Favorable winds

Ridgeline wind continues to be controversial, and offshore wind comes with its own set of siting issues, including a much higher installation cost. If we are ever going to replace fossil fuels with clean alternatives, wind has to be part of the mix.

Some innovative designers and engineers have come up with a solution worthy of Jules Verne: floating turbines.  

Nanuq netted this one off the web, and you just gotta love the whimsy as well as the practicality of the idea.  

An enormous helium-filled wind turbine will soon float over the city of Fairbanks, Alaska to produce enough electricity for more than a dozen families living off the grid. Designed and built by MIT startup Altaeros Energies, the turbine known as BAT-Buoyant Airborne Turbine will hover at an altitude of 1,000 feet for 18 months, catching air currents that are five to eight times more powerful than winds on the ground.

The tethered turbines are capable of generating exponentially greater volumes of  energy than their earthbound cousins due to the greater wind velocity at the high altitudes where they would be deployed.

There are a lot of questions to be answered about durability and maintenance, sky congestion etc., but the concept has a lot of advantages.  

Portability and low installation cost are two great pluses, making it more doable to relocate the turbines if it is discovered that they have been located where they pose a hazard either to aviation or wildlife.  The turbines seem ideal for deployment to emergency situations.

Will we one day see private turbines hovering over electric car dealerships and advertising big sales while keeping the lights on down below?  Perhaps not my favorite scenario, but it’s almost inevitable.

Meanwhile,Deep Water Wind has just introduced a different kind of floating wind farm.  In the first ever off-shore wind project to locate in the Pacific Ocean, Deep Water Wind plans to deploy five floating platforms, each supporting a single operating turbine, fifteen miles off the coast at Coos Bay, Oregon.

It is hoped that this solution will make it practical to locate wind farms far offshore in the Pacific Ocean where ocean depths make it impossible to anchor stationary turbines as is possible along the much shallower Atlantic coastline.  Similar technology is apparently already in use in experiments off the coast of Portugal.

Despite all the effort to keep the U.S. dependent on dirty and dangerous energy sources, it’s nice to be reminded from time to time that those industries are fighting a losing battle against advancing clean technologies.

Whether or not the U.S. is on the losing end of that battle depends very much on whether or not we, as a nation, continue to reward ignorance and graft with Congressional privileges. ‘Not much sign that that’s going to change in this election.

About Sue Prent

Artist/Writer/Activist living in St. Albans, Vermont with my husband since 1983. I was born in Chicago; moved to Montreal in 1969; lived there and in Berlin, W. Germany until we finally settled in St. Albans.

10 thoughts on “Favorable winds

  1. There have been a lot of novel and dubious technologies on the drawing board for years and years. People are desperate to find a way to generate electricity while keeping our industrial civilization afloat and oh yes, battle climate change – all while maintaining a comfortable lifestyle.

    All I can say is dream on….

    Nature bats last.

  2. Virtually all of our electricity in N Vermont comes from Hydro Quebec. This generates virtually zero carbon emissions. I can’t understand why we’re obsessed with these technologies when our stock of housing is woefully inefficient. If he money that has been put into wind in this state had, instead been used to insulate and weatherize our housing and upgrade the furnaces and boilers, we would be making a difference in our carbon footprint, instead of wasting our time with this “green theatre”. Upgrading our housing would reduce the use of oil and gas with not only carbon reduction, but with significant environmental benefits. Fracking anyone.

     Wind most certainly has a role to play in many parts of the country. In Vermont, we need to start using scarce resources to effectively combat the problem of climate change, instead of play acting.

  3. Back about 15 years ago I started work for Northern Power Systems, then in Waitsfield. Northern was and is known for it’s long history of innovation in wind turbine technology. Being a junior employee with communications skills, I was given the “wacky windmill file.”

    That is, whenever an enthusiastic inventor of wind technology called or emailed or postal mailed us about a revolutionary new design, it got forwarded to me. I responded politely to the tune of “we don’t develop other people’s inventions.”

    The designs were always in one of three categories:

    1) Violated rules of basic physics and fluid dynamics

    2) Tried ten times before and failed for the reasons in 1), or fundamental problems of durability, cost, or inefficiency

    3) Scribblings of the obviously demented

    The inflatable/tethered windmill is not new. I have seen a few designs and prototypes arise and disappear over the years.

    There is a reason that wind turbines look like they do, and it’s not due to a lack of imagination or initiative.

    Sorry, but in matters of energy technology, “wet blanket” is part of my job description. Physics is such a buzzkill.

  4. we have to keep trying.  

    The same goes for harvesting energy from wave action and all the other “loony” potential power sources that are out there.

    We can’t seem to arrest energy consumption in its tracks; nor population growth and the desire for a better life.  

    So just saying “no” to energy probably never will be an option.  

    We’ve already exploited all the worst options from an environmental standpoin.  If we won’t even consider some of the better possibilities worth working on, what will we be left with? Only solar and geo-thermal?

    If so, we’d better get cracking on a MUCH better harvesting system.  Which means we better be ready to put up with a lot of “obviously demented” suggestions along the way.

    Even hydro has an environmental impact and geo-thermal may have some surprises in store for us.

  5. Here’s a post with some other types of wind energy machines http://www.treehugger.com/wind…  The deal breakers with the current three-bladed model are the noise and barometric pressure waves, and killing birds (especially raptors) and bats.  The wind industry simply denies there are noise problems, and deludes itself to thinking that something can be done to reduce bird and bat mortality, while at the same time making ridiculous claims about how more birds are killed by automobiles and flying into cars.  When was the last time a Golden Eagle flew into your window?

    One thing to keep in mind regarding Vermont and our place in the ISO-NE mix is that we are almost in a frenzy regionally about how to replace the coal, oil and nuclear plants that are shutting down.  Now there are several natural gas pipelines and electric transmission lines in the works to bring at least 3000 MW of Hydro-Quebec power into the region, as well as more natural gas for winter peaking needs.

    But what we don’t see much (or any) discussion about is that the regional load goes anywhere from 11,000 MW on a Sunday morning to 24,000 MW on a hot summer day, while Vermont’s load goes between 600 to 800 MW.  Vermont is a very small fish in a very big sea.  And nowhere do we hear any talk these days about using less.  How about putting Hartford and Boston on a diet?  I bet they could reduce their load by 800 MW in no time if they tried.   No, it’s all about more more more when what we need is less less less.  

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *