Wind turbines power off-grid sites
By Del Williams
When considering off-grid, renewable sources of energy to power sensors, meters, pumps, controllers and communication links at remote industrial sites, the options typically come down to two: solar or wind.
Solar, an inexpensive option, is often selected. However, with the availability and decreasing cost of small, off-grid wind turbines that operate in even modest wind conditions, the better answer is now both.
Hybrid systems that incorporate both solar panels and wind turbines, it turns out, form a perfect complementary relationship with each compensating for the weaknesses of the other system. Where solar is best during the daytime, wind power works throughout the night. Where solar is better through the summer months, wind power is better in winter months. And, on stormy and overcast days, wind power is the only option for generating power.
Cost effective equipment
Maintaining continuous, reliable power at remote, off-grid substations is a critical concern in industries ranging from oil and gas to telecom, and mining to railroad. If power is lost, key measurement and monitoring equipment along with data communications can lead to production shutdowns, which may cost a company thousands per hour in some cases.
“An unplanned power outage can cost tens of thousands of dollars in lost production and unscheduled downtime,” says Tony Kaspari, an electrical engineer at Beabout Co., which consults with industrial companies, such as oil and gas, water-wastewater, and electric utilities in the Rocky Mountain area.
Some of the early adopters of this hybrid wind and solar technology include oil and gas titans Marathon Oil and Hilcorp.
Marathon Oil, the Houston, Texas, based energy behemoth, has operations on four continents, while Hilcorp, also a Houston based energy giant, has operations spread out across North America and the Gulf Coast. Both have found the hybrid wind turbines and solar systems allow for operations in areas that would have been near impossible 10 years ago.
“Without continuous remote data, oil and gas producers for example, might have to shut down production to ensure safety,” Kaspari says. “Integrating a $1,000 wind turbine with a new or existing solar power system can ensure that production stays online even during adverse weather conditions.”
While the power demands at some of these off-grid industrial sites and substations may not be large, connecting them to the grid is simply cost prohibitive.
“Since it can cost anywhere from $80,000 to $100,000 per mile to run power poles or lay underground power cables to a remote site, it doesn’t make sense to run power for small power requirements,” says Brent Busenlehner, president of ReadyFlo Systems, a Corpus Christi, Texas, based system integrator of remote power systems, automated control systems, and integrated measurement/production equipment.
Wind and solar combined
Solar power, though relatively inexpensive, is not always as reliable as advertised when paired with batteries for power storage. To generate power, solar panels must collect sunshine at sufficient intensity and at the right angle. This does not occur at night, when it is cloudy, overcast, and throughout much of the winter. If snow covers the panels, power is not generated until the snow melts or the solar panels are cleaned off.
“Remote power systems need to be designed for the worst case scenario, which is typically in the dead of winter,” says Busenlehner. “In winter, there is only an average of 4-4.5 hours of sun per day in South Texas, and only three hours of sun per day in the Dakotas, according to the Department of Energy. In the worst case, there is no sun for potentially long periods of time.”
Wind power complements solar power because it often produces the most power precisely when solar power is reduced or unavailable, such as at night, in inclement weather, and during winter. Wind often blows during long winter nights and is, on average, actually stronger in inclement weather. During winter, average wind speed is highest, as is air density, both factors that contribute to wind generating more power when solar power tends to be least available.
To enhance power reliability and build in redundancy, many off-grid industrial substations are now being retrofitted with small, off-grid wind turbines from leading suppliers such as Primus Wind Power.
Available in several models for areas with different wind speeds and climates, the small wind turbines are designed to generate power at wind speeds as low as 6 mph, and can generate as much as 40 to 80 kWh a month per turbine depending on conditions. Each turbine measures about four feet in diameter, weighs about 13 pounds, and costs about $1,000 per unit.
A single wind turbine is able to power to several devices. If more power is required, several turbines can be combined together. Far from a new concept, Primus alone has already installed more than 150,000 small off-grid turbines with units currently operating worldwide.
“If your industrial process or paycheck depends on having reliable remote power, then you need to look into adding a Primus wind turbine to your existing solar only system, or integrate it from scratch,” says Busenlehner. “At a minimum, with wind power you will have some power generated nearly every night when there will be zero solar energy to harvest. The combination extends system capacity and makes the worst case scenario, a power outage, unlikely.”
Another benefit of adding wind power to a solar powered system is that it lengthens battery life by reducing the depth and frequency of discharge. Since off-grid industrial devices or substations are powered by wind when solar power is unavailable, this avoids drawing down the system’s batteries and increases battery life significantly.
“Adding wind turbine power to a solar energy system could potentially double battery life because the batteries won’t discharge as deeply” says Busenlehner. “Extending battery life reduces system maintenance and replacement costs, and the savings can be significant.”
According to Busenlehner, it is relatively easy to retrofit a remote, off-grid site powered by solar only. “… it is as simple as wiring the leads from the turbine to the batteries and adding some fuses, switches, and amp meters for equipment protection,” he says. “It’s even easier to integrate solar and wind power into a brand new system.”
Drax advances biomass strategy with Pinnacle acquisition
The Group’s enlarged supply chain will have access to 4.9 million tonnes of operational capacity from 2022. Of this total, 2.9 million tonnes are available for Drax’s self-supply requirements in 2022, which will rise to 3.4 million tonnes in 2027.
The £424 million acquisition of the Canadian biomass pellet producer supports Drax' ambition to be carbon negative by 2030, using bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) and will make a "significant contribution" in the UK cutting emissions by 78% by 2035 (click here).
This summer Drax will undertake maintenance on its CfD(2) biomass unit, including a high-pressure turbine upgrade to reduce maintenance costs and improve thermal efficiency, contributing to lower generation costs for Drax Power Station.
In March, Drax secured Capacity Market agreements for its hydro and pumped storage assets worth around £10 million for delivery October 2024-September 2025.
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