A Blackout, Big Oil, and Wind Energy

The annual wind turbine capacity additions in the United States totaled 14.2 gigawatts, surpassing the previous record of 13.2 GW added in 2012. The whole world is seeing similar growth.  The wind industry isn’t without controversy. Critics blame it for the scope of a blackout in Australia. On the other hand, international oil companies have begun to build off-shore wind farms.

Critics’ case against wind energy

According to its critics, wind power is unreliable. The wind doesn’t blow all the time. It doesn’t blow on any predictable pattern. Wind turbines require some minimum wind speed for them to work at all. And if the wind is too strong, they can’t operate safely and must shut down.

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Wind can cross one or the other of these thresholds multiple times a day. They operate at full capacity for only a few hours a year. So the theoretical capacity of a wind farm greatly exceeds its actual output.

The times turbines can generate electricity do not coincide with rising and falling demand for electricity. This variability creates problems for stabilizing the grid. Critics further claim that the wind industry can’t operate without massive government subsidies.

Wind power and South Australia blackout of 2016?

South Australia depends on wind energy for about 40% of its electricity. It suffered seven tornadoes on September 28, 2016. Two of them, with winds almost as fast as Hurricane Katrina, destroyed twenty towers that held three different transmission lines. Nine wind farms shut down.  Within minutes, the entire state suffered a massive blackout.

What contributed the most to the blackout? South Australia’s high dependence on wind power? The weather? Or something else?

Renewable energy skeptics quickly claimed the blackout justified their position. The wind farms simply failed to provide enough electricity in the emergency. Wind and solar energy, they say, are inherently unreliable. South Australia’s heavy reliance demonstrates an irresponsible policy based on ideology more than technological reality.

Certainly, the weather would have caused a disturbance in electrical service no matter what source of electricity. People near the downed transmission lines could not have avoided loss of power. But prompt action by grid operators makes it possible to bypass problem areas and limit the extent of the outage.

On closer examination, however, the correct answer to the multiple-choice question above is C: something else.

Wind turbines have “low voltage ride through” settings to keep operating for brief periods when voltage dips below the threshold at which they can operate correctly. If low-voltage conditions occur too frequently, the wind turbines have a protection mechanism that turns them off.

  • Ten wind farms experienced between three and six low-voltage events within two minutes. But the turbines were operating on factory settings. No one performed any testing to determine good settings under local conditions.
  • The agency that regulates the Australian electricity market knew nothing about the protection feature. It blamed the wind farms, but surely someone on staff should have been familiar with the default operation of the turbines. After all, the agency approved purchase and installation of the turbines. It had all the documentation.
  • Two gas generating plants that should have supplied backup power failed to come online.

The weather caused a problem that became a crisis not because of technical limitations of renewable energy, but because of too many different organizations’ incompetence.

If the wind is too strong, wind turbines can’t operate safely and must shut down.

One homeowner in South Australia didn’t suffer from the outage. He didn’t even know about the blackout till he saw it on the news. He had to test the accuracy of the news reports by opening his oven and noting that the light didn’t come on.

It turns out he had installed solar panels just a few weeks earlier. And since power outages in his part of South Australia occur almost every month, he decided to install a Tesla Powerwall as well.

He can’t use it to power his entire house, but it takes care of the lights and the television. It stores enough electricity for 10 hours of off-grid power.

Big oil and wind power

International oil companies have not joined the chorus of wind-industry skeptics. Several of them, including Royal Dutch Shell, have begun to invest heavily in off-shore wind farms. Especially in the North Sea. Oil production there has steadily declined for about 15 years.

Exploring for new oil fields has become too risky and expensive. These oil companies have decided that investing in wind energy helps their cash flow and makes it more predictable.

Oil companies have more expertise in working on offshore platforms than do companies that specialize in wind energy. Instead of building a foundation for turbines on the ocean floor, at least one oil company has begun to explore how to mount them on floating platforms.

Traditional wind energy firms have been operating turbines in the North Sea for years, but the oil companies have begun to outbid them. Their off-shore expertise has helped them drive down their costs.

So far, American oil companies have shown less interest in wind farms. If they decide they’re in the oil business, they will eventually lose market share to renewable energy companies. If they decide they’re in the energy business, they’ll have to start investing in renewable energy. And if any decide to invest heavily in solar power besides or instead of wind, they will still be following the lead of Total, a French oil company.

For that matter, the coal business is dying. Perhaps some of them will have enough sense to invest in renewables to improve their cash flow.

3 Reasons Why Your Business Should Invest in a Generator

Residents of Texas who recently experienced life without power for a significant time period will tell you it can be pretty debilitating. For business owners, the problems presented by power outages are manifold and can be catastrophic for the bottom line. One way to mitigate the risks associated with power outages is to invest in a good quality generator which can assist when trouble strikes.

Generators don’t come cheap, so it’s understandable that business owners will want to do their research before taking the plunge and making a purchase. If you find yourself on the fence when it comes to investing in a generator for your business, here are a few points that may help you with your decision:

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It Will Keep Your Business Running During a Power Outage

Anyone who has been out shopping or eating at a cafe during a power outage will know how inconvenient it can be. Often, you won’t be able to buy anything and operations will cease. If, however, the business were to have a generator that kicks in the moment the power goes down, then things will be significantly different.

Having a generator ensures that critical systems can continue to work and you won’t have to contend with disappointed customers. Be sure to investigate your options with a reputable supplier like Blue Diamond Generators who can advise you on the various models available and help find a model that is most well-suited to your business needs.

Generators Can Also Help During Brownouts

While the rise in the use of renewable energy is certainly a welcome development, one of the issues is that the power supply from these sources can be somewhat variable. Solar panels and wind turbines are being built at a rapid rate but they don’t always serve people when they need power most.

For example, wind power tends to be strongest during the spring and fall seasons but not necessarily during the summer and winter months when people actually need more power. Often when these systems become overloaded with demand for power, brownouts are implemented as a means of regulating the power supply.  Having a generator means that your business can remain environmentally-friendly but also continue operating should the renewable energy sources prove unreliable.

Investing in a Generator Can Be Cost-Effective in the Long Term

When you consider the amount of money your business loses as a result of a power outage or a brownout, then the cost of a generator doesn’t seem so bad. For example, in the catering trade, a loss of power results in food expiry, and these expenses are rarely recoverable. If you find that such events become regular then these expenses quickly build up. Owning a generator and fuel reserve could prove to be a long-term investment, especially if your business is operating in an area which is susceptible to storms of natural disasters.

If you’re able to find the funding,  then investing in a generator ultimately allows your business to keep running even when others can’t. Not only will this give you a comparative edge over other businesses, but you could potentially make significant savings in the long run, especially when you consider any potential losses and disruptions that could happen as a result of a power outage.