Wind Power on the Great Lakes (update)

MILWAUKEE — A U.S. Department of Energy chart shows an inherent problem with offshore wind on the Great Lakes.

When the wind is blowing the hardest, the region’s need for electrical power is at its lowest — say on a February winter night as a snow storm moves across Lake Michigan.

And, on July afternoons during a summer heat wave, the winds on the lakes are the calmest but energy needs the highest with air conditioner use.

Storing wind-generated electricity for when it is needed most is just one of the many issues facing a potential offshore industry on the Great Lakes. Other issues abound such as:

• The need for transmission lines from the lakes to the major population centers.

• Electrical rates that are at levels to make wind power competitive.

• How winter ice flows will affect the wind turbine towers.

• The lack of large work ships needed for the construction of wind turbine towers in deep water.

• Having a streamlined regulatory system to allow wind developers to get the needed permits to begin construction.

• Migratory bird patterns may alter where offshore wind farms can be located because of the potential for bird kills due to spinning turbine blades.

But of all of the issues facing those at last week’s Great Lakes Wind Collaborative’s second annual meeting in Milwaukee the electrical storage issue might be the most perplexing.

From the discussions of more than 100 participants at the Milwaukee event came several cutting-edge electrical storage solutions. One — pumped storage — is well known in West Michigan at the Ludington Pumped Storage Facility.

Besides pumping water up hill when electrical use is low and allowing it back down when demand for electricity is high, panel members discussed storing electricity in advanced batteries, thermally through ice or hot water or compressed air.

One of the more intriguing storage plans is to use the expected popularity of plug-in electric or hybrid vehicles, a federal wind energy expert suggested. The cars and trucks have battery systems designed to be recharged during the night for use the next day.

Winds on the lake can produce electricity during the night that can be stored in hundreds of thousands of garages throughout the Great Lakes region as the batteries can discharge that energy when the vehicles are used, according to Larry Flowers, the national wind technical director at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo..

“That has a lot of hope of expanding wind energy into the transportation sector,” Flowers said.

E-mail Dave Alexander at dalexander@muskegonchronicle.com (Originally Published at mlive.com)

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