Sails on ships aren’t anything new. Heck, we’ve been following this “new” technology on cargo ships since 2005. It’s time for our almost annual check-in on how modern ships are using an old tech solution to improve their efficiency. Here’s some additional context for you:
It’s been neat seeing this develop over the last 15 years! The hybrid model is working out well and more companies are embracing it.
At the most recognisable end of the wind-assist spectrum are innovations in soft sail systems. The increasing sophistication of automation and route optimisation systems have revived interest in seafaring’s original power source, and there are now a growing number of examples of larger vessels using smart soft sails alongside auxiliary propulsion systems. In one notable development, French naval architect VPLP recently unveiled a design for a 121 metre long roll-on/roll-off (RORO) vessel that will be used to transport components of the Ariane 6 rocket from Europe to Guiana. The ship’s main propulsion system (a dual fuel LNG MDO engine) will be assisted by four Oceanwings; fully automated wing-sails which are each supported by a 30m high mast and measuring a total of 363 square meters.
Renewable energy systems used to need subsidies to be competitive with the even more subsidized fossil fuel energy systems. Today, despite the fact that globally USD$5.2 trillion was spent on fossil fuel subsidies in one year, non-subsidized solar and wind are cheaper than fossil fuels. This is really impressive given the relatively small size of renewables being used over the last decade. With more solar and wind installations being built the economics of renewable energy is only getting better.
Perhaps nowhere is the push toward subsidy-free clean energy clearer than on arid expanses of Southern Europe. About 750 megawatts of subsidy-free clean-energy projects are expected to connect to the grid in 2019 alone, across Spain, Italy, Portugal and elsewhere — enough to power about 333,000 households, according to Pietro Radoia, an analyst at BNEF.
“The cheapest way of producing electricity in Spain is the sun,” Jose Dominguez Abascal, the nation’s secretary of state for energy, said last year.
Renewable energy just kept getting cheaper and cheaper despite ongoing subsides for the oil and gas industries. This is really good to see as people who only care about short term economic energy decisions will have to start to advocate for renewable energy. The decrease in cost for renewable wind power can be attributed to bigger blades and better energy grid management. This means that not only is wind power cheaper, the better grid management can lead to other renewable sources getting cheaper too.
In the US, the prices for wind power had risen up until 2009, when power purchase agreements for wind-generated electricity peaked at about $70 per MegaWatt-hour. Since then, there’s been a very steady decline, and 2018 saw the national average fall below $20/MW-hr for the first time. Again, there’s regional variation with the Great Plains seeing the lowest prices, in some cases reaching the mid-teens.
That puts wind in an incredibly competitive position. The report uses an estimate of future natural gas prices that show an extremely gradual rise of about $10/MW-hr out to 2050. But natural gas—on its own, without considering the cost of a plant to burn it for electricity—is already over $20/MW-hr. That means wind sited in the center of the US is already cheaper than fueling a natural gas plant, and wind sited elsewhere is roughly equal.
Oil and gas companies have seen the writing on the wall about the future of energy: it’s all about renewables. The Norwegian state-owned company Statoil installed a massive wind farm off the coast of Scotland and it’s a roaring success. The wind turbines float in the water and are operating more efficiently than their land-based counterparts. What’s more is that they survived hurricane force winds.
Hywind in particular was built much like a floating offshore oil drilling rig, with the platform anchored down to the seabed using suction anchors. These eliminate the need to construct expensive fixed structures under water and allow Statoil and others to site the turbines farther out to sea in deeper waters. Hywind specifically is 15.5 miles out from Aberdeenshire, Scotland. At maximum capacity, it can power 20,000 homes.
Despite its “floating” moniker, Hywind is well-equipped to withstand violent storms without capsizing. The system performed as expected during the extreme storms that hit it over the winter. In October, the proximity of Hurricane Ophelia exposed Hywind to wind speeds of 125km/h (80mph), and, later in December, another storm delivered “gusts in excess of 160km/h (100mph) and waves in excess of 8.2m (27ft).”
Sustainable and renewable energy sources continue to get more cost effective when compared to fossil fuel based energy. This is fantastic since the economics of scale are really kicking into effect around solar and wind technology. Thanks to better and more production wind turbines have become more effective and energy grids have gotten more capable of incorporating the inconsistent energy production.
Improvements in wind turbine design have not only helped to increase the maximum power they can produce (or their generating capacity), but also their capacity factor, a measure of how often they actually produce energy. The average capacity factor of projects installed in 2014 and 2015 was over 40 percent — meaning they produced 40 percent of the maximum possible energy they could produce if it were very windy 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
As the exceptionally low price of U.S. wind energy drives further wind farm installations, it will be interesting to see how U.S. grid operators manage the challenge of integrating wind energy with the rest of the grid. So far, at least, they’ve been successful. But policymakers and regulators should be cognizant of the need for new transmission capacity and other grid upgrades to integrate wind as more turbines are installed in more places. Identifying the lowest cost investments to integrate the most renewable energy is not a simple task — but it will become increasingly vital as renewables throw off the “alternative energy” label and become a major contributor to the U.S. electricity supply.