Sunday, April 6, 2014

Offshore Windturbines in Texas

Offshore wind technology gets a boost in Texas, as Governor Rick Perry awarded funds for the Texas Emerging Technology Fund at the Wind Energy Center at Texas A&M University.  The fund will lead to 18 MW of offshore windturbines.  see link  This is bad news for nuclear power, which cannot compete against wind energy.  
Windturbine using tension-leg anchoring system
credit: NREL

The windturbines will likely be place offshore from Corpus Christi, which has good and steady wind.  

From the article: 
"Texas A&M will collaborate with Texas Tech University, the University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi and the University of Texas at Brownsville to develop new turbine and platform technology for offshore use."

The Gulf of Mexico, especially that part just offshore from Texas, has many hundreds of oil and gas platforms.  These structures make excellent bases for wind turbines, and reduce the cost of offshore wind installations.   The platforms could also serve as an anchoring point for seabed energy storage systems, such as that described recently by researchers at MIT. see link.  

The energy storage would be via submerged hollow spheres made of concrete, which are vented to the atmosphere.  At night and other periods of low power demand, the energy from offshore windturbines pump seawater out of the spheres.  During peak demand, or when the wind speed is too low to produce power, seawater flows into the spheres via conventional hydroelectric turbines connected to generators.   The hydroelectric mode could also be employed when storms occur, and the windturbines must be stopped for their own protection. 

NREL research published in 2010 estimated that US offshore wind can produce 4,000 GW of energy. see link  If only 10 percent of that were to be installed, that would be the equivalent of 400 full-size nuclear power plants.  The US currently has 100 nuclear power plants.  Also, if the offshore wind resource produces only 30 percent of the installed capacity on an annual basis, the amount of wind energy would be the 120 GW, or roughly 20 percent of the entire electric power consumed in the US.  With seabed energy storage as described above, this power would be reliable, dispatchable, and load-following when required.   The numbers could easily be doubled, or tripled.   With quadrupled values, that is, 40 percent of the offshore potential installed, that wind resource would supply 80 percent of the US's power needs.  Onshore wind supplying 10 percent, and hydropower supplying 10 percent would make the US completely renewable in electric power.  


Some will doubt the ability of the windturbines to reliably and affordably produce electric power.  However, the combination of existing offshore platforms and wind turbines greatly reduces the installation cost.  The use of submerged spheres for storage also greatly increases the price the utilities would pay for the power.  


This is the type of future energy research that must be applauded.  As we say in Texas, way to fire, Governor!  Way to fire...

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California

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