Friday, August 25, 2006

Windpower alone, in theory, could cut emissions dramatically: "Approximately three-fourths of U.S. electricity is generated by burning coal, oil, or natural gas. Accordingly, switching that same portion of U.S. electricity generation to nonpolluting sources such as wind turbines, while simultaneously ensuring that our ever-expanding arrays of lights, computers, and appliances are increasingly energy efficient, would eliminate 38 percent of the country's CO2 emissions and bring us halfway to the goal of cutting emissions by 75 percent.

"To achieve that power switch entirely through wind power, I calculate, would require 400,000 windmills rated at 2.5 megawatts each. To be sure, this is a hypothetical figure, since it ignores such real-world issues as limits on power transmission and the intermittency of wind, but it's a useful benchmark just the same."

"An industry rule of thumb is that to maintain adequate exposure to the wind, each big turbine needs space around it of about 60 acres. Since 640 acres make a square mile, those 400,000 turbines would need 37,500 square miles, or roughly all the land in Indiana or Maine.

"On the other hand, the land actually occupied by the turbines—their "footprint"—would be far, far smaller. For example, each 3.6-megawatt Cape Wind turbine proposed for Nantucket Sound will rest on a platform roughly 22 feet in diameter, implying a surface area of 380 square feet—the size of a typical one-bedroom apartment in New York City. Scaling that up by 400,000 suggests that just six square miles of land—less than the area of a single big Wyoming strip mine—could house the bases for all of the windmills needed to banish coal, oil, and gas from the U.S. electricity sector."

If we could just banish the influence of the fossil fuel lobby and short term corporate profit from political processes the solutions are in sight....

Big Gav has another good long post on energy and politics. Be sure to check it out and visit Gav's site regularly.

UPDATE: Tom Gray in comments endorses the argument in the above post and provides links to some interesting sites.


Tom Gray said...

Your statistics sound about right, although we'd need a lot of transmission lines, too, to make sure that the electricity can get from areas where the wind is blowing to where it is needed.

The few folks I know who have looked at this issue have said that at about 30-40% windpower, the cost of integrating wind becomes prohibitive. However, this is looking at the utility systems we have today--I'm not sure that anyone has looked at an upper limit with a system that is designed to make the maximum use of wind. At the same time, moving to such a system would be quite costly.

Still, you are absolutely right that the case for more wind is compelling. The key ingredient for wind's continued expansion? Continuing the federal wind energy production tax credit (PTC), which reduces a wind farm owner's tax payments by 1.9 cents for each kilowatt-hour of electricity the wind farm generates during the first 10 years of its operation. The PTC is currently scheduled to expire at the end of 2007. If the credit is extended for several years, we will see much greater use of this clean energy resource. You can help support this and other pro-wind laws here.

Thomas O. Gray
American Wind Energy Association

Bernard said...

Thank for your comment.

I do agree that government initiative is needed to assist in the development of windpower and other forms of renewable energy.

However, I would prefer that the carbon tax was the principal government instrument in this area. It seems to me that with one tax we hit three birds: it raises revenue for the public sector, instead of costing revenue as a pollution tax credit or other form of subsidy would; it forces carbon emitters to internalise the real costs of their industry, thus providing a direct price incentive for reduced emissions; and it thereby helps make renewable industries such as windpower more competitive and more quickly introduced.

Tom Gray said...

Good point. However, I beg you not to be too choosy and make the perfect the enemy of the good.

The reason a wind incentive was passed in the first place was not because it was a perfect solution, but because it was impossible politically to remove all of the incentives, tax breaks, and subsidies for polluting energy sources from the law.

The wind incentive is in the law now, and all that is needed to extend it is a change in the date of expiration. That is much easier to accomplish than a tax on all fossil fuels. I believe the political equation is changing now, with concerns rising over oil prices and global warming, but I'm not sure it has changed enough yet for such a tax to be enacted.

Thomas O. Gray
American Wind Energy Association