Thursday, May 29, 2008

Will Wind Power Be Rendered Obsolete?

An objection to the proposed 25 year power purchase agreement with Bluewater Wind is that advances in technology could make the offshore wind farm obsolete, and leave Delmarva Power and its customers stuck with an expensive long term contract.
Advances in energy technology are not analogous to those in information processing. Intel, which designs and makes computer chips,
describes how its founder Gordon Moore's famous dictum has been proven right over more that four decades:
In 1965, his prediction, popularly known as Moore's Law, states that the number of transistors on a chip will double about every two years. And Intel has kept that pace for nearly 40 years.
So if information technology can increase at such a remarkable pace over such a long period of time, why can't electricity generation do the same?
Information processing has progressed at such a remarkable pace because its physical limits have not yet been reached, and probably won't until we reach the quantum level. But the physical limits of energy generation are much more constrained.
Any student of the basic laws of thermodynamics will tell you that energy is not created, but transformed from one form to another. A perfect (and unattainable) machine would have a coefficient of performance (ratio of energy conversion) of one. A machine with a coefficient greater than one would be the proverbial perpetual motion machine.
The most efficient wind turbine has a coefficient of between 0.4 and 0.5 at its optimum wind speed. The theoretical maximum of a turbine's efficiency is 0.59 according to a principle known as
Betz' law.
Because there's no room for exponential growth in turbine efficiency, only incremental improvement, we cannot expect a miracle breakthrough to render Bluewater Wind's turbines obsolete.
Update: I'll be discussing the latest on wind power in Delaware this evening with Allan Loudell on
WDEL, which is found at 1150 on your AM dial.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

When developmental work on large wind turbines got going during the late 1970s, many different designs were under evaluation. Since that time, wind turbine design has converged on the familiar horizontal-axis, thin three-bladed type that has by now become almost a standard configuration.

Wind power is now a mature technology, far more mature than say solar power, wave power, or biofuels. As such, further improvements in wind power design will be small and of an evolutionary rather than a revolutionary nature. I think these improvements will mainly have to do with manufacturing techniques and increasing the reliability and life expectancy of the machinery.

Therefore, any argument put forth by Delmarva, McDowell, et al, that we need to wait for better wind turbines is complete and shameless rubbish. If they have to resort to this sort of nonesense, then it shows they are desparate and really reaching.

9:13 AM, May 29, 2008  
Blogger Connie said...

great post and wonderfully astute comment. good job
john kowalko

10:45 AM, May 29, 2008  
Anonymous Edmund Dohnert said...

Actually, the first comment to Tom's article was mine, but it somehow got listed as 'anonymous' even though I put my name in. Though it may seem redundant, I will in the future also sign my name at the end.

Edmund Dohnert

10:52 AM, May 29, 2008  
Anonymous kavips said...

Furthermore, care must be taken when listening to Delmarva's predictions decrying the cost of wind...

One must diligently check the source of their information. Often citing the initial studies done during the late 70's and early 80's, their data is antique.

Imagine not building a vehicle during Reagan's rebirth of America, simply because the data you had, came from blueprints of a 56 Chevy?

That is the equivalent of what Delmarva Power and friends have tried to do.

In essence, their frightful figures are compiled from the experimental attempts of yesteryear.

In their defense, they have no choice but use prehistorical data.

For today's facts and figures, tend to blow their asses out of the water..........

3:18 PM, May 29, 2008  
Blogger citizenspeaks said...

Think where we would be if Henry Ford had waited for better manufacturing technology, or Thomas Edison has waited for better electric generators.

Yes, technology will improve, and most likely Blue Water would phase it in to improve the system and therefor the profits while lowering prices.

4:18 PM, May 29, 2008  

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