Sunday, May 31, 2009

Water and wind

Although I am generally critical of the over hyping of renewables, I am quite willing to stipulate that there care cases and situations in which renewables work, and even work well. Geothermal often works in areas in which here are active volcanoes. There are limitations. There are not an unlimited amount of geothermal resources. Attempts to tap deep heat sources have as of yet not proven cost effective. Thus in the energy universe geothermal is not a big league player and probably never will be. Anyone who mentions geothermal as a part of the post carbon energy solution is fudging.

Wind works with hydro resources. Wind and hydro compliment each other because electrical output from hydro is easily controlled. Thus hydro can be shut down when the wind is blowing, and quickly begin output as wind drops. Water behind hydro dams is not an unlimited resource., Thus hydro power has to be rationed to conserve water. Water that is not used when the wind is blowing is available when energy consumers demand electricity and the wind is still.

The problem with the hydro wind marriage is the limitations on hydro resources. In the United States hydro resources have been largely developed. Future hydro sites have been marred by long standing controversies, often involving environmental concerns. In some areas like the Pacific North West, wind resources match hydro resources, but in others like TVA, wind resources perform very poorly during the summer period of peak electrical demand, rendering wind generation capacity redundant in any post-carbon electrical plan. Thus intensive development of wind resources would make since in areas where there were significant hydro resources, and reliable and complimentary wind resources. Thus it makes since for China which has significant hydro resources to develop complimentary wind resources. This is however a limited case. When Greens start talking about a hydro-wind partnership as a major key solution of the post carbon electrical problem in the United States, they are being obviously and hopelessly unrealistic.

I have reviewed the potential of paring pumped storage and wind, and have suggested that it is more expensive than nuclear while being less flexible.

The paradox of the hydro-wind pairing is that it produces an electrical generation system that is far less safe than nuclear generated power. Dams are vulnerable to to failure die to design flaws, due to poorly understood geological features of the dam setting, and to to unusual and unpredictable rain events. Both in terms of probability and in terms of potential causalities, dam failure constitutes a far more significant risk to neighboring populations than reactor accidents. "Greens" who are quick to point out and even greatly exaggerate the risks involved in reactor use, often ignore the potential risks involved in the construction of dams. Dams of course are renewables, and renewables according to "Green" dogma, are "clean" and "safe."

Finley, dam reservoirs can be a significant source of greenhouse gases. Methane from decaying organic materials in reservoir waters, can decompose into methane, which is many times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2 is.


bobcat said...

You forgot to mention that hydropower can be greatly effected by a drought, like we are suffering in California.

This from the California Department of Water Resources.

As of May 1, 2009, statewide hydrologic conditions were as follows: precipitation, 80 percent of average to date; runoff, 60 percent of average to date; and reservoir storage, 80 percent of average for the date.

It would be hard to pair hydro with wind when the water is in short supply.

TMSG said...

That's exactly when you would want to couple them. If you have an overabundance of water, then adding a wind component will just be a waste of money. If you have a lack of water, then a wind component will help conserve water behind the dam.

Charles Barton said...

TMSG, much of the time you want to conserve water. Hence under that condition windmills are useful. But there are limits of water conservation. Some water has to be flowing down river all of the time.


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