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Our Future is Blowing in the Wind

Posted on 19 November 2014 by Jerry

Governments of the world recognize that coal, dams and nuclear power plants are not our only future.  Those that are appropriately situated are moving on their wind opportunities.  While all of us in the large land mass nations have seen the familiar land based wind farms, real action is taking place over the oceans.  Smaller countries with access to ocean wind are developing it as a power source.

The power of wind is as a renewable asset.  Ocean wind farms have many positive attributes.  Since these arrays are out to sea, they are less visible to residents.  Energy producers can better match the height of a turbine to the constancy of the wind.  Governments, often partially or wholly, fund these wind power arrays.  The European Union countries led by the United Kingdom (UK) have one of the largest efforts underway.

The UK has eleven of the largest twenty-five offshore wind farms in existence.  In addition, it has two big farms under construction with another eight in the proposal stage.  A distant second is Denmark with five sites where three of them are the three biggest in existence.  Germany is racing to catch up with two in existence and some eight under construction.  Both China and Belgium each have three of the top 25 operating farms.

While the U.S has installed many wind arrays on land, it has been slow to exploit its offshore opportunities.  A Nature magazine article published on September 25, 2014 has an article that addresses the opportunity.  It states, “Including harder-to-reach deep-water sites, the offshore territory of the United States has the capacity to generate an estimated 4,200 gigawatts of electricity, enough to supply four times the nation’s current needs.”

In June of 2013 the first U.S. test turbine was put into operation off the coast of Castine, Maine.  At just one-eighth the scale of future turbines, it can only provide power to six or so homes.   The turbine that sits upon a 20-meter-tall tower is named the Volturn US.  The primary reasons that offshore wind farms are not farther along are politics and environmental opposition.

Use of renewable energy is growing in the United States.   At this writing, the US electrical energy generation is divided in the following way; coal represents 39.1%, natural gas 27.4%, nuclear 19.4%, renewables (including wind) 12.9% and other miscellaneous at 1.2% in 2013.

There is little that is not known about how land based turbines work; for example, how they use aerodynamics, the relatively simple components that make up a modern power turbine, and the ratios of rotor diameter to power output.  Please see this multipage web site for a thorough explanation, http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/wind-power.htm .

Almost no one believes that wind power is enough.  Rather most governments believe it is an important asset to be used in conjunction with other renewable sources of energy.  Nordic nations of Denmark, Finland and Sweden are prime examples of this strategy.

While Denmark and Finland used their hydropower production as their main source of electricity, they used fossil (gas and coal) power plants as swing- producers to help meet demand when hydropower is negatively affected by droughts and water shortages.  Now wind power is becoming a key economic factor.

Quoting a recent Reuters article, “Wind power is blowing gas and coal fired plants out of business in the Nordic countries….The arrival of wind power on a large scale has made this role (as swing-producers) less relevant and has pushed electricity prices down, eroding the profitability of fossil power stations.”

Denmark, Finland, Sweden and Norway are looking to mothball or retire large fossil fuel plants as the economics of power changes.  These are countries that are using government policies and tax structures as the tools to force change in their regions.

These reports raise the question of why the U.S. has been so slow to change the nature of its electricity generation.  The answer is protection of the present suppliers of electricity.  The power of the energy, coal and gas industries, their money and lobbying ability have led to politicians blocking forward movement.

While other parts of the world are taking climate change very seriously, the world’s worst offender continues to drag its feet.  Citizens and voters in the U.S. need to obtain new, progressive leadership that will face the challenges of climate change squarely and act in our best interest.

Use the following web sites to gain more information or view the source documents for this article:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_offshore_wind_farms

http://www.nature.com/news/renewable-energy-wind-power-tests-the-waters-1.15992

http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/wind-power.htm

http://www.awea.org/issues/content.aspx?itemnumber=822

See Reuter’s article entitled “Wind blows away fossil power in the Nordics, the Baltics next”

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