The Future Of Clean Energy – Wind Power

In our continuing look at the future of next-generation power sources, we will turn to wind power. In general wind power refers to the use of wind power for energy – and this definition covers all kinds of uses from windmills converting wind power to electricity, to using sails to power ships. The history of wind power, in this sense, goes back thousands of years. But, it is since about the first century AD that wind has been used for mechanical power.

Why Wind Power?

Today, when we speak of wind power, generally we are referring not to using the wind to power sails or for simple mechanical power, but converting wind into electricity. It seems to be one of the greenest of green energies, as wind power theoretically produces no waste.

Modern day wind electricity is generally produced in what are called “wind farms,” which may be comprised of hundreds, or even thousands, of windmills – or wind turbines. The wind farm may itself cover up to hundreds of square miles of land. This land may be used solely for power production purposes, or may even be used for agricultural farmland. Another popular choice is to place the wind farm offshore. Currently the largest onshore wind farm is the Alta Wind Energy Center, which is rated at a power generation of 1020 MW.

Wind Power Limitations

So, what are the limitations of wind power? The wind seems to be in an almost limitless supply, why does it seem that wind power is not growing as quickly as one would think? Part of the reason happens to be the limitation of the wind itself. Though wind does seem to be in limitless supply, the fact is that, as everyone knows, the wind does not blow constantly.

Wind would seem to be one of the ideal renewable energy sources. But, the power source has many critics. One of the major criticisms of wind power is that it may affect bird populations, especially those populations of migratory birds. There have been numerous news stories about this problem, accompanied by pictures of dead birds. Wind farms are far from a ubiquitous, and it is hard to discern just what actual affect the proliferation of wind farms would have on flying animals, such as birds and bats.

Another major criticism regarding wind power is that the wind turbines themselves are said to produce a good deal of noise. There is actually a defined condition, “Wind Turbine Syndrome,” from which some people who live near wind farms are said to suffer. Symptoms include trouble sleeping, vertigo, nausea, and headaches. The supposed culprit is the constant banging of the wind turbines as they spin.

Other criticisms of wind energy is that the energy itself, favored for being “renewable” and “green,” will not substantially reduce carbon emissions in the long term. One analysis pegged total carbon reduction, based on current growth projections for wind power, at just 4% less by the year 2030. While there is certainly a case to be made that every little bit helps, a 4% reduction of carbon emissions over the next 20 or so years, based on today’s projected growth of wind power, certainly does takes wind power out of contention as a major factor in reducing carbon emissions – if true.

Future Wind Technologies

The future of wind power may well lay in developments of new ideas and methods for extracting power from the wind. There are currently a number of wind power farms located in sparsely populated areas, where the effect on the human population would be minimal. But, there are some even more novel ideas surfacing than just moving the wind farm farther away from humans. One of these ideas is called Kite Gen. This technology would use flying kites, think parachutes tethered to the ground and flying about half a mile to a mile in the air, to generate wind power. Attached to the kite would be a wind turbine for generating power. The wind at this altitude is said to travel at a more consistent velocity than wind on ground, up to two times faster. Also, by sweeping through the air, the kites could generate additional power.

In fact there are a number of current projects which are designed to take advantage of the fact that the wind travels faster and more consistently at higher altitudes. The Altaeros Airborne Wind Turbine is essentially and inflatable helium blimp – which has a large wind turbine in a hollow core in the center. The idea is to float the blimp above the ground to a sweet spot – where the wind blows more consistently. The power generated would then be stored or sent to ground for usage. The manufacturer also touts that the blimp can be assembled in just day’s or week’s time, reducing the time consuming wind turbine installation process. The fact is that there is no shortage of wind power generation ideas. A quick google search will yield dozens of ideas, each with its unique selling point. But, the real question is, will wind power ever be a major player on the global power production stage?

No Clear Alternative Energy Winner

What we are beginning to see, as we analyze the recent trajectory of renewable energy technologies, is that there is a reason that no clear winner has risen to the top as of yet. In our previous piece, we looked at the Bloom Box which was released in 2010 to much fanfare. But, in the 2 years since its release, the manufacturer of Bloom Energy has struggled to remain in the headlines. Though the company reports that sales are brisk, current growth rates are anything but stratospheric.

It seems that there has been no break out alternative energy because coming up with one, or even an adequate combination of alternative energies, which would substantially replace oil usage, is difficult business. Many conspiracy theories notwithstanding, perhaps the reason the United States, and much of the world, is addicted to oil is because its cheap, its plentiful, and it works well. As we continue with our alternative energy series, we will look at other potential replacements for oil, such as solar power, and even more exotic alternatives.

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