Monday, 7 April 2014

Energy Visions of the Future

"Minister's vision: Buy your own wind turbines. Islanders should adopt a Scandinavian approach to power by forming small energy communities and buying wind turbines and patches of roof-top solar panels, the Environment Minister says."
"The ambitious plans, Deputy Duhamel said, could see 1,000 households or more joining together to buy a wind turbine to power their homes, freeing them from the energy costs of a single mainstream supplier."(1)
The Jersey Evening Post reported on this story earlier this week, and I took a look at a couple of publications on the topic.
Ian Woofenden has written a book on "Wind Power for Dummies", and while it in theory allows someone to set up their own wind turbine, it also gives a good idea of the scale of the problem. Apart from the wind generator, the tower, wire and associated equipment for transmission and batteries for temporary storage, there are also a grid interface, metering, disconnects, overcurrent protection, grounding a more to ensure the system is safe. As he noted "There's a lot of detail to understand here, and unless you already have experience under your belt, you need support in this realm."
And he says "Wind energy is not a build-it-and-walk-away proposition. These systems require regular maintenance. At least once a year - and maybe twice - someone needs to lower or climb the tower to check the wind generator, do all scheduled maintenance, and address any problems. On the ground, batteries are the primary focus for maintenance, but you need to be aware of other system components and their calibration, too."
He explains clearly why this is the case. "Turbines live in a very harsh environment, high above the ground, where they're punished by very strong and variable winds. Turbines are rotating machines that spin, sometimes at very high speeds. Where you have mechanical motion, you'll have wear and tear". Higher than average wind speeds will increase the wear and tear, and exceptionally high wind speeds can potentially damage the turbine, as was seen on television a few years ago, when the turbine caught fire.
I have also been perusing a copy of "Home Power" magazine, which also looks at maintenance - "never buy a turbine solely on its up-front cost, but rather on what it will cost you over the long haul - money, time and aggravation. Wind electric systems are the toughest renewable energy systems to maintain, with the highest failure rate. Why? Because wind turbines live in a brutal environment atop 80 to 120 foot towers not readily accessible if you don't climb."
While small energy communities may be found in Scandinavia, where there are relatively remote clusters of dwellings for which wind power may be more suitable, Mr Woofenden comments that this is not true of all locations - "There are places where wind-electric systems just do not make that much sense - densely populated urban and suburban areas are not a great choice" Taking a map of Jersey, I would imagine that the more urban parishes would largely be ruled out.
And in more general matters, my correspondent Adam Gardiner had this to say:
"Facts and costings seem to be in short supply with the Minister's suggestion. For a start, the costs are significant --we are talking hundreds of thousands of pounds to set up a system to generate a 240volt supply. But also it should be noted that these will require qualified specialist electrical engineers and to install and maintain them."
"And there are other problems. What about your problems if you wish to move out from your "energy community". This raises all kinds of legal issues which have not been considered. As well as this, a prospective buyer of a property could be told they are locked into some sort of energy deal which the property is rigged up to. This could lead to all kinds of problems with property sales, especially if there are rising maintenance costs after the turbines have been in place for some years."
"Then there are the obvious and endless complaints. There could well be grounds for nuisance, both because of the noise, and also the visual aspect. Planning consent would be needed which at the present time precludes such a construction by virtue of the Island Plan."
"Who would oversee such work as to assure that a 240volt supply complied with the standards required? A vision of the future energy needs? I rather think the good Deputy should go to Specsavers!"
"Affordable and viable energy for Jersey is an island issue and best left in the hands of those who provide our energy needs at present as that have the expertise - and the network. That is not to say that the JEC should not be pursuing a policy of exploring our natural resources that could make Jersey more self-sufficient in the future. I should be surprised if they are not. That the States are encouraging this seems to be in some doubt. The impetus provided by the late Constable Dan Murphy seems to have ceased."
"But what seems to be the worst case scenario would be wind-turbines springing up ad-hoc all over the island at the expense of both the visual landscape and the ability for the JEC to invest in future technology to the benefit of the common good of us all"
"For my money, given we are surrounded by water and experience some of the highest tidal ranges in the world, energy from the sea seems to be the most practical and sustainable solution. I am sure it's not the cheapest option but is clearly the most reliable."
One thing that does come from reading Ian Woofenden's book is that Deputy Duhamel's second suggestion on solar panels may be the more viable one. It is a shame that the Jersey Evening Post's focus, concentrates on the wind power, which seems a very costly option. I noticed that in the politics hour on BBC Radio Jersey, or at least the portion I heard while driving, the Deputy was concentrating on solar panels, which was much more feasible.
Mr Woofenden notes that:
"In my 25 years of using wind and solar electricity, my PV modules have just sat on the roof doing their job. I wash them a few times a year, but other than that, I've had no involvement. In the same time period, I've had multiple wind generator failures, and my machines have all needed regular maintenance."
"Another bonus: Besides being simpler and more reliable, solar-electric systems are more modular than wind-electric systems. Expanding as your interest or budget allows is relatively easy (though some planning ahead is advisable if you think growth will be in your future)."
And he also notes that solar panels have a much wider scope in terms of placement:
"Many, many more people have a good solar site than have a good wind site. PVs can go on roofs, poles, and ground mounts in the city, suburbs, or wherever. Good solar sites have clear access to full sun all day, or at least for the peak hours of 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Though not all sites have good exposure, I'd say that for every good wind site I look at, I probably look at 40 or 50 good solar sites."
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the USA provides provide monthly average daily total solar resource information on grid cells for the country.  
And the UK Met Office does the same (albeit on a smaller scale) for the UK  
If Deputy Duhamel's vision is to be a reality, at least for solar energy, then a helpful precursor would surely be to determine which areas in Jersey would be viable.
There is at least one company into solar energy in the Channel Islands, the Little Green Energy Company, and their testimonials are promising.
While solar energy is not likely to completely replace grid power, it seems to be a more viable option than wind power. It is less noisy. It may cost, but it requires far less maintenance. Perhaps there is room for at least part of Deputy Rob Duhamel's vision, after all.
But it would also be good to know who is now taking on the mantle of the late Constable Dan Murphy in the States in progressing work on the viability of wave power. There is no need to have all the renewable energy eggs in one basket.
(2)   Wind Power for Dummies, 2009, Ian Woofenden
(3)   Home Power Magazine, Jan 08, Issue 122

1 comment:

James said...


actually, you and everyone else here are (at least in part) missing the real point here.

The real issue is not how you generate power, but how you distribute it: generating power centrally is efficient but grid distribution is not.

And even with smart software that keeps power flowing through networks, there are points where the high voltage lines have to be stepped down to lower voltages for local distribution. Those substations are the weak point of the grid: lose one of those and all local customers lose power. I was in Gloucestershire in July 2007; we already had no water, and it took frantic efforts to stop water getting into the main substation at Gloucester. Had that failed, 300,000+ people would have had neither power nor water...

The sort of micro-networks that I think Duhamel envisages are a large step forward in terms of resilience of supply. Now that we're all going to lose phones as well if grid power goes off (fibre connectivity requires a digital-analogue converter running off mains power) that degree of resilience would be very welcome.