Germany has been a longtime proponent of wind energy. Now the country is becoming an alternative energy pioneer in another way as one of the first countries to deploy an integrated wind energy and hydropower system being developed by firm Max Boegl Wind AG and GE Renewable Energy.
The four-turbine system is comprised of unusually tall turbines -- at 584 feet high when the blade is pointing straight up -- with water reservoirs inside and underneath them. The bottom 131 feet at the base of the turbines will hold 1.6 million gallons of water, and the whole turbine will sit in another reservoir that holds an additional 9 million gallons, the companies said.
An illustration shows the design of the first-ever alternative energy system that combines wind- and hydro-power that’s being developed by German firm Max Boegl Wind AG for GE Renewable Energy. (Source: Max Boegl Wind AG)
The system is not the first to leverage both wind and hydro power together; a wind/hydro system on El Hierro, one of Spain’s Canary Islands, also generates energy from both sources. However, the MaxBoegl-GE system is the first to integrate the mechanisms for both systems and use specialized technology in the form of the taller turbines to do so.
The German system works as a hydro-pump station, with water flowing downhill from the reservoirs to power the hydro plant when electricity is needed, according to GE. When the energy supply is high, the hydro plant will pump the water back up the hill to the reservoirs, acting as a giant battery.
The hydro plant will make power when the price is high and use power when the price is low while also complementing the wind farm, according to GE. Moreover, the combination of the two power sources working in parallel will ensure that electricity is always available from the plant, the company said.
One unique aspect of the system, however, is that it must sit atop a hill to work, and there must be room in the valley below for a manmade lake to store the water when it’s not being used by the turbines, according to GE.
For these reasons, the companies had to find a suitable location in Germany to deploy the system, and settled on the Swabian-Franconian Forest in the western part of the country. Max Boegl Wind and GE Renewable Energy are currently building a hydroelectric plant there that has the potential to produce 16 megawatts of power, with the wind farm itself generating 13.6 megawatts.
The spot was also apropos for the construction of the system for another reason, said Cliff Harris, general manager for onshore wind in EMEA at GE Renewable Energy. “Germans in this area are known as tinkerers and inventors,” he said. “So the mentality of this technology really fits with the population.”
The companies expect that the four-turbine pilot project will be connected to the German power grid by the end of 2017, with the hydropower plant operational about a year later, according to GE.
Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 15 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco and New York City. In her free time she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.