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A new study estimated the untapped potential of wind energy across Europe.
19 August, 2019
- A new report calculated how much electricity Europe could generate if it built onshore wind farms on all of its exploitable land.
- The results indicated that European onshore wind farms could supply the whole world with electricity from now until 2050.
- Wind farms come with a few complications, but the researchers noted that their study was meant to highlight the untapped potential of the renewable energy source in Europe.
<p>In 2009, the European Environment Agency made a surprising claim: If Europe were to build all of the onshore and offshore wind farms it was capable of building, wind could power the continent many times over. In fact, the <a href="https://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/europes-onshore-and-offshore-wind-energy-potential" target="_blank">2009 report</a> said that wind farms could provide 20 times the electricity that's estimated to be demanded in Europe in 2020.</p><p>But it turns out the actual wind potential in Europe could be much higher. A new study found that maximizing onshore wind potential could enable Europe to generate 100 times more electricity than it currently does. That's enough to cover energy demand for the entire world from now until 2050, according to the researchers.</p><blockquote>European aspirations for a 100 percent renewable energy grid are within our collective grasp technologically... </blockquote><p>The study, published in the September 2019 installment of <em><a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301421519304343?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Policy</a></em>, found that Europe's untapped wind energy potential amounts to approximately 52.5 terawatts, or about 1 million watts for every 16 European citizens. To estimate the continent's wind potential, the researchers used information detailing each nation's infrastructure, buildings and protected areas to determine which areas wouldn't be suitable for onshore wind farms. </p><p>They also conducted a spatial analysis to identify areas with sufficient wind conditions for wind farms.</p>
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Enevoldsen et al.<p>"The study is not a blueprint for development but a guide for policymakers indicating the potential of how much more can be done and where the prime opportunities exist," study co-author Benjamin Sovacool, professor of energy policy at the University of Sussex, <a href="https://www.sussex.ac.uk/news/media-centre/press-releases/id/49312" target="_blank">told</a> the University of Sussex Media Centre. "Our study suggests that the horizon is bright for the onshore wind sector and that European aspirations for a 100 percent renewable energy grid are within our collective grasp technologically."</p><p>The researchers admit they were "very liberal" in identifying land on which wind farms might be built; for example, they included private land where citizens might have no interest in building wind farms.</p><p>"Obviously, we are not saying that we should install turbines in all the identified sites but the study does show the huge wind power potential right across Europe which needs to be harnessed if we're to avert a climate catastrophe," Sovacool said.</p>
Wind energy — not always a breeze<p>Wind energy isn't completely free of problems. As <a href="https://bigthink.com/politics-current-affairs/scotland-wind-energy?rebelltitem=2#rebelltitem2" target="_self"><em>Big Think</em> wrote in July</a>, wind is currently one of the cheapest forms of renewable energy, but there are several factors preventing it from becoming dominant in the U.S. Those include:</p><ul><li>Wind variability: Put simply, wind turbines need consistent access to strong winds if they're to be efficient. That's a problem, considering some parts of the country — like the southeastern U.S. — see relatively slow wind speeds. "Wind power is very sensitive to the wind speed, more than you might guess," Paul Veers, chief engineer at the National Wind Technology Center at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, <a href="https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2018/5/2/17290880/trump-wind-power-renewable-energy-maps" target="_blank">told</a><em>Vox</em>. However, wind variability could become less of a problem if wind power could be stored more effectively.</li></ul><ul><li>The <a href="https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/energy/2013/05/130516-wind-energy-shadow-effect/" target="_blank">window-shadow effect</a>: When you add a wind turbine to a landscape, you change local wind patterns. One downside is that each additional turbine robs wind from other turbines in the wind farm. So, designers have been trying to space out wind turbines in a way that maximizes efficiency. But the problem with this sprawling solution is that it becomes increasingly expensive, both due to maintenance and land cost. Additionally, rural residents generally don't like having massive wind turbines spoiling their property values and views.</li></ul><ul><li>Local heating: Although renewable energies like wind would curb climate change over the long term, wind turbines would likely cause local heating over the short term. Why? Cold air normally stays near the ground, while warm air flows higher. But wind turbines generally disrupt that natural order, pushing warm air down. "Any big energy system has an environmental impact," Harvard engineering and physics professor David Keith <a href="https://www.apnews.com/82f436aa913a4ddf87e3cee8d3915924" target="_blank">told</a> <em>The Associated Press.</em> "There is no free lunch. You do wind on a scale big enough [...] it'll change things." Of course, this is a temporary effect, unlike climate change.</li></ul><p>Still, the researchers don't think these criticisms make their findings irrelevant. In the study, they addressed the intermittent nature of wind energy, and also acknowledged the impracticality of actually building dense wind farms on every exploitable piece of land.</p><p>"To both critics the response is the same," they wrote. "Realizable wind power potential studies are not to be treated as blueprints for development. Such studies help policymakers understand what is possible as a ceiling, help planners target areas of particular attraction, and help us understand where we are in terms of state of play concerning a given technology and its potential. For onshore wind power potential, our study suggests that still the horizon is bright for this particular application in the wind energy sector and that European aspirations for a 100 percent renewable energy grid are within our collective grasp technologically."</p>
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French newspapers report that the trial hasn't lived up to expectations.
18 August, 2019
Image source: Charly Triballeau / AFP / Getty Images
- The French government initially invested in a rural solar roadway in 2016.
- French newspapers report that the trial hasn't lived up to expectations.
- Solar panel "paved" roadways are proving to be inefficient and too expensive.
<p>Turns out that solar power highways aren't all they're cracked up to be. In 2016, France put forth an audacious plan to build 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) of solar highways composed of photovoltaic panels. They believed that the completed roadway would be able to one day power up to 5 million homes. The French government invested €5 million to test out the concept. </p><p>It's now been nearly three years since their first trial run with a paved 0.6 mile solar stretch in rural Normandy. Engineers and government officials estimated that this first solar road could power up to 5,000 homes. That wasn't the case. </p><p>So far the "Wattway" initiative has been a disappointing failure.</p>
France’s failed solar roadway<p>The Wattway in France consists of 2,800 photovoltaic panels, running the length of one kilometer (0.62 miles) stretching from the small town of Tourouvre-au-Perche. The construction group responsible for the building, Colas, said that the solar panels were covered with a special resin that contained silicon, which protected the cells from 18-wheeler traffic.<br></p><p>The project seemed to be doomed from the start. This region in Normandy, France is not known for its abundance of sunshine. Usually, a city in Normandy only has 44 days of strong sunlight. </p><p>Since the opening of the road, panels have routinely come loose or broken into pieces. In May 2018, 90 meters (300 feet) of the roadway had to be destroyed. It was quickly apparent that the solar panels couldn't withstand the wear and tear of sustained traffic or the forces of nature. </p><p>In a report from the <a href="http://www.globalconstructionreview.com/news/frances-solar-road-dream-may-be-over-after-test-fa/" target="_blank"><em>Global Construction Review</em></a>, it was found that engineers didn't take into account the damage that would be caused by thunderstorms, leaf mold, and huge tractors that would be using the road. In the first few months, the highest amount of energy generated from the roadway hit only half their stated goal at around 150,000kWh before falling to 78,000 in 2018 and finally 38,000 in early 2019. </p><p>The vice president of the Network for Energy Transition, Marc Jedliczka, stated: "The technical and economic elements of the project were not sufficiently understood. It is a total absurdity to innovate at the expense of solutions that already exist and are much more profitable, such as photovoltaics on roofs."</p>The idea for solar roadways has been met with a great deal of skepticism from many experts in the renewable field. They've routinely been found to be <a href="https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/solar-roadways-are-expensive-and-inefficient#gs.x6akff" target="_blank">too expensive and inefficient.</a>
Moving forward with other solar projects<p>Two local roofers, Pascal and Eric, were interviewed by the French newspaper <a href="https://www.lemonde.fr/planete/article/2019/07/22/en-normandie-le-fiasco-de-la-plus-grande-route-solaire-du-monde_5492044_3244.html" target="_blank"><em>Le Monde</em></a> concerning the project. "The engineers of this project surely did not think about the tractors that would roll over," they stated. </p><p>While the resin coating was able to stop the panels from being crushed, it created so much extra noise that the locals had to lower the speed limit to 70 km/h (43 mph). The roadway has been described as degraded, and "pale with its ragged joints. . . solar panels that peel off the road and the many splinters that enamel resin protecting photovoltaic cells."</p><p>The first large scale solar roadway has turned out to be completely bunk. It's unlikely that this idea will be feasible in the near future. Colas Wattway has admitted as much. Managing director Etienne Guadin told <em>Le Monde</em> that this roadway wouldn't be going to market. </p><p>"The Tourouvre model is not the one that we are going to market. Our system is not mature on long distance traffic. . . We are now focusing on small modules of 3, 6 or 9 sq. m — enough to provide enough electricity for a CCTV camera, bus shelter lighting or an electric bicycle charging station."</p>
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