NPR logo More On Google's Plan For World Domination Through Wind Power


More On Google's Plan For World Domination Through Wind Power

An artist's conception of what off-shore turbines might look like. hide caption

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Earlier I wrote about Google's plans for a James Bond villain super weapon massive wind power cable off the Atlantic Coast. Well, the folks at our Science Desk did some actual research to find out more about it. It turns out Google may be solving one of the key dilemmas plaguing the development of wind power. Editor Eliza Barclay sent this update on Google's wind power plan:

Plans for wind energy development have been stymied by limited access to transmission lines whether the wind is in Texas, New England or even offshore. Offshore wind is about twice as expensive as land-based wind farms, but has far greater generation potential.

The Mid-Atlantic wind, in particular, looks mighty strong. Research by Willet Kempton of the University of Delaware has shown that the state of Delaware alone could have a year-round average electricity output of over 5200MW, or about four times the average electrical consumption of the state, from offshore wind. This would be equivalent to about $2 billion per year in revenue.

But advocates of offshore wind have long been stuck with the classic chicken-and-egg dilemma: build turbines or transmission cables first?

Google and partners have helped solve this, says Stephen Connors, a renewable energy researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"It would be nice to have a grid there before we try to do sizable offshore wind development," says Connors. "That way you’re not trying to site every farm to bring wind onshore."

Connors is also interested in whether the states will be able to make use of the offshore transmission line before the offshore wind projects are built. Google says its new cable project may help strengthen the grid in the short term, but the regional transmission organization, PJM Interconnection, has yet to weigh in.

The plan also favors a balanced distribution of projects down the coast, where wind resources can vary somewhat. Katherine Dykes, who co-authored 2009 paper for the U.S. Offshore Wind Collaborative, says the cable project will make it easier to build medium sized projects along the coast instead of a few large-projects heavily concentrated in one region. "This means that overall wind generation…would be much more consistent," says Dykes.