Have you driven past one of those giant blades for a wind turbine while it’s being hauled down an Interstate Highway lately? We saw a lot of them in South Dakota and Iowa. They’re pretty awesome. So huge, and probably so expensive. Here’s a shot of two going southbound on the back of a truck.
I’ll admit that when I first started reading about wind farms and how “green” they are, and so forth, I was enthralled. So much better than burning coal or natural gas to produce electricity, and certainly a lot safer than using controlled (most of the time) nuclear reactions to boil water. What could be better than using the wind?
As with most issues surrounding energy production, it gets complicated. First off, the electricity generated by the turning of the blades has to be transported. Transporting electricity over long distances has its own problems and limitations.
Secondly, unless you use a series of really big, really expensive batteries to store the electricity, well, you’re out of power when the wind dies down. Few places are windy 24/7/365.
Then there are a few environmental issues with wind power. It seems the wind turbines generate a heck of lot of noise. Then there are birds to consider. Stick a wind farm in the middle of a flyway, and the feathers will surely fly.
Here’s a link for you to a very concise, short, and to-the-point web site on wind energy: Wind Energy Development. Here is a short excerpt:
Wind turbines are available in a variety of sizes, and therefore power ratings. The largest machine has blades that span more than the length of a football field, stands 20 building stories high, and produces enough electricity to power 1,400 homes. A small home-sized wind machine has rotors between 8 and 25 feet in diameter and stands upwards of 30 feet and can supply the power needs of an all-electric home or small business. Utility-scale turbines range in size from 50 to 750 kilowatts. Single small turbines, below 50 kilowatts, are used for homes, telecommunications dishes, or water pumping. (Italics mine.)
The last statement is the one that caught my eye. I’m beginning to think that a better solution to our need for electrical power is smaller, individual wind turbines that could be mounted on the top of a residence, or at least in close proximity to the home. Smaller, quieter wind turbines, of course.
I read recently where Google is getting into the solar panel leasing business by backing Solar City, a relatively new company. Solar is still pretty expensive, even to lease. Why doesn’t Google back research into producing cheaper solar panels? If we could combine solar and wind generating capacity on individual dwellings and businesses, maybe that would be an answer.
We are facing some major problems with providing power to a growing population. Wouldn’t it be great if the likes of Apple and/or Google jumped on the heavy-duty research bandwagon and developed less-expensive, clean ways to generate electricity at the consumer level? Apple would probably make the prettiest wind turbines you’ve ever seen. So small, yet so powerful! And they would come in white! Of course, you’d have to update them every couple of years because the latest version would be such a big improvement. You Mac users know what I’m talking about.
My point is that we have some of the brightest, most innovative minds on our planet working in Silicon Valley. Why don’t we encourage these folks to tackle some of the really important problems we’re facing, such as infrastructure replacement, energy generation, immigration issues, water shortages, and so on. I’m willing to bet that a Google or an Apple think-tank could come up with some pretty good answers.