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Science Wednesday: Better Together: Wind and Solar Power in California

2008 September 10

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

About the author: Matthias Fripp is a doctoral student in the Energy and Resources Group at the University of California, Berkeley. His work is funded by an EPA Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Graduate Research Fellowship.

Before I started my studies, I thought that graduate students were free to study any topic they liked. That’s true in principle, but in practice we need to find funding for our research. Fortunately, I was granted an EPA STAR fellowship in 2006, allowing me to pursue a question I consider particularly important: how much wind and solar power should we use in the electricity system in upcoming decades?

Over the last couple of years, I’ve gathered data on the amount of power that could be produced every hour at potential wind farm sites and solar power facilities all over California. I’ve also collected information on existing power plants and transmission lines, and forecasted the cost of building new wind, solar or conventional power plants or transmission lines in the future.

Next, I built a computer model that determines which combination of new and existing power plants and transmission lines will give the least expensive electricity between 2010 and 2025, while also ensuring that the state has enough power every hour. I also use this model to see how much our power bills might change if we work seriously on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

wind farm turbines on hillThe results of this research are exciting. I found that wind and solar power are available at complementary times in California, so we can use them together to make a more reliable (and cheaper) power system than we could if we just used wind or solar alone. I also found that even if we didn’t care about greenhouse gas emissions, we should still plan to use a lot of wind power, because it is beginning to be less expensive than power from natural gas plants. Finally, I found that there is no sharp limit to the amount of renewable power we could use in California: power bills rise slowly as we build more and more renewables, but emissions could be reduced substantially with little or no extra cost.

The EPA STAR fellowship has made a huge difference, freeing me to focus all my efforts on this work, and providing the resources to do it right.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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27 Responses leave one →
  1. permalink
    September 10, 2008

    The true cost of energy should include the environmental and human cost. For example, the coal fired plants in the Midwest that cause mercury levels in eastern water bodies to rise to the point where fish are contaminated and can no longer be eaten. If we include these kind of costs then for certain wind and solar energy are viable and should be implemented as soon as possible.

  2. permalink
    September 11, 2008

    I would like to see the actual data collected and the report, not just a summary. Where is the verification in that. At the same time it is important that soalr and wind be exploited not just because of cost or even greenhouse reasons, but because they increase our energy independence and balance of trade.

    Freedom is always a better choice. Independence is always a better choice. Reliance on fossil fuels from abroad, even if cheaper, would be a bad idea.

  3. Domingos Maria permalink
    September 13, 2008

    Congratulations on your work, weldone, and it would be very interesting and useful to read the whole article from your research findings (not just a summary which could be vague). Is there anywhere can I get it online? I have been working with regulator bodies for oil and gas as the main source for energy and now I am doing more studies on energy management, looking forward to learning more the alternatives and renewable energy particularly those that are more environmentaly friendly.

  4. Matthias Fripp permalink
    September 22, 2008

    A couple of responders have asked to see a more detailed report on my work. I am currently rushing to finish my dissertation by the end of the month, and don’t have a version ready to publish yet. But once the dissertation is done, I’ll be happy to post it on-line and leave a link to it here. I’m also planning to publish journal articles with more details on this work over the next year or so. You can reach me by e-mail at mfripp {..} if you have specific questions. (replace {..} with @)

  5. Solar permalink
    October 9, 2008

    Yes! Keeping in mind the drastic environmental changes and rising fuel prices going Solar is one option open to all at minimal investments. The Solar Water heating systems are so easy to install and most of them come in a Do-it Yourself kit, With the technological advancement the once heavy, bulky hard to move panels are now available widely in light weight easy to carry by one personal only packages. The advancement in technology is not only limited to light weight, but for those concern about the aesthetics of the panels, the good news is that the panels are now available with a variety of trim colors to choose from and can be easily matched to your roof. Saving about $25.00 on ones electricity bill every month on a residence of 4. We all use hot water, as one of our basic needs and what can be a better way, than helping our environment, saving our resources and ourselves some money other than by investing in a Solar Water Heating System.
    There is a useful website I’m aware off, that I would like to share with you, – is a comprehensive source of information on state, local, utility and federal incentives that promote renewable energy and energy efficiency.
    Lastly, the local utilities in some areas also provide additional rebates and incentives for adding a Solar Water Heating System to your existing water tank.
    Keep the look out on. Feel Good and save- money for you, environment for us.

  6. Solar Kits For the Home permalink
    March 22, 2009

    Many people are turning to DIY Solar kits like the ones describe here because they are much cheaper to build

  7. tony permalink
    March 23, 2009

    this stuff is not what i needed!

  8. tony permalink
    March 23, 2009

    i think you are wrong

  9. Lawrence Baker permalink
    July 11, 2009

    The Baker Wind Turbine is a major breakthrough in wind energy technology. The super quiet, Low Pressure Turbine is enclosed and 100% bird and people safe which allows the turbine to be installed and operated in close proximity to people. This eliminates the need for long transmission lines because the electricity is consumed close to where the electricity is generated. The 12 feet in diameter Model #3 Baker Wind Turbine is mounted on a car trailer and the unit is easily transported. Set-up is easy. The outriggers lift the turbine foundation and stabilize the turbine so that it can rotate 360 degrees. The fenders and tires are removed. No tower is needed; all that is necessary is a 6’ by 6’ wind flow. More efficient and powerful than a single dimension propeller driven windmill, this multidimensional wind energy turbine dynamic has never been seen before. Of course, the multidimensional turbine dynamic does not even resemble a single dimension propeller driven windmill. Google Baker Wind Turbine and two videos will appear; the longer video demonstrates the Low Pressure Turbine Dynamic.
    Let me explain to you the basic turnaround in wind energy science and technology demonstrated by the Baker Wind Turbine. You don’t have to be a genius to understand wind energy.
    First, the maximum amount of energy in the wind is directly in front of the wind. This is the basic and simple premise and is easily proven to anyone logically. (Aristotelian logic is the foundation of all science.) While standing in the wind, face the full force of the wind which is directly in front of the wind. Now, form both hands into a cup which represents a ½ round, cupped turbine vane with volume. Now, cross over your hands and form a blade with no volume representing a propeller driven wind mill. Which of the two forms catch more wind and has full thrust from the wind?
    The first part of the equation is solved: The maximum amount of energy in the wind is directly in front of the wind and the best surface form to catch the wind and consequently, has more thrust and power, is a ½ round aluminum turbine vane with volume.
    The second part of the equation is as logical. Which direction will the maximum wind catch area turbine vane turn? Naturally, the turbine vanes and rotor turn harmoniously in the same direction as the wind is blowing. This eliminates wind noise caused by turbulence. A propeller blade rotates sideways to the wind energy airstream which results in less power produced, noise from propeller turbulence and high stress on bearings and blades creating high maintenance cost. Propellers are so big; birds can’t see them and they have devastated wild bird populations. Check out the out of control wind propeller explosions on You Tube.
    The third part of the equation is that the more cupped wind catch surface area that is directly in front of the wind, the more powerful the turbine. A single dimension propeller can only expand in size and power by increasing its’ diameter. The multidimensional Baker Wind Turbine can not only increase its’ power by increasing its’ diameter but can expand horizontally and add exponentially more wind catch surface area and power.
    The Baker Wind Turbine has 144 cupped turbine vanes that are 3 inches wide (5 ½ inches of surface area). The 3 inch aluminum vanes give us 11 inches of weld at the cupped base. Each turbine vane has 1 1/2 sq. ft. of cupped surface area. This is important because the stress per catch area unit is low as apposed to a large catch area with a high stress attachment to the hub. No one turbine vane pulls by itself but pulls together with the other turbine vanes in a “gang”. This spreading of wind energy over the rotor maximizes the wind catch area and spins the rotor smoothly without vibration. Each turbine hub has 6 turbine vanes that are 6 ft. long. There are 24 hubs (6ft. wide) and there are 18 rows. Each row has 8 members that contain 48 lineal ft. of turbine vanes. At any given moment, the top section contains 108 sq. ft. of cupped wind catch surface area. As each row is assembled, they are progressively stepped which forms a horizontal twist. Twist is torque and torque is horsepower. The more twist, the more horsepower. Dividing the diameter into 18 lateral rows creates massive torque that is visible. For example take a wood screw and hold it sideways and turn it. You will notice that the screw is made up of one helix and 8 or more twists (or flights). The Baker Wind Turbine is Like the Archimedean screw but made up of 6 helixes with 8 twists which torque from right to left six feet. The overall dynamic of the Baker Wind Turbine is germane to High Pressure Turbine Dynamics but adapted to Low Pressure Turbine Dynamics which I am the inventor of and the Baker Wind Turbine is the test prototype. Just as Mr. Parsons’ invention of the high pressure steam turbine revolutionized steam power; the Baker Wind Turbine will revolutionize low pressure wind power.
    The Baker Wind Turbine rotor has a lower surface to weight ratio than a propeller windmill so the rotor and shaft which weigh 660 lbs. begins turning on 1 or 2 miles an hour of wind and will operate smoothly and quietly in a 100 mile an hour wind at an estimated (920 R.P.M). High pressure steam and gas turbines operate at 20,000 to 50,000 R.P.M or higher; so in high winds the low pressure turbine dynamic is figuratively just loafing along. The Baker Wind Turbine not only has a wider range of operation but also produces more power at any given wind speed than a propeller driven wind mill and therefore the new turbine wind energy technology should rightfully outmode the old propeller driven windmill technology. The Baker Wind Turbine, like all major inventions, has a wide range of applications that will change roof top architecture, bridge design, ship design, high speed train (forced air) electric grid locomotives, forced air/ electric cars, parks, backyards, airports and all areas where the wind can be utilized in a natural or forced air environment. The turbine is enclosed so the housing can be easily painted to blend in with the surrounding area.
    The last part of the equation is a little harder to grasp, even some engineers don’t get it straight. Those who defy convention and who can think individually in multidimensional terms get it right away.
    First the single dimension. One assumption in Betz’ Law is that a solid wall is considered 100 % efficient in the wind and a propeller is considered 50% efficient because half of the wind flows through the propeller which causes the propeller to turn. So, 6 feet by 6 feet swath of airstream at, lets say, 10 pounds pressure per square foot (pounds is air speed and density) would give you 360 pounds of pressure thrust overall. A 50% efficient propeller would have 180 lbs. of thrust available. A three blade propeller with 5 ½ inch wide blades and 6 foot in diameter (4 1/2 sq. ft. surface area or 40.5 lbs thrust) produces but a fraction of one horsepower. The reason for this is a small surface area propeller rotates on a flat plane sideways to the energy source, has little torque, and is of a single dimension.
    The multidimensional Baker Wind Turbine wind in-take is 6 feet high by 6 feet wide by 12 feet deep. The wind travels laterally across the turbine top section 12 feet to the other side which creates rotary power. The turbine rotor vanes are denser close to the center of the hub and wider at the tips and spaced such that the wind passes through the turbine to the other side. Again, hold up the wood screw. Notice by looking across the top half of the screw that there are air passages to the other side? Remember the Baker Wind Turbine has 6 helixes and 8 twists and the air passages move from right to left six feet? Now, look at the down wind side of the screw and you will notice that the flight is open and fanned out and is not drafted by the spiral? The turbine spirals leading edge is made up of many turbine vanes from many different rows so they do not draft one another. Of course, the leading edge of the opening is constantly changing as the rotor turns. At the apex of the turbine, as observed directly in front of the wind in-feed, the vanes form a continuous wall dimensionally. Because there are dimensional openings between the turbine vanes, and air is highly fluid, the wind powers all nine rows at any given moment from one side to the other. Each row is one dimension under wind power and there are 9 rows. There are 48 lineal feet of 3 inch cupped turbine vanes per row and 108 cupped sq. ft. total under power. If we figure out our total surface area in the top section it would contain 198 sq. ft. of surface area under wind power. At 10 pounds per sq. ft. that would be 1,980 pounds of thrust overall. That is 49 times more than the estimated efficiency of 40.5 pounds thrust for a single dimension propeller operating in the same 6 feet by 6 feet airstream! The Baker Wind Turbine is even more powerful than just converting speed and density of air into rotary power, the traveling torque creates even more horsepower, however, digging into traveling torque equations at this time is not necessary. My point has already been proven in science that Baker Low Pressure Turbine Dynamics is at least 49 times more powerful then a propeller driven wind mill dynamic and my 12 feet in diameter low pressure turbine proves it. That is why I built model #3 so that people could see the powerful turbine dynamic operate even though they do not understand how it works or all of the ramifications of it working. Now you know how it works and basically the breakthrough technology of Baker Low Pressure Turbine Dynamics. Did you get it? Or was it to much for your wee mind? For those who get it, read on. For those who don’t get it; drive down the road at 65 mph. and cup your hand into the wind and let it jerk your arm back (lever) and each time ask yourself “where is the power and energy in the wind”?
    The reason the modern American Green Energy Economy is not moving forward is because independent scientist and individual inventors, like me, are without funding. The reason there is no funding is because the economic powers that be, the status quo, has snuffed any State or Federal funding programs for independent green energy inventors. Are you surprised there is no level ground? Do you know what scares the hell out of the multinational Big Oil and energy barons? The answer is the advancement of science with new inventions that they can’t control (their economy) that would outmode the use of fossil fuels for energy (their product). That is the cause of man made Global Warming.
    Logically, one would think that the first government action would be to utilize our national talent by holding a national green energy science contest thereby acting free from Big Oil. I am not the only independent inventor; there would be thousands of qualified applicants with new concepts. The winner would receive a one million dollar reward to further develop the new green energy concept. Ten million a month could finance and develop ten new grass root industries employing thousands in green energy jobs. Out with the old and in with the new, let the best win in science and the lesser fold or be outmoded by something even better. That is fair competition and free enterprise. A modern American Main Street Capitalism based on a green energy economy would grow from the bottom up and not be dominated and controlled by multinational corporations from the top down. Great inventors were individuals not controlled universities; they should be funded as well.
    Lawrence Baker

  10. Phil permalink
    July 19, 2009

    Thanks for sharing.

  11. Art Didomenico permalink
    September 19, 2009

    Thank you for the eye opening article. As a solar and wind power installation company we always try to stay on the cutting edge of what is going on in our industry.

    Lately we have become so focused on the panels that we have not been doing much with our wind power systems. Your point that they are complimentary systems was well received.

    With the growing concerns about gas emissions and the rising cost of cost of foreign oil it makes great sense to make use of our natural resources (wind & sun) and work to become energy independant.

  12. Sam permalink
    November 24, 2009

    Please keep up the good work. Every effort to implement solar energy, whether on a grand Big Business scale or people making a solar panel in their backyard, is a step forward.

  13. scooter motorcycles permalink
    December 29, 2009

    Good stuff solar is the way up

  14. John Patterson permalink
    January 15, 2010

    Good job on all the work! It is true how many people are looking into solar power kits because they substancially cheaper than having a full blown commercial system installed. The more people take the initiative to try these DIY systems then the easier it will be down the road to fully convert to this type of power generation.

  15. Brian J. Walsh permalink
    March 2, 2010

    I’m glad to see that the EPA Star fellowship is doing some good for folks. Now I’m hopeful that you will become a torch-bearer for solar and wind resources and their use in every home in the country.

    There are a lot of folks who actually can’t afford the kits but they have great DIY skills to follow the instructions contained in inexpensive guides that will show them exactly how to build their own DIY solar power for homes<.

    Much more info is available at websites which helps people with DIY solar and wind project information.


  16. Marty Brown permalink
    March 12, 2010

    There are many reasons why you should be using solar power as an electricity source for your home, but here are just the most important ones:

    Solar systems are more efficient then other power sources

    Yes, that is true! By using solar power for your home power supply, you will save up to 85% on your monthly electricity bill. Sun energy is captured through solar panels and converted into electricity which can be used to power your entire home. This is for sure also a great way to save money.

    You reduce your electricity demands

    We need electricity for so many things in our homes; heating, air condition, refrigerators, owens, computers… and when you use solar power panels you remarkably reduce your demands for electricity. This of course has a huge impact on lowering your monthly electricity bill. The more things there are in your home that need power to operate, the more it makes sense to use solar panels as a power source for your home.

    Solar panels do not have a negative effect on the Planet

    This is probably the most important reason why you should consider building solar panels for your home. They do not put off any pollutants such as carbon dioxide, so you don’t affect the Earth’s atmosphere in a negative way. Instead, you will be doing your part to help save the Earth.

    Solar panels can be put pretty much anywhere

    They can be placed on a lot of places, and when you place them on your roof, you do not see them or even know they are there. If for any reason they can not be placed on the roof you can place them anywhere as long as there is enough sun and no obstacles in the way.

    These are not the only reasons for using solar power for your home electricity supply. If you do a little research you will discover even more reasons.

    If you live in the US, you will find this interesting – you will get paid for implementing solar power in your home.
    According to the U.S. Department of Energy, solar tax credits are outlined as follows;

    * Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credits
    “Consumers who install solar energy systems (including solar water heating and solar electric systems), small wind systems, geothermal heat pumps, and residential fuel cell and microturbine systems can receive a 30% tax credit for systems placed in service before December 31, 2016; the previous tax credit cap no longer applies.”

  17. Libby permalink
    March 21, 2010

    One of the commenters mentioned DIY websites that have information on wind and solar energy for those who are interested in making their own. one is that might be helpful for the wind energy information

  18. Joesph permalink
    May 26, 2010

    This was a great idea plus it’s 100% human and bird safe this is great.

  19. regcure permalink
    July 13, 2010

    Good to see people are putting their minds to good use!

  20. Dianne C. permalink
    December 24, 2010

    I am so glad to hear that windmill electricity is going to be a part of our future. Thanks for your research into this important topic.

  21. Solar Power Home permalink
    January 17, 2011

    Here in the UK home owners are being encouraged to use solar power, for every Kw produced by PV solar panels the home owner can claim a tax free income for 25 years.

  22. donald permalink
    January 30, 2011

    Thanks for the share.Keep it up!

  23. Beat Maker permalink
    April 26, 2011

    Nice one! Thanks for sharing.

  24. Business Genius permalink
    May 19, 2011

    Good point. I enjoy reading your article. Looking forward for more topics here. Thanks.

  25. Electric Scooter for Adults permalink
    October 8, 2012

    Hey Great Comments on this blog. And the Information is also Great. Thanks, for a really nice read.

  26. Andy permalink
    February 1, 2013

    Concrete houses + solar power + wind power = wave of the future.

  27. Electricsaver1200 permalink
    March 17, 2014

    Two of the best Renewable energy source I’ve used… and i am a very happy user of solar and wind…

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