Wind turbines could more than meet U.S. electricity needs

Simply harnessing the wind in relatively shallow waters -- the most accessible and technically feasible sites for offshore turbines -- could produce at least 20% of the power demand for most coastal states, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said, unveiling a report by the Minerals Management Service that details the potential for oil, gas and renewable development on the outer continental shelf.

The biggest wind potential lies off the nation's Atlantic coast, which the Interior report estimates could produce 1,000 gigawatts of electricity -- enough to meet a quarter of the national demand.

The report also notes large potential in the Pacific, including off the California coast, but said the area presented technical challenges.

There will be considerable opposition to this because the wind turbines will totally spoil the view, which is actually one of the main economic assets in tourist areas along the east coast.

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The sooner we move to no-moving-parts windmills, the better.

The original patent was issued in 1979 (to the same person who invented polarizing sunglasses, by the way) and development has been scandalously slow. The idea is very, very simple: release charged water droplets in an electric field, so the wind pushes them against the field, and collect them after the wind has pushed them past the downwind screen.

The method scales up to unlimited size; screens under a high bridge, or stretched between buildings in downtown Chicago, could collect gigawatts. They're completely silent, safe for bats and birds, very cheap to build, and visually benign (unless you hate clouds).

By Nathan Myers (not verified) on 08 Apr 2009 #permalink

And turbines are lovely--elegant and lazy. PEI's tourism isn't hurting for the things going up everywhere (on land, but the water around PEI is all shipping and fishing). They're just part of the beautiful, clean scenery.

N Myers - those aren't no-moving-parts - they have water pumping and spraying equipment. Something that is very much more prone to failure than turbines. If there is money to develop it though, all to the best!

We already know how to do wind power and we are doing it. All we have to do is keep the acceleration on. 50% of all new electrical generation in 2008 was wind. If we keep the 2007 and 2008 wind deployment level in just over 10 years we would be at 10% of current electrical power from wind. (2.5 to 3% right now). From current comments at the EIA conference by Sec. Chu it sounds like the Administration is going to push Nuclear replacement of coal baseline, growth with wind and solar and conservation, and gas plants as the buffer for the renewables. The first time in at least 8 years we've had an even remotely positive plan.

Spoil the view? Blue sky. That's all you see.

The main motivators of these "Save the View" groups are the entrenched energy interests.

Current US/Canada power consumption 938,000MW

Power from modern high capacity efficient windmil 3MW

300,000 windmills required at a cost of about $3M each (thats on land, probably more expensive off shore)

+additional consumption has to be expected if transportation is moved to predominatly electric power.

Does not include the cost to refit the grid to high voltage DC because power losses over the distance travelled would make the current AC structure impractical.

This sounds like creationist style math.

yeah, right.

Markk: water pumping and spraying equipment ... is very much more prone to failure than turbines. You're joking, right?

A 3 MW ion windmill could cost much, much less than $3M.

Incidentally, how much does the U.S. send overseas in exchange for oil, every year? Let's see:

10M barrels/day * 365 * $50 = $183B / year

300,000 * $3M = $900B , one-time cost

So, it takes five years to pay back the cost of conversion, and then it's more or less free after that. (How long does a turbine last, 15 years?) Try to find another bond that pays 20+% indefinitely.

By Nathan Myers (not verified) on 08 Apr 2009 #permalink

Windmills kill birds at an alarming rate. This sounds like an "ethanol" type solution - looks good on paper, but implementation raises a slew of new issues

Large windmills are not the answer - check out that combines both wind turbines with solar technology

Working on the development of new energy technologies, inventor Bernd Melchior had a brilliant idea: Solar cells should not be sealed behind glass and wrapped in aluminum as solar panels are now, but instead be covered by layers of pure fluoropolymer (a clear film). The idea was transformed into a technically mature, patented process, which offers distinct advantages in the production and use of solar cells. The encapsulation is dirt-resistant, non-reflective and impact-resistant.

Bluenergy imprints its special Dendrite process onto the fluoropolymer creating a microscopic field of indentions that captures sunlight from all angles and steers the light onto the cells without the use of extra optics or bulky tracking devices. The turbine's "double-helix" shaped wind vanes serve as the foundation for the cells. The technology is proven. Bluenergy's solar modules emerged from an 18-year test with the German TUEV as the only one that maintained its power output and efficiency, with no degradation.

Solar cells from a number of vendors work with Bluenergyâs proprietary encapsulation, and can be incorporated on the vane-segments and on the base ensuring maximum performance and reliability. Using solar cells on the wind vanes increases the power output of the wind turbine by approximately 30-35% and allows electricity to be made even when the wind is calm.

2) Double-helix shaped Wind Vanes
A finite element analysis performed by the German company Bayer in 2002 revealed how best to use their family of Polyurethane Foam and carbon composites called Baydur® for Solarwind⢠Turbines up to 10 kW. Thanks to fast molding cycles of about 90 seconds, molded 3D shapes with high intrinsic stiffness and high strength can be produced. Aluminum molds are used during production, which means that no release agents are needed, resulting in a very safe and environmentally friendly production process. With this system, strong, extremely lightweight and rigid molded parts can be produced fast and repeatably in a wet molding process.

very exciting technology each home could have one and be off the grid

A featureless ocean is a "view"?

When I was a kid we spent a few summers in Maine - happiest times of my life so far. I spent endless hours alone on the rocky shores with magnifying glass and net, looking at rocks, driftwood, and critters in tidepools. Also interesting were the lobster boats, docks, buoys and traps. Those were the industrial technology of the area, and they were new to me and beautiful.

At some point, lobster boats, buoys and traps were new technology, and somebody probably complained they were destroying the "view". Now tourists buy paintings of the coast that feature them. Our family still has one, purchased decades ago.

ahhh, blow it out your... oh wait... that's the whole point.

By NewEnglandBob (not verified) on 08 Apr 2009 #permalink

Build it and they will come. Windmill are one stage of creating a renewable power grid. In 10 years there will be innovations that may change design and increase power density. A windmill may also be based on a platform offshore in an area of ocean currents. Platform can have a dual purpose. And integrated platform with 7 megawatt wind mills and 20 megawatt water current generators and you may have a energy farm which generates close to 500 megawatts. The biggest hurdle will be how to store the energy. With water turbines in place, sea current can provide steady state power generation when wind is unavailable. I also believe that simple technologies such as flywheels can be used for storage capacity. Other technologies will come along. Hopefully when the dogmatic thinking of the 20th century is retired and buried, America will come alive a be prosperous again.

The sooner we move to no-moving-parts windmills, the better.

The original patent was issued in 1979...and development has been scandalously slow.

More often than not this is an indication of an infeasibility or impracticality of the invention than it is an indication of a sadly overlooked breakthrough. I don't know much about ion windmills, so I can't speak with much confidence, but it seems to me like it would be a very high-loss system. How do you figure on Gigawatts of energy from nets stretched across Chicago? What kind of coverage and efficiency are you assuming?
Also, I'm with Markk. Although definitely doable, this method is more maintenance-intensive than you are letting on (lots of pumps, miles of pipes/hoses, corrosion/mineralization/wear, god knows how many spray nozzles to maintain, no doubt more issues) and would certainly not scale up to unlimited size. Continuously atomizing tens of thousands (more? millions?) of gallons of water per minute would be no simple task.
That said, I think it's an extremely clever idea and I'm interested to see if it ever takes off.


Does not include the cost to refit the grid to high voltage DC because power losses over the distance travelled would make the current AC structure impractical.

Maybe you missed the commentary from almost every energy transport source that our grid is already beyond capacity, and the next upgrade needs to be DC because of it's higher capacity and lower cost per KW (also HVDC using superconductors acts as storage as well as transport, providing load balancing across the network). I won't give you specific citations - just Google DC power grid.

Glad to see that the rest of your comment has already been thoroughly debunked by other posters.

Oh! Forgot to add. My wife & I love wind turbines -- we think they look great! We lived in Switzerland for a few years, and our visits to southern France always included views of wind farms. Wonderful stuff!

We're WIIMBYs (Want it in my back yard!)

The energy storage problem is already solved. Compressed air is low-tech, efficient, indefinitely scalable, and can drive existing power-plant turbines either alone, or burned with fuel, or solar-heated. An underground air tank may be cheaply insulated to retain heat, eliminating the major loss typical in portable compressed-air energy storage schemes.

pjb: What "miles of hoses"? I'm sure the thousands of municipalities using low-pressure water pumps and piping in their drinking-water systems would be astonished to find that they are each unique in having little trouble maintaining them. Producing an ionized, atomized mist is easy to achieve ultrasonically, or simply by blowing compressed air through perforations under a thin water surface. (I.e. no nozzles.) The amount of water required is not large; its main purpose is to increase the air friction with the ions. The voltage applied to the water to ionize it makes it much easier to atomize, because the droplets repel one another.

By Nathan Myers (not verified) on 08 Apr 2009 #permalink

Romeo Vitelli wrote:

Why are windmills considered picturesque in the Netherlands but eyesores everywhere else?

Well, modern windmills are considerably larger than the picturesque ones. In fact, the fact that the new ones ruin the view, and hardly anyone wants them in their back yard, is one of the main reasons to move them offshore. Just have to make sure to put them beyond the horizon.

Of course, moving the wind turbines out to sea increases building and maintenance costs. I guess that's the price we'll have to pay to not have them in our back yards.

Unfortunately, there are also those who are concerned about disturbing the sea life. It appears you can't make everyone happy.

I'm with george.w, above.

When Toronto's single windmill was built along the shoreline at our Exhibition grounds, our young nephew, a toddler at the time, would yell with excitement in the car whenever he could see it blowing. In any tall building, it's the first landmark he looks for, impressive considering the size of the CN Tower.

It may be generational to some extent, but I think windmills are beautiful. Around the same time the Toronto windmill was constructed, 4 large coal smokestacks along the shore were demolished. Many decried the destruction of the "4 sisters" as they were known.

As one family member quipped, the white whooshing windmill is a lot prettier than 4 sooty cigarette smokestacks.

Nathan Myers:

The energy storage problem is already solved. Compressed air is low-tech, efficient, indefinitely scalable, and can drive existing power-plant turbines either alone, or burned with fuel, or solar-heated. An underground air tank may be cheaply insulated to retain heat, eliminating the major loss typical in portable compressed-air energy storage schemes.

It isn't exactly solved; the systems for a commercial scale use salt caverns, not tanks, and have to cool the air to store it, and then reheat it after expanding it. The temperatures involved are too high to just store:

I'm another person who finds windfarms fascinating and beautiful to look at. they're not ugly at all!

Though I can sort-of see the point of those who do, since I find that power lines for example completely ruin otherwise unspoiled views on mountain-hikes.