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Cold Weather Renewables

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John Benson's picture
Senior Consultant, Microgrid Labs

PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE: Microgrid Labs, Inc. Advisor: 2014 to Present Developed product plans, conceptual and preliminary designs for projects, performed industry surveys and developed...

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  • Mar 2, 2021

This item is part of the Power Generation - March 2021 SPECIAL ISSUE, click here for more

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Going forward most regions must transition to very low greenhouse gas (GHG) electric generation (a.k.a. ‘renewables) in order to avoid the worst effects from climate change.

This paper is about the coldest regions in North America, and how they might implement renewables.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Mar 2, 2021

One of the more interesting stories I heard in discussing ERCOT the other week was that we can readily harden renewables for cold weather, with the Antarctica wind turbines quieting any doubters of that fact!

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Mar 2, 2021

"We can" readily harden wind turbines for cold weather?

At $35K a pop (total in Texas $375M) I would expect the cost would be borne by windfarm owners. After all, it's not ratepayers' fault their machines are unreliable!

John Benson's picture
John Benson on Mar 2, 2021

It doesn't seem to be rocket science to build a wind-turbine that could withstand the coldest temperatures. After all, if we can build a helicopter drone that can fly around on Mars...

The trick is building a utility-scale, horizontal-axes wind turbine. Both projects I detailed in this paper (GVEA Eva Creek and Diavik Diamond Mine wind farms) use this standard configuration., albeit adapted for really cold weather.

Most (if not all) of the Texas wind farms didn't even have cold weather kits. Of course it really didn't get that cold there during the polar vortex. I graduated from Texas Tech in Lubbock, which is one of the coldest areas in Texas since it's on the Llano Estacado (staked planes or more commonly high planes), and is at over 3,200 ft. altitude. I checked on the weather during the polar vortex and it was only getting down to around 0 degrees F.


Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Mar 2, 2021

"Going forward most regions must transition to very low greenhouse gas (GHG) electric generation (a.k.a. ‘renewables) in order to avoid the worst effects from climate change."

John, your attempt to equate "very low greenhouse gas (GHG) electric generation" with renewables, and by omission exclude zero-GHG nuclear energy, is noted. But it's disappointing, given your excellent record of forsaking personal ideology and bias for fact-based analysis.

Ignoring nuclear energy has been a persistent strategy of oil industry executives since the 1950s, apparently with the hope it might make an existential threat to their business interests just go away. It hasn't worked.

John Benson's picture
John Benson on Mar 4, 2021

Hi Bob

There is no such thing as zero greenhouse gas energy, as I've frequently said.

Apparently the energy regulators agree with me. 

I'm working on a post for mid-April, and using a draft report that is required by SB 100. This bill requires this report periodically. The bill also uses the term "zero carbon resources". The joint agencies (CEC, CPUC and CARB) that is preparing this report took issue with this:

SB 100 does not define “zero-carbon resources” and the state had no legal definition prior to the bill becoming law. For modeling purposes, the joint agencies interpreted “zero-carbon resources” to mean energy resources that either qualify as “renewable” in the most recent RPS (Renewables Portfolio Standard) Eligibility Guidebook or generate zero greenhouse gas emissions on site. 

Although I would even ague with "generate zero greenhouse gas on site", I will agree in this instance since it's only used for modeling economics and other characteristics of the grid.



Dr. Amal Khashab's picture
Dr. Amal Khashab on Mar 2, 2021

What about double face  PV? It can work with sun shinning and without. It may be useful in Alaska. Russia tried this in Cyberia .

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Mar 8, 2021

The underlying assumption of a distant much warmer climate cannot be proved both in terms of whether or not it will occur and whether or not net impacts are actually beneficial. 
Regions that are really cold need reliable power to keep the populace from freezing to death. Green energy is not reliable. 
Nuclear is a better approach if reasonably accessible hydropower or fossil fuels are not available.

The key driver is reasonably priced and reliable energy. Trotting out “we’re all going to die” if we do not switch to green energy is ridiculous and malicious.

Dudley McFadden's picture
Dudley McFadden on Apr 1, 2021

Thank you for a well-researched survey of renewable options for Alaska and Pacific slope northern regions.  I must remark that hydroelectric power can contribute significantly if it is "large hydro," meaning more than a few dozen megawatts in capacity per project.  Small generators certainly can't hurt, but they don't significantly displace coal and natural gas sources. (Ironic concept—in some areas, natural gas fossil fuel is actually considered "clean" energy; I must tip my hat to the thermal generation lobby.)  This is worth mentioning because large hydro is brutally opposed by socially-progressive interests.  In fact, it is illegal to label large hydro "renewable" in many influential American jurisdictions.

John Benson's picture
John Benson on Apr 2, 2021

Thanks for the comment, Dudley.

Large hydro is not considered a renewable where I live (California), even though California has been one of the most aggressive states when it comes to hydrological engineering. See section 4 of the post linked below.

Also with our periodic droughts we need to store huge amounts of water. Large amounts of hydro-power is a side benefit. Go through the link below for more information.


John Benson's picture
Thank John for the Post!
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