Hybrid solar-wind power system. When one source compliments the other
Hybrid power systems incorporate several electricity generating components with usually one control system which enables the system to supply electricity in the required quantity. The components can utilize renewable energy sources or conventional fossil fuels. Hybrid systems increase the reliability of the system and if set up properly, they can combine the advantages of several technologies in one system.
The introduction of renewable energy sources is increasing faster than ever before. There are some challenges though that might not allow these sources to take over the conventional ones. When using the sun or the wind as the primary energy source to produce electricity, there is a major limitation, namely inconsistency. The energy is not always available when we need it. There are two options to consider for increasing the availability and harnessing of renewable energy sources. The first one is to develop ways to ‘extract’ more energy from the primary source. For instance, placing the system in the proper environments (strong winds, high solar irradiance). The second one aims in the development of storage systems that allow us to use the energy when we need it the most.
A hybrid solar-wind power system is able to produce energy in a more consistent way. The system can overcome the fluctuations of natural resources and thus smooth out the highs and lows of energy generation periods daily but also annually. Simply put, a PV system operates the best in sunny, clear days while a wind turbine has the maximum power output in windy, cloudy nights. The same applies for the seasons. Usually the wind turbines have a higher output than PVs in the cold winter days while the opposite happens in the summer. One source compliments the other. Now imagine a system that combines both of these technologies together. This is a hybrid solar/wind power system. The idea behind it is to integrate the advantages of PV systems and wind turbines in one system.
The most typical configuration consists of a wind turbine and a PV panel. This system is easy to install and already available in the market. A more complete version includes a battery storage system. Such a version is approaching the ideal renewable energy source system. In this case the system can be a reliable energy production source during the whole day/year. Energy can be produced during a long period of the day but at the same time the excess energy can be stored for the time periods where the natural resources are not available. Most of these systems range from 1kW to 10kW power output and are used in houses or small buildings. They are more suitable for residential usage with the ultimate goal being the transformation of each household into an independent power station.
The hybrid solar/wind power system is the best solution when the sun and wind resources have opposite cycles and intensities during the same day or season. This enables the system to operate for longer periods of time and eventually cover the electricity needs. Nevertheless, the system can be applied even in cities since it allows a more efficient utilization of space compared to PV systems. The proportion of the energy supplied from each source (sun, wind) strongly depends to the location of the system and the climate characteristics.
Another very important feature of hybrid solar/wind systems is the grid stability they offer. The common renewable energy sources applied today are very unpredictable and unstable. Balancing the supply and demand of the energy becomes a far greater challenge when we introduce more and more unstable sources. The base load power units (coal, nuclear etc.) are not able to vary their production rapidly enough to match the demand. These cases are unwanted since base-load power plants are not designed to operate in such a manner. A hybrid system is able to produce energy in a more consistent way and thus minimizes this problem and is more suitable than standalone renewable energy sources for the grid.
Since these systems offer many advantages one may ask: Why are they not used today? The answer is not so simple. At first, the investment cost is relatively high and people like more paying smaller amounts of money but frequently. Next, when a new technology is introduced there need to pass some time before it can be widely applied. People are used to specific systems and are not willing to change for something unknown. For the simple consumer technical knowledge is limited and usually the best option is also the cheapest. Once we are able to educate consumers about the technology and make them believe in it, it will grow rapidly. Governments also play an important role since they can boost the growth of a technology. As mentioned before the answer is rather complicated and many variables need to be optimized to make the technology successful.
To sum up, when studying a power system there are several variables to be considered. Renewable energy sources are fantastic from the point of view of emissions however they put a lot of pressure in the infrastructures we have today(grid). Also a power system works more efficiently for the correct scale/size. For example, a hybrid solar/wind power system cannot compete with a 1000MW base-load fossil fuel plant. This is simply because each of them serves completely different purposes. The power density, investment, output is far from comparable. To make it clear, the description presented above focuses on a system that is small in size (maximum power output = 15kW) and covers the energy needs of individual households, buildings.
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