Before we choose to build an offshore wind power plant, we should be aware of some engineering problems with wind power. In particular, too much wind is a problem.
On June 5 The News Journal reported that a storm the evening before had winds measured as high as 62 mph in Lewes, near the proposed site for Bluewater Wind’s facility.
Let’s imagine that the facility was already built and operating. As winds pick up, windmills spin and generate a full 450 megawatts. When the wind speed hits about 55 mph, the windmills shut down for safety reasons. In about 2 minutes, the output from the facility goes from 450 megawatts to zero.
Conventional fossil fuel power plants take hours to go from off to on. They take time to warm up and get synchronized to the power grid. To maintain power when windmills turn off, the conventional power plant must already be operating. So for several hours leading up to a storm, grid operators will have a power plant running but not generating electricity, in case windmills disconnect.
In effect, all that wind-generated electricity is wasted because it is not replacing fossil fuels. However, we will have to pay for both the wind power and fossil fuel power.
Charles Boncelet, professor of electrical and computer engineering, University of Delaware, Newark
12 June 2008
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