Electric Power from Sun and Wind

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1 Electric Power from Sun and Wind Fred Loxsom Eastern Connecticut State University Willimantic, Connecticut Many environmental problems are related to energy consumption. A college-level environmental science survey course should include the following energy-related topics: acid mine drainage, oil spills, acid rain, global warming, nuclear waste disposal, and catastrophic flooding due to failure of water retention dams. These are just examples and one could generate a much longer list. Approximately 85 percent of the energy used by our society is generated by burning fossil fuels, and energy experts think that energy-related environmental impacts could be reduced by switching to renewable energy resources such as wind power and solar energy. In this module, we will explore the feasibility of using the sun and wind to generate a significant amount of global electric energy. This quantitative module describes the electric energy generated by wind turbines and photovoltaic arrays. The efficiency and cost of these technologies are compared and their abilities to reduce carbon dioxide emissions are estimated. Electric Power About a third of the energy consumed globally is used to generate electricity. Annual consumption of electric energy equals approximately 16 trillion kwh ( kwh) globally, and approximately one-quarter of that energy (4.0 trillion kwh) is consumed in the United States. On average each of the 6.5 billion people on earth consumes approximately 2,500 kwh of electric energy each year. Divide this amount by the number of hours in a year (8,760) to calculate the average per capita global electric power consumption: 285 watts (roughly three 100-watt light bulbs). Exercise 1 develops rough estimates of these figures using data from typical U.S. electric utility bills. This exercise produces good estimates if the electric bill of a four-person family is assumed to equal \$150/month and electricity costs 10 cents per kilowatt-hour. This exercise will help students understand the difference between energy (expressed in kilowatt-hours) and power, the rate of consuming energy (expressed in watts): power = energy / time. Over the next 20 years, global annual electric energy consumption is projected to increase by 10 trillion kwh, and U.S. annual consumption is projected to increase by 1.5 trillion kwh. Although it is expected that most of this increased demand for electric energy will be supplied by consuming fossil fuel resources, some of this electric energy will likely be supplied by renewable energy resources. Renewable Energy

2 Most electric energy is produced by fossil fuel power plants (mostly coal-burning plants) and by nuclear power plants. Approximately 17 percent of global electric power is produced by renewable energy, mostly by hydroelectric power plants. A tiny fraction (about percent) of global electric energy is produced by other forms of renewable energy such as wind power and solar power. In the following sections, we will consider the feasibility and cost of using the sun and wind to produce electricity. Electricity from the Wind Wind turbines convert the kinetic energy in the wind into electric power. The overall efficiency of this conversion process is around 35 percent. Wind farms are located in areas with strong persistent winds such as the American Midwest, coastal zones, and mountain passes. A typical utility-scale wind turbine is rated at 1.5 MW, although turbines rated at 3.5 MW have become common. The rating of a turbine means that with sufficiently high wind speed, the power generated by the turbine will equal the rated power. A 1.5 MW turbine running at its rated power for 24 hours a day for a full year would produce 13 million kwh of electric energy. Because winds are variable, wind turbines run at their rated power only a fraction of the time. This fraction is called the turbine s capacity factor; this factor depends upon the location of the wind turbine. Exercise 2 estimates the cost of using wind turbines to supply 10 percent of the projected 1.5 trillion kwh increase in U.S. electric energy demand over the next 20 years. Although many environmentalists would argue that the most cost-effective and environmentally responsible approach to this project would be to reduce demand through more efficient use of electricity, the \$45 billion cost of the turbines spread over 20 years seems quite modest. This exercise introduces the concept of payback time, the time it takes for the benefits of a project to equal its cost. This concept is important to students understanding of the economic viability of an investment. The payback time estimated in this exercise indicates that wind power is economically practical. Students should be introduced to the controversies involving the large-scale application of wind power technology. For example, Cape Wind, the offshore wind park proposed for the shallow water between Cape Cod and Nantucket, has supporters and opponents among environmental groups. Some groups are concerned that the project will interfere with migrating birds and harm marine ecosystems; other groups think the environmental advantages of using clean renewable energy will greatly outweigh its negative impacts. Electricity from the Sun Solar cells are semiconductor materials that convert sunlight directly into electricity. Practical electricity-generating devices made from solar cells are usually called photovoltaic (PV) panels. Arrays of PV panels are currently providing electricity for

3 signal lights, remote power needs, residences, and electric utilities. Exercise 3 estimates the cost and payback of using residential rooftop PV systems to supply 10 percent of the projected 1.5 trillion kwh increase in U.S. electric energy demand over the next 20 years. The results of exercise 3 are interesting because they indicate that the solar energy resource is adequate to produce a substantial amount of electricity using a fraction of existing residential rooftops. On the other hand, these results also illustrate the high cost of photovoltaic power systems. Many analysts believe that substantial decreases in the cost of PV systems are needed before these systems will be used to generate significant amounts of electric energy. Exercise 1: Electric Energy Consumption 1. What is your average monthly household electric bill? (\$/month) 2. How much do you pay for electric power? (\$/kwh) 3. Calculate the corresponding average monthly energy use for your household. (kwh/month) 4. How many people are there in your household? 5. Calculate the per capita monthly residential electric energy use for members of your household. (kwh/month/person) 6. Calculate the annual per capita residential electric energy use for members of your household. (kwh/year/person) 7. In the U.S., residential electric energy consumption is about one-third of overall electric energy consumption. Calculate the annual per capita total electric energy consumption by members of your household. (kwh/year/person) 8. Assuming this per capita energy use is average, calculate the U.S. annual total electric energy consumption. (trillion kwh/year) 9. The U.S. consumes about 25 percent of global electric power. Estimate global annual total electric energy consumption. (trillion kwh /year) 10. Calculate the global annual per capita total electric energy consumption. (kwh/year/person) 11. Compare your calculated global annual per capita total electric energy consumption

4 value to your calculated U.S. annual per capita total electric energy consumption value. Exercise 2: Windpower Consider a wind turbine that is rated at 1.5 MW. This means that with sufficiently high winds, it will produce 1.5 MW or 1,500 kw of power. The installed cost of this turbine is \$1.5 million. 1. If this turbine runs at its rated power 100 percent of the time for a full year, how much energy would it produce in a year? (million kwh/year) 2. This wind turbine has a capacity factor equal to This means that over a year, it will produce only 38 percent of its theoretical maximum energy production. How much energy does this turbine actually produce in a year? (million kwh/year) 3. Over the next 20 years, U.S. annual electric energy consumption is projected to increase by 1.5 trillion kwh/year. How many 1.5 MW wind turbines would be needed to supply 10 percent of this additional energy? 4. Calculate the cost of installing these wind turbines. (\$) 5. Assuming the electric energy produced by these turbines is worth 5 cents per kilowatt-hour, these turbines would generate electric energy worth \$7.5 billion per year. Calculate the simple payback period for these turbines. (Payback period is the time it takes for a system s net benefits to equal its cost.) (years) Exercise 3: Photovoltaic Power A grid-connected residential PV system is placed on the roof of a 2,000-square-foot suburban house. The PV array with an area equal to 50 square meters (about 500 square feet) covers half of the south-facing part of the roof. The power rating of this PV system is 5.0 kw, meaning that it will produce 5.0 kw under peak sunlight conditions. The installed cost of this system is \$50, The PV system is operating in a location where the annual average daily incident solar energy (the insolation) on the array equals 5.0 kwh/m2/day. Calculate the average amount of solar energy incident on the PV array each day. (kwh/day) 2. The efficiency of the PV system equals 10 percent (that is, 10 percent of the solar energy incident on the array is transformed into useful electric power). Calculate the

6 value to your calculated U.S. annual per capita total electric energy consumption value. U.S.: 13,500 kwh/year/person 13,500 kwh / 8,760 h = 1,540 W/person Global: 2,500 kwh/year/person 2,500 kwh / 8,760 h = 285 W/person Global value is about one-fifth the U.S. value. 11 Key to Exercise 2: Windpower (Answers appear in bold.) 1. If this turbine runs at its rated power 100 percent of the time for a full year, how much energy would it produce in a year? 1,500 kw 8,760 h/year = 13 million kwh/year 2. This wind turbine has a capacity factor equal to This means that over a year, it will produce only 38 percent of its theoretical maximum energy production. How much energy does this turbine actually produce in a year? million kwh/year = 5.0 million kwh/year 3. Over the next 20 years, U.S. annual electric energy consumption is projected to increase by 1.5 trillion kwh/year. How many 1.5 MW wind turbines would be needed to supply 10 percent of this additional energy? trillion kwh/year / 5.0 million kwh/year/turbine = 30,000 turbines 4. Calculate the cost of installing these wind turbines. 30,000 turbines \$1.5 million/turbine = \$45 billion 5. Assuming the electric energy produced by these turbines is worth 5 cents per kilowatt-hour, these turbines would generate electric energy worth \$7.5 billion per year. Calculate the simple payback period for these turbines. (Payback period is the time it takes for a system s net benefits to equal its cost.) \$45 billion / \$7.5 billion/year = 6 years AP Environmental Science: Workshop Materials Key to Exercise 3: Photovoltaic Power (Answers appear in bold.) 1. The PV system is operating in a location where the annual average daily incident solar energy (the insolation) on the array equals 5.0 kwh/m2/day. Calculate the average amount of solar energy incident on the PV array each day. 50 m2 5.0 kwh/m2/day = 250 kwh/day 2. The efficiency of the PV system equals 10 percent (that is, 10 percent of the solar energy incident on the array is transformed into useful electric power). Calculate the daily average electric energy produced by this system.

7 kwh/day = 25 kwh/day 3. Calculate the average amount of electric energy produced by this system each year. 365 days/year 25 kwh/day = 9,125 kwh/year 4. Over the next 20 years, U.S. annual electric energy consumption is projected to increase by 1.5 trillion kwh/year. How many rooftop PV systems would be needed to supply 10 percent of this additional energy? trillion kwh/year / 9,125 kwh/year = 16 million 5. Calculate the cost of installing these residential PV systems. 16 million \$50,000 = \$800 billion 6. Assuming the electric energy produced by these PV systems is worth 10 cents per kwh, these residential systems would generate electric energy worth produce \$15 billion/year. Calculate the simple payback period for these PV systems. (Payback period is the time it takes for a system s net benefits to equal its cost.) \$800 billion / \$15 billion/year = 50 years

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