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Combined-Source Energy Farms

March 10, 2010 1 comment

We see more wind and solar farms popping up every day. What we don’t see (or at least I haven’t seen) are the two being built in the same place. Think about it: the only times that solar panels don’t generate electricity are at night, and when it’s cloudy. Generally it gets cloudy as a result of weather systems, which usually cause it to be windy. So why is it that we see wind farms and solar farms as totally separate facilities?

If the goal of building a renewable generation facility is to power a certain area of the energy grid, it only makes sense to utilize every source that we can. The biggest problem with renewable energy plants is their downtime. The sun only shines, and the wind only blows, at certain times. Building solar collectors and wind farms together could greatly reduce downtime of the facility by taking advantage of the weather, and prominent energy source at a given time. A solar farm that generally loses 30% of it’s uptime due to weather could greatly benefit from a wind farm that would make use of most, if not all, of that downtime by taking advantage of the weather systems passing through. With this method the capacity factor of renewable energy generation facilities could be increased to compete with current coal, oil, and nuclear plants.

The amount of generation capacity per energy source could be adjusted to suit a given area. For example, a wind farm located in a natural air stream would not see much necessity for incorporating a large solar collector, however a small one may be added simply to increase the efficiency and capacity factor of the overall facility. Likewise, a solar array in a naturally dry and sunny location may increase it’s capacity factor with a few wind turbines.

The biggest advantage of this setup, however, is that renewable energy generation facilities can be built in areas that do not favor one form over the other. Many towns and cities that do not have major wind currents, nor an exceptional amount of sun, can get reliable renewable energy from a plant that balances wind and solar sources. This now creates the opportunity for many cities and villages to generate their own renewable energy. Benefits could also be seen by building combined-cycle plants, generating both electricity for power and heat for the town or parts of the city.

There is a lot of energy out there just waiting to be harvested, we just have to build the facilities to use it. I think that all energy farms, being built for the sole purpose of powering a certain area, should take advantage of the different sources of energy available. What do you think?

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