After marvelling at the progress in solar power last week, I think it is time for a wind power update. It is still there (wind power). It is still the cheapest form of alternative energy. Nothing new. The amount of wind energy produced climbs with the erection of each new mega-turbine.
The downsides to wind energy/turbines remain the same. Noisy. Kills flying animals. Disrupts the local weather (in the case of large wind farms). Ruins the beauty of the natural landscape. And now we can add one more downside risk for ocean based turbines – hurricanes. A recent study found that many ocean-based wind turbines would be destroyed by hurricanes during their 20 year lifetime. This should certainly factor into the lifetime cost of ocean-based wind farms – making them a little more expensive than what is currently estimated. Another part of the cost of wind turbines that not too many people seem to mention is de-commissioning cost. Whether whacked by a hurricane or just worn out from a normal life-cycle (about 20 years), how much will it cost to take the turbines down? What about the huge blocks of cement left in the earth? Before we cover too much more of the earth with these huge turbines, maybe we should consider some of the lifetime costs.
Overall, I still support wind energy in general, but it is definitely not a panacea. It will not be too much longer before we reach the point of diminishing returns with wind turbines. Already, the average wind speed around the globe is decreasing. While it would take at least a doubling or tripling of current installation numbers to have a dramatic effect, each new turbine takes a little more momentum out of the air.
So maybe nuclear power is a better option? It could be, but there are safety concerns. Plus the production of nuclear fuel is still highly dependent on the availability of cheap fossil fuel energy, and Peak Oil is having an effect on prices, even if it hasn’t caused a total collapse of society. In any case, amazingly, the U.S. has approved the construction of 2 new nuclear reactors in Georgia. These new “third-generation” reactors are supposed to be safer than the one that melted down in Fukushima last year. But don’t expect these to come online until around 2020 or so. Just because they have been approved doesn’t mean they will not have to jump through another million bureaucratic hoops before the construction is finished.
And if you follow the cold fusion story, which I suppose is a future energy wild card, even if the chances it is real or economically viable are quite small, here is a recent video from NASA explaining a possible new cold fusion method. The video is scant on details. Is it just theory? Do they have a good grasp on what they are talking about? Is a super clean energy future right around the corner? I doubt it, but I am willing to learn more.
In the cold fusion realm, I have been following the Rossi E-cat story. Rossi is an Italian scientist that claims to have created a cold fusion machine (the E-cat) and is trying to sell it to different power companies around the world. Many people think it is a fraud. He has held demonstrations to convert skeptics but won’t allow anyone to “look under the hood”. Suspicious? Definitely. I hope it really works, but some other people and potential investors are starting to cry foul.
Have a good Monday! Meteorologist Justin Loew.
Posted under Alternative Energy
This post was written by jloew on March 19, 2012