Wind Mills offshore Hyannis Port, Ocean Power Line and 15-MW Unit In Spain
Posted: 01 Jan 2011 04:34 AM PST
The biggest headlines for the U.S. wind industry in 2010 held promise and foreboding for 2011.
1. Triumphant 2009 U.S. growth turns dismal.
The wind industry's 10 gigawatts of new installed capacity in 2009 fell off in 2010 as a year of policy uncertainty created by the failure of congressional action prompted angry words from Jeff Immelt, the CEO of leading U.S. wind turbine manufacturer GE. "The rest of the world is moving 10 times faster than we are," he said. "We have to have an energy policy. This is just stupid, what we have today."
By the end of the first half of 2010, slow U.S. development caused Denise Bode, CEO of the American Wind Industry Association (AWEA), to describe the situation as "dismal."
Third quarter 2010 projections suggested the industry would finish the year with perhaps 5,000 megawatts of new capacity, about half its 2009 performance, half Europe's performance and a third of what China will have built in 2010.
2. Offshore wind starts turning around.
Cape Wind, the utility-scale installation proposed for Massachusetts' Nantucket Sound, won the backing of the Department of Interior after fighting and overcoming every kind of siting and environmental impact objection by opponents ranging from the Hyannis Port Kennedy family to Cape Cod Native American tribes.
The advancement of Cape Wind was a banner triumph in a series of offshore policy clarifications, announced development plans, exploration lease permits, PPA signings and studies showing the enormous economic opportunities of Atlantic Coast and Great Lakes wind. With Europe at nearly 2,500 megawatts of offshore capacity and China's handful of operational megawatts expanding, it looks like the U.S. may finally have an operating installation by 2015.
3. Advances in transmission: the other good news.
In California, Southern California Edison completed and inaugurated a new 1,500-megawatt capacity line that will deliver wind-generated power to Los Angeles. In doing so, it kicked off a new building boom in the Tehachapi Mountains, one of the state's windiest regions.
With an estimated 300 gigawatts of potential wind capacity across the U.S. awaiting wires to carry it, the California achievement led a series of advances in transmission building, planning, and policy clarification that will drive development of all renewables.
Google joined a consortium committed to building the Atlantic Offshore Connection, an offshore backbone line to carry 6,000 megawatts to load centers on the Eastern Seaboard.
Wind-rich states in the Midwest and West adopted the Competitive Renewable Energy Zone (CREZ)concept established in Texas to identify where wind and other renewable assets are located and to make certain there is adequate transmission for them.
At year's end, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved a cost allocation plan for new multi-state transmission that is expected to speed new development.
Lost amid the news of 2009's triumphant U.S. wind capacity growth was the fact that China, for the first time, took over world leadership in new capacity installation. China now has at least two manufacturing companies among the world's top ten (Sinovel and Goldwind). It is installing both new domestic transmission and new domestic wind capacity at mind-boggling rates.
Both Sinovel and Goldwind are, controversially, also making deals in the U.S. and around the world as world installed capacity moves quickly toward 200 gigawatts, led by emerging markets like Brazil, Mexico, Turkey, and India.
International competition is becoming fierce, but U.S. companies like GE remain in the game, suggesting how effective they could be if, like Chinese and European companies, there was real policy support.
5. Manufacturing takes root.
2010 saw new wind turbine tower, blade and nacelle manufacturing facilities go into service in states like Colorado, Arkansas, Iowa, and Kansas, and announced plans for new facilities in many other states went ahead despite uncertainty. It was a hint of the rebirth in U.S. manufacturing the wind industry could lead in a favorable policy climate because of its preference for sourcing its huge components near where they will be used rather than transporting them.
Wind power's potential to provide blue-collar work was the basis for a new alliance between the wind industry and the United Steelworkers union. The first thing the new alliance called for was a national Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) because that would give manufacturers and developers the long-term policy certainty they need to build.
Early in 2010, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) released studies of the U.S. transmission system's capability to integrate increasing portions of variable renewable energy. The Western Wind and Solar Integration Study (WWSIS) and Eastern Wind Integration and Transmission Study (EWSIS) strongly verified that wind can supply 20 percent to 30 percent of the country's electricity without any risk to reliability if system operators' access to available balancing mechanisms is maximized.
7. Bigger turbines.
In 2010, the 2.5-megawatt turbine, with a nameplate capacity adequate to supply power for nearly 500 U.S. homes, became the industry standard. The 845-megawatt Caithness Shepherd's Flat project, to be the world's biggest onshore wind farm when it goes online in 2012, will use GE 2.5-megawatt machines.
China's Goldwind, like GE, is still selling "last year's model" 1.5-megawatt turbines widely but more and more developers are opting for Goldwind's 2.5-megawatt nameplate capacity, especially in China.
In Europe, where getting more production out of a single erected turbine is increasingly urgent and manufacturers are turning their attention to the stronger winds offshore, turbines in the 3-megawatt class from companies like ENERCON and Siemens are selling. GE, Goldwind and others are pioneering 4-megawatt machines.
American Superconductor and Clipper Windpower are working on 10-megawatt machines and, this month, Spain's Gamesa announced it would lead a consortium in the development of a 15-megawatt turbine it says will be tested by around 2015.
8. Coming attractions appear.
The direct drive transmission got more attention in 2010. Startup Boulder Wind Power, helmed by former NREL head wind engineer Sandy Butterfield, opened for business in Colorado, and China's Goldwind, which has been developing direct drive for some years, entered the world market. Many say direct drive transmissions, with fewer moving parts and a lower-maintenance profile, will soon find a solid niche, and some have even speculated about a complete transition away from standard gearboxes.
LIDAR (laser-based) technology from Natural Power and SODAR (sonar-based) technology from Second Wind both became more common in 2010, sometimes replacing and sometimes complementing traditional anemometer towers, as the accurate measurement of a site's wind became vital in financing decisions and system operators' integration practices.
Floating deepwater turbines became a reality in 2010 as Norway's Statoil put its experience with offshore oil platforms to work and the newly DOE-funded DeepCwind Consortium National Research Program at the University of Maine began methodically developing scale models.
The year also saw important research from Canada further discounting the substantiality of so-called wind turbine syndrome as well as new protections for birds, bats, and radar.
9. Natural gas vs. wind, natural gas & wind.
Newly-tapped natural gas shale reserves kept supplies high, prices low and interest in building gas power plants stirred up. During wind's 2005-to-2009 boom period, its primary competition for new generation was natural gas. In 2010, as new wind capacity dropped, natural gas took prominence and both consultant Black & Veatchand the DOE's Energy Information Administration (EIA) predicted big growth in natgas.
Some speculated about wind's demise, but the Worldwatch Institute, among others, pointed out the crucial partnership between wind and natural gas for integrating higher levels of low-emissions energy into wider U.S. use.
10. Goodbye Renewable Electricity Standard; thank goodness for 1603.
Multiple studies and passionate speeches about the economic and other benefits of wind (and other renewables) did not convince U.S. Senate recalcitrants to institute an RES, and suddenly, on November 3, the Production Tax Credit (PTC), the Investment Tax Credit (ITC), the manufacturing tax credit (48C) and the 1603 Treasury Grant program all looked like potential targets for the newly elected spending-wary Congress.
It was therefore a celebrated, end-of-the-year triumph for the renewable community when the Obama Administration was able to convince the Senate to give the 1603 program, which makes tax credits viable in a recessionary economy, one more year of life.
Posted: 31 Dec 2010 04:06 PM PST
Prairie Ridge Estates, a single-use, single-family residential subdivision being constructed on farmland 40 miles southwest of Chicago, is billing itself as `the nation's first net zero energy community of custom designed homes.' The suggestion is that, if you purchase a home here, you're as green as it gets. The development's web site devotes a page to LEED, the green building rating system featuring the US Green Building Council's LEED logo, and noting the following:
"In an environment where we face increasing energy costs and have a heightened awareness of environmental responsibility there needs to be an alternative. That alternative is Prairie Ridge Estates, a community of 132 net-zero energy homes in New Lenox, Illinois, that can produce as much energy as a typical family consumes.
"Built using Insulated Concrete Forms (ICFs), concrete walls encased in a highly engineered insulating foam extend from the foundation to the peaks of the roofline. The homes begin with a shell that is exponentially more efficient than traditional 2â³x4â³ framed houses and are then combined with appliances and technologies that squarely focus on efficiency. From electricity to water to air quality, efficiency has driven the careful and deliberate selection of each window, appliance, and infrastructure system. While a Prairie Ridge Estates home will look and feel just like other homes it will perform unlike any other home, producing its own energy with wind turbines and solar panel systems. The homes also use designed systems, such as closed-loop geothermal, that limit energy consumption by as much as 80%. The result is a standard LEED Gold certified home that can easily achieve Platinum certification with minor design modifications."
So far, so good, I suppose. Those are laudable elements of green building design.
But, um, how can you be net-zero if you have to drive long distances to do anything? The closest intersection to the construction site that has roads with names in Google's data base is the intersection of South Gougar Road (Will County highway 52) and West Oak Avenue (79th Street). That's two-tenths of a mile from the entrance to the subdivision and a third of a mile from the heart. The Walk Score for that intersection is, well, ZERO. I think that's a different kind of `net zero' than the developer is claiming, though.
Remember Abogo, from last week, the tool that measures likely transportation costs and average transportation emissions from a given location? I ran Prairie Ridge's location through Abogo, too: average transportation costs per household are 24 percent higher than the regional average, and carbon emissions from transportation are nearly twice the regional average. How green does that sound? What might happen to the `net zero' claim if the 1.1 metric tons of carbon dioxide emitted every month by households in the Prairie Ridge location and the energy consumption they represent were factored into the equation? And what about the claimed energy cost savings, if you're shelling out $200 more each month for transportation than the average household in your metro region?
According to the web site, "lots average 1/3 acre in size. Floorplans start at 2,500 square feet. and lots can accomodate homes as large as 6,000 square feet."
Incidentally, while noodling around Google Earth I found an empty parcel of suburban infill about four miles away in Joliet (below left) of about the same size as Prairie Ridge that would at least bring the Walk Score up to 31, and lower carbon emissions by around 34 percent, compared to Praire Ridge. A few miles west of that one is another suburban infill parcel (below right) that would raise the Walk Score to 66. Both of those are still above average in costs and emissions but infill can at least begin to retrofit suburbia to something more sustainable. Shouldn't alternative sites similar to those be preferred over totally unwalkable farmland?
Prairie Ridge's environmental shortcomings are not emphasized in the mostly glowing article written on the new development in the Chicago Tribune earlier this month by Mary Ellen Podmolik but the writer, to her credit, does observe that "The homeowner's commitment to a green philosophy is a question mark, starting with daily commuting practices: Anyone driving 80 miles round-trip to Chicago in a SUV probably loses the right to claim a green lifestyle." You think?
The LEED page on the developer's web site mentions, after the passage quoted above, that "LEED for Neighborhood Development extends the benefits of LEED beyond the building footprint into the neighborhood it serves." Well, yes, if you meet the requirements. But look where Prairie Ridge is. This photo was taken right across the county road from the entrance:
This is not true green development but exurban sprawl. One can earn LEED building certification pretty much in the middle of nowhere, unfortunately, so they may well accomplish that part. The developer seems to be claiming that the homes-to-be already have qualified for LEED-gold and that a builder can make easy adjustments to a building plan to enable the purchaser to aim higher and obtain a LEED-platinum rating.
But there is not a chance in hell that Prairie Ridge is earning LEED-ND certification for smart, green urbanism. If it does, there is something very wrong with LEED-ND. And I would add that, if something in this location, with these transportation characteristics, is awarded a LEED-platinum rating under the LEED for Homes criteria, there is something very wrong with that system, too.
Move your cursor over the images for credit information. [JR: "me" is Kaid.]
Kaid Benfield writes (almost) daily about community, development, and the environment. For more posts, see his blog's home page.