Consider diesel hybrid for electrical generation

There seems to be two very polarized camps on this wind farm situation here in Seneca County. I will admit I am one of those for the wind farms; however, I do have some concerns on the engineering concepts.

My concerns are based in the real world versus what I have been reading from the outright opposition which is based on fantasy and conjecture. I would like to present my concerns on the practical side based on grounded information out there.

1. We all know that the wind is not a stable energy source, i.e. it does not blow from a set direction at a set wind speed constantly. Yes, building them higher helps some as the wind seems to be more stable several hundred feet above the ground; fly in a light aircraft and you can feel it quite well at times. But there is another issue that seems to be overlooked: At ground level, the wind is blowing one direction and several hundred feet higher, it may be some degrees off from that direction. Don’t believe me? Simply fly a kite and watch.

2. Because the power source isn’t stable, that means you have to be creative in developing systems to stabilize the output power. Either you have to have a complex system to adjust the pitch of the windmill blades, to keep a set speed, or have another form of power stabilization system on the ground, generally a DC generator on the windmill and a AC drive system on the ground. Then you have to have a battery backup for times when there is little wind.

3. Averaged power output isn’t really all that great, look at the KW produced, suddenly they are not all that fantastic. Remember a watt is 1 volt x 1 amp and 746 watts is one horsepower. If you have a 200-amp service in your newer home, you are looking at technically 48KW consumption at full load; as a example, your electric range usually draws 30A at 240V, so you are consuming just over 7kw cooking supper. Now, look at what they are claiming they will be able to deliver from this wind farm, actually it isn’t all that much.

4. You “Solar Panel is the Answer People,” sorry about your luck, as the averaged power output is much more pathetic than the windmills. Simply, people like to mention the peak power outputs at X watts per square foot; well, remember this only under optimum conditions. Seems as if they forgot clouds, nightfall, alignment of the solar cells to the sun and so on. I count this concept as a helper system and not a prime supplier.

I would like to inject a reasonable working solution to the power issue, but tree huggers will have a cow on this one: Diesel and diesel hybrid. Right now, steam power plants have a maximum efficiency of just around 30%, that is BTU potential of the fuel to power outputted. Now diesel and diesel hybrid in marine form are commonly producing just over 50% efficiency — that is a 80% gain over steam plants. Here are some of the real-world answers to “Well, if it works so well, why did it get sided decades ago?”

1. Yes, at one time, we used World War II surplus aircraft engines converted to run natural gas and they worked very well in this application. But simply the source of engines and parts dried up as the aircraft industry went to turbojet and turboprop as they were lighter and more powerful, even though they used up half again more fuel per hour.

2. Diesel was also employed for quite a while but fell by the wayside due to the fact that even though they were far more efficient, the fuel cost was quite a bit higher. Remember, in the 1950-60s, coal was just a few dollars a ton.

3. Steam plants simply cannot get much above 30% without the application of fairy dust or unicorn tears, which is in high demand in Washington, D.C., at present, so count that out for increasing efficiency. Now, large diesels have a strange byproduct, simply the larger they are built, they become more energy efficient. Could do the math on why, but simply go to YouTube or read Kates diesel and high compression engines to find out more. Large marine diesels are now operating at just over 50% efficiency and have been proven they can run for years in continual operation. They don’t shut them down in port, they simply declutch them and let them idle.

4. Now a hybrid diesel is a outstanding application for power generation as it is simply a modification of a normal diesel by the addition of a spark ignition system that will allow the use of other gas forms of fuel to be employed, simply natural gas and propane need a ignition source to combust whereas diesel fuel, kerosene based, can combust from high heat alone. These engines are just as efficient as normal diesels on extracting energy from the fuel, with one major advantage: less pollution. Your exhaust is much cleaner than that of a steam plant or a diesel running on heavy fuels, diesel included.

So, for me, I would want to review a once commonly used power generation concept that was left by the wayside due to the cheaper energy source, coal, as at the time coal was so cheap efficiency was not a factor. Now, coal is very costly to purchase and cleaning up the emissions beyond present levels is astronomical in cost. Maybe it is time to do some thinking in the real-world arena.

Thomas Heer is a guest columnist and a resident of rural Attica.

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