Wind Power - A Missed Opportunity in Distributed Energy
- Nov 17, 2021 7:43 pm GMT
Minigrids/microgrids are an important part of the energy transition, estimated to serve around 140 million people by 2040 in Africa alone. But are the current generation sources appropriate to both mitigate climate change and provide energy access for over 760 million people in the developing world still without electricity?
Solar’s great, so long as the sun’s out
The cost of SolarPV has dropped by 82% in the past decade and the technology is both modular and easy to maintain. For these reasons, solar has become the go-to technology in parts of the world where distributed generation is required to sure-up or replace the utility grid.
The obvious drawback, of course, is that the sun only shines around 12 hours a day along the equator and the wet season further dampens solar generation.
Diesel is cheap to buy, expensive and dirty to run
Due to its low-CAPEX and high market penetration, diesel is the incumbent despatchable generation source for many people and businesses with unreliable grid supply. However, the ongoing fuel costs quickly bring the levelised cost of energy (LCOE) to over 40¢/kWh in much of the world and it’s widely accepted that we need to rapidly transition away from these fossil fuels if we are to reach net zero targets by 2050.
Battery still has a long way to go
The price of lithium-ion battery, although falling, will still be the most expensive distributed energy resource (DER) in most installations for years to come, regardless of where you are in the world. They are having a positive impact in developed nations with higher GDPs and more electric vehicles, but are a painful expense for microgrids in lower-income economies.
The missed opportunity of distributed wind energy
Wind energy, along with solar, will grow five to ten times faster than any other power-generation technology will in the next few years. It’s an excellent complementary energy source to solar PV, as on average, the wind blows more at night and during the wet season
Typically, this growth is skewed towards larger, offshore machines taking advantage of the economies of scale. That’s great news for the energy transition and robust energy grids (largely in high-income economies), but it doesn’t work so well for fragmented and unreliable grid coverage in much of Africa, Asia and Latin America.
So considering its potential, why does wind only feature in 2% of microgrid projects? Well it appears that there simply aren’t that many players in the market and that installers default to the most easily accessible technologies. This could be changing, however, and it makes sense for distributed renewable energy (DRE) installers to research into the benefits of distributed wind technology.
Key factors to success
So what should one look for in a distributed wind energy solution? Here’s a few key points to give you a head start:
- Wind Resource: The more wind resource you have available, the more energy that can be harvested. Begin by looking at your region’s average wind speed; over 6m/s usually provides a viable site.
- Easy transportation: It’s hard enough navigating large cranes and articulated lorries to sites with modern access, so for installations in less-developed locations, you need light-weight technology and machinery to be accessible.
- Correctly sized: If you only require 1MWh of electricity, you want a turbine with a capacity of around 300kW or lower, otherwise you will be losing money as excess electricity is wasted.
- Affordable and Effective O&M: Similarly to solar panels, most wind turbines have a 20-25 year lifespan. To maximise cost savings and minimise downtime, you want a solution that can be serviced and repaired by local engineers with parts that are accessible worldwide.
The Bottom Line
If we’re going to reach our net zero and energy access targets we need to implement a wide range of strategies and technologies. Distributed Energy will become an ever more prevalent solution in electrifying the remaining rural populations of the world.
The adoption of wind power in these installations to complement solar is a huge opportunity that is largely being overlooked, as they are an excellent economic, low-carbon alternative to most of the technologies currently on the market.
By installing distributed wind power, businesses, governments and DRE installers can take advantage of lower electricity costs while improving the reliability and renewable generation of their distributed energy installations.
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