The last of the transition pieces for the 111 turbine x 400 MW Anholt wind farm in Denmark. These are the sections placed between the monopole foundation (a 500 ton or more “pipe” that is is about 200 to 250 feet long and about 20 feet in diameter) that is pounded into the seabed and the wind turbine tower. From http://www.rechargenews.com/energy/wind/article318340.ece. Additional information on how this ~ $US 2.1 billion project is being assembled can be seen at http://www.dongenergy.com/anholt/EN/News/anholt_nyheder/News/Pages/AnholtOffshoreWindFarm-NewsletterJuly2012.aspx

If you want to do something about Global Warming, talk is really cheap, so enough with the talk. Actually, so are some forms of energy efficiency, like switching from incandescents to fluorescent and LEDs, or better yet, turning the lightbulb off when it is not required to be on. But after the easy stuff is done, there comes the generation of renewable electricity part. And it turns out that delivering serious quantities of electricity at affordable prices is possible, is being done, is creating lots of employment and business opportunities, all at once, but sometimes it also requires some serious investments. In this case, the major electric utility in Denmark (Dong Energy) joined forces with a pair of pension funds (these purchased half of this project for ~ $US 1 billion – see http://blog.ewea.org/2012/04/financing-offshore-wind-farms-requires-new-capital-sources/) and they also got a $US 310 million loan from a bank (Nordic Investment Bank), so that Dong will “only” need to come up with around $US 800 million. And then they will repeat the process for subsequent wind farms of a similar size now beginning construction, including one called “West of Duddon Sands” in British waters. This company has become one of the foremost offshore wind developers in the world: http://www.dongenergy.co.uk/en/uk_business_activities/renewables/Pages/Renewables.aspx

But, you can only get pension funds to invest in projects if these are conservative (= not risky) investments, and Danish pension funds are as cautious as just about any in the world. What makes this project possible is the fact that it has a power purchase agreement for the sale of the electricity for a long term (~ 25 years) and that projects such as these are no longer experimental curiosities but are becoming commonplace. This project should supply an average of at least 160 MW and deliver approximately 4% of Denmark’s electricity consumption. This will push up the wind turbine derived part of Denmark’s electricity to about 32.2%. In other words, by the time this project is completed (early 2013), about one third of the electricity of this country of 6 million will be supplied by wind sourced electricity. In 2011, about 28% of Denmark’s electricity was wind sourced, and on average, these were putting out 28.5% of their rated capacity. Their goal of achieving a 50% wind based electricity system by 2020 seems to be quite possible.

So far, about 22% of Denmark’s wind turbine capacity is located offshore, but that is bound to increase. Unfortunately, this is not cheap, though maybe that is not so unfortunate, as that investment also translates into economic activity, especially if very little of it “leaks” out of Denmark via importing stuff for this project. Part of the reason their economy is not in the tank like much of Europe presently finds itself is that they are undertaking investments like the Anholt project, which is both capital intensive and massively job creating. These investments will be repaid by electricity customers via their electricity billsover at least two decades, so this is not “government subsidized”, though it is “government facilitated” via the long term Power Purchase Agreement. There are over 5000 commercial scale wind turbines operating in that country, and a number of the smaller and less efficient ones have had their capital investment paid off. These are now very inexpensive generators of electricity, with a production cost near 2 c/kw-hr, and this trend is going to accelerate between now and 2020. Thus, the increase in wind sourced electricity from the more expensive offshore arrays will be compensated by the large numbers of paid off turbines generating at their marginal cost. It also turns out that many of these older units are likely to outlast their expected 20 year life. Despite incentives to replace the older units with bigger and more efficient ones, a lot of the 150,000 owners of turbines in Denmark are sticking with their older, more modest sized (200 to 1000 MW) turbines, which are among the lowest cost generation systems in Europe (no capital costs…).

It turns out that there are now about 4.2 GW of offshore wind farms “on line” and generating electricity, with most of the turbines in just a few countries in northern Europe. However, there are now about 8.6 GW of offshore wind under construction in 23 wind projects. And as can be seen at this website –  http://www.thewindpower.net/windfarms_offshore_en.php – there are lots in the planning stages. Very shortly, the US will even have one being built – the 468 MW Cape Wind project in Massachusetts…

In the U.S., there are a couple of states (small population, large area, big wind resources) where there is now a very high percentage of wind in the state electricity grid – notably Iowa (20% by 2012) and South Dakota (22% in 2011), while North Dakota, Minnesota and Wyoming all had at least 10% of their electricity supplied by wind turbines (http://www.earth-policy.org/data_highlights/2012/highlights27). By the end of 2012, there will be a significant concentration of states in the midwest (Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and the Dakotas as well as Texas-Oklahoma-Kansas) with very significant wind energy contributions to their electricity grids.

In general, “experts” have warned about grid instability as the wind content of the electricity grid gets near 20% and greater. But this may be unsupported by facts – especially since Denmark will be zooming past the 32% level shortly, and seem to be doing fine at the 28% level. It may also be the extremely dour and conservative view that gird operators and managers have on life and of any changes in ANYTHING. After all, part of their job is to assume massive failure of their grids and to plan accordingly, all the while keeping massively underfunded. I guess that can breed a certain attitude….

But, wind being a major, and soon DOMINANT factor in the electricity mix of certain regions is not just a fantasy of some hippies who like renewable energy. It’s now becoming a reality, and some of the benefits include the fact that the wind resource does not deplete (in North America, Global Warming will tend to produce faster winds for much of the country…), it’s “homegrown energy”, it makes electricity without CO2 pollution, is most definitely a job creation and wealth creation “engine”, and once the systems are paid off, it makes amazingly low cost electricity. Oh, and zero chance of nuke meltdowns with subsequent mass poisoning and massive loss of life (Chernobyl’s legacy is around a million prematurely dead people from cancer and degraded immune systems caused by ingestion or inhalation of radioisotiopes which should not have been polluting the regions in which these people lived). Life in Japan is definitely going to be adversely affected by the Fukushima FUBAR, in addition to the (so far) $US 50 billion tap for that “oops” event.

About the only drawback about wind going big time is the constant rants from anti-renewable energy people and organizations, many funded or aligned with pollution based energy concerns, and which basically boil down to screeches of “we can’t do it” and “it won’t work”. Oh well, they do get boring, even if they are horridly well funded by the likes of Exxon-Mobil and those possibly evil Koch-fiend Sith Twins running Koch Industries. And like most things that are boring, it takes greater and greater amounts of money to get a smaller and smaller effect, much like opiate and meth addiction, so the foes of a sane energy systems can look forward to spending more money to achieve lesser and lesser propaganda effectiveness. But, they do have a whole lot of money at their disposal…. So be prepared for another assault on reason and truth by our “friends” in the fossil fuel industry, and especially the natural gas biz, which will be centered on converting gas to electricity.  Since “unnatural gas” competes directly with wind based electricity, and once gas goes back up in price to levels needed to make money on drilling for it/delivering it to market (especially via fracking), it will be less expensive to make electricity via wind turbines in much of the U.S., and that will not make the frackers in this country into “happy campers”. After all, mined methane is just SO 20th century, and rumor has it, this is now the 21st century.

In the meantime, if you want to do something about making the world a better place, one good first step is to get a sensible renewable energy pricing system installed somewhere in the U.S. Once such an arrangement gets instituted, it will spread, since this is also a job creation arrangement, and that is real popular these days. And while it may sound trivial, it is not – the trivial part is making and installing transition pieces like in the picture…..

The initial 30 MW phase of the Thornton Bank wind farm (Belgium) – see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thorntonbank_Wind_Farm. It will soon be a 300 MW array..

DB