Conference of Climate Change COP-24 Protocol and Renewable Energy Explained

This year’s COP24 annual UN climate conference concluded late on Saturday evening in Katowice, Poland, after two weeks of tension-filled talks. Nearly 23,000 delegates descended on the coal-tinged city with a deadline for hashing out the Paris Agreement “rulebook”, which is the operating manual needed for when the global deal enters into force in 2020. This was mostly agreed, starting a new international climate regime under which all countries will have to report their emissions — and progress in cutting them — every two years from 2024. But as countries wrestled with the “four-dimensional spaghetti” of competing priorities — as one delegate put it to Carbon Brief — they clashed over how to recognise the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report on 1.5C and whether to clearly signal the need for greater ambition to stay below this temperature limit. The final outcome included hints at the need for more ambitious climate pledges before 2020, leaving many NGOs disappointed at the lack of more forceful language. Meanwhile, new research released at the COP showed global emissions were going up, not down. With tension mounting across the fortnight of the talks, UN secretary-general António Guterres had to visit the COP several times to force progress. Despite settling on large parts of the Paris rulebook, countries failed to agree the rules for voluntary market mechanisms, pushing part of the process onto next year’s COP25 in Chile. The raison d’etre for the COP-24 Protocol on wind energy engineering is discussed with a focus on our changing climate and the buildup of atmospheric carbon dioxide;

Climate Change

Table 1.1 Total World Electricity Production in 2014 [4]


Advantages of Wind Energy

  • Provision for a clean source of energy. The almost pollution free nature of wind energy is one of the compelling reasons for its development. It delivers electricity without producing carbon dioxide. The relatively small amount of GHG emissions associated with wind turbines is produced in the manufacture and transport of the turbines and blades. It is also free of particulates which are a major problem with coal-fired power stations. Particulates have been blamed for the rise of asthma and possibly Alzheimer’s disease in our society, so any reduction in these fine particles floating in the atmosphere is a major health advantage. Another atmospheric pollutant that comes with coal- or oil-fired power stations is sulfur dioxide, formed from the burning of sulfur impurities. It is this SO2 that is largely responsible for acid rain and also climate change; replacing fossil fuel power stations with wind energy and other renewable energy can rid the planet of this dangerous pollutant. It is estimated that a 1 MW wind turbine offsets 2360 t (2600 US tonnes) of CO2 [14].
  • Sustainability. Whenever the Sun shines and the wind blows, energy can be harnessed and sent to the grid. This makes wind a sustainable source of energy and another good reason to invest in wind farms. Furthermore with the advent of climate change and global warming (the air molecules are moving faster), there is more energy in the atmosphere and we can expect stronger winds in the future.
  • Location. Wind turbines can be erected almost anywhere, e.g., on existing farms. Very often good windy sites are not in competition with urban development or other land usage; such areas include the tops of mountains or in gullies between hills (see Chapter 4: Global Potential for Wind Generated Electricity and Chapter 23: Wind turbines and Landscape).
  • Compatibility with other land uses. Wind turbines can be erected on pasture- land with little disturbance to the animals and the general farming activities. Other areas such as near landfills sites, the sides of motorways and major roads, where urban development is unlikely to take place, are ideal locations to consider for wind farms.
  • Reduction of costly transport costs of electricity from far-away power stations. Transporting alternating current electricity great distances is expensive be- cause of the cost of the cables and pylons and also because of the loss of power due to the electrical resistance of the cables.
  • National security. The wind is a free source of energy. Being independent of foreign sources of fuel (e.g., fossil fuel and indeed of electricity) is a great advantage. It means no price hikes over which we have no control and no embargoes on importing fuel or even electricity from foreign countries.
  • Conservation of water. Traditional power stations using coal, oil, gas, or nu- clear fuel all use large volumes of water [15]. Wind farms use no water. In September 2012 Civil Society Institute of the United States published a re- port, “The Hidden Costs of Electricity: Comparing the Hidden Costs of Power Generation Fuels.” Their conclusions were that: nuclear uses 2660–4180 L (MW h)−1 (700–1100 gal (MW h)−1) in closed-loop sys- tems; coal uses 1750–2280 L (MW h)−1 (500–600 gal (MW h)−1) in closed loop; biomass uses 152, 000–380, 000 L (MW h)−1 (40, 000–100, 000 gal (MW h)−1) for irrigating crops to burn; solar uses 855–1976 L (MW h)−1 (225–520 gal (MW h)−1) (washing photo- voltaic panels); and wind uses 170–320 L (MW h)−1 (45–85 gal (MW h)−1).
  • Reduction of destructive mining. The pumping of oil and gas (especially from ocean beds) and the mining of coal or uranium all have serious environ- mental impacts on the sea or land. Wind farms are relatively benign in this respect and farming and other activities can take place around the turbines as the real action is over a hundred meters above the ground or sea. See Ref. [16] for the environmental issues with coal mining in Australia.
  • Short commissioning time. Wind farms can be commissioned over a relatively short time, and 2 or 3 years from conception to electricity production is not impossible. This can be compared to the many decades it takes to design, build, and commission a nuclear power station [16]. The fast rate of growth of the wind energy industry over the past 40 years could well be due to the speed at which wind farms can be commissioned. • Cost effectiveness. Over the past decade, the cost of turbines has decreased significantly as a result of improved designs and mass production, so that today the cost of producing electricity from wind farms is now very competitive with fossil fuel-derived electricity [17]. Together, with the drop in investment costs, there has been a significant increase in the efficiency of tur- bines through increased hub height and larger rotor blade diameter. The overall cost of wind energy is linked to the energy used in turbine manufacture. Wind energy is capital intensive with 75% of the total cost of energy related to the upfront costs of manufacturing the turbines foundations, electrical equipment, and grid connections [18]. It has been estimated that the energy used in the production of a turbine is recouped in the 7 months of operation and when one considers that the lifespan of a turbine is over 30 years the energy and financial gain is significant (see Chapter 21: Life Cycle Assessment: Metaanalysis of Cumulative Energy Demand for Wind Energy Technologies) [19].
  • Creation of jobs and local resources. The wind turbine industry is a rapidly growing industry and employs thousands of workers in the manufacture processes, transport of turbines, erection of turbines, and in servicing working turbines. Wind Energy projects can be of great help in developing local resources, labor, capital, and even materials. In 2016 the US Energy Department analyzed the future of wind energy and quantified the environmental, social, and economic benefits coming from the wind industry. The industry in the United States currently supports more than 50, 000 jobs in services such as manufacturing, installation, and maintenance. Wind energy has be- come part of the country’s clean energy mix. It suggested that by 2050, more than 600, 000 wind-related jobs could be supported by the industry [20].
  • Source of income for farmers, ranchers and foresters and grid operators. Land for onshore wind farms is leased to electricity supply companies, making a tidy profit for the landowners who can carry on the normal activity on the land with little interference from the turbines. Lease times between 25 and 50 years are common. The UK Government has suggested that for a 2.5 MW turbine, costing £3.3×1⁰⁶, the payback time was between 1 and 5 years, allowing plenty of time for a good return on the investment [21,22].
  • Rapid instigation of power. National grids supply a steady level of electricity (the base load) to meet the needs of a country. If for some reason the sup- ply of electricity needs to be suddenly increased that is not always possible as it can take days to start up a new power station. If the wind is blowing or if the wind energy has been stored then the supply can take just minutes to feed into the national grid.
  • Diversification of power supply. With our total reliance on electricity it is well worth diversifying our energy sources so that we are not reliant on one type of energy, be it fossil fuel (which is at the mercy of foreign governments which can raise prices suddenly as was done in the 1970s), nuclear (again we are at the mercy of countries supplying uranium), or solar (the Sun does not always shine).
  • Stability of cost of electricity. Once the wind farm is in place the cost of the electricity to customers should be stable. It is not a function of the price of imported fuels [22].
  • International cooperation. It has been found that in many instances there is a clear relationship between a manufacturer’s success in its home country market and its eventual success in the global wind power market. Lewis and Wiser recently wrote, “Government policies that support a sizable, stable market for wind power, in conjunction with policies that specifically provide incentives for wind power technology to be manufactured locally, are most likely to result in the establishment of an internationally competitive wind industry” [23]. This comment written 10 years ago could well have been writ- ten today, and illustrates the importance and success of international cooperation.

Challenges Facing the Wind Turbine Industry

  • The intermittency of wind. Wind is unpredictable and this is perhaps the most important of all the problems associated with electricity production from wind farms. The wind may not be blowing when the electricity from a wind farm is required. Furthermore, when the wind is blowing and electricity is being produced, it is possible that the energy is not required. The solution is to store the electricity when it is not required and using the stored electricity in times of need. This can be done in a number of ways: batteries, pumped water storage, pumped air or methane into caverns, and even driving trains up hills (see Chapter 4: Global Potential for Wind Generated Electricity and Chapter 18: Energy and Carbon Intensities of Stored Wind Energy) [24].
  • Good sites are often in remote locations. The best windy sites are often in hilly, mountainous regions away from urban areas. This does mean that the electricity produced onshore has to be transported along expensive high- voltage cables to reach customers.
  • Noise pollution. The noise from a rotating wind turbine falls off exponentially with distance from the tower, and at 500 m the sound level is less than 35 dB which is not very much when normal conversation is rated at 60 dB (see Chapter 23: Wind Turbines and Landscape) [25].
  • Aesthetics. While some people deplore the sight of wind turbines, others look upon them as pleasing and useful structures. We have over the past century got use to massive pylons marching across our countryside, carrying high-voltage lines. Surely wind turbines are better looking than that! There have been thoughts of painting wind turbines to fit in with the land- scape (see Chapter 23: Wind Turbines and Landscape).
  • Turbine blades can damage wildlife. There is much evidence that birds and bats are being killed by the turning blades of wind turbines. However the impact on these populations is negligible compared to the large number of bird deaths caused by household cats, car windscreens, sparrow hawks, etc.; it is reported that collisions with turbine blades results in 33, 000 bird deaths, while cats are responsible for 100–200 million each year in the Unit- ed States. It has been reported that the modern very large bladed slow- turning turbines are responsible for far fewer bird deaths that the faster turning turbines (see Chapter 23: Wind Turbines and Landscape) [26,27].
  • Safety. The major safety hazard associated with turbines, once they are in place, is the possibility of a blade coming adrift, which could cause serious harm to people or animals nearby. Furthermore a buckled blade could cause a collapse of the tower and that too could cause a serious damage. Wind turbines should be erected away from human habitation (see Chapter 22: Environmental and Structural Safety Issues Related to Wind Energy).
  • Frequency of light and shadows. It has been reported that the frequency and strobe effect of turning blades could have an effect on the human brain. Wind turbines produce a shadow flicker by the interruption of sunlight by the turbine blades. Research work has shown that this flicker can cause epilepsy in certain patients [28]. It was found that the proportion of patients affected by viewing wind turbines, expressed as distance in multiples of the hub height of the turbine, showed that seizure risk does not decrease significantly until the distance exceeds 100 times the hub height. The results show that the flash frequency is the critical factor and should be kept to a maximum of 3 per second, i.e., 60 revolutions per minute for a three-bladed turbine. Furthermore, on wind farms the shadows cast by one turbine on another should not be viewable by the public if the cumulative flash rate exceeds 3 per second. If possible, turbine blades should not be reflective [28]. Wind turbines are designed to operate over a given range of wind speeds and this is usually between 4 and 15 m s−1 (between10 and 40 miles per hour). The speed of the rotating blade can be controlled and slow-rotating turbines could make turbines less of a problem for epilepsy sufferers and for other problems such as the danger to birds and bats.
  • New and unfamiliar technology. Wind turbines and their accompanying generators can be considered as new technology and are often unfamiliar to most general engineers. This can be a problem if a turbine malfunctions in a rural area. The infrastructure and training of staff to support and maintain turbines must accompany commissioning of new turbines. However, it is reported that wind turbines require less maintenance that do many other electricity producing equipment [29].
  • Shortage of the rare earth element, neodymium, needed to manufacture turbine magnets. Modern turbines require special permanent magnets and these are made from an alloy that contain the rare earth element neodymium (Nd). A 3 MW turbine needs a 2.7 kg magnet made from neodymium, iron, and boron (NdFeB). These are permanent magnets and are very much stronger than iron magnets. It is necessary to have such strong magnets in order to generate electricity at the slow speeds that wind turbines operate at. It is a case of “the stronger the magnet the more the electrons move.” The supply of neodymium and other rare earths has been dominated by China but this is slowly changing with the reopening mines in the United States.
  • Initial cost. The initial cost of setting up a wind farm is perhaps the most serious drawback. It is for this reason that many governments throughout the world still offer subsidies. This is however outweighed by the rewards over the lifetime of the turbine, both financial and environmental [30]. In the United States, most of the commercial-scale turbines installed today are 2 MW in size and cost roughly $3–4 million [31].

In Conclusions




Founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of SkyDataSol

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