CHAVA Wind About Windpower at the Crossroads
You may have recently heard or read something about the challenges of Windmill manufacturers and developers across the US and worldwide. And no, not the incoherent claims that windmills might be linked to cancer. Chava Wind wants to talk about the legitimate issues that substantially slowed this once so promising industry’s growth. Or in some countries like Germany, new deployments have almost come to a grinding halt.
So what happened? Wind-generated power is cheaper than power from newly built nuclear reactors (and undeniably less dangerous). It is cheaper than new nuclear reactors even without the expense of long-term storage of radioactive waste for many generations to come. And the cost of windpower is more competitive with lower-emission coal plants, even if coal mining still causes tragic health issues and a substantial long-term burden to the society and environment.
Some people think that the price collapse of solar panels over the last five to ten years has significantly affected large wind. But for utility-scale power production, modern multi-megawatt windmills hold a significantly higher power density and are easier to handle than square-miles of PV arrays. Particularly in wind-rich Northern climates where PV exhibits extended production lows in winter, wind power is undoubtedly the preferred clean energy choice.
According to Chava Wind, there are two major issues than caused a slowdown of onshore big wind:
One can be summarized as ‘load-balancing/grid capacity’, and the other one is commonly known as NIMBY.
Load-balancing/grid capacity issue
If you think of a country as big as the United States, the capacity of wind power could theoretically be spread across the nation, and there would statistically always be regions where the wind blows strong enough to make up for the load of other regions with less wind at the same time. The only issue is that the US does not has a truly national electricity grid, causing the delicate task of balancing generation and load to be only be realized within segments of the county. That is the reason why inexpensive and clean wind generation has to tag-team with fossil plants (mostly natural gas), which can adjust on a relatively short notice for generation and demand fluctuations.
So unless the price of electricity storage decreases further (to less than half of what it is currently), large-scale wind-power will be hard-pressed to stand on its own.
The NIMBY issue
Although the push-back in the US against big wind farms is still relatively tame (as rural areas are often very far from larger population centers and farmers receive financial incentives to lease the land), the “Not In My Back Yard” (NIMBY) issue has been demonstrated in several more densely populated regions.
And there are many other countries where local initiatives go against the deployments of large windmills. As an example, the German state of Bavaria has recently passed legislation mandating large windmills to be at minimum ten times the height of the turbine (the peak height of the propeller) away from human settlements (even tiny settlements). Given Germany’s population density, this rule has shrunk the number of economically viable deployment sites in Bavaria by over 80%.
Many other German initiatives targeted the necessary construction of new high-voltage grid lines to provide clean energy from the wind-rich North to the industrial South. People just don’t want power lines near their homes.
Small wind or on-site generation as an alternative
Besides big (utility-scale) wind power generation, there is another segment within the wind industry, which is the on-site generation, also known as ‘Small Wind’ or ‘Distributed Wind.’ According to Hagen Ruff of Chava Wind LLC, it is mostly deployed in remote areas across the world and islands. However, it is becoming more attractive to people with high electricity rates (to offset the cost) or as an on-site generation for people who desire to be somewhat independent of the utility grid. Some of them for religious reasons (i.e. the countless Amish households which can be found in 31 US states, Canada, and Central America), others for concerns over future grid outages or other catastrophes.
The wind has played a prominent role in the on-site generation for quite some time. But the price-collapse of PV panels has caused some serious head-winds for this so-called “Small Wind” segment, according to Chava Wind.
Another concern is that on-site Small Wind generators are close to people by definition, which is why the community has to accept them. Their safety can’t be jeopardized. However, most certified generators on the market are still very visible compared to PV and don’t exactly inspire the community because of their aesthetics. On the other hand, there are some fancy looking Vertical Axis Wind Turbines (VAWTs), which are still experimental and have not made it through the extreme rigor of any widely accepted certification. Chava Wind just recently saw such an uncertified experimental product that was oddly erected in a densely populated area in the Bronx, NY, and fell apart only weeks after the installation.
The Small Wind Turbine segment will only be accepted as a serious alternative when the market can deliver both inspiring and safe products! As is set by the example of Chava Wind, this allows people and organizations to make a visible and innovative statement for clean energy. The company is hopeful that one or the other product currently in certification will reach that goal very soon.
In summary, the Big Wind industry in populated areas is challenged by the increasing unwillingness to sacrifice our landscape by gigantic and imposing propellers. In remote areas, Big Wind is challenged by the cost of storage and the lack of economic grid-balancing capabilities.
In the Small Wind segment, we need a fresh start with inspiring new products that can aesthetically co-exist within their respective communities. But since the physics and the engineering of wind-generators is much more complex than many designers of those inspiring new gadgets imagine, we are still waiting for a product in that segment, which is safe, economical, and cool! We look forward to more long-term data on those who went through the onerous IEC certification process, like the Windleaf2500 from Chava Wind.
Open Letter Submitted By:
Chava Wind LLC