Saturday, March 14, 2009

Wind Power - ON the Grid or OFF the Grid

Intermittency of wind is one of the major road blocks attributed with wind energy and it will be there whether wind energy is integrated with a grid and transmitted ,or generated off the grid and used locally. Recently an article reported by reuters said, "A $ 1 billion proposal to build the first massive U.S offshore wind-power farm has moved a step closer to overcoming permit requirements in Masssachusetts, where it faces opposition from some influential residents".  The proposal is to install 130 wind turbines over 132 of area in Nantucket Sound region of Massachusetts. The article further says, this wind farm would be capable of generating as much power as would be required to light 4,00,000 homes in the region. Opponents to such kind of wind power generation say, that turbines would kill migrating birds, threaten the region's lucrative tourist industry and disrupt commercial fishing. On the other hand proponents of such a wind farm say the project would save millions of dollars in energy costs and help the nation reduce reliance on foreign oil at a time of volatile crude prices. It is pretty clear that, wind energy has the potential to atleast reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and save millions, but where to place our wind turbines is the question to be answered. As captive wind generation offers another interesting alternative to the way we harness wind energy.


Advances in distributed generation and smart grid concept is pushing for a completely different way of generating wind power. Also known as captive generation, installing small wind turbines on our rooftops, will enable us to reduce our carbon footprint and contribute at individual level. Though, we cannot satisfy all our domestic needs by such installations, but harnessing wind in whichever way possible will benefit us and the society as whole. Recently, the Seatle city council is poised to approve small rooftop wind generators atop houses, apartments, condos and commercial buildings. It is also worth noticing that the new federal economic-stimulus package includes a 30 % tax credit for the purchase of small wind turbines. Some of the major concerns in installing small wind turbines for captive generation are noise, architectural ugliness, even rogue windmill blades dangerously "flipping off" and flying through the air. Another question to be answered is whether there's sufficient wind flow in dense areas to make all this investment worthwhile. The amount of power generated by small wind turbines also depends on factors like height, design and weather. 


As we have discussed two different options for harnessing wind energy, it is interesting to look at another comment from an industry personnel. Sattie Clark, director of marketing and sustainability for Portland-based Oregon Wind was quoted saying "It isn't going to take you off the grid, but it is part of the arsenal that you can put together to reduce your carbon footprint," Oregon wind will begin manufacturing small turbines for residential use, next year. The message seems pretty straightforward. We should be harnessing wind energy in whichever way possible. Large wind farms can serve as the backbone of our grid, while captive wind generation could provide use with the flexibility and the necessary cushion required to offset intermittency in wind. It is for sure that wind power generated from massive wind farms as described above is going to be a crucial part of our energy mix, but domestic wind power generation should also be encouraged to fill the necessary holes in our energy basket. With proper planning states with abundant wind resource could set up large wind farms eventually contributing power to the entire grid, while states less endowed can encourage captive generation, by giving tax credits for purchase of small wind turbines.






1 comment:

Chesapeake said...

When we talk about "small wind" reducing an individual's net carbon footprint, I wonder if we're including the carbon emissions necessary to produce and transport small wind turbines into our math. What if it turns out that it costs more carbon to adopt small wind than it saves -- especially since wind is an intermittent source of energy, and needs to be backed-up by electricity largely produced from fossil fuels? Not sure of the answer, but it's worth investigating. We shouldn't just assume that small wind will necessarily reduce your carbon footprint.