Dutch Architects Create A Habitable Windmill That Could Power A City

Gently spinning windmills have been a cornerstone sight along the Dutch countryside since the 1890s. With the population increasing into more built-up, urbanized areas, positioning more wind-powered turbines to power busy cities could be impractical.

The Dutch Windwheel, however, is generating energy in a completely different direction.

The state-of-the-art creation is from Dutch architects Doepel Strijkers, who designed the 173-meter-high (570 foot) structure to utilize wind, water and an electric field in an electrostatic wind-energy converter that can directly produce a current for power.

To combat the issue of a giant single-purpose structure in the middle of a busy city, Doepel Strijkers have engineered this multi-purpose building to be safely habitable while it churns out 1 megawatt of electricity – enough to power 1000 average U.S. homes.

“We wanted a 100-percent-sustainable building that serves as a platform for all kinds of innovations,” developer Lennart Graaff said, speaking to Popular Science.

The self-powered tower is quiet, low-maintenance and looks like something out of a science-fiction novel.

Doepel Strijkers estimate a Dutch Windwheel could go into construction to be erected in Rotterdam by the early 2020s.

[H/T: Popular Science]

Offshore Wind Farms Are Havens For Seals

Researchers tracking the movements of seals discovered that the flipper-wielding predators are drawn to offshore wind farms and underwater pipelines. These kinds of manmade structures might serve as artificial reefs and delectable hunting grounds, according to a new study published in Current Biology this week.

A team led by Deborah Russell from the University of St. Andrews tagged over 100 harbor seals (Phoca vitulina, pictured) and gray seals (Halichoerus grypus) on the British and Dutch coasts of the North Sea using GPS tags attached to their fur at the back of the neck.

Their data showed 11 harbor seals regularly visiting two active wind farms: Alpha Ventus in Germany and Sheringham Shoal in the southeast U.K. An aerial view of Sheringham Shoal is pictured here.

In some cases, the seals traveled in grid-like movement patterns as they appeared to forage from one turbine to another, checking each out for fish. “I was shocked when I first saw the stunning grid pattern of a seal track around Sheringham Shoal,” Russell recalls in a news release. “You could see that the individual appeared to travel in straight lines between turbines, as if he was checking them out for potential prey and then stopping to forage at certain ones.”

In this video, you can see four of the 13 trips made by a single harbor seal to Sheringham Shoal. White points denote the turbines and substations. The seal’s track is shown in red with the yellow pointer updating every half an hour of the track.

 

 

 

Furthermore, both gray and harbor seals were observed hanging out near subsea pipelines. Two seals in the Netherlands encountered a section of pipeline and followed it on multiple trips, for up to 10 days at a time.

“Only a small proportion of our study seals utilized wind farms or pipelines,” Russell says. “At present these structures cover a small proportion of the extent of the at-sea distribution of seals. As wind farms become more extensive, many more seals will likely be affected.”

The team is working on understanding the population consequences of developments planned for the future. The turbines might be increasing the number of prey species, or on the other hand, they might only be concentrating the number of prey. If that’s the case, “instead of being distributed sparsely throughout the environment, they’re actually being concentrated and very vulnerable to being ‘hoovered’ up by predators,” Russell tells the BBC. “So that could actually have a negative effect on those prey species.”

Images: Current Biology, Russell et al. (top) & Mike Page (middle)
Video: Current Biology, Russell et al

The Australian’s Campaign Against Wind Farms Continues But The Research Doesn’t Stack Up

The Australian newspaper’s campaign against wind farms continued this morning with a page one story from the paper’s environment editor Graham Lloyd.

Lloyd writes about purportedly “groundbreaking” German research which, he infers, may provide a plausible basis for claims about wind turbines having direct effects on health.

Lloyd writes:

The results showed that humans could hear sounds of eight hertz, a whole octave lower than had been previously assumed, and that excitation of the primary auditory cortex could be detected down to this frequency.

A description of the project is here. The research never mentions wind turbines, only low-frequency noise, which is produced by many sources found in both nature and from a wide variety of mechanical sources.

The press release pitch, with its mentions of wind turbines, smells like a hook to a topical issue calculated to amplify attention to their work. (Note, this link to the press release was down at the time of publication.)

But these new findings are hardly “groundbreaking”. Earlier work found evidence of very similar auditory cortex stimulation from noise at 12Hz, slightly higher than the 8hz in this study.

In the study that excited Lloyd and the Australian’s sub-editors (the headline reads “Brains excited by wind turbines study”), auditory cortex stimulation at 8Hz (at pressure levels around the threshold of hearing) is meaningless in the context of wind turbine-generated infrasound, which is well below the threshold of perception.

Moreover, even fake stimuli can precipitate measurable activity in the brain. We know that both placebos (factors that increase expectations of positive outcomes) and nocebos (those which increase expectations of negative outcomes) can increase changes in cerebral metabolic rate when viewed via positron emission tomography (PET) scanning.

Expectations do not just affect people’s subjective experience of a stimulus (such as exposure to infrasound) but can actually produce measurable changes in brain activity which may or may not be markers of anything of clinical significance.

Fascinating work from Hungary and Germany on “electrosensitive” people (for example, those claiming to be made ill from exposure to mobile phones, wifi or other “stray” electricity) has shown that when such individuals are exposed to sham (fake) radiation from their feared source while thinking it is real, they experience symptoms. Correlates of these symptoms can be measured in the brain.

The Hungarian study exposed both people with “Idiophathic Environmental Intolerance (IEI) attributed to electromagnetic fields” and control subjects not reporting this condition to sham radiation. Those claiming IEI to electromagnetic frequency radiation both expected and experienced more symptoms.

In the German study, subjectively electrosensitive patients and gender-matched healthy controls were also exposed to sham mobile phone radiation and heat as a control condition. The subjects were not aware that the radiation was fake. Both before and during these exposures:

increased activations in anterior cingulate and insular cortex as well as fusiform gyrus were seen in the electrosensitive group compared to controls, while heat stimulation led to similar activations in both groups.

As the Hungarian researchers noted, electrosensitivity:

seems to be formed through a vicious circle of psychosocial factors, such as enhanced perception of risk and expectations, self-monitoring, somatisation and somatosensory amplification, causalization and misattribution.

In short, as the old saying goes, you can worry yourself sick. And those who spread fear arguably are an important part of this process.

Today’s Australian article complements Lloyd’s uncritical accounts of two recent studies about wind turbine noise. He wrote that:

Scientists in Japan measured brain function and reported last year that it showed the brains of Japanese wind turbine workers could not achieve a relaxed state.

As prominent wind industry science and research commentator Ketan Joshi has written:

[the study] doesn’t control for expectations, and it’s very likely that the subjects could perceive the sound = 20Hz at 92 dB(G), [at] the volume at which the synthesized noise was played, would annoy anyone.

Joshi compares such levels to the noise that would be experienced right inside a wind turbine nacelle, not hundreds of meters or several kilometers away, and notes that wind farm workers would never work inside nacelles when the turbines were turning.

Quoting an Iranian study, Lloyd continues:

In a similar vein, a study of 45 people … by Tehran University … said “despite all the good benefits of wind turbines, it can be stated that this technology has health risks for all those exposed to its sound.”

The study he referred to was of poor quality and Joshi has also mercilessly eviscerated its many problems, none of which Lloyd even hinted at.

Lloyd left messages for me to comment on the German research for his story. As his report notes, I did not respond. I have zero interest in obligingly playing into the Australian’s one-sided coverage. The paper has reported on a succession of trivial to terrible “studies” and published opinion pieces which are exalted by the tiny cells of anti-wind farm activists happy to embrace any fragment that furthers their cause.

No reporter from News has ever reported on any of my five recent studies on wind here,hereherehere, or here.

The University of Auckland’s Fiona Crichton who is arguably doing the world’s most advanced research on nocebo effects and wind farms has similarly never been reported.

The News agenda on wind energy is a travesty of good journalism.

The Conversation

Simon Chapman is Professor of Public Health at University of Sydney.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How Much Does Wind Energy Cost? Debunking The Myths

Are renewables pushing up the cost of electricity? That’s the claim made by Alan Moran in an opinion piece for the Australian Financial Review this week.

Moran, executive director of Regulation Economics and a former director at the Institute of Public Affairs, argues that increasing investment in renewables and particularly wind energy will cost consumers billions of dollars. The high operating costs and requirements for backup when the wind isn’t blowing are the problem, he argues.

But the evidence actually suggests the opposite: wind energy is already competitive with fossil fuels, will reduce electricity prices for consumers, and will play a large role in reducing Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.

So, let’s go through Moran’s claims one by one.

Claim: [W]indfarms […] need three times the price at which Australian coal generators can supply electricity. Australia’s coal resources are so abundant that across the eastern states that they can profitably supply electricity at a cost of $40 a MWh. Windfarms require $120 a MWh.

It is true that black coal can supply electricity to the wholesale market at A$40 per megawatt hour (MWh). However, new wind farms require much less than A$120 per MWh to be financed. Recent experience shows that new wind farms require A$80-90 per MWh.

But this is comparing apples with oranges. The coal cost refers to what is essentially the cost of fuel. The wind cost is the cost over the lifetime of the project, including capital and return on investment.

If we compare apples with apples, the long-run cost of coal is A$85-$100 per MWh (withouta carbon price), versus A$90 per MWh for wind. The short-run cost of wind is zero: flowing air costs nothing.

Claim: [B]ecause wind generated supply is intrinsically unreliable it needs back-up in the form of fast start generators […] Wind/solar generation in Australia currently has a 7. That level requires 6 per cent in additional back-up, according to the estimates by the Australian Energy Market Operator.

This statement implies that additional capacity has had to be installed because of wind. This is demonstrably not true. The Australian Energy Market Operator has stated that there is no new capacity required in the next 10 years, despite the increase in wind and solar.

South Australia is a good example. More than 1,200 megawatts of wind power capacity has been installed, but virtually no new gas plants have been built as “backup”. In the chart below you can see that on the afternoon and evening of Sunday June 7, wind and gas met all electricity demand in South Australia.

 

Generation by fuel type in South Australia on Sunday the 7th of June 2015. Operations at the Northern Power Station were shut down after an explosion at around midday.

More broadly, redundant capacity is important in the entire electricity system (not just wind). All types of generation have planned and unplanned shortages.

Unplanned outages are more challenging. If a whole generator goes offline, the system must return to normal within five minutes. This is often achieved with a “fast start” generator such as a gas turbine or hydro plant. These contingency plans must equal the loss of the largest generator in the system, usually coal.

No technology is 100, as illustrated in the graph above. Wind is really quite predictable and reliable compared to coal.

Claim: Wind turbine development has been improved over the past 20 years but is now approaching its theoretical maximum efficiency. It will never be remotely price competitive with conventional generators notwithstanding wishful thinking.

As I’ve shown above, wind is already competitive with new-build coal (and gas) in Australia, and many other places around the world (including the United States). Carbon policy aside, some of the assets are seriously old and are going to be retired anyway.

new study from UNSW Australia looked at the best energy mix for generation. Even without a carbon price, the research found that the lowest cost mix in 2050 sources only 30 of electricity from gas, with the rest supplied by renewables. About half of the gas capacity is Open Cycle Gas Turbines (for peak demand) that supply very small quantities of energy.

Claim: In aggregate terms, the annual impost on electricity consumers [of the Renewable Energy Target] is therefore from the 33,000GWh and means a cost to the customer of $3 billion a year […]

As I’ve written before on The Conversation, the government’s own modelling shows a net saving to consumers (and so does plenty of other analysis). The ACIL Allen analysis finds the target will cut power bills from 2021 onwards (by up to A$91 per year by 2030) and deliver a net saving to consumers.

Claim: Energy only comprises 25 to 30 per cent of emissions and Australia’s renewable target might therefore reduce emissions by 4 to 5 per cent.

According the Climate Change Authority’s review of the Renewable Energy Target (RET), the RET is projected to reduce Australia’s overall emissions by 58 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent.

The Government’s latest estimate of Australia’s emissions reduction task between 2015 and 2020 is 421 million tonnes. So between 2015 and 2020 alone, the RET achieves at least 13.

The Conversation

Dylan McConnell is Research Fellow, Melbourne Energy Institute at University of Melbourne.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.