Better technology for harnessing wind

  The inherent variability of wind energy makes it hard to integrate into the grid (HCN, 5/02/05: The Winds of Change). Coal, gas, nuclear, biomass, geothermal and hydro plants can all be dialed up or down to meet the constantly fluctuating electricity loads. With wind, you get what you get.

At 1 percent of production, as in California where I live, this variability is not a big deal. But to get wind to 10 percent or 15 percent, wind plants must be backed up with conventional resources that can be dispatched reliably. Another challenge: The best wind sites are already developed or located far from metropolitan areas. Developing wind energy in remote areas will require expensive new transmission systems.

One potential solution is low-wind speed technology (LWST) — turbines and gearboxes that pump electrons effectively at slower wind speeds. U.S. Department of Energy experts say LWST could make wind energy viable on up to 20 times as many sites as current technology, including many areas near cities.

Earlier this year, the California Energy Commission funded three pilot projects using new LWST strategies to manage wind’s inherent variability. The results should tell us a lot about how we can reap more wind energy in the West and elsewhere.

Jim Hight
Arcata, California