So, a bit more news about ZENN cars and through them, EEStor. EEStor, you'll recall, either has the silver bullet to make renewables competitive with all other forms of power, or they've got snake oil. Increasingly, it looks like the real deal. Certainly, ZENN seems to think it does. I've actually been interviewing some people at ZENN recently for a school thing, and I can tell you that the people there are long, long past the "does it work?" phase. ZENN expects to have a full-up highway-certified electric car by the fall of 2009.
So it looks like, shock of shocks, EEStor might actually exist. But how big a deal is this? Let's fiddle with some numbers here.
It really is very rare for any single wind turbine to be totally still for a 24 hour period. By "rare" we mean it has almost never happened in the operating histories of most European countries with significant wind power. If we assume that a 24-hour cycle is a reasonable unit of measure for a wind turbine, we can follow with some very conservative assumptions.
The first assumption is so conservative it's certainly wrong: that any electricity generated by a wind turbine needs to be stored before it can be sold. This clearly isn't the case, but I just got finished saying we need to design for resiliency, not efficiency, so I'll stick to that principle.
A 5MW wind turbine with a capacity factor of 30% will generate 40MWh over a day (on average.) To store 40 MWh of electricity, we would need 770 of EEStor's capacitors (from what we know of them from the patent filings.) Call it a round 800 -- again, conservative assumptions.
40MWh is enough electricity to provide 1.5 MW of power for more than 24 hours. In this sense, we've kind of designed a perverse system: using a perfectly good 5 MW wind turbine to generate a measly 1.5 MW. So what would it cost? Ah, the big mystery.
Well, not so much. The wind turbine itself would almost certainly cost around $5 million -- this has been the ballpark figure for wind for a while now. And how much would 800 of EEStor's capacitors cost? That's the big question. But we can make some guesses: for it to be useful to an automobile company, especially one that has stressed "affordability" as its goal, we probably want a capacitor that costs $10,000 or less. This means that the combined cost of the turbine and capacitors is about $13 million for a 1.5 MW system, or about $8.60 per watt of baseload power.
Which is only a bit more than what the people of Florida recently found themselves paying for a nuclear plant after -- surprise -- the price tripled on them.
Here's the thing: my above example of storing 100% of daily generation is really absurd. Even reducing that to 75% puts our hypothetical wind-baseload below nuclear power in cost. And if we go to a more reasonable 12 hours of storage, and the capacitors were to come in closer to $5,000 instead of $10,000 then the game's pretty much over -- renewables have won the day. Wind is competitive with coal, even for baseload, without a carbon tax -- which would still be a good, just, and necessary policy.
Something else that needs to be stressed: this would be a really stupid way to build a reliable wind-based system. Rather, what you would do is balance solar and wind against each other, with a much smaller fraction of storage -- preferably being built for you by eager electric-car buying consumers. If every car in Ontario had one of EEStor's capacitors in them, we'd have more than 24 hours of storage on hand -- most cars are parked 90% of the time.
But. I can't emphasize enough the hold that "baseload" power has on the minds of regulators and politicians, especially in Ontario. Mention renewables of any kind and "baseload" spits from their mouth like they're having a seizure. Of course, given that baseload is literally the only kind of electricity that nuclear can provide, this is a really cynical way of stacking the deck in favour of conventional sources without ever quite saying so.
So, "because there's no other options", it looks like we're about to pay more to build more nuclear plants because nobody is keeping their eyes open to the new technologies that are available.
(It's certainly worth pointing out that EEStor is only one of many energy storage companies out there, and there are plenty of other promising technologies too.)