Idaho Wind Energy and Chlorosome-Inspired Solar Power

In the continental United States, around 500 power companies operate a massive, complex network of more than 160,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines. The more electric current each of these lines carries, the hotter it gets – and after a certain point, the line operator can’t add any additional current without overheating and damaging the line.

Idaho National Laboratory wind power researchers and Idaho Power Company have teamed up to help increase the amount of electricity moving through these transmission lines while avoiding high costs. The key is paying close attention to the weather.

INL wind power expert Gary Seifert explained that an increase in wind speed of 5 mph blowing at a right angle to a high-voltage line can cool the line enough to increase the amount of current it can safely carry between 30 and 50 percent.

With funding from the Department of Energy, INL and Idaho Power are working in a windy part of southern Idaho to translate detailed wind and temperature information in dynamic line ratings – real time estimates of how much current each 500-meter segment of line can safely carry at the same time wind power is being generated.

Using ORNL Center for Structural Molecular Biology’s Bio-SANS instrument, the team used small-angle neutron scattering to analyze the structure of chlorosomes in green photosynthetic bacteria.

ORNL research scientist Volker Urban noted, “What’s so amazing about the chlorosomes is that this large and complicated assembly is able to capture light effectively across a large area and then funnel the light to the reaction center without losing it along the way. Why this works so well in chlorosomes is not well understood at all.”

By Niketa Kumar, Public Affairs Specialist with the Office of Public Affairs.