Popular and ‘Best-Of’ Posts

This blog seeks to explain the complex evolution of renewable energy; past, present and future.  It is designed to be accessible and interesting to the lay reader but its depth and thoroughness make it useful to energy, environmental, and policy professionals.  Our posts are frequently picked up by blogs with national and international readership.  Logos next to a post indicate which blogs carried it.


aa CT GTM TEC RENEWIND INTERMITTENCY IS EXAGGERATED – NREL study shows US wind potential is larger and more stable than previously thought with capacity factors of 65% available, see details HERE.  Better even than Handleman Post predictions, that capacity factors of 50% can be achieved in large volume.

CleanTechnica logo-JoBEST US WIND SITES ARE BARELY TOUCHED –  HERE  – is a post showing where the best sites are why they are underutilized and how we can harvest much more wind at those sites.

WIND TURBINE STATE OF THE ART – New wind turbine technology is further reducing the cost and intermittency of wind power – HERE


COST – The cost of Renewables Is Dropping Rapidly – HERE are some great graphs showing declining costs.

GROWTH – The amount of renewable energy has been growing exponentially for decades.  Here are some good graphics illustrate that growth.

HERE is a link to videos of an entire course on renewable energy.  The presenter is engaging making it fun and interesting.


– Storage is vitally important for the future of renewable energy and many think that Lithium Ion batteries will play an important role if the cost can be brought down.   Elon Musk predicts breaking the important $100 / kwhr barrier by 2025.  This is in the same ballpark as predicted by Navigant and McKinsey  prior to the Tesla announcement of the Gigafactory.


LITHIUM AVAILABILITY – And not to worry, there is plenty of Lithium – HERE .

The Energy CollectiveThere has been much excitement over the Tesla Powerwall energy storage system.  It is important but not for the reasons described in the press.  My recent post post on the significance of Powerwall was picked up by The Energy Collective – HERE.


EV EMISSIONS – Electric Vehicles pollute less even when you take into account emissions from the generation source HERE

TESLA IS REVOLUTIONARY – Tesla really is revolutionary. HERE

BATTERY COSTS PLUMMET – EV batteries are the cost driver and they are coming down FAST – HERE

aa CT-RENEEVs FOR LOAD SHIFTING – EVs combined with Load Shifting use market forces to increase the value of wind power while reducing the cost of driving. – HERE

EV RANGE IS A NONISSUE – HERE  CleanTechnica logo-Jo  .

The world according to Elon – Elon Musk on the Tesla road map from 2006.  And now more from Elon on the derogatory Larry Hirsh article.


SOLAR LAND AREA – The Land area required for solar is relatively small in comparison to the overall human footprint.


EFFICIENT LIGHTING – Incandescent bulbs are being phased out in favor of high efficiency lights.  The most efficient is LED lighting which is dropping in price rapidly and is more efficient than CFLs – Here.


Moving renewable energy from the best sites (eg Great Plains for wind, the Southwest for solar) to sites of highest demand such as the East Coast requires upgraded power transmission infrastructure

EFFICIENT INTRACONTINENTAL POWER TRANSMISSION – Clean Line Energy HERE is developing HVDC transmission lines – HERE to do just that.

LINKING THE THREE US GRIDS – The US is composed of three separate, independent electrical grids, by connecting the three grids Tres Amigas will make wider use of renewable energy possible.

aa Logo CT-TEC-RENEBENEFITS OF AGGREGATION, A CASE STUDY – Texas’ grid expansion demonstrates a path towards higher wind penetration HERE .  Completed transmission lines nearly eliminate curtailment.


These resources help you use renewable energy as a context to teach STEM.

Calculate the area required to power the earth with solar modules.  This post discusses this and includes a spread sheet with the calculations.

This site has lots of data from a fixed and a tracking array.  You can download the data or plot it on the site.  If it doesn’t plot data for today then select an earlier date a couple of years earlier.  It is an old site and the computers sometimes go down.

Posted in EV PEV, New Energy Paradigm, Path to a New Paradigm, T&D The New Grid, US Energy Competitiveness | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Elon Musk –

A friend posted this on FB – Look forward to having time to read it.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Elon Musk, Tesla, biography

Posted in New Energy Paradigm | 1 Comment

Do I Oppose Nuclear Power?

People often ask whether I oppose nuclear power.  The answer is that I think there are a number of really good things about nuclear power BUT that human civilization has not created sufficiently robust management systems to address the details.  And the details have long term extremely costly implications for future generations. So in principle I favor nuclear power but in practice I do not.  Bottom line, lets move forward with renewables, it will work, it will be market based and renewable energy will offer power to the people in the sense that it distributes the monetary benefits to a much larger number of stakeholders.

Here is a case in point:  we put in place the trust funds to address decommissioning but our dysfunctional government, which has had ample time, has not created a solution for storage.  We were promised this was relatively straight forward to solve.  And most issues with nuclear power are well withing our ability to solve from a technical standpoint but we do not have political systems with sufficient integrity to do their part.  And so here it begins, we kick the can down the road to avoid dealing with the problem.  What is next, we simply don’t decommission the power plants?

Time for a new paradigm.  There is a path that appears to be viable with renewables.  It is time to pursue it.

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Do the Sharp and Solar City Announcements Mark the Beginning of Solar Without Subsidies?

aa CT-RENE     Featured on:  Cleantechnica, REconomy

By Clayton Handleman

PV has reached the point of commoditizing high efficiency modules and the ripple effect on system level costs has profound implications.  Not so long ago Sunpower’s 20+ % High Efficiency Modules (HEM) were seen as high end niche products.  Last week Solar City announced that they had leapfrogged the Sunpower benchmark with 22% modules that are now rolling off of their 100 MW lines.  They also promised that these HEMs will soon be rolling of their 1 GW line at Elon Musk’s ‘other’ gigafactory in Buffalo NY.  In the 2016, 2017 time frame multiple vendors will be at GW scale with HEMs marking this technology’s transition to high volume production on an industry and world scale. This volume, combined with multiple entrants competing will create a competitive environment which will continue to put downward pressure on prices.

Adding fuel to the fire Sharp, a long time leader in PV recently announced that they are joining the HEM club, in impressive style, raising the bar again with a 22.5% efficiency benchmark from production prototypes.   Presumably they will not be far behind with large scale manufacturing.  And the longtime leader, Sunpower, is in the process of upping their game with 23% efficient modules planned for production in 2017 from their Fab 5.  Fab 5 has a planned 800MW (.8GW) capacity that will also produce solar HEMs at the GW scale.

The importance of these announcements cannot be overestimated.  It was only a very short time ago that those who have held onto the vision of clean domestic energy for decades saw PV cross the threshold to cost effectiveness WITH subsidies.  Now we are thrilled to see that cost effective PV without subsidies is in reach during our lifetimes.  Solar City has long stated that their plan is for their residential PV systems to be cost competitive without subsidies by the time US tax credits expire.  Low cost, high efficiency modules offer a path to that goal by reducing the physical size of solar arrays and the size related costs.   The benefits of high efficiency include reduced footprint and reduced balance of system costs on a dollars per kwhr basis and amortization of fixed costs over a larger system capacity.  This article has a nice graphic showing the economics nearly a year ago.  They are only getting better.  And things have only gotten better since it was written.

Many residential systems are limited by roof space not desired capacity.  And a substantial fraction of the cost of residential systems is fixed.  As such, by increasing the array capacity those costs can be amortized over a larger project.  This reduces the cost per watt and therefore the cost per kwhr.  As module prices have dropped Balance of System costs for racking, wires etc. are contributing a larger percentage of system costs.  Because more efficient modules provide more energy per square foot, they reduce the cost of balance of system components on a dollars per watt basis.

The recent announcements offer the final piece of the puzzle, gigawatt scale manufacturing that can provide high volume and lower price.  Solar city is doing that with their PV gigafactory and Panasonic has the scale to develop manufacturing on a globally significant level.  When Sunpower was the only game in town and they were producing a tiny fraction of the worlds PV modules, it really didn’t matter how much their modules cost, they had no real impact on the cost of solar globally.  However with the emergence of gigawatt scale assembly lines, Solar City’s vision of PV reaching grid parity even as incentives are phased out, appears to be coming to pass.  And in volumes with global significance.  Clearly the industry is rapidly transitioning to greater than 20% efficiency as the new normal.  And with it, the brass ring of cost effective solar without subsidies is rapidly coming within reach.

A story that came out after mine that has the same idea.

Posted in New Energy Paradigm | 8 Comments

Tesla Just Got The Highest Rating Consumer Reports Has Ever Given

Wow!  Not much else to say.  See here – It broke their scoring system and scored 103.


I have been writing about this great car for some time.  Of course I have lots of company but it has been a fun ride.  Here is a piece where I concisely discuss many of the amazing feats that Tesla has accomplished.

Posted in New Energy Paradigm, Path to a New Paradigm | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Load Shifting With Electric Vehicles is a Great Match to Wind in Many Areas

Much of the best wind resource in the country peaks at night time.  To date this has proven challenging for the Texas electricity grid management.  It has been resolved somewhat due to transmission grid upgrades but still promises to limit wind power development in Texas.  Electric Vehicles, together with night time charging rates may create a path to much higher amounts of wind power being added to the Texas utility grid.  If Time of Use Metering us utilized, the car owner’s cost of ownership decreases.  This is in contrast to V2G scenarios which reduce battery lifetime.  In other words this is a way that the utilities can get lots of storage essentially for free.

Load Shifting With Electric Vehicles is a Great Match to Wind in Many Areas.

Posted in Climate Change, EV PEV, New Energy Paradigm, Path to a New Paradigm, Storage | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Great Graphics on Electricity in the US

These graphics found there way to me on Facebook:


Posted in New Energy Paradigm | Leave a comment

Texas Transmission Line Upgrades Slash Wind Curtailment

aa Logo CT-TEC-RENEFeatured on:  CleanTechnica, REneweconomy, and The Energy Collective,

By Clayton Handleman

It is August and that means the latest version of The Wind Technologies Market Report (WTMR) has been released by the US DOE’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) office.  The WTMR is a chronicle of growth and economic and technology trends in the wind industry.  Wind power has begun taking its place as a substantial contributor to electricity generation in the US.  Due to its intermittent nature there is an increasing, and some suggest, premature, concern over limits on penetration.  This is probably driven in large part by the large amounts of curtailment in Texas in 2009.  The 2014 WTMR may put some of those concerns to rest.  Data in the report show that in Texas, curtailment has been slashed from 17% in 2009 to 0.5% in 2014 (figure 1).  This occurred despite the backdrop of increased wind generation in Texas.  It was due in large part to bringing added transmission online.

Wind 2014 Curtailment GraphFigure 1:  Changes in wind curtailment by date.  Texas’ wind curtailment is labeled ERCOT.  WTMR p38

The improvement was no  accident.  As wind became valued as an important contributor to the Texas generation portfolio, it became apparent that to fully benefit from wind they would need to build transmission lines from where the best generation sites were to the population centers where it would be used.  The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) set about defining Competitive Renewable Energy Zones (CREZ) and creating an electric transmission plan to assure that the electricity could get from the CREZs to point of use.  The transmission lines have now been built and have nearly zeroed out the need to curtail wind generation.

ERCOT publishes quarterly progress reports for the CREZ program HERE .  In the summary maps below (figures 1,2,3) it is easy to track progress over time of the transmission line build out.  Comparing these to the data in figure 1 it is clear that the new transmission has successfully cleared the congestion that was limiting the use of wind generation.  Perhaps most impressive is that the substantial reductions in curtailment occurred at the same time that wind energy generation increased by almost 100% (Figure 5 below).

Wind 2014 CREZ Progress

Figure 2:  CREZ transmission line project status  November 2014 – Complete – Public Utility Commission of Texas

Wind 2013 CREZ Progress

Figure 3: CREZ transmission line project status October 2013 – Partially Complete – Public Utility Commission of Texas

Wind 2012 CREZ Progress

Figure 4: CREZ transmission line project status October 2012 – Partially Complete – Public Utility Commission of Texas


Figure 5: Texas Wind Capacity and total generation.  EIA

Original Article

An interesting graphic that provides insights into how renewables “play” together

Posted in New Energy Paradigm | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

New NREL Data Suggests Wind Could Replace Coal as Nation’s Primary Generation Source

aa CT GTM TEC RENEFeatured on: Greentechmedia, REneweconomy, and The Energy Collective, CleanTechnica

I have made some updates in response to feedback from commenters.  These can be identified by the red NOTE designator.

By Clayton Handleman

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) recently released data showing that the Capacity Factor (CF) for wind power can reach 65% which is comparable to that of fossil fuel based generation .  While the headlines aren’t as sexy as Tesla’s ‘Ludicrous mode‘, the transformative implications for climate change dwarf Elon Musk’s latest accomplishment.  Increasing a generator’s CF can increase its value in a variety of ways including: reduced cost of energy, improved transmission line utilization, and often, reducing stress on the grid by providing more power at times of peak demand.  It will also likely reduce the amount of storage and natural gas needed to manage the grid under scenarios of high renewables penetration.  Implicitly, NREL’s new report positions wind to become a dominant and possibly the primary source of electricity in the US.

Wind Potential Chart US 072015Figure 1:  Graph showing the area of the US with various gross capacity factors for differing wind technologies.  The curve to the left shows the historical data, the middle (red) curve shows the data for state-of-the-art turbines and the blue shows the anticipated performance of ‘near future’ turbines.  NOTE:  You can obtain a similar graph for each state by clicking on the individual states HERE .

CF is the ratio of a generator’s average power output over a year period to its nameplate rating.  A CF of 100% would indicate that it was always on and operating at its full rated power.  Simply stated, higher capacity factor means a given size generator will produce more energy over the year.  CF sets a lower bound on the amount of time a generator operates.  If a generator is not operating at its full nameplate rating all of the time then it will produce power for a percentage of time that exceeds its CF. *

Implicitly, NREL’s new report positions wind to become a dominant and possibly the primary source of electricity in the US.

With little fanfare, NREL released updated data showing that, with current technology, wind turbines could generate more than enough energy at 55% CF to power the entire US.  However the real stunner is that near future turbine technology (140 m towers) could boost that to 65% CF.  With the current national average wind CF (pg 34) at about 33%, this represents a near doubling.  According to NREL using current technology and siting it in prime locations, wind power CF already can exceed that of natural gas.  Using ‘near future’ technology wind power’s CF will exceed the CF of both coal (61%) and natural gas (48%) achieved nationwide in recent years.

NOTE:  It is important to keep in mind that fossil fuel plants are dispatchable and often their output is reduced in response to reduced demand. So their theoretical maximum CF is often more than what is realized in practice. This also occurs for wind through curtailment, but at current penetrations to a lesser degree. These distinctions are quantified by utilities using a metric called Capacity Credits which are discussed below.

Taking CF into account, on an energy basis, there is enough land suitable for siting 65% CF turbines to supply the nations electrical energy needs.  From NREL’s new data, figure 1 shows how our understanding of wind’s potential is rapidly evolving.  Advances in turbine technology are leading to taller turbines which can access the steadier, higher average speed winds at higher altitudes.  Using figure 1 and data from this study, one finds that there is enough land available to site turbines with 1.5 TW capacity and 65% CF.  At 55% CF there is enough land with sufficient resource to site roughly 3 times that or about 4.5 TW.  For perspective, the average US electrical net generation was less than 0.5 TW in 2012.    Even with higher CF, wind power is not dispatchable and therefor will not eliminate the need for other sources.  However it can dramatically reduce the percentage of generation from fossil fuels.

Coal and natural gas are currently the country’s primary generation sources.  According to the EIA, in 2014, coal power plants produced 39% of the nation’s electrical energy with gas in second place at 27%.  Some reputable authors argue that current economics (which do not consider load shifting) places a limit on the upper bound of renewables penetration equal to their capacity factor.  That criteria sets an upper bound for wind power’s contribution to the nation’s electric supply at 65% of the total.  However, in the near term the limiting factor may be technical.  A DOE funded study by GE suggests that the grid can tolerate about 55% wind and solar with the total being raised to 61% if the grid were reinforced with commercially available improvements.  Using either metric and technology available today, the only remaining barrier to wind becoming the nation’s largest energy source is transmission capacity.


The best wind resource is in the Great Plains Region (GPR) but the largest loads are on the coasts.  For the most part the economics of low CF wind power has required that it be built relatively close to existing transmission lines rather than building new lines.  So only a small fraction of the country’s best wind sites have been developed to date. To get the power from source to load will require expanding the transmission grid.  This will include adding dedicated transmission lines.  In the past it has been argued that these lines would be underutilized and therefor comparatively costly on a dollars-per-MWhr basis.  High CF wind improves the overall economics of dedicated transmission lines by using a higher percentage of their available capacity.

With high CF wind cost improvement for transmitting power is roughly proportional to the improvement in the CF.  So doubling the capacity factor approximately doubles the transmission line utilization.  This, in turn, halves the cost per unit of energy transferred. The GPR tends to have the lowest population density.  Not surprisingly there is little transmission access since very little electricity is required by the residents.

Developing the high CF sites will require new transmission lines capable of shipping high volumes of electrical power long distances and / or connecting to larger existing transmission assets.  In the past people have expressed concern about building transmission lines due to under-utilization.  The higher CF wind now elevates wind to levels of transmission line utilization comparable to that of traditional sources.  For perspective, with wind power being produced at 65% capacity factor it will utilize the transmission assets at about 65% while traditionally the transmission infrastructure is utilized at about 60%.

As icing on the cake, there is already some transmission line upgrade activity under way.  This is particularly true in Texas, which has upgraded transmission capacity specifically to expand their use of wind power.  The new data suggests that as the near future turbines are commercialized these transmission projects will have better economics than originally planned.


Recall that CF is the ratio of a turbine’s mean power production divided by its nameplate rating.  All other things equal, if a generator runs at a high capacity factor, the economics improve.  For example, a 3 MW wind turbine running at 33% capacity factor and charging $30 / MWhr for electricity will generate about $260,000 in annual revenue.  That same turbine running at 65% capacity factor would produce $512,000.  Alternatively it could charge $15.5 / MWhr and end up with the same profits as the 33% CF unit making it more competitive.  When transmission capacity is available, the economics of wind are already quite good in the GPR.  Moving to ‘near future’ turbines will likely further improve those economics.

Wind PPA Prices through Jan 2014Figure 2:  Levelized wind PPA prices by PPA execution date and region.  The interior region is shown as purple circles.

Figure 2 shows that recent Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) have been coming in under $30 / MWhr in that region.  The industry trend has been larger turbines and lower costs.  While it is the case that land based turbine size has stalled at about 3 MW that is due to the transportation challenges of getting the turbines to site.  One aspect of the ‘near future‘ turbines is that they are designed to address the transportation issues.  NREL apparently sees sufficient promise and progress to refer to the required technology as ‘near future’.  No doubt Europe’s success at commercializing turbines with 140m hub heights adds to their confidence.


The Capacity Credit (CC) is the metric used by utilities to account for a generator’s intermittency and its ability (or inability) to provide power at times of peak demand.**  The topic of CC (often found by determining the Electric Load Carrying Capability ELCC ) is very important in utility planning and valuing of generation assets.  It is discussed in detail here.  It has to do with the fraction of a generator’s rated capacity that can be relied upon as available by the utility when it is most needed.  The best approaches for calculating it look not only at the availability of the generator throughout the year, CF, but how well that availability correlates with peak demand on the grid.  It is a complex business and is best done with real data.  However, in the absence of real data, analytical techniques are used by utilities to begin planning and then the CC is corrected with data as generation is brought online.

It is worth considering that the increase in CC from today’s value could be more than 100% if the increased generation occurs at times that the grid is in most need of power.  This in turn will increase wind power’s value and the degree of penetration that can be readily accommodated by the grid.  In the southern GPR, e.g. TX, OK and KS, the wind tends to blow more at night which is off peak.  However, one benefit of taller turbines is that they reach regions of steadier wind.  This will tend to increase wind speeds during the day which will contribute more to the CC than increases at night.  When all is said and done, real data will be required to determine the degree to which the CC will increase.  However it is very likely that it will increase substantially and that it will increase the amount of wind that can usefully and economically be added to the system.


The new CF numbers from NREL dramatically shift the landscape for how to proceed with energy policy in the US.  Older studies such as EWITS are now obsolete.  They used numbers similar to the black line in figure 1 and ignored the storage and load shifting potential of electric vehicles.  In those studies, wind penetration up to about 30% was examined and presented as reasonable to pursue.  Using the blue line in figure 1 with 65% capacity factor indicates that higher, probably much higher, penetrations can be achieved and at lower cost than previously anticipated.  The capacity credit that can be assigned to this resource will go a long way towards determining whether the ramifications of the new data are evolutionary or revolutionary.  However the new NREL data, whether evolutionary or revolutionary, significantly strengthens the case for increasing the rate of expansion of wind power in the US energy portfolio.

AUTHOR’S NOTE:  While this article covers the extraordinary opportunity in the GPR, new turbine technology is also opening up opportunities in regions previously not considered suitable for wind power development.  See more details Here and Here.


* In practice, intermittent renewables rarely operate at their full nameplate rating.  That means that the percent of time they are operating is greater than the rated Capacity Factor (CF).  To illustrate, lets consider two different examples of a generator operating at 50% capacity factor:

Case 1: The generator runs at full power for 50% of the time and generates nothing the rest of the time.

Case 2 The generator runs at 50% of rated power all of the time and is never off. In case 1 the percent of time that the generator runs is equal to the capacity factor.  In case 2 the percent of time that the generator runs is twice the capacity factor.

** Lets expand upon the discussion of CF above*, to gain insight into what Capacity Credits (CCs) are, and how they are useful in utility planning.  CCs are a critical tool used by utilities to assess generation assets to assure reliability of the electric grid.  Loosely speaking CCs are a way of assessing a generator’s intermittency, dispatchability and reliability in one metric.  To illustrate we look at case 1 and 2 from above but will split Case 1 into two sub cases.  In Case 1a the time that the generator is on perfectly corresponds to the time of the utility’s peak demand and in Case 1b the time the generator is on never coincides with the time of peak demand.

Case 1a: The generator runs at full power for 50% of the time and generates nothing the rest of the time.  The time that the generator is running coincides with all periods of peak demand on the grid.  This generator would receive a substantial CC possibly higher than 100%.

Case 1b: The generator runs at full power for 50% of the time and generates nothing the rest of the time. The times that the generator produces power are low demand.  This generator probably would receive a CC of 0.

Case 2: The generator runs at 50% of rated power all of the time and is never off.  This generator reliably produces power at times of peak need but only at 1/2 of the generator’s rating.  It would probably receive a CC in the mid range.

Obama, obama climate plan, climate plan, climate change, Obama’s Climate Plan, Climate Protection Plan, CPP, Obama’s CPP

HERE is an interesting piece that drew on this article.

Posted in Exciting Technology Breakthroughs, New Energy Paradigm, Path to a New Paradigm | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Great Plains Wind, No Problem for the Neighbors

Any two of the top 7 states in the Great Plains Region (GPR) could supply the entire electrical energy needs of the US from wind power.  But at what cost in terms of quality of life for the residents?  Not much it turns out.  The best sites have some of the lowest population densities in the country.  In addition much of the land is used for farming, ranching or hydrocarbon development.  Wind is symbiotic with those uses due to its small footprint and provides revenue for the land owners.   Finally, the best sites are well away from interstates and vacation destinations. Even very large deployments of wind turbines can be sited to have little impact on the vacationing public.  Further, landowners with a stake in the game tend to have positive feelings towards wind power so development in the GPR will have little hardship. Compared to other generation options the impact of wind turbines on residents in the GPR is pretty benign.

US Population Density Compared To Wind annotated

Figure  1: Comparison showing that the best wind sites correlate extremely well with the areas of lowest population density.  Click the image to enlarge.

The GPR offer some of the world’s best wind resource .  A surprisingly large region of the GPR is capable of delivering wind with a capacity factor 55% and near term advances in turbines are expected to yield 65% capacity factor wind.    This compares to a national average of about 33%.  The implications are that, GPR wind turbines can generate over 50% more electricity, than the national average and near term improvements  will push that closer to 100%.  That means that it will be lower cost and will make better use of transmission assets.  Currently PPAs are offering GPR wind power for as little as $25 per MWhr or, equivalently $0.025 / kwhr.

Use of the best Great Plains sites has been the limited due to lack of proximity of transmission lines to take the power to large loads (such as the East Coast).  That is changing.   Transmission infrastructure is being expanded and there are credible efforts to build HVDC transmission lines to carry large amounts of power East.  In Texas they have upgraded their power transmission system to carry 18GW of wind power.  But if wind is to become one of the nation’s primary generation assets capacity will need to increase by more than an order of magnitude.

Some distort the ramifications of this by suggesting that the space required is enormous and places an undue and unfair burden on the residents.  While it is true that the turbines will be spread over a geographically large region, only a small fraction of that land will be taken out of service. The rest will used in the same way as it had prior to the arrival of the wind turbines.  In nearly all cases, the land owners will economically benefit.  Studies have found that when land owners economically benefit their objections to wind power drop dramatically.  Figure 2 provides a sample of what is typical when sampling the reaction of land owners to wind development.

Wind Response to Noise - PedersenFigure 2:  Response to wind power is highly correlated to economic benefit.  Pederson et al.

Great Plains siting of wind turbines will impact very few people and the majority of those who will be affected will directly benefit . In large swaths of the Great Plains, there is less than 1 family per square mile.   Much of the land is in use either for industrial scale agriculture or for oil and gas development.  And much of the agriculture is drip irrigation using circular plots which leave the corners available for the turbines. Google earth provides and excellent resource for evaluating the land use and coverage.  It is readily apparent that the best sites are either remote, used compatibly with agriculture, or both. Population map:

US Population Density by CountyFigure 3:   US population density by county throughout the USA.  Population density map info HERE .

US Population Density by Census BlockFigure 4:   US population density by Census block.  Note clustering by the roads and rivers indicating that the population in remote areas, illustrated in the county map, tends to cluster and much of the county is even less population dense. Credit Harry Kao

US KS Farm SizeFigure  5: KS Farm Size

US Farm Size

Figure  6: US Farm Size

It is helpful to compare the population density where the turbines are now to the suggested Great Plains sites.  The map below gives a good sense of the distribution of wind farms throughout the country.  Notice the sites in scenic regions heavily traveled by vacationers in VT, NY, and MA.  Also, even the rural areas of IL and IA have significantly higher population density suggesting that people live in the areas who are not financially benefiting directly from the wind turbines as they do in the agricultural areas of SW KS for example. Wind Development 2012Figure 7:  The map above shows where wind farms had been built as of 2012.   

Wind farms throughout the US. US Population Density by County .  Note that in KS the population in the SW corner, where the best wind is, is concentrated in the 3 towns of Liberal, Dodge City, and Garden City.  The rest of the region is dominated by drip irrigation farms which are highly compatible with wind turbines since the corners are often not cultivated.  The farms in KS for example, can be viewed on Google Earth and observed to have fewer than 1 dwelling per square mile, in other words, extraordinarily scarcely populated.  And while the Grand Canyon can make similar claims of low population density, Southeastern KS is not a tourist destination.  And the bulk of people taking in KS for transcontinental vacation drives, do so from Rte. 70 far to the North. NE’s Cherry county is larger than CT yet has a population of about 6000 mostly in the county seat of Valentine.  Much of the population is concentrated in the county seat of Valentine.  Many are families so the dwelling density outside of Valentine is under 1 dwelling per 4 miles. Photo of drip irrigation and then higher altitude photos of many drip irrigation: Wind Remote Siting TX drip irrigation

Figure 8: Photo showing wind turbines and large farms coexisting.

Drip irrigation, common in most of the areas that are excellent wind sites, is highly compatible with wind. Prime KS Farmland is also prime KS Wind land.  Much of SW KS, the region with the best wind resource is sparsely populated.  The region is summarized with images below.  The first provides a sense of scale of the area showing about 250 square miles with no major roads.  The next image is zoomed in to show the style of farming.  7 1/2 square miles are shown.  Some structures are apparent.  However the next image zooms in for a closer view and shows that the structures are service structures not homes.  While there are some homes in the region, the vast majority of structures are service structures, wells or Oil and Gas service structures.  Building out this area in wind turbines will have negligible impact on quality of life.

KS Farmland Figure 9: P~250 square miles of KS farms:

KS Dwelling Free 7-5 sq mile

Figure 10: P 7.5 square miles of farms with structures visible.

KS Farm Service Structures Figure 11: P Zoom in showing structures to be service structures not dwellings. Land despoiled due to drilling.

TX Wind gas and agricultureFigure 12: P Roughly 200 square miles of drilling in TX:

TX hydrocarbonFigure 13: P Hydrocarbon Impact on TX up close:

We distinguish between Direct Impact Area and Total Wind Plant Area.  The Direct Impact area is land disturbed taken out of use for the lifetime of the wind farm.  This is area is very small, among the smallest of all electricity generation sources.  The Total Wind Plant Area is the coverage area and is relevant when talking about quality of life issues.  It is the area taken up by the wind farm.  All but the Direct Impact Area is available for other uses such as ranching, farming and hydrocarbon development.  To assess the total coverage area we assume that the turbines will be sited with 100m or higher towers allowing for 50% CF.  For coverage area we use 10 MW / mi^2.*  Consider a high wind penetration scenario of 50% on an energy basis.  The EIA projects 5 Trillion kwhrs of electricity will be used in 2040.  This is roughly 20% above today’s usage.  Under this scenario if electricity generation were 50% wind it would require generation of 2.5 Trillion kwhrs.  Dividing by hours in a year and assuming 100% capacity factor this would require 300 GW of generation.  However we are assuming 50% capacity factor so this needs to be doubled to 600 GW nameplate capacity.  Using 10 MW / mi^2 this yeilds 60,000 mi^2 of coverage area or about 250 miles square.

Use Overlay for USAFigure 14:  Land Use of wind in the US.  The small square in KS is the amount of land Directly by enough wind turbines to provide 50% of the US electricity needs.  The 5 large squares show the Total Impact Area.  That is, the total area required for the wind farms.

The Direct Impact area is much smaller.  Using the NREL numbers and adjusting for capacity factor it comes out to about 256 MW / mi^2.  However the study was based upon windpower with a 30% CF and we are assuming 50%CF so this increases the power to 425 MW / mi^2.  Powering half of the country with wind in 2040 would require about 300GW of generation.  This gives a direct impact area of 700 mi^2 which is equivalent to a square approximately 27 miles on a side.

Wind Coverage area



Primary points: – The best sites for wind are in sparsely populated areas. – Visual pollution is a red herring and perpetuated by people who are trying to fight wind on an emotional rather than fact based basis. – Suggesting wind is a problem for residents is an emotional ploy.  While there is a great deal of anti-wind sentiment, there is clearly a systematic effort at making emotional appeals to dissuade people from using it. – Wind at scale will be installed in sparsely populated areas. – The challenges is that there is limited power transmission infrastructure available for deployment.

This Post offers an overview of the comparative land use requirements for various generation technologies.

This paper looks at land use requirements for wind power based upon 2009 data.  It should be used as an upper bound since the regions discussed in this post are selected for their higher than typical capacity factors which yield lower land use requirements.


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Nuclear – Miscellaneous Commentary and Links

My focus has been on building a free market for generation and promoting renewables due to their very low environmental footprint.  I have a variety of reservations about nuclear power with proliferation being the biggest.

Radiation – This article suggests that fears of radiation risks are overblown.

Costs and Cost Over Runs

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