Weatherdem's Weblog

Bridging climate science, citizens, and policy

New Solar and Wind Energy Infrastructure

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I’m sure there are more stories out there than just the two I’m going to profile here.  These happened to catch my eye and I wanted to pass along the news.

A new series of concentrated solar thermal power farms are being planned in southern California.  If the plan goes through, 1300MW of electricity will be produced.  Put another way, 3.7 billion kilowatt hours of electricity per year will be generated by the series of plants.  That’s enough to power 845,000 homes (according to the article, that’s more homes than are in San Francisco!).  Solar thermal power concentrates the sun’s rays to create steam in a boiler and spin a turbine.  It gets at part of the original problems with solar energy: the lack of capacity to store energy for later use.  Constructed properly, solar thermal plants should be able to store energy in the form of heat for hours after the sun has set.  Current technologies allow for heat to be used four to six hours after collection.  With additional research, power collected during the day should be able to be stored and used throughout the night.  That will help keep electricity rates down for consumers.  It won’t be subject to the kind of excessive speculation that plagued the oil and natural gas markets last year, for instance.

Another challenge facing renewable energy utilization is the best areas to collect the power are typically far away from the areas that want the power.  To deal with that, new transmission lines will have to be built across the country.  Those lines will need to carry power generated from solar plants (like the ones described above) as well as power from wind plants.  A new wind power transmission plan seeks to address the latter.  Excellent wind resources exist in the northern Plains of the U.S.  Major users nearby include the Chicago area in Illinois.  The new plan would seek to deliver 12,000MW of wind energy from the Dakotas, Minnesota and Iowa to Chicago.  How much power is 12,000MW?  Well, it’s almost 10x as big as the CSP plants being planned for California, which means it could power about 8 million homes.  It would cost $10 to $12 billion to build the transmission lines.  Sound like a lot of money?  It could be described that way.  Let me add some additional context:

But in fact the study found that “increasing wind’s share to 20 percent of U.S. power production would yield annual net savings of $12 billion annually by 2024 based on wind’s low production cost compared to the fossil plants the turbines would replace.

So it would not only be good for the planet (by reducing future GHG emissions), but it would be cheaper to operate than our current fossil-fuel burning approach?  That’s a win-win.

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