It can’t be denied that, for most, February was a brutal month weather-wise. However, some good news did come out of it. Two studies released last month bode well for the future of renewable energy. A study conducted by PJM Interconnection—the company that operates the nation’s electric grid from much of the east coast to Illinois—offers assurances that wind and solar energies will have little effect on the reliability of the electric grid. Another study published in the journal Nature Climate Change revealed an added benefit to offshore wind turbines; large-scale arrays have the potential to slow down hurricane winds.
With many states looking to develop renewable energy programs, questions have been raised concerning how the intermittent nature of renewable energies will affect the nation’s power grid. PJM’s report goes a long way to allay those concerns. The study does, however, contain a few caveats. The grid will require a $13.7 billion upgrade to its transmission system and 1,500 megawatts of additional reserve capacity will need to be developed to accommodate the intermittent nature of the two renewable energy sources. Given the potential outcomes, investing in the PJM power grid could be a worthy investment.
States along the east coast and Great Lakes are eager to take advantage of the abundant winds that consistently blow offshore. According to energy.gov, offshore wind resources along U.S. coastal regions have the potential to generate approximately four times the megawatt capacity of all power plants currently operating in the U.S. To be sure, this resource potential will never be fully met, but even tapping into a portion of this potential can go a long way toward curbing carbon emissions and securing energy independence for the U.S.
One coastal state in particular is eager to tap into the energy potential of offshore winds. New Jersey has set a goal of producing 22.5 percent of its energy via renewable sources by 2020. However, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities has yet to approve even one offshore wind farm. PJM’s report may help facilitate that happening.
If knowing that renewable energy produced from offshore wind farms can provide an abundance of energy that will have little effect on the nation’s power grid doesn’t convince the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities to greenlight future wind farm projects, perhaps an added incentive could be knowing that wind farms have the potential to curb damage from storms such as Hurricane Sandy.
It is known that energy produced from wind turbines has the potential to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions; however, a study published in Nature Climate Change reveals an added and unsuspected benefit to using the renewable energy source. Findings presented by a team led by Stanford University’s Mark Jacobsen, professor of civil and environmental engineering, suggest that if present in large numbers, offshore wind turbines have the potential to slow near surface hurricane winds enough to reduce onshore damage in coastal cities; this also has the potential to reduce flood damage due to tidal surge, which is caused from hurricane winds pushing water inland. Additionally, the study estimates the net cost of large-scale turbine arrays to be less than the net cost of sea walls that some coastal cities are currently exploring. Sea walls are constructed solely for the purpose of avoiding tidal surge damage. Wind farms have the potential to mitigate tidal surge while at the same time provide energy.
Currently, the U.S. has no wind farms in operation, but a $206 million project is under development off the shores of Cape Cod, MA. When completed, the Cape Wind project is expected to have 130 turbines in use that will produce about 75 percent of the regions electricity, according to Cape Wind spokesperson Mark Rodgers. If the Cape Wind project goes as planned, other coastal areas may take note and follow suit.
When it comes to fulfilling the nation’s energy needs, perhaps Bob Dylan was right: the answer is “Blowin’ in the Wind.” At least partially. It will take a combination of various renewable energies to remove the nation—and humanity for that matter—from fossil fuel dependence. However, given that adding renewable energies to the mix will have little effect on the nation’s power grid reliability and large-scale wind farms have the potential to mitigate hurricane damage while providing an abundance of clean energy, continued exploration into the benefits of renewable energies seems merited.
By Scott Merrow