Wind Energy

by Tom Ellis


ALBANY, NY: Julien Bouget of Sun Edison was the speaker at the June 15 SPB dinner. Mr. Bouget has been in the wind business since 1999. He was born in France.

He was introduced by Tim Truscott. Tim told me later that Mr. Bouget studied physics in college.

Mr. Bouget said we need wind power to replace fossil fuels that spew carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, he said. Electricity and transportation produced 39 and 34 percent of US 2014 carbon emissions; carbon electricity emissions are 75, 22, and 4 percent from coal, natural gas, and oil.

Wind and solar power electricity do not use water for cooling purposes unlike fossil fuels and nuclear generation. He said France had to temporarily shut down some nuclear stations during the 2003 heat wave because the cooling water was too warm or there was not enough of it. Thermal cooling from power stations have multiple impacts including higher water temperatures and a resulting death of fish. He said fossil fuel electricity generation is inefficient because much heat is wasted when transferred into the water.

USA electricity generation today is 42, 22, 6.5 and 4.5 percent from coal, nuclear, hydro, and wind, although the wind component was one percent ten years back. He said 60,000 megawatts (mw) of wind electricity capacity had been installed in the US by 2014, and 6200 mw of solar. The wind capacity today, he said, is probably about 75,000 megawatts. [One mw equals one million watts.] He said the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado estimates the US has 10 million and 80 million mw capacities for wind and solar.

He said wind installations can be sized to enormous limits; the limiting factor for land-based systems is the difficulty of transporting large or giant-sized blades to the generation sites. With off-shore installations, the blades could be constructed near the shore and shipped to and installed on a platform. He said a station three nautical miles off Bloch Island will be completed this year; the blades will be 75 meters each. Each station will have a rated power of 6 mw.

He said Holland is covered with wind stations that have little land impact because each sits on a small platform. Farmers who allow wind stations on their land have new sources of large and steady income, enhancing their lives, and allowing them to improve their food quality. He said considerable site wind speed research is now in progress. Maintenance costs, he said, are low compared to the initial investment.

Among the hurdles to increased wind reliance are grid access, availability of sites, and environmental impacts such as proximity to eagle nests and impacts on bats. Grid access, he said, is the greatest obstacle at present. In the US, wind conditions are best on the Great Plains but that is where their is the least demand for electricity due to low population densities. He acknowledged some proposed wind generation sites are inappropriate due to environmental concerns and hurricane threats.

He said research is ongoing on constructing transmission lines from the Great Plains to where the highest electricity demand occurs. Considerable wind potential exists off shore northeastern states, he said. The problems of moving electricity long distances, he said, are political, not technical.

Wind turbines, he said, have a perception of being unreliable due to intermittent wind patterns. He said summer peak electricity demand is in late afternoons while peak generation just off shore northeastern states occurs a few hours earlier in the day. He said energy storage research and development is occurring and encouraging, and would occur at the generation site. Another option, he said, would be for users to buy energy storage batteries. He noted cars sit parked most of the time. Car batteries could receive and store electricity when parked at night when electricity prices are low, and pump it back into the grid during the day time.

Wind station managers can increasingly predict output six to 24 hours in advance, and with smart meters, buyers could time some of their electricity use to when prices are lower. He concluded saying renewables could provide ninety percent of US electricity by 2050 even with a much larger use of electricity in transportation than now.

During the Q&A, he said blades can break if struck by lighting and wind station bearings can fail costing millions of dollars to repair. He said multi-unit wind stations have round-the-clock on-site maintenance staff; drones and telescopes with cameras can monitor the blades, and data can be analyzed, often from off-site locations.

He said there are about ten big turbine manufacturers in the world today, the largest is a Chinese firm, General Electric is second, and the industry is consolidating. {Two days after his presentation, it was reported that Siemens and Gamesa had reached an agreement to combine their wind-turbine manufacturing businesses.]

He said, “There is no need for a bridge to renewables. Renewables are here. If anything, we are late.” A federal production tax credit that will continue for five years is stimulating the industry in the US.

In response to his comment that transmission lines could be constructed from the Great Plains to the east coast, I said such lines would be extremely controversial in New York, and giant battles were waged in the 1970s and 1980s in opposition to in-state proposed lines. He responded that public opposition is real but that since the society as a whole would benefit from the lines, those negatively impacted from their construction should be compensated.

In response to another question, he predicted that some day, giant wind farms will be developed simultaneously with high voltage transmission lines to bring electricity from New Mexico to California.

Final thoughts: Mr. Bouget obviously believes in wind power and sees it as a partial solution to our electricity needs and a great way to combat climate change. He is employed in the construction of giant wind turbines; he had nothing to say about small or tiny wind generation stations of one to ten kilowatts, nor was he questioned about them. I think he is overly optimistic about energy storage technologies. Being an immigrant, he may be unfamiliar with how controversial high voltage transmission line proposals are in the US. Power lines are opposed for visual, health, and environmental reasons. Many people would rather see electricity generated close to where it is used than transported a thousand miles or more. Buying electricity generated in Nebraska will not produce jobs here in New York whereas small-scale energy efficiency, ground-source geothermal, conservation, and solar will stimulate local economies, keep local wealth circulating within the state, and generate state and local taxes of many kinds. Siting large power stations are often controversial and many people no more want to see a 300- or 400-foot-tall wind station than a cell tower.



Published in September/August 2016
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