Planet Gore

From farm to farm in wave on wave?

Our wind-power proponent of last week has responded to his critics:

One of your respondents stated that his bevy of smart energy engineers regularly “throw away” wind power. One doesn’t “throw away” electrical power once it is delivered to the grid. Where would one “throw” it?  Lightning bolts in the sky?  Once electrical power is delivered to the grid, no matter its source, it is indistinguishable from electrons generated by any other source on the grid.

The ability to deliver a steady supply of power to the electrical grid is an important consideration, but so is absolute energy generation. Every kWh generated and delivered to the grid is used, and negates the need for the consumption of energy produced by other sources, be it hydrocarbons or nuclear or hydro or solar. When other fuel sources deliver power to the grid, demand for coal- and gas-fired output decreases. As we use less and less hydrocarbon fuel, fewer such plants will be needed.
My local power company — and many other utilities, I believe — charge their customers on a multi-tier system that accounts for “capacity” charges as well as “fuel” charges.  Wind-generated energy reduces the fuel charges.
If our goal is to reduce the amount of hydrocarbon fuels burned — whether to protect the environment, to buttress national security, or to avoid costs — then any and all kWhs supplied by wind or solar or hydro have considerable value.
If some electrical utility engineers bad-mouth alternative energy production, as one of Planet Gore’s correspondents asserts, could reasonably be attributed to the old “not invented here” syndrome, or to simple job preservation worries. Those engineers who run big thermal power plants have selfish reasons to disparage other energy source that, if adopted widely, might put them out of a job . . . or at least reduce the number of jobs in their chosen field. I’m an engineer myself — who was operating nuclear power plants probably long before some of your correspondents and readers were out of diapers, I would guess. That I don’t make my living doing that now means that I feel no professional threat from the non-thermal power industry.
Wind farms are ideally sited where the wind blows steadily. Many existing, particularly smaller-scale, wind farms — like the publicly funded “community wind farms” in the northeast and upper Midwestern states, for instance — have been sited where alternative-energy enthusiasts reside, rather than where the wind blows strongest and longest.
Extensive wind-speed-data collection has been underway for years now, and many areas in the U.S. have wind-energy potential that has not yet been tapped — often because of issues with the local grid capacity and transmission-line location. In the areas with optimum wind-energy potential — like the windy ridges in the intermountain West, the overall actual generation vs. capacity ratio can be much higher than the typical 30-percent level I cited previously, a number brought down by the many sub-optimally sited wind farms now extant.
Finally, if wind-generated electricity is used to generate hydrogen gas, it is not even necessary to locate wind farms near existing power lines, and concerns about electricity-output variability are eliminated. Hydrogen gas production plants can be constructed on virtually any scale, even on relatively small footprints, with comparatively minimal capital and environmental costs, wherever there is a source of electrical energy and a source of water as a feedstock. The Norwegians are already busy developing their own “hydrogen highway” using a system of distributed, small-scale hydrogen plants (often located alongside commercial fueling stations), utilizing their abundant and relatively cheap hydropower plants and electrical grid.
The bottom line is that wind-energy skeptics need to acknowledge that wind energy is neither a magic silver bullet nor is it a bogus scam.  The truth is somewhere in between.
Wind energy is a viable means of generating electrical energy in large quantities, with minimal environmental impact, and at production costs that are competitive with any commercial electrical-generation method now in use. Wind farms do not need to be on or near the grid either, nor are they constrained by the aforementioned concerns about variability in output.  Wind energy may indeed become a preferred means of fueling our future fleet of hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicles — and thus eliminating America’s dependence once and for all time on the OPEC thugs who regularly rob America blind and then use the funds to support international terrorism.
What’s not to like about that?
And none of this need be justified by false concerns over global warming.


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