Saturday, February 7, 2009

Go Where the Wind Blows

The sun heats up the earth everyday. You might be saying, “Yeah dudebro, obviously.” But I bring that up because many people do not understand that the sun’s heat is what causes wind. Wind exists when heat from the earth rises and cool air replaces the hot air. Therefore as long as the sun is burning, wind will be blowing somewhere.

Many people have begun to notice the potential that wind has to offer with regards to energy. T. Boone Pickens has a plan called the “Pickens Plan” that focuses heavily on incorporating wind power into our nation’s major energy plans. Picken’s website states that if the Great Plains were built out to its wind capacity, 138,000 jobs would be created within one year. Also, over 3.4 million jobs would be created over the next decade. I have witnessed first hand how Wind Energy can change a town’s economy within a short amount of time. Just a few years ago Sweetwater, TX was struggling economically and shrinking in population. However, the placement of several thousand wind turbines throughout the Sweetwater area has recently boosted the town’s economy tremendously and has attracted many new people through the added job opportunities. Increasing wind turbine production in this manner would not only create millions of jobs, but it would provide about 20% of the nation’s needed electricity.

Some argue that wind turbines do not look aesthetically appealing and that they endanger the environment by killing a number of birds. But I don’t even think hippies can complain about wind power when it “displaces 23 million tons of carbon dioxide each year” (

Some examples of plans already being acted upon include Austin Energy using power generated by wind turbines to charge hybrid car batteries overnight (see article). Also, there is a plan to boost Texas revenue by adding wind turbines 8 miles off the coast of Galveston. This 50-turbine wind farm will generate millions of dollars for Texas over a 30 year period.

Even though wind power would help out our energy shortage problems and clean up the environment by a large degree, there are many things that individuals could do to minimize the problem. For example, upgrading insulation in homes and businesses around the nation would save our nation the expense of about one million barrels of oil per day. Perhaps the government could put incentives in place to make these types of ideas more logical for people to carry out. Any ideas?

Sources and References


Hugo Redondo said...

The recent push towards renewable resources is a positive change that shows us the path towards a more sustainable future. One thing I have noticed, though, is the fact that many plans are biased towards a single type of renewable energy technology. Taking the Pickens Plan as an example, we can see it focuses only on a brute use of wind energy with little regard to the challenges that come with this form of energy. The primary challenge is storage, since the turbines produce power only when the wind is blowing, which is mostly at night. This conflicts with the peak energy consumption times. Part of the problem can be solved with innovative intelligent power grids, as the Pickens Plan states. The problem is that a change of infrastructure of this magnitude is absurd if it will only help distribute wind energy. In my opinion, the solution for a nationwide application of renewable energy is balance. We need a portfolio that states which resources can be exploited and to what extent. A plan like this should be reevaluated every year to keep technological improvements balanced. In time, our dependence on oil and non-renewables will decrease while maintaining a diverse incentive for further exploration of other renewable technologies.

Jacksonite said...

The other major constraint on a massive buildout of wind resources is the lack of transmission capacity in the areas wehre the wind resource is abundant. Much of the low hanging fruit in states like California has already been picked, and the Texas Public Utility Commssion just approved a plan this summer that will add roughly 12 GW of wind capacity over the next decade. That's a lot.

Many folks around the nation have kept there eyes on the process in Texas with the hope that there could be a deployyment of this plan on the federal level. However, siting transmission lines across state borders is much more difficult than an intrastate right of way and the process will be long and arduous.

Click Tappet said...

Jacksonite makes a good point regarding transmission restrictions and existing wind power. No number of wind turbines in North Dakota will help anyone in a city if the power can't be efficiently distributed (or distributed at all) across the country. An improved national network will also help cope with the irregularity of wind and solar by averaging peaks and valleys in regional generation with that of the rest of the country.

A short- to medium-term (and potentially long-term, depending on the timeline for transmission line buildout) solution may be to implement energy storage technologies on the grid. Depending on the location of the power and the goals for that site - seasonal storage or load leveling - many different options may be available. Some are sure to come up on this blog during the semester: hydropower, compressed air, flow batteries, etc.

One other thing, regarding efficiency improvements. Many homeowners qualify for a lot of different tax credits on improvements they can make to their homes, including windows, doors and insulation with higher R values, solar and small-scale wind installations. Obviously, these are tax credits, not reimbursement plans, but for those who can afford these kinds of improvements at a discounted price, the opportunities do exist. I'm not sure if we could expect much more in the way of 'government incentives', though the program could be better publicized.