How Ultracapacitors Can Support the Growing Wind Industry

The nation’s largest renewable resource is growing. According to AWEA, wind-related employment will grow to reach 248,000 jobs by 2020. Additionally, the wind industry invested more than $13.8 billion in projects in 2016. It’s clearly an exciting time for the industry and its employees. For those considering a job in renewable energy, now just might be your time. As we celebrate this growth, it’s important to consider what the future of wind power looks like. How do we continue to innovate and keep this momentum alive?

Making Wind Jobs Safer 

With wind turbine technician coming in as the fastest-growing job in the country, improving technician safety and operation safety could help this position grow even more desirable for workers.

One concern workers currently face is safety and even so, the industry still has a dedicated and growing workforce. Imagine if we could make the job even safer — wouldn’t that keep job interest growing? In wind turbines, pitch control systems are used to help prevent mechanical stress to the wind turbine by continuously adjusting the blade pitch and if something goes wrong, the maintenance workers are there to help.

Traditionally, wind turbines rely on batteries for energy storage, but a purely battery-based system risks power failure when the battery dies or when its performance becomes compromised in periods of extreme temperatures. Replacing batteries is not easy, either. Wind turbine technicians need to climb the turbine and stand at heights as high as 300 feet.

To improve safety for technicians, turbine manufacturers can install more reliable energy storage solutions like ultracapacitors. On average, an ultracapacitor’s life span is 12 years in normal operating conditions compared to two to four years for batteries exposed to harsh environmental conditions and continuous cycling. These devices require significantly less maintenance than batteries, which means time spent climbing up and down the turbine is greatly reduced.

Reducing Wind Turbine Costs 

Another factor to consider as we look ahead to the industry’s future is cost. To ensure utilities keep choosing renewable energy sources like wind power, lowering system expenses can help. One thing for manufacturers to remember when choosing energy storage technology is that while the upfront cost for a battery-based electric pitch control system is the same as an ultracapacitor-based system, the ultracapacitor-based system has a lower total cost of ownership. Batteries need more complex charging and monitoring systems, which increases the cost for the electrical system.

Also, battery-based systems require heating and cooling elements to avoid power failure under extreme temperatures. This requirement brings the cost of a battery-based system well beyond that of systems based on ultracapacitors. With a lifespan averaging three times longer than batteries, ultracapacitors not only reduce safety risks, but also reduce maintenance and overall system costs. In an effort to reduce costs, manufacturers should consider replacing battery-based systems with ultracapacitors.

As the U.S. continues to adopt renewable resources and wind power grows, it’s critical to think to the future and create plans to sustain the industry’s growth. Although batteries are traditionally used for energy storage, more wind turbine manufacturers and operators are turning to ultracapacitors. Implementing ultracapacitors for energy storage in wind pitch control systems improves safety for technicians, increases overall performance reliability and reduces system costs. Using energy storage devices like ultracapacitors could be the key to keeping the industry’s growth alive.

This article was originally published by Maxwell Technologies and was republished with permission.

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Jeff Venegas is senior product portfolio manager at Maxwell Technologies.

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