Maximizing energy efficiency with solar-powered windmills
An energy company, Soleolico, revealed the world's first solar-powered windmill in October of this year. This wind turbine with photovoltaic panels integrated into rotating blades merges the best of both energy sources, ensuring continuous electricity generation.
Given the current reliance on fossil fuels, the transition to net zero emissions by 2050 will need to depend on the integration of renewable energy sources, despite their efficiency reputation.
Carlos Serrada, the President of Soleolico, emphasizes that their wind turbines offer performance up to 25% higher than the current market. Also, the incorporation of 3D-printed coatings absorbs CO2, further proving the company's commitment to sustainability.
Over the past decade, there has been a global shift towards a more sustainable economy. The demand for hybrid power is driven by the growing adoption of renewables and the desire to cut carbon emissions.
Especially solar and wind power sectors have experienced significant growth in the last two decades due to advanced R&D, favorable policies, and declining costs. Figure 1 shows the net onshore wind energy capacity additions by different regions between 2022 and 2024.
China for example has shown tremendous growth in energy production using solar and wind only in the last five years (Figure 2). But given the net-zero targets, we might already be falling behind in combining these two favorable renewable sources.
The distinguishing feature of a solar-powered windmill lies in its independence from wind, as both solar and wind collaborate to generate electricity. Since wind availability is not constant, solar energy serves to rotate the windmill, ensuring continuous electricity generation.
Challenges of wind energy
The standard cost of wind turbines stands at USD 1.3 million per megawatts (MW) of electricity-generating capacity. While most commercial wind turbines typically have capacities ranging from 2-3 MW, offshore turbines can reach up to 16-18 MW.
In 2022, the global installed capacity for wind power reached around 906 gigawatts (GW). The predominant share of this capacity was attributed to onshore wind power, accounting for approximately 842 GW during that year.
While operation and maintenance costs can be substantial, they are enduring investments that, ideally, yield returns over an extended period. In Europe, maintenance is an ongoing expense that is about 1-2 cents per kWh produced. In the U.S., the operation and maintenance cost ranges from USD 42,000-48,000 per year.
However, experts anticipate cost reductions of 17%-35% by 2035 and 37%-49% by 2050, driven by more efficient turbines. Ryan Wiser, senior scientist at Berkeley Lab, emphasizes that despite the higher initial costs involved, the long-term benefits become evident as these projects ultimately offer electricity at a more economical rate.
Comparing the two sources, the cost of electricity generated from solar energy decreased by almost 90% in 2022 compared to 2010. Onshore and offshore wind decreased by about 70% and 60%, respectively.
But for the manufacturers, there is an issue. Siemens has raised a concern that the cost of wind energy is getting too low. This could pose challenges to the sustained development and growth of the market.
Related: 7 disadvantages of solar energy
Advantage of using solar-powered windmill
Even in the sunniest places, nights occur, and in the windiest places, there are calm times. This means power demands don't always align with the availability of wind and sun. Fortunately, installing a hybrid system significantly mitigates this issue.
In India, GE is actively developing plans for large wind-solar hybrids capable of supplying entire cities. Arvind Tiwari, the program manager for renewable power at GE's Global Research Technology Center in Bangalore says hybrid technology has the potential to introduce a level of predictability to India's power grid.
Integrating wind, solar, and storage systems addresses a significant challenge of renewable power—their inherent variability. Designed for high-efficiency power generation and consumption, the hybrid power system employs multiple power sources, operating independently of electrical grids.
The global hybrid power system market achieved a size of USD 644 million in 2022 and is anticipated to reach approximately USD 1,226 million by 2032 (Figure 4). As demand for renewables grows, the market expands due to rising concerns about carbon emissions in the electricity sector.
A significant advantage of a combined wind and solar power system is that, often when sunlight decreases, wind increases and vice versa. This synergy helps balance power production and consumption.
Solar panels can generate electricity to rotate the windmill, providing an advantage in the absence of wind. The predictability of sunlight makes it a reliable source for producing the electricity needed to turn the windmill.
How solar can power windmills?
Solar cells integrated into the windmill use semiconductor materials, enabling sunlight to generate electricity by facilitating electron movement. The windmill, connected to a generator through a shaft, converts this movement into electricity. The rotor within the windmill rotates in response.
Figure 5 shows the installed onshore wind, offshore wind, and solar capacity in Europe in 2030 considering system change and technology driven pathway. This is recommended for cost minimization while staying within a carbon budget that aligns with the objectives of the Paris Agreement climate goals.
As public awareness of renewable energy sources grows, power generation companies are shifting their focus towards wind, solar, fuel cells, and water. This trend is expected to do well for the hybrid power systems sector in the future.
Hybrid power find solutions in off-grid locations, isolated grids, and islands where traditional grid electricity is impractical.
The integration of renewable energy sources, along with the increasing demand for clean energy technologies, pushes the sector forward. And the example from Soleolico is a great inspiration for businesses.
Related: Disadvantages of renewable energy
Thanks for reading The Green Solutions! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.