Guest essay by Eric Worrall
At least one news outlet has noticed that renewable energy is exceptionally vulnerable to hurricanes and other extreme weather events. How will renewables power the future, if climate change produces more extreme weather?
Harvey Set to Overpower Wind in State Generating the Most
Storm could knock out between 2.1 and 3.6 gigawatts of power near the Texas coast
By Brian Eckhouse, Chris Martin, and Ryan Collins
26 August 2017, 04:59 GMT+10
One of the worst things that can happen to a wind farm is too much wind.
“The problem with this hurricane is they don’t see it trailing off in any direction so it’s just going to hover,” said Jeff Ferguson, the Magnolia, Texas-based senior vice president of project development at Apex Clean Energy Inc. “So it could be next week for the winds to diminish adequately so we can resume normal operations.”
Production was set to peak in the late afternoon Friday and taper off as turbines automatically begin to shut down, according to Simon Mahan, a director at Southern Wind Energy Association. Turbines generally aren’t designed for hurricane risk, said Alex Morgan, a New York-based analyst at BNEF.
“They’ll pitch down and yaw into the wind, which allows them to safely pinwheel,” said John Martinez, director of operation at Pattern Energy Group Inc., which owns the 283-megawatt Gulf Wind farm in Kenedy County. “This way the blades don’t flex, which can be damaging. The turbines are designed to automatically do that.”
This isn’t the first time reporters have noticed that renewables installations are exceptionally vulnerable to weather. Back in February this year, an Australian journalist noticed the renewable climate dilemma.
… The climate change gambit has always been a Goldilocks story. The speed and damage of climate change had to be not too hot (or rapid) and not too cold (or slow), it had to be just right. Too rapid or hot and renewables would never work. Too delayed or cool and the world could wait for better technologies. Renewables seemed right only in the just right scenario.
But, what if climate change creates more clouds, calms the wind, stops rivers flowing, or wipes out bio-crops in regions where panels, turbines, hydro and biofuel stock are located?
You would think CSIRO would research the risk. But it has nothing to say. …
Fossil fuel and nuclear installations can be hardened. Fossil fuel and nuclear power generation is mostly an indoor activity. Barring flooding due to poor siting of the plant, that outer wall provides a lot of protection.
Renewables installations are far more vulnerable. Wind turbines cannot be toughened too much, or the extra weight of the blades increases bearing friction and reduces efficiency. Solar panels are flimsy pieces of glass or plastic, vulnerable to hail, wind and water. The protective top sheet of solar panels has to be thin, otherwise it blocks too much light.
Power line engineers are good at repairing downed power lines – over the last century or so they have had a lot of practice. But there is not much point repairing power lines, if the power plant itself does not survive the storm.