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New Approaches to Solar Development

Published In: EnergyBiz Magazine January/February 2011

Bill Opalka | Feb 11, 2011

Solar projects in the desert southwest, especially those on public lands, seemed to fall into a black hole. Interminable reviews and a policy vacuum seemed to conspire to prevent any large-scale projects from being built for nearly two decades.

But the imperatives of the economic stimulus plan and California's push for even more renewable energy seemed to change that dynamic in the past two years.

The coordination of state and federal reviews was but one piece.

A policy nudge - more like a kick - came in the form of cash grants to renewable energy projects that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act started to aid developers unable to obtain financing in their usual manner.

Those circumstances led to the approval of eight large projects in the desert Southwest in a two-month span by mid-November. The projects in California, Arizona and Nevada, seven concentrating solar power plants and one photovoltaic, would add 3,500 megawatts to western power grids.

But rewind to early 2009. Ken Salazar, secretary of the Department of Interior, made renewable energy development on federal lands a priority. The Bureau of Land Management is the department's custodian of public lands, to which President Barack Obama gave an accelerated mandate to have sited 9,000 megawatts of renewable energy by the end of 2011.

In six southwestern states the BLM has identified 23 million acres for solar potential, 20.6 million acres for wind and 111 million acres for geothermal.

"There's been a significant shift to renewable energy, especially in the last two years," said Ray Brady, the team lead for the BLM's minerals and realty directorate since 2005.

Various renewable energy developers, along with state and federal officials, have fast-tracked 34 projects on BLM land - 14 solar, seven wind, six geothermal and seven for transmission - for which the administration wants complete reviews by the end of 2011.

The federal government has relied on the memorandum of understanding between the various federal agencies, essentially a streamlining of the review among the cabinet-level departments such as Energy and Interior, their units such as the BLM and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and their state counterparts, along with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and other state agencies.

The agreement expedited projects that were on track to break ground by the end of last year and become eligible for more than $15 billion in funding from the cash grants program.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in California. With all the renewable energy projects encouraged by the economic stimulus or by state efforts, an estimated 70 gigawatts of new generation are proposed in that state alone.

One early example off the expedited process might be BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah project in the Mojave Desert, which has three sections that would total 392 megawatts of power.

Early last year, the developers for the Ivanpah project responded to environmental objections over sensitive plant locations made during the permitting process's public comment period. BrightSource created an alternative design that reduced the footprint of the third Ivanpah plant by 23 percent, avoiding the area identified by environmental groups during the public comment period. The overall footprint of Ivanpah was cut by about 12 percent, and generation capacity was reduced by 48 megawatts.

"The speed with which the plans were modified is a success of the review process," BLM's Brady said.

An approach that hasn't had quite as much success is the two federal loan programs in the stimulus. Only one guarantee - for $1.37 billion - has been awarded. It went to BrightSource's Ivanpah project, which broke ground in the fall. Developers have claimed that the approval process is unwieldy, and the $6 billion program has been raided twice by Congress to pay for other priorities.

Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, remains hopeful. "Now that the program has been in place for a couple of years and we're working our way through some of the bugs with respect to the reviews and approvals, we can streamline it and really get more projects out the door and commence construction," he said.

If it survives.

The midterm election could mean many things for energy legislation, but large, stimulus-style spending to jump-start solar projects does not appear to be imminent.

"There are going to be very few chances for new appropriations, if any," said Alexander Kragie, vice president of the Coalition for Green Capital, in the wake of the Congressional midterm election that swept aside much of Obama's clean energy agenda.

That means solar and other renewable resources will need even more new approaches

The editorial staff at RenewablesBiz.com is passionate about exchanging ideas and dedicated to promoting ongoing conversation about renewables and sustainable energy issues. We invite you to join and contribute to our online community. If you have an idea for an article or editorial contribution, please contact me via email, bopalka@energycentral.com, or phone, 860.633.0090.

"Continue the conversation! For more discussion on coal, nuclear and the future of renewable energy, join us at the 3rd Annual EnergyBiz Leadership Forum, the most influential gathering of power industry executives in the United States. Visit www.EnergyBizForum.com for more information."

Comments

Yes. Solar Energy needs new Approaches

- Feb 11, 2011 - 7:45 AM

Excellent article.

Yes. Innovative approaches are needed to push Solar Projects under the category THINK BIG. Sunbelt countries should follow the latest advances in solar energy development in countries like USA, Gernmany, Japan etc.

Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

Making Offshore Wind Work

Bill Opalka | Aug 06, 2010

One part of the race to develop offshore wind in the United States is being played out in a 6-foot-deep tank in a Massachusetts laboratory. Another is developing computational models to determine how 15-million-pound machines might behave in extreme weather.
Both are part of a three-year, $300,000 research award from the National Science Foundation (NSF), supporting a team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Worcester, Mass. The team is studying the feasibility of placing large wind turbines on deep ocean platforms.
I recently spoke with Professor David Olinger, the principal investigator for the deep-water-wind turbine research.
"In the United States we are behind but hopefully we may be able to catch up," he said. "Wind turbines could be in the water in five to 10 years but we in the U.S. would be on the back end of that time frame."
Similar research is ongoing, supported by industry, academia and governments. A prototype is already in the water off the coast of Norway.
The WPI team is using test facilities at the Alden Research Laboratory in nearby Holden, Mass. Founded by George I. Alden, WPI's first professor of mechanical engineering, this is the nation's oldest continuously operating hydraulic lab.
The model dimensions are built at a 100-to-1 scale, with a 115-pound "turbine" one-millionth the weight of 5-megawatt deepwater machines now under development for offshore power generation. Floating turbines would be anchored to the ocean floor, at depths of perhaps 600 feet.
The next step with the scale models will occur in tests in October using wireless communication devices. The scale models would simulate 60-foot-high waves, for instance.
Olinger knows up close the controversy created by wind tower visible from shore. All of Europe's offshore turbines are currently mounted on fixed-bottom, foundation-based towers in shallow water, not more than 130 feet deep.
"This is important for offshore wind as it avoids some of the controversies in shallow water, like at Cape Wind, where they would be visible," he said.
The WPI researchers have just completed the first year of the three-year grant. They will write a paper on the initial research that will be presented next spring at the 6th Subrata Chakrabarti International Conference on Fluid Structure Interaction in Orlando, Fla.

Comments
Great Scope to install Off shore Wind Farms in US
- Aug 9, 2010 - 6:25 AM
I read with interest the article.
Offshore wind development zones are generally considered to be ten kilometers or more from land. Offshore wind turbines are less obtrusive than turbines on land, as their apparent size and noise is mitigated by distance. Because water has less surface roughness than land (especially deeper water), the average wind speed is usually considerably higher over open water. Capacity factors (utilisation rates) are considerably higher than for onshore and nearshore locations.
Transporting large wind turbine components (tower sections, nacelles, and blades) is much easier over water than on land, because ships and barges can handle large loads more easily than trucks/lorries or trains. On land, large goods vehicles must negotiate bends on roadways, which fixes the maximum length of a wind turbine blade that can move from point to point on the road network; no such limitation exists for transport on open water.
Offshore wind turbines will probably continue to be the largest turbines in operation, since the high fixed costs of the installation are spread over more energy production, reducing the average cost. Turbine components (rotor blades, tower sections) can be transported by barge, making large parts easier to transport offshore than on land, where turn clearances and underpass clearances of available roads limit the size of turbine components that can be moved by truck. Similarly, large construction cranes are difficult to move to remote wind farms on land, but crane vessels easily move over water. Offshore wind farms tend to be quite large, often involving over 100 turbines..
Fixed-bottom, foundation-based tower technologies
In areas with extended shallow continental shelves, water not deeper than 40 m (130 feet), windy but without Category 4 or higher storms, fixed-bottom turbines are now available and practical to install. Offshore installation monopile wind turbines are generally more expensive than onshore installations but this depends on the attributes of the site. Offshore fixed-bottom towers are generally taller than onshore towers once the submerged height is included. Offshore foundations may be more expensive to build. Power transmission from offshore turbines is through undersea cable, often using high voltage direct current operation if significant distance is to be covered. Offshore saltwater environments also raise maintenance costs by corroding the towers, but fresh-water locations such as the Great Lakes do not. Repairs and maintenance are usually more costly than on onshore turbines, motivating operators to reduce the number of wind turbines for a given total power by installing the largest available units. An example is Belgium's Thorntonbank Wind Farm with construction underway in 2008, featuring 5 MW wind turbines from REpower, which were among the largest wind turbines in the world at the time. Offshore saltwater wind turbines are outfitted with extensive corrosion protection measures including coatings and cathodic protection, which may not be required in fresh water locations.
Denmark, for example, has many offshore windfarms.
The United Kingdom plans to use offshore wind turbines to generate enough power to light every home in the U.K. by 2020.
The province of Ontario in Canada is pursuing several proposed nearshore locations in the Great Lakes, including a project by Trillium Power approximately 20 km from shore and over 700 MW in size. Other Canadian projects include one on the Pacific west coast.

REpower 5MW wind turbines D4 (nearest) to D1 on the Thornton Bank
As of 2008, Europe leads the world in development of fixed-bottom offshore wind power, due to strong wind resources and shallow water in the North Sea and the Baltic Sea, and limitations on suitable locations on land due to dense populations and existing developments. Denmark installed the first offshore wind farms, and for years was the world leader in offshore wind power until the United Kingdom gained the lead in October, 2008, with 590 MW of nameplate capacity installed. The United Kingdom planned to build much more extensive offshore wind farms by 2020. Other large markets for wind power, including the United States and China focused first on developing their on-land wind resources where construction costs are lower (such as in the Great Plains of the U.S., and the similarly wind-swept steppes of Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia in China), but population centers along coastlines in many parts of the world are close to offshore wind resources, which would reduce transmission costs.
On 21 December 2007, Q7 (later renamed as Princess Amalia Wind Farm) exported first power to the Dutch grid, which was a milestone for the offshore wind industry. The 120 MW offshore wind farm with a construction budget of €383 million was the first to be financed by a nonrecourse loan (project finance). The project comprises 60 Vestas V80-2MW wind turbines. Each turbine's tower rests on a monopile foundation to a depth of between 18–23 meters at a distance of about 23 km off the Dutch coast.[citation needed]
Deep-water, floating turbine technologies
New deep-water, floating-turbine technologies are only recently beginning to be deployed. The first large-capacity floating wind turbine is the Hywind, a 2.3 MW turbine mounted on a 120-meter-tall tower in 220-meter-deep water in the North Sea off of Stavanger, Norway . It will be tested for two years. The unit was constructed during the summer of 2009 and became operational in September, 2009.
Until 2003, existing offshore wind turbine technology deployments had been limited to water depths of 30-meters utilizing fixed-bottom technology, which necessarily limited deployments to the near-coastal sea surface.
Worldwide deep-water wind resources are extremely abundant in deep-water areas with depths up to 600 meters, which are thought to best facilitate transmission of the generated electric power to shore communities. The U.S. deep-water wind resource is second only to China. Although limited early conceptual work on deep-water floating turbine technologies was done in 1972, it was not until the mid 1990’s, after the onshore, foundation-tower, commercial wind industry was well established, that design of deep-water technologies was taken up again by the mainstream research community.(Source: Wikipedia)..
US can benefit by installing large wind turbines in Off shore Wind farms. The research at Massachusetts laboratory is indeed will help promotion of Off shore wind turbines on a large scale in US and elsewhere.
Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore (AP), India

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