Tuesday, June 08, 2010

How to Make Wind Power More Efficient

How to Make Wind Power More Efficient By: Rebecca Kutzer-Rice
A recent study at MIT identifies key ways of making current wind technology more cost-effective.

Sometimes “smarter technology” simply means using current technology more effectively. A recent study conducted at MIT demonstrates a smarter way to utilize current wind technology by changing the electricity grid to cut costs.

“Everyone knows advances in technology are critical for more widespread use of clean energy, but effective operations are also vital for profitability and can help us take advantage of current opportunities,” says Jarrod Goentzel, Director of the MEng in Logistics (MLOG) program at MIT’s Center for Transportation and Logistics (CTL), which helped direct the study. “Obviously without good technology we won’t get there, but we will get there sooner by operating the technology in a more efficient way.”

One main problem with wind power is its inconsistency—the wind blows sporadically and is often stronger at night. The MIT study concludes that, by using large storage batteries, power companies could amass energy during off-peak hours and then use it during peak times. Ultimately, this kind of battery usage could make wind power economically profitable for power companies.

Off-shore wind farms may provide the energy of the future, but first they’ll need to be made more efficient (source: MIT).

Another problem identified by the study deals with the location of current power stores. While the most economically beneficial locations are near cities, almost all wind farms and storage devices are in rural areas. Because most urban centers do not want windmills cluttering their space, the researchers suggest moving just the power-storage devices from the farms to the cities. Clayton Siegart, an MIT student involved with the study, notes, “If you look strategically at where to place grid-scale batteries, there are huge arbitrage opportunities in some locations.”

Adds Chris Namovicz, a long-term renewable-energy forecasting expert at the federal government’s Energy Information Administration, “Having additional energy-storage resources on the grid could potentially improve the economic viability of wind resources in any part of the country, assuming the economic viability of energy storage itself.”

This research takes place at a critical time for renewable energy in America. Last month, the United States approved its first offshore wind farm to be built in Cape Cod. And soon, GE will build a massive wind farm in Lake Erie. The research from MIT might allow these new farms to harness energy more efficiently and less expensively—key factors in making alternative power sources mainstream.

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