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A windy future?

By Philipp in Technology
Sun Sep 24, 2000 at 06:11:33 AM EST
Tags: Technology (all tags)

While photovoltaic solar energy seems to be so much sexy, a different alternative energy source is currently breaking through: Wind power. Although used in wind mills for centuries, it now boasts internet-like growth rates of 36% per year. Denmark is already getting 10% of its electric energy supply from wind energy, the goal is 50% by 2030. The northern state of Schleswig-Holstein in Germany now produces 15% of its energy from wind, Spainís Navarra 23%.

Wind energy is still more expensive than fossil or nuclear energy, it costs about twice as much when all costs are considered (except environmental impact), but prices are falling. In contrast, solar energy still costs 10-20 times as much as conventionial sources and its use for large-scale energy production is far off. Some more numbers can be found in a report by the American Wind Energy Association. The current growth is fueled by goverment subsidies and guaranteed prices. The US offers tax credits. In Germany, with a guaranteed sale price to the power grid of 90% of retail energy, running a wind turbine is a lucrative business. When I drove through northern Germany last summer, I could not overlook the wind turbines that seem to pop up everywhere. A modern wind turbine can generate 1 MW of energy, enough for 50-100 one family houses. The latest development is the planning of large "wind farms" off-shore. Has finally a pollution-free unlimited regenerative energy source arrived? Would you put a wind turbine in your back yard?


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A windy future? | 18 comments (17 topical, 1 editorial, 0 hidden)
LOL :) (2.12 / 8) (#1)
by Inoshiro on Sun Sep 24, 2000 at 02:38:33 AM EST

"Breaking ... wind" -- yeah, you smiled too..

[ イノシロ ]
I might... would you? (3.20 / 5) (#3)
by BrettJB on Sun Sep 24, 2000 at 03:28:04 AM EST

Depends on what putting a wind turbine in my back yard entailed... initial capital expediture, expected power output, how noisy is it, how much maintenance is required, etc...

More importantly, could I be sure that Cristo wouldn't sneak into my backyard one night and place large yellow umbrellas around it? (Californians circa 1991 should get this joke if no one else does...) ;^)

I Googled around a bit and came up with some links on small turbines (see end of comment) but nothing that delved into upkeep costs. Also, it sounds like my neighbors wouldn't be too pleased if I threw one of these things up in my backyard-- physics tends to dictate that they be a bit tall...

Has anyone done some serious digging into the subject? Anyone out there running on wind-power?


DOE Wind Energy Program--Small Turbines (Too bad DOE's links are broken on that page!)

American Wind Energy Association FAQ on Residential Turbine This answers some of the questions I posed. And that 80-120 foot tower sounds like it might not fall in line with the HOA covenant! :^)

A Wind/Solar Combo (1.20 / 5) (#4)
by Lance on Sun Sep 24, 2000 at 03:29:09 AM EST

What do you do when there is no wind? I think a combination of wind and solar power is a better solution. That way you get the best of both worlds.

Re: A Wind/Solar Combo (3.00 / 2) (#10)
by base_16 on Sun Sep 24, 2000 at 11:30:54 AM EST

that is why when you have excess energy, you store it using some other manner. Just like animals storing food for the winter, you store excess energy for lower power days.... Solar power is unnecessary, because at that point, it is more efficient (by cost) to simply use one or the other.
this signature will be affixed to each of your comments
[ Parent ]
An solar alternative. (3.50 / 2) (#5)
by haakon on Sun Sep 24, 2000 at 03:34:31 AM EST

The Australian National University Research Group for Solar Thermal Systems has come up with an interesting way of storing solar energy. Instead of what happens with photovoltaics (sp?) creating electricty directly and storing it in batteries for after-dark use. They use solar heat to crack Amonia (NH3) into Nitrogen (N2) and Hydrogen (H2) which is stored until the energy is needed and then it is recombined and the energy reclaimed. The best thing about it IMHO is the fact that the Amonia cycle occurs in a closed loop system.

You can get more details here. I belive the next test will be hooking it up to a 400M2 dish.

600 households (5.00 / 3) (#6)
by Shiftless-Jungle-Bum on Sun Sep 24, 2000 at 06:40:48 AM EST

Your article is well-timed. They just completed on a new windpark here in our county in N. Germany. According to the newspaper article, 3 independent consultants estimate the park (4 windmills) will generate 8,400 kW hours per year. Additionally, a single windmill produces enough power for 600 4-person households.

I drove out to the site yesterday afternoon. It's located right in the middle of a corn field and the windmills are really quiet despite their size. Standing right underneath one you can hear the faint whoosh-whoosh-whoosh of the blades but from further away (half km) they're silent.

The thing people don't like about windmills is that at 100m tall, including blades, they're unsightly. Nothing ruins a scenic hilltop or ridge worse than a line of 10 windmills. Perhaps having more, smaller parks would be more agreeable to people than a few huge parks. Locating parks offshore, however, has the disadvantage of losing power to resistence trying to get it back to shore.

That windpower costs twice as much as fossil or nuclear energy is wrong. Fossil and nuclear energy should be taxed to account for their long-term costs to the environment. By not imposing an ecology tax on dirty energy sources is in fact a subsidy to such energy sources and an incentive for further investment in those industries. That most governments do not impose or only partially impose an ecology tax on dirty power is because alternative energy is not widespread enough to completly ween us off dirty power yet. In that case, governments should make it more profitable, through investment incentives and ecology taxes, to invest in alternative energy than dirty energy.

I'd like to see home energy systems become available that draw power from a backyard windmill or in-house fuel-cell system and then, as a last resort, from the power grid. We're entering an age of cleaner, decentralized power generation.

Correction: 8,400 MW hours per year (4.00 / 1) (#7)
by Shiftless-Jungle-Bum on Sun Sep 24, 2000 at 07:24:53 AM EST

[ Parent ]
Big, noisy neighbours.... (4.00 / 5) (#8)
by Gentle_Touch on Sun Sep 24, 2000 at 09:06:45 AM EST

I'm living in Denmark and while I'm sure that there are a lot of very good reasons for deploying more wind mills you will also have to take the less attractive features into account when considering wind energy - especially the noise and the devastating visual effect a windpark has on the landscape.

Despite claims made in another post, the noise IS a problem - my parents live some 500 meters off a single wind mill, and even though the wind is blowing away from their house towards the mill you can easily hear it working on a windy day. My sister and her boyfriend are actually considering selling their house since a wind mill is being placed 500 meters from their home - and the wind wil be blowing from the mill towards them.

The visual aspect is a matter of personal taste but IMHO off-shore parks are the only acceptable solution - otherwise you're just replacing one kind of pollution with another, although the latter is less dangerous.


Re: Big, noisy neighbours.... (3.00 / 2) (#9)
by Shiftless-Jungle-Bum on Sun Sep 24, 2000 at 10:44:19 AM EST

That's interesting. I admit just visiting a windpark and living next to one are two different things. We live about 3-4 km away from another set of windmills and at that distance they're quiet. I didn't realize that they could be so noisy. Unfortunately there do seem to be some trade offs when considering wind power.

[ Parent ]
Re: Big, noisy neighbours.... (4.00 / 1) (#16)
by ozone on Mon Sep 25, 2000 at 04:50:37 PM EST

Hmmm, one pollution with another? I think having a noisy back yard is much better if you can live longer and with a better quality of life (due to lower levels of pollution)!

I lived in the most polluted area in South Africa and watched my grandparents both die of throat cancer/emphyzema, mostly caused by the Coal-burning power station 10km away.

To me, wind power has got to be the best - most of the other systems contain various chemically polluting components... good now, but in 20 years we'll be trying to find ways of disposing the various 'clean' energy production systems

[ Parent ]

Re: Big, noisy neighbours.... (4.00 / 1) (#17)
by Gentle_Touch on Tue Sep 26, 2000 at 05:05:44 AM EST

Granted, I see your point - noise and the looks of a visually ruined landscape doesn't kill anobody, but ashes from a coal-based power station do.

However, when the noise is able to make people considering selling their home and move, you're going to have a lot of political problems when trying to find a place for you mills - a situation, we're facing right now in Denmark: Public opinion is little by little moving to be against more mills, which probably makes the political goal (50% of total energy production in 2030) almost impossible.

You're mentioning "life quality" - 5 nights in a row with hardly any sleep because of that darn thing churning and whooing away in the wind is not excatly "better quality of life" in my opinion. Please note that I'm not against wind power but I am very much against headless placing a wind mill on every hill within view just because the government has set some (IMHO) unrealistic goals.

I know there is no easy answer to this problem - it's true that some of the other "clean" alternatives carries a future pollution problem within them but perhaps it would be possible to foresee them and start researching their solution now, like: "Well, in 25 years we'll have this and this problem with this technology but that can be solved by researching and refining this and this - let's go do that!"

Unfortunately the relative short life of governments within most democracies (8-16 years) makes it rather difficult to set (and maintain) such long term goals - especially since research projects like these often relies entirely on govenment funding, as they're never going to generate revenue as such.


[ Parent ]

I am not so sure.... (2.00 / 2) (#11)
by dabadab on Sun Sep 24, 2000 at 02:17:26 PM EST

"pollution-free unlimited regenerative energy source", you say, but I think reality is not that bright...
It is certainly not pollution free - the sight of wind turbines certainly ruin a landscape, they are noisy and I think their presence tends to disturb local wildlife (birds may be the most endangered).
And if wind-energy would become the main power source (running not just households, but all the cars, trains, heavy industry, etc) I am sure you would need a lot of windmills - and I am not really sure if lots of windmills were not to change the weather by weakening the winds.
So, I think as far as wind-energy is on small scale, it is a nice thing but big-scale deployment would bring just as much trouble as the usage of any other conventional power-source.
Real life is overrated.
Wind power is nice... (2.50 / 2) (#12)
by Colin Winters on Sun Sep 24, 2000 at 03:54:38 PM EST

But it's just not that great. If I remember correctly, the energy you get out of a turbine is proportional to the _cube_ of the wind velocity. In most places, the wind velocity just isn't enough to justify using a turbine. It's useful in some places, but the best solution overall for energy is nuclear power-safe, clean, and efficient. And still more cost effective than solar and wind.

Colin Winters

Re: Wind power is nice... (4.00 / 2) (#13)
by Gentle_Touch on Sun Sep 24, 2000 at 04:46:28 PM EST

Ummm - efficient, yes...but clean and safe...? Although safety is a high priority on modern nuclear power plants, I'm afraid what might happen if you started using them in countries that lacks the funding necessary for running and maintaining them - stretching the limits of any energy source may lead to unhealthy and, in the case of nuclear energy, fatal results.

Still, even with security taken care of you would have to face the problem concerning the highly radioactive residual products you get from the reaction - unless your point was to research fusion power to a level where it could be used in a power plant. If so, I agree with you - nuclear power would be the sensible solution.


[ Parent ]

Lifetime pollution (3.33 / 3) (#14)
by Mobbsy on Mon Sep 25, 2000 at 07:00:52 AM EST

There is a recent report by the United Kingdom Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. A "Royal Commission" is a non-political group set up by government to research and advise on policy matters.

This is a scary report. In summary, the commission set a goal to reduce CO2 emissions by 60% by 2050. This is in order to stabilise the atmospheric CO2 concentration at or below 550ppmv. The Kyoto Protocol effectivly requires just a 12.5% reduction in emissions by 2010. One of the four scenarios they present keeps energy demand at 1998, the other three require reducing it. Current predictions are a 0.9% annual increase in demand through to 2010.

The scenario which allows demand to stay constant obtains its 60% reduction in emissions through all the following means:

  • "Most" cars using fuel cells
  • Build new nuclear power stations equivalent to 46 of the UK's most recent.
  • Devote 15% of the UKs farmland to energy crops. (i.e. annual crops burnt in power stations).
  • 200 off-shore wind farms, each with 100 turbines
  • 7500 wave power generators
  • A tidal barrage across the Severn (UK's largest river)
  • Photovoltaic cells on "most" house roofs, office buildings etc.
  • 2000 km^2 on-shore wind farms (or about 1% of the UK land area)
  • "several thousand" river turbines

The United States consumes over 10 times as much electricity as the UK, for a population about 4.6 times as large (source CIA World Factbook). What's the plan there?

Re: Lifetime pollution (3.50 / 2) (#15)
by Alarmist on Mon Sep 25, 2000 at 12:23:45 PM EST

The United States consumes over 10 times as much electricity as the UK, for a population about 4.6 times as large (source CIA World Factbook). What's the plan there?

There isn't one, so far as I can tell. Here, private companies seem to be doing a lot of the grunt work, which means that nobody's going to want to invest enough in alternative energy sources to make a difference in the long term. Companies will look at the fact that a wind or solar plant will cost twice as much as buying electricity from the local coal-fired plant and go with the coal plant. Coal-fired emissions kill more people through radioactivity than nuclear plants; about 400 people die in the United States every year from radioactive elements in coal exhaust. Companies don't see that though--they see the short-term dollar value and run with it. I wonder what they'll do when they realize that they can't eat money and that banknotes won't cure cancer.

[ Parent ]

Increase of 36% per year? (2.00 / 1) (#18)
by Hk_Silver on Thu Sep 28, 2000 at 03:18:52 AM EST

Could you recap on what you mean by 36% increase per year in the use of Wind powered energy? If these statistics were true than we would be using more than 100% Wind power in a little over 4 years.
That government is best which governs least.
A windy future? | 18 comments (17 topical, 1 editorial, 0 hidden)
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