You may be asking yourself… what does “Energiewende” mean and why is it creating a buzz in the world of renewable energy?
Because of German innovation and engineering. It is revolutionizing the way engineers view energy systems and their relationship to the natural environment.
“Energiewende“, or energy transition, is the process Germany is undertaking to adhere to its pledge of 100% renewable energy production by 2050. In doing so, German engineers at Max Bögl Wind AG are pairing up with GE Renewable Energy to produce the world’s first hybrid renewable energy plant, located in the Swabian-Franconian forest. This project is an experiment in combining hydropower and wind to create a hybrid prototype power plant.
Wind farms are cheap, effective ways of capturing energy from the air, but there is one problem: what happens when the wind stops blowing? To create a steady, reliable flow of energy from these farms, German engineers created the world’s first wind-hydro turbines to generate power when there is no breeze!
How are they doing this?
To better understand how this system works, we first need a brief look at the local geography. The map below shows how engineers analyzed the forest’s hills, valleys & the Kochner River to develop an integrated, close-looped hybrid system.
Now let’s take a look at the details.
Each turbine stands 809 feet tall (the largest in the world) and contains a 1.6 million gallon reservoir at its base, with an additional 9 million gallon reservoir in the surrounding area. When the wind blows, it stores energy from the spinning blades by pumping water 100 feet up inside the turbine’s tower. When the wind stops blowing, water flows downhill from Wind turbine 2 to the lower reservoir, producing hydroelectric power. The water is collected in the lower reservoir and pumped back up the system when energy is not needed. Any excess energy produced goes directly to the connected power grid. Photovoltaic panels on the roofs of structures in nearby towns like Münster use its excess energy to aid powering the pumped storage power plant that sends the water uphill. Then, when the the wind returns, the water is stored in each turbine like a giant battery and the blades resume powering the grid.
Wash, rinse, repeat.
And there you have it! A reliable hybrid power plant. Pretty cool, huh?
At full capacity, it estimates producing 13.6 megawatts, along with another 16 megawatts from the hydroelectric plant. That’s enough energy to power roughly 22,200 residential homes!
The four wind turbines are scheduled to connect to the grid this year, with the hydropower plant completed in 2018. GE Renewable Energy onshore wind general manager Cliff Harris said this about the project:
“Germans in this area are known as tinkerers and inventors. So the mentality of this technology really fits with the population. It’s a bit risky, and it can’t work everywhere. But the plant will run for several decades, and we expect the benefits will be felt over that time.”
And so as Germany transitions from fossil fuels to renewable energy, prototypes such as the wind-hydro power plant are just the tip of the iceberg. Inspiring and fascinatingly simple, this hybrid process serves as a laudable example for power plants where geography permits.
Look out for more projects using this innovative approach popping up all over the globe. It just goes to show what is possible when leaders join forces to increase the efficacy of current renewable energy solutions.
Vielen Dank, Germany!