Monday, 26 November 2012

Renewable Energy getting to escape velocity?

So one of the main objections that the naysayers seem to have is that renewable energy is "too intermittent" and there is no way of overcoming this since the sun does not always shine and the wind does not always blow. In the case of wind it's often said by the naysayers that wind is uselss because you would need to have equivalent capacity of standby fossil-fueled plant in case of a 3-sigma event such as took place in Texas a few years ago where the wind failed for blow for 4 days straight. Well maybe, perhaps. BUT, and it's a very large but, the problem isn't one of intermittency per se because it can be solved by various means. Again, like "peak oil", it's one of expense. Is it cheaper to run on fossil fuel powered plant or is it cheaper to run on renewables? The "no substitute" doomers point of view doesn't even come in to the picture. Quite clearly renewables are a substitute. The intermittency issue, however, is in fact one of expense rather than non-existent technology because you could, for example, distribute wind farms at large distances from each other and cancel out on average the non-wind-blowing days because it's far less likely (a 6-sigma event?) that the wind will fail to blow everywhere. Likewise, you could also "store" electricity in e.g. large groups of refrigerators (such as are found at port facilities) or else use pumped storage such as is used in hydro electric facilities. Batteries don't even come in to it. Not, however, because they don't work. Clearly they work. It's cost. Nobody has considered using batteries for wind farms (or solar farms for that matter) because the cost per kW/h once you factor in up front costs, is prohibitive compared to fossil fuel powered electrical generation. That, however, is on the cusp of being about to change. This: The executive summary of the above link is that mitsubishi heavy is investing in a pilot project using large format li-ion batteries as a backup for a wind farm on some islands in the North of Scotland. Now what's interesting about this is that the wind farm already has a connector to the mainland where electricity is much cheaper. They are just doing this to store electricity from the overflow. That tends to suggest that they are closing in on it being cost-competitive to build wind farms with built in battery storage instead of using a connector link to the main grid. That, if true, opens all sorts of interesting possibilities, not least a further reinforcement and debunking of dieoff.