Renewable Energy Innovations

In a world with souring populations and evolving technology the need for reliable energy sources continues to grow. However the environmental impact of producing this energy through traditional methods has led us to seek out varied renewable sources in order to maintain a balanced energy mix.

The most advanced, and therefore most reliable, source of renewable energy is onshore wind turbines. These account for over half of all energy from renewable sources and come in many varying sizes and power outputs. Most developed countries will have some amount of wind turbines adding to their energy mix and it is the countries with the best wind resources that reap the most from their onshore wind industry.

However some of the best wind resources are to be found in the some coldest regions. Also due the nature of the climate of these areas population tends to be sparser which can also be a benefit for onshore wind projects. In Finland for example these favourable conditions account for over 70% of the countries onshore wind industry.

These strong winds and the cold climate they bring with them can have a detrimental effect on the turbines as they can cause a build up of ice which can disable the blades temporarily. On average this cuts power output by as much as 20% per year.

However as is the case with many burgeoning industries, when a problem arises solutions follow and this is also the case here. There are a number of methods that have been considered or are in use for the task of removing ice from the turbine blades including the passive solutions of coating the blades with a hydrophobic paint, spraying them with an active chemical, or even painting them black to maximise heat absorption.

Active solutions include those using mechanics such as controlled acceleration and deceleration of the blades to shake off any troublesome ice and several different thermal solutions including heating the blades from inside by either warm air or electrical coils or by using microwaves.

As well as the foremost reason of reduction in operations which in turn will impact generation income there is also a danger of falling ice endangering workers and farm animals below. Also the weight of the ice can cause an unbalance in the spinning of the rotors leading to potential long term mechanical issues.

Turbine manufacturers Vestas and Siemans both currently use thermal solutions however they have opted for differing approaches, heating the air inside the blades and heated elements inside the blades respectively.

Vestas use sensors, information collated in databases of long term turbine outputs, and their own algorithm, as well as a long range communication network to operate a stream of warm air inside the blades. However rather than detecting ice build-up they remedy the issue at the earliest opportunity possible by using their algorithm to measure several variables including temperature, humidity, wind speed, and turbine output. Should the conditions be low enough for the formation of ice and the turbine output reduces the system initiates automatically using their patented Vestas De-icing System (VDS).

“VDS will provide significant value to those who want to harness the potential of wind power in colder climates with icing risk, locations such as North America as well as the northern and central regions in Europe, areas previously not economically feasible due to the risk of ice affecting power production,” says Vestas Chief Technology Officer Anders Vedel.

VDS is fully integrated with all other Vestas control systems and is serviceable from within both the hub and the blade. It can also be triggered both automatically and manually allowing users to monitor control fully.

Having tested a prototype in Canada throughout 2013 Vestas confirmed it has a low efficiency cost of only 150kW in a 3.3mW turbine.

Siemans first approached the issue some time ago and began by collating data about their turbine’s operational capacity in extremely cold conditions in the mid-1990s. Two years ago they patented a heating mat which can be integrated into the blades of its turbines. The mat has no wiring however it is electrically conductive and is installed close to the surface of the blade. Like the Vestas system it can be operated remotely or on site to melt the ice and allow the turbine to continue to operate uninterrupted.

National grid systems are now finding solutions in how to cope with the fluctuating power inputs from renewable energy, and particularly onshore wind instillations. With the advent of new reliable systems ensuring that production remains at its highest operational capacity we can reap the benefits afforded to us from these reliable renewable sources. The demand for energy is not going to reduce so we must continue to seek out new ways of improving the technology we have. The systems above are a positive step forward; in the future I look forward to writing more successful innovations which assist us in providing all with clean renewable energy.

As records continue to be broken, we plan ahead

Energy from renewable sources accounted for almost one fifth of the UK’s energy demand in the first quarter of 2014 as a result of high winds, rainfall and an uplift in new construction and technologies in the solar industry.

New government figures released last week show the UK renewables sector had a record first three months of the year producing over 18 TWh, a huge increase of 43% on the same period in 2013.

Both wind and hydropower saw an increase in output as the UK suffered its wettest winter on record. Energy from onshore wind developments grew by 62%, offshore wind increased by 50% and hydropower 78% adding up to a record quarterly increase of 2.3 TWh.

The first three months of 2014 also saw an increase in construction in solar power developments. Cuts in subsidies for large solar farms from April onwards resulted in 1.1 GW of new capacity being added to the grid within this period.

In total by the end of the quarter the UK had 20.8 GW of new renewable energy projects developed, some 15% higher over the same period in the previous year.

The figures bring good news for the UK’s renewables industry which only last week was celebrating due to a record summer performance brought on by high winds the previous weekend which outstripped energy generation from coal.

This double record breaking feat will also be welcomed by the UK government which is coming under exceedingly more pressure to comply with the EU targets of energy generation from renewable sources to be at 15% by 2020. A target which industry experts predict will require over 30% of the country’s electricity to come from renewable sources.

As members of the UK government talk of scaling back our renewables industry it is reassuring that the technology continues to show all of us exactly what it is capable of producing. Energy will always be a necessity however clean energy should not be a luxury. At present we are capable of producing clean renewable energy in vast quantities, in the future with further positive government initiatives and private investment we will be able to meet much of our energy needs through clean renewable and reliable sources.

Moving on now to Dunbar, a village in East Lothian Scotland not too far from where we are and it was announced last week by Environment Minister Richard Lochhead that this market community is set to become the first of Scotland’s Zero Waste Towns.

This new accolade aims to recognise the efforts of residents and businesses in recycling, reducing waste and the efficient use of resources. The pilot project which will be replicated in other communities in the near future will initiate a number of community led projects including; a new facility to assist making the re-use of good easier, promotion and education of less food waste and better food recycling, new school programmes, and anti-litter initiatives.

Local community group Sustaining Dunber will oversee the project and work closely with Zero Waste Scotland and East Lothian Council as well as local community groups, residents and businesses to coordinate a comprehensive campaign aiming to alter attitudes to waste in the town.

Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said: “It’s fantastic that Dunbar has set an example and become Scotland’s first ever Zero Waste Town, demonstrating the community’s firm commitment to making real progress in resource management at a local level.

“This innovative programme will help the town recycle more, send less to landfill and use our precious resources more efficiently. I wish everyone involved in this initiative the best of luck and I hope it will create valuable experiences that other communities around Scotland can benefit from as we strive to make Scotland a zero waste country.”

Iain Gulland, Director, Zero Waste Scotland, said: “Getting everyone in Scotland’s communities on-board with our vision to eliminate waste, for the benefit of local economies and the environment, is absolutely vital. Scotland has set ambitious targets to achieve a recycling rate of 70 percent and reduce the waste produced by 15 percent by 2025. To achieve this, everyone must play their part.

“Working to becoming a Zero Waste Town will be a great way to bring communities together, working towards a shared goal. Hopefully the pilot project in Dunbar will provide great examples of best practice which we can recreate in other towns across Scotland.”

Brian Grindley, Chair of Sustaining Dunbar said: “Sustaining Dunbar are delighted that Dunbar has been chosen to be Scotland’s first Zero Waste Town. We have already spoken to a wide range of organisations, businesses and individuals throughout the community and received a hugely positive response to this project. We look forward to working together to lead the way in eliminating waste.”

Dunbar was selected for the pilot project following submissions from across Scotland after an open call for interested communities in 2013.

As we seek as many solutions for reducing our carbon footprint as possible initiatives like Zero Waste Scotland will become more commonplace. This is important for our society as important renewable energy is and we therefore must source as many viable alternative solutions to reducing our carbon footprint as we can. Even relatively small steps like this can all add up to make a vital difference.

The growth and maturing of Renewable Energy

Last weekend’s strong winds across the country brought a boost to the electricity grid as wind power output reached record seasonal highs.  Just under 16% of energy demand in the UK on Monday was met by wind power and just over 13% over the 24 hours from Sunday morning to Monday morning.

This strong performance meant that wind power output exceeded coal power (which accounted for just over 11% of demand). Nuclear met almost 29% and gas the highest meeting over 32% of demand.

This level of performance brought the output levels close to the all time high set in December 2013 when wind power met 10% of electricity demand throughout the entire month and peaked at 17% the Saturday before Christmas.

Over the past 12 months wind power has continued to break its own records and recently the UK government confirmed that throughout 2013 over 14% of electricity came from renewable energy sources with wind power providing just under 8%.

Although renewable energy can provide variable amounts of output, something the critics like to constantly remind us of, the National Grid has consistently argued that its infrastructure can cope with the differing levels of supply from renewable energy. The most recent government figures confirmed that last year the load factors from wind power often exceeded or equalled that of gas at 27.9%.

It has also been reported this week that EDF has had to close four of its UK nuclear reactors for eight weeks removing approximately a quarter of its nuclear generating capacity from the grid after a discovery of a fault.

The temporary closures at Heysham and Hartlepool are due to fault in the boiler system discovered during a routine inspection. The National Grid were quoted stating that the shutdowns would not impact upon power supplies due to wind power’s current strong performance,  “Generally demand is low at this time of year, and a lot of wind power is being generated right now,” they said.

We are delighted that wind power is proving to be a consistent source of energy. It shows that the technology is now advanced enough, both the turbines and the grid infrastructure, to deliver energy reliably when called upon. However we should not stop here as further investment can continue to improve upon what has already been achieved. The call for clean renewable energy is going to increase and if we can continue to grow as an industry we will be in an excellent position to meet the demand.

In related news it has been announced that over 20,000 homes and businesses could be heated from energy from forty urban rivers and estuaries according to new government research. Using technology known as water source heat pumps they draw residual heat from the rivers which is then transferred into local networks or single building to provide a sustainable form of low carbon renewable energy.

Energy Secretary Ed Davey wants to see a quick development of this system and last week the Department for Energy produced a “heat map” to assist local authorities and developers in identifying the best areas for the installation of the pumps, aligning them to locations of high heat demand.

The map has been designed to illustrate the potential of the technology, which is popular in Japan and Scandinavia for heating individual homes. It will be updated as research continues.

The prototype system currently working in the Thames, London provides heat for 150 private homes plus a large hotel and saves 500 tonnes of carbon emissions per year that would otherwise end up in our atmosphere had the heat been created by traditional gas or coal fired electricity.

The water is drawn from two metres below the surface of the Thames, where latent heat is sustained at a constant temperature of between 8C and 10C.

Mr Davey said: “It sounds like magic, but using proven technology we can now extract some of the heat in our rivers and estuaries and use that energy to heat our homes and offices.”

“I want to help communities across England use our waterways for this renewable heat,” he said. “This new map is designed to help communities, councils and developers identify the most promising opportunities.”

“If we can succeed on a large scale it would cut Britain’s import bill and boost our home-grown supplies of clean, secure energy.”

The UK Government are looking at several forms of low carbon energy generation and hope to introduce more in the coming months in order to help meet European Union emissions targets.  Europe is aiming to reduce carbon emissions by 40% of the 1990 level as well as produce 27% of its energy from renewable sources.

We believe in strong mix of various sources of energy so we are pleased that new alternative technologies are being tried and tested. At a time when overall energy demand is on the increase we need as many proven clean supplies as we can maintain. New technology may initially be more costly but in the long term it makes sense, both economically and environmentally, to have several established sources that can reliably deliver clean renewable energy.

 

 

A worldwide perspective of renewable energy from wind

A recent report from Navigant Research which analyses the trends in the worldwide energy sector predicts that renewable energy from wind will grow significantly until at least 2018. The reasons for this include positive government policies, record levels of investment, more reliable technology and a better understanding of wind and how it generates electricity.  All of this adds up to major increase in worldwide wind energy capacity.

The report expects 7.3% of worldwide electrical power to be generated by wind by 2018, double its current capacity. New projects are being developed constantly and as they are energised the amount of clean electricity they supply to their respective grids will also continue to increase. Also as the technology gets more reliable and more efficient they will produce more electricity whilst also reducing costs which in turn will attract more investment.

The strongest area of growth within the wind sector is offshore. In 2013 the worldwide offshore wind sector grew by 50% with much of this occurring within Europe. Many European countries have large coastlines meaning they control expansive areas of open water which can be utilised for this type of development.  These offshore projects show excellent potential as they can harness the strong wind currents found at sea. Due to these factors investment in this area is continuing to grow as investors look to tap in to this potential.

For example it was recently announced that construction will shortly begin on one of the largest offshore wind farms in the world in the Moray Firth north of Inverness, Scotland. It is the first of two planned for the region which in total will number more than 250 turbines. Combined both projects will generate 5 GW of electricity, enough to power a million homes. When completed, it will be the third largest in the world after the planned South Korea Electric Power scheme off the south-west coast of the Korean peninsula, and the Blekinge project in the Baltic Sea off Sweden.

Wind energy is also growing at a remarkable rate in China. This is due to government adopting a positive strategy when it comes to renewable energy. For example in 2013 16 GW of new wind generation capacity was added to the countries energy infrastructure. Years of significant carbon emissions had led to high levels of air pollutions, especially in the highly industrialised cities which in turn has led the policy makers to look to sources of renewable energy to help reduce this.

There is an ongoing debate however about the ability of clean renewable energy and particularly that of wind to be able to compete with nuclear energy when it comes to reducing worldwide carbon emissions. Globally nuclear capacity has reduced dramatically in recent years and this trend looks set to continue with Germany decommissioning all of it nuclear power stations and France, once the flagship for nuclear power, reducing their capacity by a third over the next few years.

So in reality nuclear capacity is reducing while wind capacity increases. No matter where you stand on the debate of carbon emission reduction that is a point that cannot be argued with.

However to look at both side by side we return to China as it can be a true test for how they match up against each other. For starters it has huge gap between generation and demand. It is developing both wind and nuclear projects at a rapid rate and has bypassed much of the regulations for nuclear projects which exist elsewhere.

Yet in four years it has developed significantly less nuclear capacity than it has in one year for wind capacity. As mentioned above in 2013 16 GW of new wind capacity was installed in China. From 2010 to 2014 4.7 GW of nuclear capacity was developed. Given that wind turbines run at an average efficiency of between 40 and 50% and nuclear power stations 91%, we now have like for like statistics for these types of energy generation.

It works out at approximately 6.5 GW of real capacity for wind in one year against 4.3 GW of real capacity for nuclear in four years. That’s about six time more wind capacity than nuclear per year in one of the most pro-nuclear countries there is.  There is no reason to think that this will change significantly in the future as China is below its own projections for nuclear generation and show no signs on markedly increasing this as it continues to struggle with the realities of getting nuclear to work.

As the reduction in carbon emissions from both types of technology are equivalent to each other the one with the higher generation capacity will reduce this further and in recent years wind is clearly ahead.

From a worldwide perspective the future of wind energy is positive. New technology, high levels of investment, pro-active governments, and better science are all contributing towards an increase in capacity and generation at a time when new clean energy sources are required. It has also been shown it can compete with nuclear when it comes to worldwide carbon reduction. With the resources we have here in the UK it wouldn’t be right to scale back our own successful wind industry for political reasons. We have an opportunity to continue to lead the way rather than getting left behind as the rest of the world continues to move forward.