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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Local Wind Turbines 3

Tonight's topic is lifespan reality check, and some other stuff related to costs.

wind turbine with full moon

First, I'll relate an anecdote from a friend who recently traveled through Minnesota. That state has invested heavily in wind power generation. However, he noticed that very few of the turbines were in motion. He did some asking around, and here's what he was told.

The wind turbines only have an overall lifespan of 20 years, and there is a huge amount of wear-and-tear maintenance on each one. Because of this, the power companies keep them braked (not in motion and generating) unless there is a shortage of power from their traditional generation sources.

The cost of putting up each commercial turbine is $3-4 million,1 and can generate 2 MW. The lifespan is 20 years. The full environmental impacts aren't completely understood yet, which is to say there is still a lot of debate about them.

A large hydroelectric project (big dam with generation plant) can last 100 or more years, but there are big environmental impacts. These generate more than 10MW.2

A small hydroelectric project (small dam or partial diversion of water flow) can also last 100 or more years, which much smaller environmental impacts. These generate less than 10 MW.2

A coal-fired generation plant lasts 30 years, and can cost $2 billion or more to build.3 Of course there are huge environmental impacts. I won't even bring up "clean coal" since there are impacts from mining which may offset any reduced emissions. (Not getting into that here)

Nuclear plants can cost $5 billion to build, but have much lower operating costs than other plants. The lifespan is 30-40 years. Problems are safety risks and waste disposal issues.4

Solar power isn't a commercially viable option yet in most places.

Actually, the only way to compare costs is the production cost per kW hour. Here's a little table. I've left out a bunch of variations on the options. This supposedly takes in all the costs of construction, maintenance, and fuel costs. Notice that the two sources of info disagree by up to an order of magnitude. So there's a lot of room there for discussion.

Cost of Electricity Production per kilowatt hour
MethodNuclear Energy Institute 5Dept of Energy6
Traditional Coal$0.027$0.099
Clean Coal?$0.112

1. Windustry

2. Peter Bowyer research paper

3. Synapse Energy

4. nuclearinfo.net

5. as quoted by Nuclear Fissionary

6. as quoted by Wikipedia

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Secondary Roads said...

It does tend toward confusion, eh? I have been enjoying this series.

Elizabeth said...

I've been enjoying this series of posts. Taking care of our world is important and I'm frustrated that it becomes such a political issue all the time, but little changes in terms of meaningful energy alternatives.
Your comment about solar power is the hardest for me to swallow.
We all get sun, why isn't it a more viable alternative? I would love to see this change.

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