Tag Archives: Wind

Colorado Research Trip Pics

26 Mar

Just got back from my Colorado research trip. Very successful. I met with scientists and researchers from the Rocky Mountain Institute, UC Boulder, Colorado State, SunDrop Biofuels, the Denver International Airport’s solar installations, and other places. I learned a lot, got great material, and took a lot of pictures …

Rocky Mountain Institute office in Boulder, CO

Notice the straight air ducts descending diagonally from the ceiling. They’re designed to channel air more efficiently than ducts with numerous twists and turns. The RMI building also features windows specially treated to trap solar heat and lots of natural lighting.

RMI’s non-water-flushing toilet.

SunDrop Biofuel’s solar collecting tower. Thousands of mirrors reflect sunlight onto a large plate that heats to around 1200 degrees C. The heat is used to turn a mixture of woodchips and chemicals into gas that’s then refined into gasoline and diesel.

A smart grid test station at Colorado State, in Fort Collins.

A large wind turbine barely visible through a dense snowstorm at the National Wind Technology Center.

A many-tubed apparatus at NREL’s wind-to-hydrogen project using solar and wind-generated electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen is stored and used in fuel cells and internal combustion engines.

Part of a wind turbine blade. These things are freaking huge. On the largest turbines, each blade is somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 feet long. So in terms of sheer length and width, a rotating large scale turbine is like a spinning football field.

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Democracy & Wind

14 Sep

imagesRead an article today in Technology Review about how China is poised to become the world leader in wind-generated power.  It’s something like a decade ahead of schedule in building wind farms and updating the energy grid to handle the intermittent nature of wind power.

Toward the end of the piece, this paragraph caught my eye:

McElroy says China’s political situation may also lend itself to adding the required transmission lines. Wind-rich regions such as the ethnically Uyghur northwest are among China’s poorest, and the government has an interest in promoting their economic development. McElroy adds that local opposition, which has stymied transmission projects in North America and Europe for years, is unlikely to stop China’s wind power surge. “The government probably has more power to institute a plan once it’s approved.”

This raises a few interesting questions.  First, broadly speaking, is democracy an impediment to renewable energy?  In other words, does the ability of citizens to speak out and organize and freely demonstrate and lobby politicians hamper the advent of clean, renewable energy more than it helps?

I’d like to think not.  After all, as Thomas Friedman often argues, a big part of what’s made the US a global superpower is the freedom of its citizens to question assumed truths and to innovate and create without fearing government and/or religious reprisals.

Yet here’s China, apparently forging ahead with massive wind power projects while Europe and the US fall behind.  So is there something to be said for a government like China’s that can conceive and implement plans–renewable energy and otherwise–on a massive scale without political opposition?

Maybe.  But here’s a Wall St. Journal piece cautioning that while China may be sprinting ahead, they may not be headed in the right direction.  In their haste to build wind farms, China hasn’t allowed many companies to compete for the work, so Chinese wind technology may not be the most efficient.  European and US wind initiatives may be gummed up by grassroots opposition, but there are also dozens of companies competing and innovating to improve wind technology.  Maybe this is a better strategy in the long run.

I suppose we’ll find out in the next few decades.  It’s not clear, at least for me, how much of an impediment anti-wind groups in the US and Europe actually are.  Groups like Artists Against Wind Farms, stopillwind.org, and windstop.org, at least based on the quality of their websites, don’t appear to be so very powerful.

According to this article on guardian.co.uk, though, in England, more than 200 anti-wind farm groups have stymied the installation of more than 4000 turbines.  The protesters are often artists and environmentalists who claim that turbines mar the landscape and pose a threat to birds and bats.  And check out this piece about how rotating turbine blades can mess up meteorologists’ forecasts.

I don’t know.  Personally, I think wind turbines are visually interesting and even beautiful.  Compared to an ethanol refinery or solar farm, a wind farm is positively sculptural.

Anyhow, it’s interesting how renewable energy is about much more than just the technology.  It’s political and cultural and aesthetic.  Of course it is.

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