-based systems which can be hindered by intermittent winds. In an email, Kempton told Scientific American that the AWC developers contacted him several times for information related to the PNAS paper, and also asked him to speak with investors as they analyzed the plan.

Several undersea HVDC cables already exist off the Atlantic Coast for long-distance transport of electricity generated on land. But these lines simply carry electrons from one point to another, with no power-generating inputs in between. In the case of the AWC, generating stations along the line would add electricity to the system, a process that will require newer, more cutting-edge technology, says Kempton.

Practically, the biggest obstacles to the plan’s implementation are more administrative than technological, several experts, including Kempton, told The New York Times. For one thing, it will face a complicated permitting process—the same one that took almost a decade for a proposed wind farm in near-shore waters off Cape Cod, Mass, which was finally approved by the Department of Interior in April.

Symbolically, though, the AWC plan is a big step. "This shows that there is confidence that the offshore wind industry is going to take off in the U.S. as it is already in Northern Europe," Kempton says.

See also the links at series "Beyond Fossil Fuels," part of a survey conducted by Scientific American of executives at companies engaged in developing and implementing non–fossil fuel energy technologies.

Image credit: Flickr/ PEBondestad





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  1. 1. Soccerdad 9:41 pm 10/12/2010

    Time to sell Google stock. They’ve run out of profitable ideas.

    Link to this
  2. 2. jtdwyer 1:11 am 10/13/2010

    Well, if the wind thing don’t work out, it’ll make a great reef!

    Link to this
  3. 3. Jürgen Hubert 7:42 am 10/13/2010

    The folks at Google tend to be very, very smart, so betting against them in the long run would strike me as… unwise.

    Link to this
  4. 4. sethdayal 1:07 pm 10/13/2010

    If you actually read Kemptons paper you will find that for sometimes weeks on end the entire Atlantic seaboard has almost no wind at all most especially in the summer. So what do we do then – let our freezers melt, shut er down and head to the beach.

    This exactly the experience with offshore wind in England and Bonnevilles wind plant which covers two states.

    Its more claptrap from the Big Oil folks who know relying on wind power can have but one effect – a huge increase in gas sales and associated GHG’s. Build 1 Gw of wind you need 1 Gw of low efficiency fast spooling gas plant that needs to be paid for.

    Nope the real reason is found in the dirt cheap Virginia coal power that Google uses to fill in in the 90% of the time the wind is slack and all the wind projects have been turned down by outraged taxpayers. These slicks then sell at the Jersey end for 6 cents a kwh more (this is not allowed today) because the dumbass greenies shutdown nuclear in New England in the seventies .

    So lets see 6 GW 24/7 at 90% hmm works out to as much as $3B annual profit on the $5B ‘green’ investment selling dirty coal power to suckers in Jersey. Nice gig huh

    Wind produces no net energy because of that need to load balance with low efficiency fast spooling gas plant. Better, cheaper, less GHG to build slow spooling high efficiency CCGT plant instead.

    http://www.wind-watch.org/documents/big-wind-how-many-households-served-what-emissions-reduction-a-case-study/

    Big Oil loves wind power – just a convenient reason to stuff Big Oils pockets with gas sales.

    Even the NREL doesn’t think offshore wind is cost effective

    http://nucleargreen.blogspot.com/2010/10/spinning-offshore-wind-science-and.html

    All of Australian powered by wind solar and biomass was at $1.20 a kwh a much as hundred times the cost of mass produced nuclear and impossible with current engineering. Canada would be worse.

    http://bravenewclimate.com/2010/08/12/zca2020-critique/

    Current Asian costs of American designed AP-1000 nukes built by American engineers are under $2B/Gw and are anticipated to hit $1B/Gw – cheaper than the gas capital cost – shortly with mass production and 3 year lead times.

    Every year the conversion of fossil fuels to nuclear with worthless distraction like wind is delayed results in the deaths of three million souls from coal air pollution and the deaths of billions as we are led inevitably to the as little as ten years away civilization ending climate and peak oil crisis.

    Link to this
  5. 5. jtdwyer 5:44 pm 10/13/2010

    I had thought to respond that the folks at Google were very smart at making money, anyway, based on the amount they’d made offering a new way to sort search results by web site popularity! Now, if sethdayal is correct as I suspect, they’ve found a way to sell cheap, dirty coal for new, higher prices! Boy, those Google folks sure are smart!

    Link to this
  6. 6. tharter 10:12 am 10/14/2010

    Nah, Seth is in outer space. If he were to READ THE REPORT he would find out that there are something like 2 days a year where this facility will drop below 60% capacity. It isn’t at all comparable to the British situation where they are subjected to a single weather pattern much of the time and their system covers a much smaller area. The East Coast simply cannot be compared to Britain and doing so just shows one’s ignorance of the topic.

    The fact is we can build for $5 billion what would cost $24 billion in nukes, or even assuming Chinese nuke costs it would still be 2-3 times more expensive. The nukes would be online about 95% of the time, so it isn’t a TOTALLY fair comparison, but the fact remains that wind is cheap once you know how to do it right. I’ll predict that within the next 10 years it will bury all other options in many places, especially the eastern US.

    Seems to me a combination of wind, some nukes for base load leveling and point of use solar where applicable will do the job pretty well. The nukes may well not prove better than dry geothermal either (another technology which is MUCH further along despite all attempts by the powers that be to keep it down than most people think).

    Link to this
  7. 7. sethdayal 2:34 pm 10/14/2010

    I am always disappointed when having to correct another low information wind nut outgassing here on Sciam.

    If Tharter actually took the time to read the report it appears that he is somewhat challenged. Best of luck to him in some sort of a remedial course.

    Figure 7 in the report shows one month June 1998 where the total capacity of the grid dropped to between zero and 5% for almost two weeks. Because of this being a regular occurance, all wind plant has to be backed up with either $20/Gw large storage new Hydro dams or new radioactive radon and GHG spewing natural gas plant. Either that or let the freezers melt Add in Google’s new transmission line and the enormous wind power expediture already 25 to 35 cents a kwh for kwh triples and quadruples in cost becoming a deadly anchor on our ability to fight global warming/coal air pollution/peak oil.

    Bonnevilles wind power grid covers a larger area than this study – all of Washington and Oregon – and it lost all wind power for two weeks last winter.

    The authors are weathermen and have utterly no qualifications for electrical engineering study.

    The Australian study I mentioned earlier done by real power engineers includes the effect of wide area wind lulls and comes up with the $1.20 a kwh cost.

    Because of Tharter’s gassy reading challenges he doesn’t seem to understand that the $5B investment is transmission only. It doesn’t include the $30B it would take to partially fill the transmission line with its maximum capacity of irregular amounts of wind power. Just one the current first of kind underconstruction Vogtle AP-1000 nukes being built by American attorneys and NRC bureaucrats will provide the same amount of power as the $30B in new wind plant at the cost the transmission line alone.

    Thayers predictions on wind cost is utter bunk. Wind costs bottomed out a few years and have been rising rapidly. This technology is thousands of years old, has been improved to the maximum modern engineering can do and is now mass produced in immense factories.

    Dry geothermal is more pie in sky nonsense with its earthquakes and not yet invented pumps.

    Link to this
  8. 8. anumakonda.jagadeesh 11:21 pm 02/12/2011

    Innovative approach. Here is an Energy Island concept proposed by Dominic Michaels which a country like USA can implement to get sustained energy supply from Renewables in an integrated way.

    The Energy Island, a joint venture lead by Dominic Michaelis, draws on the broad range of research activities being conducted across the University of Southampton in a number of specialist research groups. A virtual team, collaborating with industry and academics internationally is working towards the goal of a floating energy island capable of delivering gigawatt levels of energy from renewable sources. The modular structure of the Energy Island permits scaling and adaptation to suit a variety of different locations, climates and demands while facilitating economic feasibility through shared infrastructure, volume production and low operating costs. The flexibility of siting offered by a floating platform also offers a critical advantage to the more densely populated countries such as the United Kingdom where obtaining environmentally and socially acceptable locations for the siting of large renewable energy capture installations is a major hurdle for any new development.

    At the heart of each island is an ocean thermal energy conversion plant which can create electricity from sea water where the difference between the temperature of the surface water and the deep is 20C or more. The warm sea water is pressurised to transform it into vapour which drives a turbine. The vapour is condensed against a surface cooled by water from the deep, to produce desalinated water. The energy from this technology, which was originally invented in 1881 by a French engineer, would be supplemented by wind turbines and a "power tower" which captures energy from the sun by using mirrors to focus solar rays on a central "furnace".

    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

    Link to this
  9. 9. anumakonda.jagadeesh 11:23 pm 02/12/2011

    Innovative approach. Here is an Energy Island concept proposed by Dominic Michaels which a country like USA can implement to get sustained energy supply from Renewables in an integrated way.

    The Energy Island, a joint venture lead by Dominic Michaelis, draws on the broad range of research activities being conducted across the University of Southampton in a number of specialist research groups. A virtual team, collaborating with industry and academics internationally is working towards the goal of a floating energy island capable of delivering gigawatt levels of energy from renewable sources. The modular structure of the Energy Island permits scaling and adaptation to suit a variety of different locations, climates and demands while facilitating economic feasibility through shared infrastructure, volume production and low operating costs. The flexibility of siting offered by a floating platform also offers a critical advantage to the more densely populated countries such as the United Kingdom where obtaining environmentally and socially acceptable locations for the siting of large renewable energy capture installations is a major hurdle for any new development.

    At the heart of each island is an ocean thermal energy conversion plant which can create electricity from sea water where the difference between the temperature of the surface water and the deep is 20C or more. The warm sea water is pressurised to transform it into vapour which drives a turbine. The vapour is condensed against a surface cooled by water from the deep, to produce desalinated water. The energy from this technology, which was originally invented in 1881 by a French engineer, would be supplemented by wind turbines and a "power tower" which captures energy from the sun by using mirrors to focus solar rays on a central "furnace".

    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

    Link to this

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