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The Almighty Buck Technology Science

Wind Power Falls Under $0.01/kwh 1064

Posted by timothy
from the hey-it's-breezy-in-here dept.
js7a writes "Colorado State University's Rocky Mountain Collegian reports that, "as of June [the price of wind power] dropped to 1 cent per kWh." Even without further expected improvements in turbine technology, the U.S. would now need to use less than 3% of its farmland to get 95% of its electricity demand satisfied by wind power. Plus, wind power is the only mitigation of global warming, because if the whole world converted to wind power in 15 years, the amount of power being extracted from the atmosphere would be more than the increase in greenhouse gas atmospheric energy forcing since 1600. Don't say goodbye to coal and oil, yet, though; unless cell technology increases substantially, when we run out of oil we will convert coal to synthetic fuel." Update: 09/15 13:40 GMT by T : Note: the "1 cent" figure refers to the premium paid for the power over conventionally supplied electricity, rather than the final per-kWh price.
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Wind Power Falls Under $0.01/kwh

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  • by erick99 (743982) <homerun@gmail.com> on Tuesday September 14, 2004 @08:41PM (#10251980)
    I went to the Platte River Power Authority site and found a table entitled Monthly Wind Speed and Performance Data 2004. It is interesting to see the variations, which are not small, from month-to-month. For example, January saw two millon kWh of energy produced and an average wind speed of 27.8 mph versus July which showed about 820,000 kWh and 13 mph.

    The wind energy is not exactly bought directly, though:

    Platte River is a community-owned, wholesale power supplier to the cities of Fort Collins, Loveland, Longmont, and the Town of Estes Park. You can sign up for the wind program in any of these communities, and the wind energy you receive will come from Platte River's Medicine Bow Wind Project.

    As regarding fulfilling a great deal of energy needs from wind their website has this to say:

    While it is theoretically possible to produce enough energy from wind turbines to supply all our needs, it's not technically feasible at present. This is because wind is an "intermittent" resource, i.e., the wind doesn't blow all the time. Since electricity can't be stored in large amounts, we still need other resources to ensure that energy is available when people need to use it. Research continues on the effect of wind generation on electric system reliability. A recent study of California wind farms found that wind can make up as much as 10% of total electricity capacity without significantly impacting the reliability of the electric grid.

    I found the web site for the energy company to be a pretty interesting place to get a fair amount of detail about how an energy company harnesses energy from the wind and blends into their grid.

    Cheers,

    Erick

    • by mcc (14761) <amcclure@purdue.edu> on Tuesday September 14, 2004 @08:49PM (#10252036) Homepage
      Since electricity can't be stored in large amounts

      Could hydrogen fuel cells potentially change this?
      • Not right now... (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Goonie (8651) *
        Sure, and fusion power, solar power satellites, or artificial photosynthesis could make the whole discussion moot in a couple of decades. Right now, no.
        • by mshurpik (198339) on Tuesday September 14, 2004 @09:05PM (#10252187)
          Why not? The whole point of hydrogen is to facilitate the storage and transmission of energy. Hydrogen is not a power source per se, but rather a replacement for power lines. In fact, the biggest advantage of hydrogen over electricity is that currently, our storage capacity for electricity is zero.

          • Re:Not right now... (Score:5, Informative)

            by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Tuesday September 14, 2004 @09:10PM (#10252233) Homepage Journal

            Fuel cells have the problem that they wear out and are expensive to produce. If you want to store energy using hydrogen you're better off disassociating water to produce hydrogen gas, then burning that later in a generator. This is of course all best done at some central location, as opposed to on-site, unless on-site is all there is. If you have sun, water, and wind, you have quite a bit of energy available to you for not much cost. The hydrogen will be a little "dirty" unless you're distilling water and separating it, but since all you're doing is burning it, that won't really affect much.

            • Re:Not right now... (Score:5, Interesting)

              by AJWM (19027) on Tuesday September 14, 2004 @10:48PM (#10252823) Homepage
              Arguable. Hydrogen fuel cells are better than 75% efficient at turning chemical energy to electricity, whereas burning it to create steam to turn a turbine to turn a generator, you're lucky to get 30%.

              Yes, that has to be traded off against the lifetime of fuel cells vs turbomachinery and generators, although the former have essentially no moving parts and hydrogen (vs natural gas or other fuels) doesn't poison a fuel cell catalyst or electrodes very quickly.
              • Re:Not right now... (Score:5, Informative)

                by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 14, 2004 @11:23PM (#10253071)
                conventional combined cycle plants (gas turbine + steam turbine) have thermal efficiencies above 54%. The latest generation with steam cooled gas turbine parts can achieve a thermal efficiency of 60%. See the following pdf files at gepower.com

                http://www.gepower.com/prod_serv/products/gas_tu rb ines_cc/en/downloads/gasturbine_cc_products.pdf
          • That all sounds fine and dandy, but the technology to use hydrogen for this purpose still seems to be at least a decade, and probably more, away. Over that timescale, it seems to me that there are a number of other technologies which might make significant advances. If these occur, the impetus for hydrogen energy storage might just disappear, for static applications at least.
          • by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Tuesday September 14, 2004 @10:16PM (#10252682)
            our storage capacity for electricity is zero

            This is not true, and hasn't been true for decades. Many hydro systems that have a forebay (pond) above the plant and empty out into another lake, have the ability to reverse their turbines when power is plentiful at night and pump the water back uphill. The same water is then run through the turbines again when power is needed.

            And how efficient is this? Efficient enough that it's done a lot of places!

          • by NewtonsLaw (409638) on Tuesday September 14, 2004 @10:18PM (#10252699)
            currently, our storage capacity for electricity is zero

            God damn it man -- we can store electricity. All we need are a goodly number of these devices [alaska.net] :-)

            And why not resurect the dinosaurs using reminents of their DNA (just like jurasic park) -- then oil would become a renewable resource!

            ----
            When your an idiot, anything is possible!
      • by shawb (16347) on Tuesday September 14, 2004 @11:49PM (#10253273)
        While this would be nice, the process of using hydrogen as a fuel is realistically not that efficient. First of all, electrolysis of water to hydrogen gas + oxygen is only about 30% efficient, if I recall.

        Also, hydrogen is quite difficult to store. Hydrogen is not very energy dense, meaning that it really can not store a lot of energy for the amount of volume that it takes up, even under fairly high compression. Add to this that compressed hydrogen is relatively dangerous and requires expensive tanks, this adds to the cost. Even morseo if the hydrogen is to be used for transportation.

        However, some technical solutions may be found to facilitate storage, or even increase efficiency of electrolysis. The question would come down to this: is it more efficient to drive essentially the whole power grid by wind, storing it as hydrogen (or some other method) in times of excess in order to convert it in lean times, or might it be more effecient to build wind turbines so that at peak power, they provide most of the energy for the power grid, and at other times more easilly stored sources of energy (fossil fuels, bio-diesel, etc) are used to fill in the deficit.

        Realistically, if we are to keep increasing our power consumption, we are going to have to utilize as many forms of energy as we can, and use them where they are the most appropriate. In places with steady winds, wind forms can be constructed. Places with very little cloud cover would be ideal for some form of solar energy. Geothermal energy where available. Biodeiesel can be made from waste organic materials, as well as fresh materials (E.G. corn oil + alchohol) grown specifically for that purpose. Nuclear power (both fusion and fission) both have the potential to produce incredible amounts of power, but they both have their drawbacks which may be overcome by technology. And then of course we have the old standby of fossil fuels, but those are a fairly limited resource, and should only be used where absolutely necessary (at least in an ideal situation,) or where the other energy sources are counterindicated for some reason.

        And on top of all of this, we will have to develop more efficient ways of doing things. Design cities in a more efficient manner. Of course make vehicles and other tools more efficient through technology and consumer choices. Provide incentives for using electricity in off peak hours of power consumption (or rather penalties for using electricity during peak usage periods.)

        There does not seem to be one magic bullet for our energy need problems. And I highly doubt that we will find one in our future. The real answer lies in careful evaluation of all the pieces and using every tool available to make the system work, and keep it working for as long as we want to keep society going as we know it. Now, some may question whether we _SHOULD_ keep society growing and growing, but I'll leave that to the philosophers. Or at least a different thread.
    • by SheldonYoung (25077) on Tuesday September 14, 2004 @08:53PM (#10252080)
      Since electricity can't be stored in large amounts, we still need other resources to ensure that energy is available when people need to use it.

      Use the power to pump water uphill and store it in a reservoir or heat a large amount of water. There are plenty of ways to store large amounts of electricity.
      • by jcr (53032) <jcrNO@SPAMmac.com> on Tuesday September 14, 2004 @09:00PM (#10252146) Journal
        Use the power to pump water uphill and store it in a reservoir or heat a large amount of water. There are plenty of ways to store large amounts of electricity.

        Which is dandy if you've got someplace to store the water (for starters).

        There are plenty of ways to store electricity, sure. The problem is finding cost-effective ways of storing electricity.

        -jcr
        • by RicktheBrick (588466) on Tuesday September 14, 2004 @09:46PM (#10252515)
          I live in Ludington Michigan. They built the world's largest pump storage plant here about 40 years ago. It is 1 and a half miles wide at it's widest point. They pump water from Lake Michigan up to the man made lake at night and generate electricity during the day. They get back around 66% of the electricity they use to pump the water but that electricity would have been wasted as the demand is less at night and they must keep the boilers at a constant temperature so they do not like to reduce them at night. They have put several wind measuring devices around the county to see if they can produce electricity. It is interesting that we did not have a problem with our electricity during the big power outage.
          • by Jack_Frost (28997) on Tuesday September 14, 2004 @11:16PM (#10253028)
            I'm assuming that you're talking about last August's outage in the northeastern U.S. and Canada. If so that outage resulted from a failure in the distribution network, not from a lack of generating capacity. Your area of Michigan was not affected because it wasn't on the same grid as the areas that were affected. Parts of Manhattan were entirely dark while just across the river Jersey was fully lit. At least twenty of the powerplants in that region had to shutdown because of the outage since they had nowhere to dump their output because the grid had failed.
        • by Ba3r (720309) on Tuesday September 14, 2004 @10:26PM (#10252738)
          They do that in Switzerland. They create a ton of energy during the spring from all the cascading glacial melts, and sell it to neighbors when its scarce. Then in the summer, when energy is cheap, they use it to pump up stores of water back into the alps, so they can release it at more oppurtune times. Perhaps thats the missing step...

          ????

          Profit!!
    • Boy, I don't know...

      Imagine 3% of U.S. farmlands with windmills on them. All of the sudden, the wind is slowed down because it has to turn numerous giant windmills. This could cause global weather changes that we cannot even predict. All of the sudden, the East Coast of the US has no wind, and smog and heat becomes unbearable.

      Of course, I am making this up, but I contend that there are sides of this issue that will appear later that we cannot imagine. Yes, worthy of further exploration, but possibly

      • by jcr (53032) <jcrNO@SPAMmac.com> on Tuesday September 14, 2004 @09:09PM (#10252226) Journal
        Imagine 3% of U.S. farmlands with windmills on them. All of the sudden, the wind is slowed down because it has to turn numerous giant windmills.

        Nope.

        The atmosphere is DEEP. Aircraft routinely fly at 40K feet. Depending on where you want to say space begins, the earth's atmosphere is around 100KM deep.

        The tallest building in the world is only about 1400 feet high, so if all our wind turbines were as tall as the Petronas towers, their penetration into the atmosphere is still miniscule.

        Now, if you want to talk about a real evironmental impact of wind power, you could discuss birds flying into turbine blades, which happens quite a bit in California, I hear.

        -jcr
        • by El_Ehmenopio (701830) on Tuesday September 14, 2004 @10:18PM (#10252696)
          Bird windwill deaths are real, but extremely overrated. The bird deaths in california were landing and resting on support wires for a certain type of windmill (which is obsolete anyway, most don't use support wires in the airframe).
          The windfarm in question was in a migration path of a particular species, and only affected local predater hawks because they were preying on the resting, tired,fat, birds. Until the obsolete windmills were replaced. a simple sollution was worked out, in which the windfarm was shutdown during a few weeks in the fall for migration of the food. Oddly enough, the few hawk deaths were worth it for the hawks, who found the resting birds to be plentiful and Yummy.
          Still, windmill caused bird deaths are a fraction of a fraction of the bird deaths caused by 1.) big clear glass windows, 2) Pollution, 3) Automobiles, 4) Powerlines and transformers, 6) air pollution (yes tweety gets lung illness too) 6) invasive species, and 7) Cheney and Scalia on duck huntin' trips. And 8) 8? I forgot what 8 is for......
  • Misleading title (Score:5, Insightful)

    by adoll (184191) * <alex DOT doll AT agdconsulting DOT ca> on Tuesday September 14, 2004 @08:42PM (#10251994) Homepage Journal
    This is a subsidized price. The article says students can pay this, but it doesn't say what the cost is to produce the power. I expect that even at $0.045/kWh the payback on the windmills is 15 years.

    -AD
    • by wealthychef (584778) on Tuesday September 14, 2004 @08:46PM (#10252016)
      Very misleading. If wind power costs less than fossil fuels to produce, then the change will not require any political willpower at all. Energy companies will all switch in an instant. All this is telling me is that the cost of wind is HEAVILY subsidized right now, which is complete stupidity.
      • Re:Misleading title (Score:5, Informative)

        by adoll (184191) * <alex DOT doll AT agdconsulting DOT ca> on Tuesday September 14, 2004 @08:54PM (#10252094) Homepage Journal
        Offshore Wind Energy [offshorewindenergy.org] report by Deltf Univ, Netherlands, on the economics of a wind power system offshore in Europe.

        Page 5 gives the cost of producing power, including capital costs, at Eur 0.051/kWh (~5.5 US cents/kWhr). This gives a payback of about 7-8 years. So, NO, the power doesn't cost USD0.01/kWh.

        -AD
      • by Waffle Iron (339739) on Tuesday September 14, 2004 @08:58PM (#10252119)
        Of course the price of oil is heavily subsidized as well. In order to keep the oil flowing, much of the US military is currently stationed in the Middle East to enforce relative stability in the region. The huge costs of this effort are charged to the taxpayers rather than being added directly to the price of oil.
      • Re:Misleading title (Score:5, Informative)

        by WindBourne (631190) on Tuesday September 14, 2004 @09:01PM (#10252150) Journal

        It has been about 8 years since I lived in Ft. Collings, but the power was not subsidized. We paid extra for it initially (about 12 years ago), and about the time that I left Ft. Collins, the price was plummeting.

        The real problem is not the price / KwH, but the fact that it is intermittant. In Colorado, we are one of the better states for energy/power esp with wind, but it still is intermittant. Until we create low cost energy storage this will not be truely viable

    • Re:Misleading title (Score:4, Informative)

      by Fnkmaster (89084) on Tuesday September 14, 2004 @10:27PM (#10252741)
      It's the surcharge students are paying in the article, they just mangled the text a bit. Looks like they are paying 1 cent per kWh MORE for wind power than for regular power, which is much more believable, since generally power costs about 5-6 cents per kWh (more in some areas), excluding transmission costs (which are usually shown separately on your bill, another 5-6 cents per kWh).
  • My 2 kwh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by joeldixon66 (808412) * <joel&jd53,com> on Tuesday September 14, 2004 @08:42PM (#10251996) Homepage
    From the article: "If you have any interest in our environment, it only makes sense to put out the little cost that it takes," Travis Kimball said. "It's the absolute least you could do."

    No, the absolute least you could do is nothing - which most of the Colorado residents are doing it seems. While it doesn't surprise me that initial takeup is going slow, it is a little disappointing. Giving uni students the choice is a good start, but Mr. Citizen would probably be more likely to spend the extra money on a bigger TV - than cleaner electricity.
  • I've actually... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Judg3 (88435) <jeremy@@@pavleck...com> on Tuesday September 14, 2004 @08:42PM (#10251997) Homepage Journal
    ...started looking into Wind power recently.

    Nothing big mind you, but I'd like to get a cabin up north in the middle of nowhere, and I'd love to power it via wind. Sure, generators are a possibility but all the noise sort of destroys my reason to go out there - to commute with nature.
    Plus, I wouldn't have to worry about bringing fuel with me at all either - just let the wind do it.
    • by l810c (551591) *
      Yea, sounds nice, but you will kill all the birds and ruin the million dollar view [go.com]
  • Hmm (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mcc (14761) <amcclure@purdue.edu> on Tuesday September 14, 2004 @08:45PM (#10252006) Homepage
    the U.S. would now need to use less than 3% of its farmland to get 95% of its electricity demand satisfied by wind power

    Does that take into account the amount of energy lost when transporting electricity from the point of generation (farmland) to the point of use (everywhere except farmland)? Also what would the monetary cost of doing this be?
  • by sloscheider (813561) on Tuesday September 14, 2004 @08:48PM (#10252025)
    We must fight this evil invention!
  • by Jettamann (25050) on Tuesday September 14, 2004 @08:49PM (#10252043)
    ... Watch this the next time it is broadcast on your local PBS station.

    http://www.pbs.org/wnet/extremeoil/

    I wathced this last night..

    Oil is going to be arround a lot longer then you think...
  • by Goonie (8651) * <robert@merkel.benambra@org> on Tuesday September 14, 2004 @08:51PM (#10252057) Homepage
    I buy green power here in Australia. The base cost of electricity here is about 10 cents (US) per kilowatt hour, and you pay about a 2 US cent premium for green power. I very much doubt that energy is 90% cheaper in the US than it is here.

    Oh, and for the millionth time, would the proponents of wind power factor in the cost of energy storage into their ridiculous claims that it's possible to affordably replace fossil fuel and nuclear generators with wind right now?

    • Yup. You are absolutely right - although the submitter, the poster and the original article don't make it clear 0.01$ is the PREMIUM for green power over traditional fossil fuel power.

      This small over-looked fact makes this entire post (and the subsequent /. chatter) rather meaningless. Perhaps a better title for the posting would be "Green/Renewable Power Still More Expensive than Fossil Fuels".

      Gak.
  • by 1984 (56406) on Tuesday September 14, 2004 @08:53PM (#10252082)

    From the CIA World Factbook, USA:

    Land Area: 9,161,923 sq km
    Arable Land: 19.3%

    So that's 1,768,251 sq km of farmland, 3% of which is 53048 sq km.

    Don't want to be down on wind power or anything, but there's still quite the engineering challenge here.

  • by Guspaz (556486) on Tuesday September 14, 2004 @08:59PM (#10252128)
    IIRC, modern nuclear energy is perfectly clean (Other than the waste, which can be safely stored, and who knows, in the distant future perhaps burning it up in the sun would be cheap enough)... And modern reactor designs seem to have a virtually nil chance of a meltdown. I seem to recall some sort of Canadian reactor that used pebbles of material or something. CANDU reactor or something?

    Heck, even Chernobyl only happened because they turned off all the safties; it was an inherantly safe reactor until they manually fucked it up.

    Anyhow, nuclear plants don't have to be in farmland (Less power lost on transport), are clean (Perhaps a smaller effect on the environment than wind power?), are safe, and best of all, produce much more stable output.

    That and hydro. Which, while it has an impact on the environment when installed, after that it seems to me to be pretty clean. Heck, Quebec serves all of it's millions of people with a few hydro dams, and we have some of the cheapest power costs in North America.

    Oh, and there's also the ever increasing efficiency of solar. And heck, while we're at it, fusion will be around eventually, perfectly clean radiation-free energy, as I understand it. Yes, it's far off, but if you invest in a worldwide wind power network only to have fusion come out and be a much better option, that's a huge waste of money. In fact, take the money you would have spent on all those wind generators, and put it into fusion research :p
  • by Reality Master 101 (179095) <RealityMaster101@noSpAM.gmail.com> on Tuesday September 14, 2004 @08:59PM (#10252131) Homepage Journal
    Don't say goodbye to coal and oil, yet, though; unless cell technology increases substantially, when we run out of oil we will convert coal to synthetic fuel.

    Statements like this just bug me, because it's such a fundamental misunderstanding of economics. And this attitude is SO pervasive among the enviro-people.

    We will NEVER EVER run out of oil. Never. Ever.

    What WILL happen is that eventually oil because more expensive to pull out of the ground as the reserves get lower. At that point, other sources of energy get more economical, and we inevitably switch over.

    • by Jeremi (14640) on Tuesday September 14, 2004 @09:10PM (#10252231) Homepage
      We will NEVER EVER run out of oil. Never. Ever.


      What WILL happen is that eventually oil because more expensive to pull out of the ground as the reserves get lower. At that point, other sources of energy get more economical, and we inevitably switch over.


      That is what they mean when they say "run out of ouil". Oil that is too expensive to obtain might as well not exist. As for "switching over", look around you and notice how many of the goods you own are made out of plastic. When oil becomes very expensive, you will have to either pay a lot of money for those items, or find a way to make them out of some other material. Given that there is no obvious substitute for oil as a manufacturing ingredient, it would be best if we stopped burning it for electricity and saved it for uses where there is no substitute.

    • by Spyky (58290) on Tuesday September 14, 2004 @09:30PM (#10252390)
      While you are technically correct, it's sort of a moot point.

      Perhaps environmentalists should instead say "when oil becomes extremely scare", but that doesn't have quite the same emotional effect.

      In either case we need to start thinking about ways to deal with the inevitable loss of cheap oil before it actually comes to pass. Otherwise we will be stuck in the position of having increasingly expensive oil and yet haven't put the time/money/research into alternative energy infrastructure. It is better for the economy to attempt a smooth transition over a long period of time.

      -Spyky

    • by dbIII (701233) on Tuesday September 14, 2004 @09:55PM (#10252577)
      a fundamental misunderstanding of economics
      We will NEVER EVER run out of oil. Never. Ever.
      That might be true in economics, but in physics we have have concepts like finite quantities and have math to deal with models which are more complex than the compound intrest formula.

      We don't know how much oil there is, but we know that it cannot be an infite quantity.

      Even from the view of the ecomomist, oil has run out before during wartime (demand a lot more than supply). Even if we have some infinite reserve there will come a point at which we can't get enough out of the ground.

  • hot air? (Score:4, Funny)

    by loid_void (740416) * on Tuesday September 14, 2004 @09:00PM (#10252135) Homepage Journal
    And think of all the hot air in Washington that could be put to use just trying to legislate the whole thing.
  • 3%? (Score:5, Funny)

    by NMSpaz (34277) <jaredr+slashdot@gmail.com> on Tuesday September 14, 2004 @09:00PM (#10252145)
    The U.S. would now need to use less than 3% of its farmland to get 95% of its electricity demand satisfied by wind power.
    Even less if we put them in Florida...
  • one cent? not really (Score:3, Informative)

    by mshurpik (198339) on Tuesday September 14, 2004 @09:02PM (#10252162)
    According to the State of Wisconsin [mge.com], wind power costs 9 cents versus 4 cents for standard fuels. Of course, this is still cheaper than what people are paying here on the east coast (10-12 cents I would imagine).

    if the whole world converted to wind power in 15 years, the amount of power being extracted from the atmosphere would be more than the increase in greenhouse gas atmospheric energy

    Awesome.

    when we run out of oil we will convert coal to synthetic fuel.

    I doubt it. The Germans did this in the 1930's, and it was pretty expensive.

    • Not really... (Score:3, Informative)

      by Goonie (8651) *
      This article suggests that coal-to-diesel is cost-effective in the US if oil is at $33-35 per barrel [findarticles.com]. Have you seen the price of crude oil lately?

      As the article itself points out, such prices have not historically been sustained, but I'm not so sure this time around...

  • by plopez (54068) on Tuesday September 14, 2004 @09:03PM (#10252178) Journal
    http://www.newbelgium.com/frames.html

    New Belgium brewing, completely wind powered.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 14, 2004 @09:06PM (#10252196)
    The main problem with wind power is nobody wants them around.

    In MA, http://www.capewind.org/ is trying to build a wind farm, and is running into all kinds of opposition from "environmentalists."

    Basically, the problem is NIMBY.

    If you're going to build wind farms, you're going to have to put them far, far away from the upper-middle class, preferably among the poor.

    Of course, capewind is far, far away from everyone. But nobody even likes the idea of these big fans out there, spoiling the ocean view for those who might be sailing around in the area. Heavens, the horror!
  • by gukin (14148) on Tuesday September 14, 2004 @09:22PM (#10252331)
    IWFTEC (I work for the electric company). It's great that wind generation is taking off but it isn't without cost, the utility I work for charges twice for wind power what it charges for "regular" power; yes, people pay it, gladly (odd eh?)

    The issue with wind power is that it is, in effect, a run-away generator. To balance the system, another generator must be able to move to keep the grid stable (anyone remember First Power?) The _kicker_ is that a generator with 80%-90% is necessary to regulate the wind farm. The bigger the farm, the bigger the generator (and higher percentage) necessary to control the grid. So, in a perfect situation, if you've got 500 MW of potential wind power, you'll need 350-500 MW of conventional generation. Furthermore, most generators don't work very efficiently unless they're 70%-100% of their capacity.

    Okay, I suck but these are the facts, if we're going to connect every control area together, we need a stable grid, for a stable grid, we must have the abilty to control, and do without, the "green" power. Utilities are for profit businesses and only the government can get away with running at a loss, even for idealistic reasons.
  • whole world? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by magarity (164372) on Tuesday September 14, 2004 @10:16PM (#10252681)
    because if the whole world converted to wind power in 15 years

    Amazing how the whole world lives in areas where there is strong enough and steady enough wind to run reasonably local wind power generator farms.

    As someone who lives in Colorado and has visited the wind farm in question, I can tell you that the northern Colorado / southern Wyoming areas where they have those generators are seriously windswept. Nonstop, hard wind. Not everywhere has such an area nearby, which shoots an unfortunate hole in the proposed worldwide plan.

    As a side note, that area has one of the nation's highest suicide rates that is often blamed on the nonstop wind making people lose their minds.
  • by Chuck Messenger (320443) on Tuesday September 14, 2004 @10:26PM (#10252736)
    If you read the article, it's pretty clear that they're talking about how much you pay above-and-beyond the regular electric bill. It used to be 2.5 cents above. Now it's a bargain at only 1 cent above. What you get for your money is the knowledge that you're using renewable energy.
  • Whoa. Wait a minute. (Score:4, Informative)

    by macthulhu (603399) on Tuesday September 14, 2004 @11:04PM (#10252940)
    Currently, there is a proposal in place in Westfield, NY to build a shitload of these 400 foot turbines. My dad, a pilot and weather freak for the last 30 years, is spearheading the campaign to stop this project. There are some factors that are important to the disussion...

    1. Westfield was one of the only places in the northeast that did not lose power during the big blackout. Their power infrastructure doesn't need any help.

    2. The company that is planning to build these things is promising to "rent" land from the locals to build the towers... What they aren't advertising is the fact that they've gone bankrupt a number of times. They collect huge grants for the project, and then bail out, leaving landowners with 400 foot towers that aren't being serviced, or paid for. Property values will drop like a rock.

    3. Westfield is right smack in the middle of a whole pile of migratory bird paths... There are also a number of eagles that live in the area. There are a number of sources, including the nearby Roger Tory Peterson Institute that confirm these towers will kill birds in massive numbers.

    4. I helped him organize the collected databases from the National Weather Service for almost 30 years worth of hourly wind readings from the two nearest stations. The wind speed needed to make these things worth building, even on the edge of Lake Erie, was rarely achieved for more than an hour or two, and only a few days a month.

    5. Just like the propellers on airplanes, the blades of these turbines collect ice... LOTS OF IT. It will of course eventually fly off of the blade. I'm sure there are some people here who can calculate for us the distance that a few hundred pounds of ice can be thrown from one of these turbines. While I secretly think it would be kind of funny to see a 400 pound slab of ice smash through a trailer half a mile away, in reality it would not be cool.

    6. Have you ever heard these things when they're operational? LOUD. My dad is currently collecting information about rates of depression and anxiety in people who live near the constant sound of these things... Not just the whooshing sound they make, but also the noise from the blades passing by the tower itself. It's somewhat like the air compresssion sound from the tail boom of a Huey.

    What it boils down to, is that it's an intersting idea, but poorly implemented by shady cocksuckers. Pretty much everyone is in agreement that we need alternative power sources, but these turbines don't add enough to the output to cover the costs, let alone free us from fossil fuel dependency. Anyone who has further information, or would like copies of the information that my dad has collected, can contact me at my screen name at excite dot com.

    • by Ichoran (106539) on Wednesday September 15, 2004 @04:14AM (#10254368)
      1. You build wind power to reduce the use of fossil fuels, not to make the grid blackout-resistant. Widespread blackouts are caused by faulty control mechanisms, not the method of power generation. Why even bring this up?

      2. Having a company in financial difficulty do *anything* can be problematic. This issue is of significant concern.

      3. On what do these sources base their conclusions? Studies [nationalwind.org] of bird deaths due to wind turbines show pretty minimal numbers, even with the old CA turbines that were unusually dangerous for raptors. Estimates are around two birds per year per turbine (compared to somewhere around 10/year per mile of road with average traffic). Maybe you should dig up your roads and walk everywhere instead--but that's no good, you need to get places, but electricity comes for free from nowhere! Er, wait.

      4. If there's really not enough wind, then building these towers is really stupid. Building wind farms where there is no wind is a good way to bankrupt one's company once again. However, are the NWS stations on ridge-tops? You can have huge differences in wind-speed based on local terrain. You make a good case against building a wind turbine on top of the National Weather Service stations. You need to provide more information, however, to show whether the 30 year records are relevant. The company's [ene.com]
      report claims that the ridge crest is a local wind corridor. Wind corridors are real, so your objection is only valid if they are wrong that it is a wind corridor, or if they are right but that even so there is insufficient wind. (Also keep in mind the difference in wind velocity as you go from ground-level to 80m above the ground.)

      5. Ice is apparently a red herring [awea.org]. There simply isn't evidence that thrown ice is a danger, despite many installed wind farms in ice-prone areas. Besides, there are good physical reasons to think that ice would not be thrown a great distance (e.g. turbines are based on airfoils, and ice coatings don't preserve the airfoil shape, which is the whole problem with plane wings icing).

      6. I have heard the new large 80m-ish Danish turbines. They're not that loud, and I don't personally find the noise that annoying. It's mostly sort of whooshing as the blades go past; the new designs have very little mechanical noise (unlike some of the old eggbeater designs in CA). It's hard to even hear them from a reasonable distance away (a few hundred meters). Why do you think that they are LOUD?

      Anyway, it's nice that you're helping your dad out and all, and it's good for people to be involved in their community, but are you really arguing against it for the reasons you've given? Or is it instead because you don't like the look of giant windmills on the top of your ridge crest, and figure that if you can shoot it down you won't have to see a coal-fired power plant there instead?

      People do this kind of thing all the time, often without realizing it. E.g. people where I used to live wanted to cut down all the trees for "fire protection", despite the fact that the shrub and annual grass that would have replaced the trees were a bigger fire hazard than the trees. Curiously, there was an extremely strong correlation between people who wanted to cut trees for "fire protection" and those whose views stood to improve the most, but only a weak correlation between people whose houses were near trees and the same desire.

      Aesthetics are important. If that's the real reason you or your dad is fighting this, best to recognize it now so you can recognize when you're prone to believe something false because it provides an excuse for your position. Then if you still want to spread misinformation to the city council, or whatever, well, that's up to you. That happens all the time. At least you can be intellectually honest with yourself (and with readers here).
  • by Deal-a-Neil (166508) on Tuesday September 14, 2004 @11:08PM (#10252986) Homepage Journal
    .. in other news tonight, fan blade manufacturer Oster has been bombed by the United States military. Oster, a subsidary of SunBeam, was not immediately available for comments; however, Donald Rumsfeld says that a special Halliburton deployment team will be sent to Boca Raton, FL to reconstruct the area, and get fan blade production back to peak efficiency.
  • by fyngyrz (762201) on Tuesday September 14, 2004 @11:24PM (#10253082) Homepage Journal
    ...instead of taking 3% of the farmland, we take 100% of the politician's land and leave the flipping farmers alone. I like corn and bread and stuff, but I can't recall a politician ever doing something I liked (well... other than retiring.)
  • by Dirtside (91468) on Wednesday September 15, 2004 @12:17AM (#10253437) Journal
    One method of energy storage I haven't seen anyone mention yet is flywheels. Basically it consists of a big cylinder made of a carbon-fiber composite that is suspended inside a vacuum chamber on magnetic bearings, so that it can spin with very, very low friction.

    To store more energy, electricity is applied to a motor which causes the flywheel to spin up. To get energy out, the motor is reversed as a generator and the electricity is sent off to do whatever. Flywheels can provide more energy storage per unit volume than batteries, although I don't know about hydrogen fuel cells -- but flywheels are pretty simple technology and tend to be very low in nasty chemicals (compared to, say, lead-acid batteries, or even the catalytic components found in fuel cells).

    The carbon-fiber itself, even if spinning at several thousand RPM, will basically explode into sand if it happens to rupture or exceed its design limitations. There would be no chance of a high-velocity flywheel careening out of its containment chamber and killing everything in its path (as cool as that would be).

    It's not a highly developed technology yet, but mostly because we have little need for large-scale energy storage (because we have enough power plants that can provide peak production when it's usually needed), but flywheels combine well with intermittent generation technologies like wind and solar.

    Of course, any good energy solution should be comprised of a reasonable mix of different generation, distribution, and storage methods, to avoid a monoculture; having enough wind turbines to meet (at most) 50% of our peak generation means that we're using that much less coal, oil, and other nonrenewable resources. I personally am in favor of safe nuclear reactors (like pebble beds), but nuclear is so much harder of a sell in the U.S. these days that we might find wind, despite its costs, more feasible as an alternative to fossil fuels.

    Just some ruminations on the subject, anyway.
  • by barfy (256323) on Wednesday September 15, 2004 @01:15AM (#10253703)
    If we continue to eschew Nuclear Power in the US, the Mexican government will start building several nuclear power plants (using "safe" technologies) near the US border.

    They will export both electricity to the grid, and generate huge quantites of hydrogen (which will become the new "portable" fuel). that will be transmitted to the US.

    This will result in a tremendous rennisance of Latin America, and result in a generally graceful transition from fossil fuels to an electric and hydrogen economy. This will "solve" the energy problem for the US. It will move money that is currently going to small groups of people in the Middle East, to our hemisphere, and create prosperity here at home.

    China will be doing the same, as well as India and Pakistan and probably South Africa and Japan.

    The oil economy will come to an end, and the nuclear economy will prevail.
  • by xtal (49134) on Wednesday September 15, 2004 @04:57AM (#10254494)
    The grid is fine for powering electrical gadgets, although I want to get a 100W solar panel for my notebook and aquarium. However, heating is another thing.. right now we heat with wood, but it's labour-intensive.

    I want to move the house to a wind-powered heating solution.. I live in rural area so neighbours aren't a problem. I am usually very skeptical of alternative energy claims, but wind is attractive enough for me to invest a little money in a test. Rather than convert the power, to store the heat I am using a 1000gallon tank in my basement. I'm looking to get between 10 and 20kW of power from my windmills on a nominal basis. I may also do tests with solar collectors, but they would provide energy gains only about ~4h per day in this part of the world.

    Wind is a primary motivator in how fast my house loses heat, but the windier it gets, the more power is produced.

    Heat distribution will be through in floor hydronic heating distribution. It won't replace the wood, but I bet it can reduce the amount of energy used by a LARGE factor, and provide me with nearly unlimited hot water.
  • by sirshannon (616247) on Wednesday September 15, 2004 @07:47AM (#10255231) Homepage Journal
    Companies like Duke Energy are struggling and constantly in the news due to their efforts to scrape a more dollars out by any means possible. Why, then, aren't they pushing for things like this? Why aren't they pushing electric cars? Not only would these technologies help increase their profits and their standing (in most people's eyes), but would (in the case of electric cars) increase the demand for their product. I would think that would be the ultimate goal for the energy companies: to safely produce clean power AND make us rely on that instead of fossil fuels.

"If that makes any sense to you, you have a big problem." -- C. Durance, Computer Science 234

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