Sunday, February 21, 2010

Wind Powering America

A new map from the Department of Energy shows Ohio's potential for wind energy at a height of 80 meters. You can check out other states at

Everything we do is in the service of the self---and there is no self.

---Zen saying

Since everything is but an apparition
perfect in being what it is,
having nothing to do with good or bad,
acceptance or rejection,
one may as well burst out in laughter.

---Long Chen Pa

Frost across the river...
all I'd hope for lost
in the gathering autumn night.
Among the reeds and flowers,
a thousand miles alone.
But moonlight fills the boat.

---Ching An

My education is in what are known as the "arts." I studied only the required courses in science. Toward the end of my college days I became interested by a professor who taught the Philosophy of Science. In graduate school I tried to study Phenomenology, but I was lost. (Phenomenologists, to say nothing of Logical Positivists, probably would laugh at that sentence.) So when it comes to alternative energy, engineers currently allow me at a discussion table with them...but the voice of a poet isn't seen much as advancing the cause.

I decided Bush was right about calling it Climate Change instead of global warming, but probably for different reasons. People chop through this winter's ice and make cynical remarks about the warming. The fact is the warming of Pacific Ocean temperatures produces more moisture in the air, which proceeds to blow over us and come down as a delightful wintry mix. But here again, I'm not a science guy---and certainly neither are most of the conservatives I have to tangle it's not for me to argue. When the weather is weird, Climate Change may be a term that explains it better.

But anyway, whether it's Climate Change or not, oil and coal have their limits, and what can it hurt to look at sun and wind? Union miners find themselves screaming the company line at EPA hearings, but the jobs-jobs-jobs are disappearing for them for lots of reasons. AFL-CIO leadership is wising up that training for energy conservation retrofit is the way to go.

The box office movie smash Avatar makes a point that our nation's younger generation had begun to understand even before those kids put on the 3D glasses. They're getting it that when a privileged American flicks a switch for his personal energy use, someone somewhere sacrifices something to provide it. A few people rake in big profits and some others have jobs, but for the most part a lifestyle suffers to enhance mine. And if we with the privilege look around deeply enough, we may see our luxury days are numbered too.

So as I still drive my car 10 miles into town, I do what I can to support supplemental energy plans that are being discussed at town meetings and Ohio University---which burns coal for the power it needs but is looking seriously at other possibilities. As a result I'm excited with the release on Friday of a new map of the contiguous United States that shows our nation's potential for wind energy. Here's the story from Wired~~~

America’s Wind Energy Potential Triples in New Estimate
By Alexis Madrigal February 19, 2010 | 1:31 pm |

The amount of wind power that theoretically could be generated in the United States tripled in the newest assessment of the nation’s wind resources.

Current wind technology deployed in nonenvironmentally protected areas could generate 37,000,000 gigawatt-hours of electricity per year, according to the new analysis conducted by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and consulting firm AWS Truewind. The last comprehensive estimate came out in 1993, when Pacific Northwest National Laboratory pegged the wind energy potential of the United States at 10,777,000 gigawatt-hours.

Both numbers are greater than the 3,000,000 gigawatt-hours of electricity currently consumed by Americans each year. Wind turbines generated just 52,000 gigawatt-hours in 2008, the last year for which annual statistics are available.

Though new and better data was used to create the assessment, the big jump in potential generation reflects technological change in wind machines more than fundamental new knowledge about our nation’s windscape.

Wind speed generally increases with height, and most wind turbines are taller than they used to be, standing at about 250 feet (80 meters) instead of 165 feet (50 meters). Turbines are now larger, more powerful and better than the old designs that were used to calculate previous estimates.

“Now we can develop areas that in [previous decades] wouldn’t have been deemed developable,” said Michael Brower, chief technology offier with AWS Truewind, which carried out the assessment. “It’s like oil reserves. They tend to go up not because there is more oil in the ground but because the technology for accessing the oil gets better.”

The new maps, at the DOE link, are useful for would-be wind-farm developers who need to find promising sites on which to place their turbines. They want locations with high wind speeds, access to transmission lines, cheap land and a host of other smaller logistical concerns. If you purchase the best versions, the Truewind maps have a resolution of 650 feet (200 meters), which is less than the spacing between modern machines. That means they can be used to provisionally site individual machines on the ground.

Many estimates have been made of the wind energy potential of the United States and the Earth. John Etzler made one of the first way back in the 1830s. He used loose numerical analogies to sailing ships to calculate that “the whole extent of the wind’s power over the globe amounts to about … 40,000,000,000,000 men’s power.”

The water-pumping windmill industry flourished in latter half of the 19th century, but wind energy potential calculations did not advance past the back-of-the-envelope until after World War II. When Palmer Putnam attempted to find the best site in Vermont for the first-megawatt sized wind turbine in the early 1940s, his first line of analysis was to look at how bent the trees were.

The 1980s saw a boom in wind energy in the state of California, driven by a number of federal and state incentives as well as an active environmental culture. Back then, the only way to really know how hard and often the wind blew was to put up a tower covered in sensors and measure. So, wind-farm developers concentrated their efforts on three areas — Tehachapi, Altamont Pass and San Gorgonio — and covered the places with towers to measure the wind.

“I still have some databases from back then and you look at them and say, ‘Oh my, they had 120 towers up,’ or something crazy,” Brower said. “That’s not how it’s done anymore.”

Even low-resolution regional maps did not exist until the early 1980s and the first national map was only published by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (née Solar Energy Research Institute) in 1986. As you can see from the map at Wired, it was more of a general guide than a series of detailed local estimates.

The real boom in wind data came with the availability of cheap computational power in the late 1990s. It was then that Brower’s company began being able to marry large-scale weather models with small-scale topographic models. They created a parallel process for crunching wind data and ran it on small, fast PCs to get supercomputer-level power at low cost. Then, they refined their estimates with data from 1,600 wind measurement towers.

The result is a much more accurate forecast. Truewind’s estimates of wind speed at a location have an uncertainty margin of 0.35 meters a second. Good wind sites have average wind speeds of between 6.5 and 10 m/s, though most onshore areas don’t get above 9. Perhaps more importantly, their estimates for how many kilowatt-hours a turbine in a location will produce are accurate to within 10 percent, Brower stated.

The newest models are now sufficiently good that developers don’t need as much on-site data. They do still use towers to check the maps and models produced by companies like Truewind, but not nearly as many, which reduces the expense and time that it takes to execute a project.

“You might see 10 or 15 towers over an area that would have had 50 or 100 towers before,” he said.

The new data, including these maps and forecasting models, may not directly make wind farms cheaper, but the advances certainly makes them easier to plan for, develop and operate.

“I think of it more as greasing the wheels of the process more than producing a really big cost savings,” Brower said. “You reduce the friction, the transaction costs, and that enables you to get where you’re going faster.”

The better processes, along with state renewable-energy mandates, seem to be helping. In 2009, 10 gigawatts of wind capacity was installed in the United States to bring the nation’s total to 35 gigawatts.

The data plays a more subtle role, too. In helping make the case that wind energy can play a very substantial role in supplying electricity, the new maps and estimates could help convince industrial and political leaders to support renewable energy, particularly in windy heartland states like Kansas, Montana and Nebraska.


jazzolog said...

Bill McKibben tackled the current controversy this week, and no one is better qualified or obligated to do it. McKibben is the author of a dozen books, including the forthcoming Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet (Times Books, April 2010). He’s a scholar in residence at Middlebury College in Vermont. Tom Engelhardt introduces the essay at his site~~~

“In early 2009,” writes Bill McKibben in a soon-to-be-published new book, “just as Obama was getting set to unveil his energy plans, word came that 2,340 lobbyists had registered to work on climate change on Capitol Hill (that’s about six per congressman), 85 percent of them devoted to slowing down progress.” By early 2010, you can see the results of such efforts, multiplied many times over by the staggering levels of support available for anti-climate-change work from the richest industry on the planet: the energy business. All this was not helped, of course, by the much hyped “climate-gate” which proved that climate-change scientists were fallible human beings and not simply extraterrestrial super-brains. These “scandals” were, in turn, blown up to proportions that seemed to blot out the very image of the disappearing Arctic icepack.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, the latest poll on the American public’s attitude toward climate change shows startling drops in the belief in the very existence of climate change, in humanity's role in causing it, and in its import for the planet: a 14-point drop since October 2008 in Americans who believe climate change is happening at all (to 57%), a 10-point drop in those who believe that human activity is at the root of the problem (to 47%), and a 13-point drop in those who claim to be “somewhat” or “very” worried about the problem (to 50%).
What’s strangest in all this is that the evidence for our changing planet seems to stare us in the face -- from the previously mythical, now navigable Northwest Passage to melting glaciers just about everywhere to more intense storms (including, of course, more intense snowstorms because, despite the name “global warming,” no one has yet banished winter from the planet). What makes this sadder yet is that, if the U.S. refuses to deal with our planet’s health and well-being (and ours), everything becomes so much harder, so much less likely.
Bill McKibben's latest piece~~~

Anonymous said...

Keep posting stuff like this i really like it

Anonymous said...

excellent observations, as always, from a very keen mind that has grown and evolved so much from those days in jamestown.

jazzolog said...


Renewable energy strong despite recession

David R. Baker, Chronicle Staff Writer

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A devastating recession slowed but did not stop the clean energy industry's growth in 2009, a report issued Tuesday found.

Helped in part by government stimulus funding, the world spent $63.5 billion on wind farms and turbines last year, up 23.5 percent from 2008. The global biofuel market rose 29 percent, hitting $44.9 billion, according to the annual Clean Energy Trends report from the Clean Edge Inc. research firm.

Only solar companies saw their revenue decline in 2009, and that was due to a plunge in the price of solar panels. Worldwide revenue for photovoltaic companies fell 20.3 percent last to reach $30.7 billion, the first drop since Clean Edge began tracking solar sales in 2000.

The clean energy industry's overall growth surprised the report's authors, who last year predicted revenues would either fall or - at best - stay flat.

"In the face of one of the worst years in economic history, we found that clean energy revenue continued to expand," said Ron Pernick, one of the report's authors.

He added, however, that the industry's growth was "considerably tamer" than it had been before the recession. Between 2007 and 2008, for example, worldwide revenue for solar companies surged 89.7 percent.

Pernick and coauthor Clint Wilder credit government stimulus programs, both here and abroad, for some of the continued growth.

By the report's estimate, about $100 billion of the $787 billion stimulus package approved by Congress last year will be devoted to clean energy. China will spend $440 billion to $660 billion on the industry in the next 10 years, as the country vies to become the dominant player in green technology.

"China indeed will be a formidable opponent to any other country looking to excel in clean tech," said Pernick. "But we believe it's too early to declare China the winner."

The recession hit green tech companies hard by cutting off their access to financing for big projects. But industry executives say the funding environment has started to improve.

Banks are once again willing to work with green companies, at least those with a solid track record, said Julie Blunden, vice president of public policy and communications at SunPower Corp. in San Jose. And the stimulus program has helped get large renewable power projects moving, in part by offering companies a grant worth 30 percent of each project's total cost.

"The Treasury grant is really flowing, and it's a meaningful part of the market," said Blunden, who was not part of Tuesday's report. "You're seeing projects in the ground as a result."

Clean Edge expects the growth to continue.

By 2019, the global biofuel market may expand to $112.5 billion, the authors estimate. Wind power revenue could reach $114.5 billion, while solar hits $98.9 billion.

But the growth won't necessarily be smooth. Solar companies, for example, will have to cope with declining prices for their products, as solar panels become a common commodity.

"We see this trend continuing, bringing in a new age of cheap solar," Wilder said. "That's great for consumers ... but it represents challenges for the industry. The squeeze on profit margins has been really tough on these companies."

5-year growth,








E-mail David R. Baker at

This article appeared on page D - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle
© 2010 Hearst Communications Inc.

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