Researchers have created an interactive web tool to estimate the amount of energy that could be generated by wind or solar farms at any location.
The tool, called Renewables.ninja, aims to make the task of predicting renewable output easier for both academics and industry.
The creators, from Imperial College London and ETH Zürich, have already used it to estimate current Europe-wide solar and wind output, and companies such as the German electrical supplier RWE are using it to test their own models of output.
To test the model, Dr Iain Staffell, from the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial, and Dr Stefan Pfenninger, who is now at ETH Zürich, have used Renewables.ninja to estimate the productivity of all wind farms planned or under construction in Europe for the next 20 years. Their results are published today in the journal Energy.
We built our models so they can be easily used by other researchers online, allowing them to answer their questions faster, and hopefully to start asking new ones.
– Dr Iain Staffell
They found that wind farms in Europe current have an average ‘capacity factor’ of around 24 per cent, which means they produce around a quarter of the energy that they could if the wind blew solidly all day every day.
This number is a factor of how much wind is available to each turbine. The study found that because new farms are being built using taller turbines placed further out to sea, where wind speeds are higher, the average capacity factor for Europe should rise by nearly a third to around 31 percent.
This would allow three times as much energy to be produced by wind power in Europe compared to today, not only because there are more farms, but because those farms can take advantage of better wind conditions.
SUPER SUNNY DAYS
In another research paper also published today in Energy, the pair modelled the hourly output of solar panels across Europe. They found that even though Britain is not the sunniest country, on the best summer days solar power now produces more energy than nuclear power. However, the pattern of this solar output through the year substantially changes how the rest of the power system will have to operate.
Wind and solar energies have a strong dependence on weather conditions, and these can be difficult to integrate into national power systems that requires consistency. If there is excess power generated by all energy sources, then some supplies have to be turned off.
Currently, wind and solar power generators are the easiest to switch on and off, so they are often the first to go, meaning the power they generate can be wasted.
Making use of a larger capacity for solar energy generation relies on changes to the national energy system, such as adding new types of electricity storage or small and flexible generators to balance the variable output from solar panels.
MAKING MODELS FASTER
Renewables.ninja uses 30 years of observed and modelled weather data from organisations such as NASA to predict the wind speed likely to influence turbines and the sunlight likely to strike solar panels at any point on the Earth during the year.
Renewables.ninja has already allowed us to answer important questions about the current and future renewable energy infrastructure across Europe and in the UK, and we hope others will use it to further examine the opportunities and challenges for renewables in the future.
– Dr Stefan Pfenninger
These figures are combined with manufacturer’s specifications for wind turbines and solar panels to give an estimate of the power output that could be generated by a farm placed at any location.
Dr Staffell said he spent two years crunching the data for his own research and thought that creating this tool would make it quicker for others to answer important questions: “Modelling wind and solar power is very difficult because they depend on complex weather systems. Getting data, building a model and checking that it works well takes a lot of time and effort.
“If every researcher has to create their own model when they start to investigate a question about renewable energy, a lot of time is wasted. So we built our models so they can be easily used by other researchers online, allowing them to answer their questions faster, and hopefully to start asking new ones.”
He and Dr Pfenninger have been beta testing Renewables.ninja for six months and now have users from 54 institutions across 22 countries, including the European Commission and the International Energy Agency.
Dr Pfenninger said: “Renewables.ninja has already allowed us to answer important questions about the current and future renewable energy infrastructure across Europe and in the UK, and we hope others will use it to further examine the opportunities and challenges for renewables in the future.”
A team of UK researchers, including experts from Cardiff University’s Cardiff Catalysis Institute, have shown that significant amounts of hydrogen can be unlocked from fescue grass with the help of sunlight and a cheap catalyst.
It is the first time that this method has been demonstrated and could potentially lead to a sustainable way of producing hydrogen, which has enormous potential in the renewable energy industry due to its high energy content and the fact that it does not release toxic or greenhouse gases when it is burnt.
Co-author of the study Professor Michael Bowker, from the Cardiff Catalysis Institute, said: “This really is a green source of energy.
“Hydrogen is seen as an important future energy carrier as the world moves from fossil fuels to renewable feedstocks, and our research has shown that even garden grass could be a good way of getting hold of it.”
A common criticism of a total transition to wind, water and solar power is that the U.S. electrical grid can’t affordably store enough standby electricity to keep the system stable. Stanford researcher Mark Z. Jacobson proposes an underground solution to that problem.
Over the last few years, Mark Jacobson, a Stanford professor of civil and environmental engineering, and his colleague, Mark Delucchi of the University of California, Berkeley, have produced a series of plans, based on huge amounts of data churned through computer models, showing how each state in America could shift from fossil fuel to entirely renewable energy.
In a new study published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they use the data from those single-state calculations of the number of wind, water and solar generators potentially needed in each state to show that these installations can theoretically result in a reliable, affordable national grid when the generators are combined with inexpensive storage and “demand response” – a program in which utilities give customers incentives to control times of peak demand.
An underground effort
The proposed system relies on the ability to store and retrieve heat, cold and electricity in order to meet demand at all times.
Engineering researchers at the University of Arkansas have invented a novel electrical power converter system that simultaneously accepts power from a variety of energy sources and converts it for use in the electrical grid system
Doctoral student Joseph Carr developed the system with his adviser, Juan Balda, University Professor and head of the department of electrical engineering.
Innovations in this field are critical as the United States moves toward integration of renewable energy sources to the national power grid.
The U.S. Department of Energy pursued and was granted a U.S. patent for the technology and is now seeking licensing opportunities for potential commercialization. The research was sponsored by a Department of Energy grant.
“It is very gratifying when doctoral students who invest many hours working on various research ideas are rewarded with a patent,” Balda said. “At the same time, it is an indication of research work that several faculty members and their students are doing in the field of future energy systems.”
The availability and use of renewable energy sources, such as solar, geothermal and wind, and their associated harvesting systems increase the need for new power converters that can efficiently convert diverse energy sources to work across modern electrical grid systems. Current renewable energy conversion systems are bulky, inefficient and struggle to accept multiple inputs from diverse sources.
The researchers’ high-frequency matrix converter addresses these shortcomings. Its simplified control system uses power converters to allow connection of a variety of power sources to a small, high-frequency transformer. Then, using a high-frequency matrix converter, it produces stable electricity ready to be supplied to the electrical grid system.