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Niall McMahon
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Solar Energy Works: More Numbers ...


Here are some more numbers that I put together about a year ago around solar energy in Ireland, following on from my 2015 post. The usual cautions apply. The conclusions were: (i) that it seems possible to build a solar plant selling wholesale electricity in Ireland though the margin is slim; (ii) it seems that there may be an immediate business opportunity for private use, i.e. offsetting grid power; (iii) if panel installed prices can be pushed down further, if a feed-in tariff is introduced or if power prices increase, a further opportunity opens up.

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Competition in the Energy Market


This is a sketch I made in my notebook back in Autumn - a recent, similar, situation reminded me of the apparent strategy followed by some oil producing nations in 2014: use your cash to put the competition out of business ...

I guess that you can stall change for a while when you have the money. Revolutions come - one way or another ...

Wind Turbine Performance Look-up Tables


At a talk I gave a few weeks back about new tools for the Irish wind map, much of the great discussion afterwards was about whether or not it’s a good idea to install a small wind turbine. Inspired by the interest, I’ve put together a small booklet with some performance look-up tables for a typical small machine, with the usual cautions. I’ll turn it into a web page sometime soon. You can download a PDF version of the booklet here:

Small Wind Turbine Energy and Payback Estimates

It works well on a single A4 sheet as an A5 booklet for printing.

50/50 - Monty Hall


I like the Monty-Hall puzzle. It illustrates a couple of important things. The first is that probabilities are often unintuitive. The second is that you can make pretty awful decisions when you leave out important information – decisions based on isolated data are often sub-optimal.

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A Difficult Talk


At least that was the plan – it was not one of my better lectures. Not quite Michael Bay – I didn’t leave the stage – but I’ve a feeling that I know how he felt.

Not great, is that particular feeling.

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Solar Vs. Wind Update


In the few months since Discon #7: Can Medium Wind Compete With Solar PV?, I’ve had some useful feedback and learned more about the state of the art. It turns out that I was conservative with the cost of solar installed. It’s closer to 1.50 euro per watt installed at small scales – I had assumed almost twice this. The average insolation in Dublin is something close to 2.75 kWh m-2 day-1.

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Tesla vs. Water


There was a lot of coverage of Tesla’s new home battery earlier in the year and Powerwalls will start shipping soon.

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Can Medium Wind Compete With Solar PV?


A question that I was asked recently was this: when is a wind turbine a better investment than solar photovoltaic panels?

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Does Electrodynamic Braking Work?


I recently had a paper about electrodynamic braking accepted by Wind Engineering. Electrodynamic braking is a fancy term for stopping a wind turbine by short-circuiting the generator, usually with some simple resistance across the terminals. The work was inspired by a system failure back in 2010. I realised that although some people in the industry knew something about why this often doesn't work as expected, many manufacturers had a poor understanding of the limitations of the technique.

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Do Balloon Mounted Wind Turbines Work?


The idea of a balloon mounted wind turbine is a nice. There is always a need for power in remote places and where people face the exceptional circumstances that happen around the world each day, e.g. natural disasters and war. Sometimes there is no grid and getting a line to the nearest connection is impractical or impossible.

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Are Larger Wind Turbines Paid for Faster?


And what is the financial pay-back period for large wind turbines? Common questions!

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Are Solar PV Farms Viable in Ireland?


Somebody asked me what I thought about this: the short answer is that they almost are!

NPR had an interesting 3-minute slot last week, reporting on the relative merits of purchasing a domestic solar electric system versus leasing one. The programme focused on two neighbours in New Jersey. One had bought panels, the other had leased them.

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Is Germany In a Mess Because of Renewables?


Is Germany in a mess because of renewables? Taking a long view, the opposite seems probable - it will be in good shape. This question is topical because recently it's been argued that Germany really is in a mess because of renewables and that Ireland had best pay heed and stick with gas. Well, to take it from from the top ...

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How Does a Wind Turbine Fall Down?


This hardly ever happens. However ...

Last Friday, a Nordex N80 collapsed on Murley Mountain in County Tyrone. Images apparently show the tower buckled close to the base. The foundations and foundation bolts appear to be intact: there was a tower failure.

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