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How Viable Is Large Scale Wind Energy?

samzenpus posted about 2 years ago | from the blowing-in-the-wind dept.

Earth 345

New submitter notscientific writes "Renewable sources of energy are obviously a hit but they have as yet failed to live up to the hype. A new study in Nature Climate Change shows however that there is more than enough power to be harnessed from the wind to sustain Earth's entire population... x200! To generate energy from the wind, we may however need to set up wind farms at altitudes of 200-20,000 metres. To be fair, the study is purely theoretical and does not look at the feasibility of such potential wind farms. Regardless, the paper does provide a major boost to backers of wind-generated energy. Science has confirmed that the sky's the limit."

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345 comments

Hmm... (4, Interesting)

RevDisk (740008) | about 2 years ago | (#41333215)

Yea, I'll wait for more wind farms to actually be build.

I know folks that build those giant wind turbines. They think they build a good product (and they do), but not a single one thinks it'll be more than a supplemental. If for nothing else... Not In My Back Yard.

Re:Hmm... (2)

captainpanic (1173915) | about 2 years ago | (#41333317)

Well, some other folks are building storage facilities to store the electricity. It seems that the people running the infrastructure really believe in this wind energy... and they expect it to be big, together with solar energy.

Re:Hmm... (5, Interesting)

alexander_686 (957440) | about 2 years ago | (#41333487)

I know people who work with both the turbines and the energy grid.

Wind power is ready for prime time. Gas is cheaper, but if you factor in a reasonable cost for it's carbon footprint Wind is right there.

Storage, on the other hand, is not ready for prime time. Without storage it's going to be hard to break 20%. I understand that some parts of the country have maxed out how much wind they can have. They have to turn on / off the gas turbines to make up for sudden power surges / drops that it's not worth it anymore. There are a lot of interesting ideas but they have yet to prove themselves.

Give it a few years and then we can see if wind can break the 20% mark.

Re:Hmm... (5, Insightful)

neyla (2455118) | about 2 years ago | (#41333335)

True. But luckily we neither need, nor want, one single answer that solves everything. We're better off in a multitude of ways from havign a healthy mix of different energy-sources, rather than being subject to the whims of a single one.

It's better to have some hydropower, some wind, some sun, some nuclear, some hydrocarbons, some tides, some biomass instead of putting all our eggs in one basket. As such, "can we cover our entire energy-needs *only* with wind?" is the wrong questions. The right question is if wind can be one part of the overall solution, it seems pretty clear to me that the answer to that is "yes".

As for NIMBY, there's solutions to that. Fewer people are bothered by wind-farms being installed a few miles offshore, such as those in the UK and Denmark currently, for example.

Re:Hmm... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41333525)

It's better to have some hydropower, some wind, some sun, some nuclear, some hydrocarbons, some tides, some biomass instead of putting all our eggs in one basket. As such, "can we cover our entire energy-needs *only* with wind?" is the wrong questions. The right question is if wind can be one part of the overall solution, it seems pretty clear to me that the answer to that is "yes".

It's better to have some jigs, some coons, some niggers, some porchmonkeys, some darkies, some yardapes, some biglipped chocolate gorillas instead of putting all our eggs in political correctness. As such, "can we ship them all back to Africa" is the wrong questions. Questions? Just one question. The right question is if the good ones who don't want to be thugs can be identified as part of an overall solution. It seems pretty clear to me that the answer is "yes". Infact it should be easy, they're the ones with no criminal record longer than your arm.

As for NIMBY, there's solutions to that. Fewer people are bothered by niggers once they move away from the big cities.

Re:Hmm... (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about 2 years ago | (#41333503)

It needs an effective smart grid to work well. Some way for the turbines to shout 'Wind dropped, brace for shortage!' and air conditioning units and water heaters to take notice and postpone their duties for a little while until the wind picks up again.

Re:Hmm... (4, Interesting)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 2 years ago | (#41333653)

Water heaters should not be running at all unless someone is taking a shower. It is called on demand hot water, tank style heaters need to go. Normally this is gas fueled, not electric.

Re:Hmm... (1)

operagost (62405) | about 2 years ago | (#41333909)

So instead of solving the storage-related base load problem, you want to have an electric grid that operates no better than in the third world? Doesn't sound very smart, and doesn't work well.

Your choice (4, Insightful)

SmallFurryCreature (593017) | about 2 years ago | (#41333741)

You can get nuclear powerplant, a solar array, a coal burner, a gas burner, a wind farm. But something is going to have to generate that electricity you keep on consuming.

Make a choice. Oh wait, I forgot. Democracy, power without accountability. You can vote to have your cake and eat it to.

While it can be done... (4, Interesting)

MtViewGuy (197597) | about 2 years ago | (#41333245)

....No one has actually _built_ a wind power turbine setup that operates at well above the ground. I mean, consider the issues involved:

1. How are we going to keep those turbines up at altitude?
2. What are the costs of tethering these high-flying wind turbine installations?
3. Will these installations become hazards to migratory birds flying at high altitude, let alone passing airplanes of all sizes?

I'd rather build hundreds of nuclear reactors based on the safe liquid fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR) technology instead in the short to medium term, and in the longer term build space-based solar power arrays parked in geosynchronous or near-geosynchronous orvbit.

Re:While it can be done... (1)

tylikcat (1578365) | about 2 years ago | (#41333273)

Okay, anyway your look at it, the thorium technology is wicked cool - but it's also still early days. I think wind is one of many interesting and potentially viable energy sources - and it to is still in development with regard to the really entertaining applications.

The bit I really don't get is the NIMBY response - I'd totally put on in my back yard. They're quiet, and rather pretty if you are a fossil fuels fetishist.

Re:While it can be done... (1)

MtViewGuy (197597) | about 2 years ago | (#41333405)

By the way, the #2 and #3 issues I mentioned are related, because if the tether breaks, we could have an uncontrolled "fly away" situation that could become a major hazard to aviation, especially since the plans for these high-flying wind turbine installations involve putting them near or just above the same flight level as modern airliners (9,000 to 11,000 meters altitude).

Re:While it can be done... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41333575)

By the way, the #2 and #3 issues I mentioned are related, because if the tether breaks, we could have an uncontrolled "fly away" situation that could become a major hazard to aviation, especially since the plans for these high-flying wind turbine installations involve putting them near or just above the same flight level as modern airliners (9,000 to 11,000 meters altitude).

it is basically Darwinism. the pilots who are better won't crash. the shit pilots will crash and be removed from the gene pool. over time this will give us better pilots!

Re:While it can be done... (2)

nukenerd (172703) | about 2 years ago | (#41333795)

The bit I really don't get is the NIMBY response - I'd totally put on in my back yard.

It should be easy to "get it", they are ugly industrial plant. If we have to have them they should be kept to industrial areas (or better still out at sea). I don't want one in my back yard, or yours, or anyone else's because I can still see it. I do not even want the things spoiling other peoples areas where perhaps I shall never even go.

They are much worse than a static object (like a conventional power station, or a radio mast) because they are moving, and the human eye/brain is very sensitive to movement because we are natural hunters.

You may not appreciate it yourself, but some of us get a lot from unspoiled countryside / wilderness, being able to get away from the signs of industry, commerce and human hubbub from time to time. Unfortunately the most scenic areas are those most likely to be targeted for these things as they tend to be put where there are hills.

I don't know how you like to get away from things, lets say by listening to music. Would a music lover want their music overlaid by a buzzing sound? - that is an analogy.

Re:While it can be done... (4, Insightful)

stms (1132653) | about 2 years ago | (#41333365)

....No one has actually _built_ a wind power turbine setup that operates at well above the ground. I mean, consider the issues involved:

1. How are we going to keep those turbines up at altitude?
2. What are the costs of tethering these high-flying wind turbine installations?
3. Will these installations become hazards to migratory birds flying at high altitude, let alone passing airplanes of all sizes?
4. How much damage will these things do if they start shedding parts.

I'd rather build hundreds of nuclear reactors based on the safe liquid fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR) technology instead in the short to medium term, and in the longer term build space-based solar power arrays parked in geosynchronous or near-geosynchronous orvbit.

Re:While it can be done... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41333383)

4. How much damage will these things do if they start shedding parts.

lets stop flying then.

Re:While it can be done... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41333413)

I think his point was more about scale Mr. AC.

Re:While it can be done... (1)

MtViewGuy (197597) | about 2 years ago | (#41333441)

You are absolutely correct. If the installation starts shedding parts, they will becoming back to the ground at pretty high velocity, as we all know from the "blue ice" dropping from airplanes and punching holes through the roofs of houses below.

Re:While it can be done... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41333399)

Kites.

You keep all the generators on the ground and capture the energy by flying the kites left to right and back like a stunt kite. Additional energy can be got from winding them in during slack times and letting them out when the wind picks up.

Re:While it can be done... (1)

slim (1652) | about 2 years ago | (#41333419)

....No one has actually _built_ a wind power turbine setup that operates at well above the ground. I mean, consider the issues involved:

1. How are we going to keep those turbines up at altitude?
2. What are the costs of tethering these high-flying wind turbine installations?
3. Will these installations become hazards to migratory birds flying at high altitude, let alone passing airplanes of all sizes?

One mechanism that's been investigated is kites at high altitude, steered by robots. They'd be pretty simple devices, but big. Fly them in a power position to reel out line, powering a generator on the ground. Move them to a parked position to reel them back in, using less power than they supplied on the way up. Repeat.

Another option, previously a /. story, is to have kites pull around an enormous "wheel". ISTR researchers concluding that an arrangement like this on the site of a decommissioned nuclear plant, would generate as much power as the nuclear plant it replaces. And nuclear plants already have no-fly zones.

I dunno about the birds though.

Re:While it can be done... (5, Funny)

Buchenskjoll (762354) | about 2 years ago | (#41333491)

Let's build turbine with solar cells on them, then we can exploit the solar wind...

Re:While it can be done... (2)

UnknownSoldier (67820) | about 2 years ago | (#41333547)

> I'd rather build hundreds of nuclear reactors

Uhm, no. We *already* have plenty of safe "free" energy.

* wave (Why do you think our planet even has a moon in the first place!)
* geothermal
* solar

The problem with wind and most energy solutions is NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard).

Plus if we were really smart we could launch small low-weight satellites that were fitted with solar cells to capture energy 24-7.

Nuclear is too high-maintenance and the negative risks FAR out weight ALL the other alternatives. How many more Chernobyl and Fukushima "incidents" before we learn that we are not smart enough to safely run nuclear reactors.

Re:While it can be done... (2)

rasmusbr (2186518) | about 2 years ago | (#41333549)

....No one has actually _built_ a wind power turbine setup that operates at well above the ground. I mean, consider the issues involved:

Nobody has built a setup that's able to deliver grid power yet, but there has been considerable work done on the problem. There are flying wind harvester prototypes such as KiteGen [youtube.com] .

1. How are we going to keep those turbines up at altitude?
2. What are the costs of tethering these high-flying wind turbine installations?

The wind keeps them flying as long as the wind is blowing and when it's not blowing there's no need for the harvester to be at altitude because there's nothing to harvest. The costs involved with building and installing a device are likely to be considerable, but the labor costs involved in running the thing could potentially be virtually zero. I think airborne wind harvesting might become competitive with natural gas, but probably not with solar power.

3. Will these installations become hazards to migratory birds flying at high altitude, let alone passing airplanes of all sizes?

I'd rather build hundreds of nuclear reactors based on the safe liquid fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR) technology instead in the short to medium term, and in the longer term build space-based solar power arrays parked in geosynchronous or near-geosynchronous orvbit.

Of course they will, but the right question to ask is how big a hazard compared to other hazards. We can't build commercial LFTR plants in the short term, but I share some of your optimism in the medium to long term. We don't know if the space junk problem is solvable, which means that we don't know if it's even physically possible to do orbital solar harvesting on a large scale. It looks like what would happen is there would be a chain reaction of space junk destroying stuff, giving rise to more space junk until there's so much junk that a new satellite is destroyed immediately.

My personal crystal ball projection is that solar power will be the cheapest form of power within 15 years, but it's going to have poor availability because of clouds and winter. Nuclear and gas (methane) will compete, and perhaps cooperate, to fill those gaps.

Re:While it can be done... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41333635)

OK, I actually like this questions so I'll byte.

1. How are we going to keep those turbines up at altitude?

Obviously, the power we must use for this is the wind itself. If we rely only on buoyancy (lighter-then air platforms), then the force of wind combined with tension of the tether will tend to push the platform down, so there has to be aerodynamic lift involved in equation. Therefore, the answer to 1. is "using combination of kite, airfoil and airship technologies"

2. What are the costs of tethering these high-flying wind turbine installations?

I don't know. Obviously we'll want to keep the angle of tether as steep as possible to use less of it, but OTOH steeper the angle, more sustained tension (higher price per length, possibly more weight) and more of combined lift is required to keep the turbine tethered. There should be two tethers, actually: one for anchoring the platform in place and second, shorter, vertical power line to transfer electric power to the ground base.

3. Will these installations become hazards to migratory birds flying at high altitude, let alone passing airplanes of all sizes?

Fortunately, high flying migratory birds (as well as air traffic) have well established paths, which we can and should stay away from.

Re:While it can be done... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41333657)

"safe liquid fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR) technology"

You bet it's safe, we never built one!

Re:While it can be done... (1, Insightful)

DerekLyons (302214) | about 2 years ago | (#41333705)

It's funny how you come up with a laundry list of criticisms of these wind farms - but pronounce an unbuilt theoretical reactor to be "safe".

It's even funnier that you think space based solar will ever be economical.

Re:While it can be done... (3, Funny)

Sparticus789 (2625955) | about 2 years ago | (#41333761)

1. How are we going to keep those turbines up at altitude?

It's obvious. We need to get a bunch of cobblestone blocks and make a huge spire. Then we place the wind turbines at the top and build out. Once we are done, we pull out our diamond pickaxe and get rid of the cobblestone stairs up to the wind farm. Oh wait.... Too much Minecraft last night....

Re:While it can be done... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41333815)

LFTR is not safe.

Wind is problematic (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41333255)

The turbines are industrial bird-killing machines, they make lots of noise and they only work when the wind blows. It's not easy being green.

Re:Wind is problematic (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41333429)

1)They do kill birds, but... [howstuffworks.com] does anyone know the number of birds killed by oil polution?
2)It's true. I wouldn't want one in my backyard, but... [bwea.com] I can live with one at 300 meters away.
3)If only we had some sort of grid.

Re:Wind is problematic (1)

Joce640k (829181) | about 2 years ago | (#41333479)

The turbines are industrial bird-killing machines, they make lots of noise

Nope.

AND THE ANSWER IS.... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41333269)

> "How Viable Is Large Scale Wind Energy?"

NOT.
NEVER WAS.
NO-HOW.

Glad you asked.
What a relief.
Now let's build nuclear plants
to keep our children from freezing to death
because it's all about the children

Weather Impact (1, Interesting)

GeneralTurgidson (2464452) | about 2 years ago | (#41333287)

How would this affect the local weather?

Re:Weather Impact (-1, Flamebait)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 2 years ago | (#41333319)

How would this affect the local weather?

Well, the story alone is enough to produce trolls like yourself, so presumably it would dramatically increase temperatures due to the introduction of additional hot air.

Ah yes, the anti-wind shills are here (4, Informative)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 2 years ago | (#41333475)

Every time a discussion about wind power comes up, some troll (usually with a very high UID, sometimes with an account created solely for the purpose) asks how putting up windmills will affect weather.

The answer should be fairly obvious. We have cut down a shitload of trees, which normally slow down wind. Putting up windmills? Slows down wind slightly, increases turbulence significantly, causing minimal localized temperature effects [scientificamerican.com] . Kind of like putting up trees. If there is any significant effect, it will be moderating, which is a good thing.

In addition, wind turbines don't actually cause any heating worth mentioning, unless perhaps they catch on fire. This is covered in the linked article, which had the GP actually cared about this issue, they would have found with google and read already. They cause thermal mixing, which can raise temperatures at a specific point, but which don't raise temperatures in a region. It only results in higher measured temperatures in a relatively small area downwind. This is expected due to (fractionally) lower wind speeds and greater thermal mixing.

In summary, anyone who expresses concerns about wind farms affecting weather is a shill, a troll, or an idiot, because these are not real concerns, and this is a well-known fact.

Re:Ah yes, the anti-wind shills are here (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41333673)

And you're confident that will still be the case if enough wind farms were to be deployed at altitude to provide all the power we need? I was taught to be skeptical in a non-partisan way, but that doesn't make me a shill or a troll simply because I'm not sure there wouldn't be some negative effect. I think your overreaction to a simple question paints you as a pro-wind power shill/troll.

Re:Ah yes, the anti-wind shills are here (3, Insightful)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 2 years ago | (#41333897)

And you're confident that will still be the case if enough wind farms were to be deployed at altitude to provide all the power we need?

Effects of wind farm, known: mixes the air so that temperature readings just downwind are higher, then the air thermally stratifies and things are back to normal not far from there.

Effects of multiple wind farms: since the net result of one is zero, the net result of many will be zero. However, putting up sufficient wind power means we can reduce the use of other kinds of power which actually do have a negative effect on climate (from our POV.)

Zero times any number is zero. HTH!

. I think your overreaction to a simple question paints you as a pro-wind power shill/troll.

My posting history proves otherwise. You are welcome to peruse it.

There is nothing about calling a troll a troll that results in it being an overreaction.

At best the question was a stupid one that would have better been answered by asking google than asking slashdot. In the old days, I would have been moderated up for pointing that out. Unfortunately, whoever moderated that comment voted for stupidity. Luckily, some more discerning and/or intelligent people seem to have moderated my comment in between that one and this one. Unfortunately, you have also left a comment here. (Amusingly, there is an even lower-quality anonymous and cowardly comment next to yours.)

Slashdotters, let's stand up for quality comments. If I say something stupid, I expect to be downmodded. Let's extend that courtesy to others as well.

Re:Ah yes, the anti-wind shills are here (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41333675)

You arrogant jerk.

If it is a well-known fact, then probably because some people have concerned themselves with answering the questions.
You provide an excellent and informative answer, then, based on the work of shills, trolls, or idiots.

Merely asking the question "How would this affect the local weather?" is curiosity, not concern. Your comment could have said "In a good way", instead it said "In a good way, you stupid fuck".

If something isn't a problem, the question whether it is or isn't shouldn't be an issue.

Re:Weather Impact (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41333333)

Maybe you can get an idea when you find out how airplanes affect your local weather. And, don't forget to remove the impact of your neighbourhood cole powered powerplants that can be shut down, also!

Consistent availability is the issue (3, Insightful)

thesandbender (911391) | about 2 years ago | (#41333301)

The overriding problem with wind power is that, for large parts of the world, it is not constant or predictable. So while your wind farm may meet your energy demands for one day, it might not the next... and there is no way to predict or plan for these boom/bust periods. The only way to address this is:
1. Build backup power sources which can meet all your energy demands (for when there is no wind)
2. Overbuild the wind farms and build massive battery backups to store and distribute excess power (expensive and still no reliable)
3. Rebuild the electric distribution infrastructure to share power across much larger regions (to do effectively require tech we haven't perfected).
No matter how you cut it, building an adequate wind power infrastructure is prohibitively expensive because you have to plan for periods of your total output being zero. No matter how much technology improves, this will always be the case (well, until we can control weather).

Re:Consistent availability is the issue (3, Interesting)

gl4ss (559668) | about 2 years ago | (#41333343)

the real reason it's expensive is that the parts cost and take energy to make.

now, something that might be feasible could be covering for example entire alps in small http://www.windside.com/ [windside.com] installations. if only for the reason that such installations don't depend on massive 50 meter blades.

of course, nature freaks would freak from that.

Re:Consistent availability is the issue (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41333415)

Look at your turbine, now look at me, look back at your turbine, your turbine is now a diamond!

You have got to be kidding... (2)

bradley13 (1118935) | about 2 years ago | (#41333557)

...pretty little things, the turbines at Windside. Do you notice how they provide all sorts of figures, except the generating capacity? There's a reason for having long honking blades - you gather power from a larger area. These generators aren't much wider than the post they sit on, and they aren't going to generate much power at all. The best you can get are these quotes:

"The core of our business is based on small turbines charging battery banks that power small DC systems"

And this incredibly misleading quote: "The biggest Windside wind turbine is currently WS-12. It is 6 meter high and its diameter is 2 meters. WS-12 produces annually approx. 8600 kWh at the average wind speed of 5 m/s". Note: kilowatt-hours, with no time period stated. They probably mean per year. So we may well be talking about a 1kw generator. Again, they most carefully do not say.

Re:You have got to be kidding... (1)

MozeeToby (1163751) | about 2 years ago | (#41333781)

It's not their fault if you don't look around their site for a link as obvious as Power Production [windside.com]

We at Windside belive that the energy production should be informed in kWh/year basis and this production figure should be based on measurements done in real life circumstances.

Commonly used maximum rated power has very little to do with real life results and therefore it is important to find out how many kWh the turbine is like to produce on annual basis at different wind speeds.

Followed by a chart of KwH mapped against turbine size and average wind speed.

Re:Consistent availability is the issue (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41333349)

(for when there is no wind)

'no wind' is a local phenomenon. if there's no wind here, you can be sure that if you move 300 miles in any direction, you will find wind there.

Re:Consistent availability is the issue (1)

khallow (566160) | about 2 years ago | (#41333379)

Except when there's "no wind" there either. Sometimes low wind is a local phenomenon and sometimes it's not.

Re:Consistent availability is the issue (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 2 years ago | (#41333519)

It always is only local.
There are places that have wind nearly 24x7. Think along the shores of the great lakes. Much of which are now brownfields. Perfect places to put wind turbines, and they are doing just that.

Re:Consistent availability is the issue (1)

d3ac0n (715594) | about 2 years ago | (#41333843)

living along one of the Great lakes, in the Buffalo NY area, and having a large windfarm in the Southern tier, I can tell you that your assumption is false.

Yes, we often have "wind" coming of of the great lakes. the problem is that it is often little more than a light breeze. I have personally been out near the wind farm on what I considered a breezy day and saw the windmills sitting idle. (it was not a scheduled maintenance day either.) They need sustained winds higher than 15 mph to turn, and the average in most great lakes areas is a bit below that.

Also, most of the shores of the Great Lakes are verdant and healthy. NY and PA have strong vineyard growing centers along the southern Lake Erie shores, and many people make their homes there. The brownfields are only in small and isolated areas,and most have been cleaned up by now. Please don't perpetuate false stereotypes about the area I live in.

Re:Consistent availability is the issue (1)

thesandbender (911391) | about 2 years ago | (#41333391)

It's not enough just to "find" wind. The total sum of output across all your connected generation plants has to equal at least 100% of the demand of your serviced area at all times. Statistically you make that work out 90% of the time, 95% of the time, etc but as you close that gap to 100% output 100% of the time your costs start to climb because you have to address it by storing energy or increasing the size of your connected grid to even out the anomalies.

Re:Consistent availability is the issue (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41333371)

We have a power grid that can transmit power from one place to another at high voltages.

Anyway, reducing energy use of devices and appliances is #1, having individuals produce their own power using solar is #2 (it makes power when people use the most) without any transmission line loss, and then big scale distributed wind can make up the slack is #3.

It might not work in every location, but there doesn't need to be a 1 size fits all energy plan for everyone.

If everyone had geothermal cooling instead of AC's, this problem would be much easier to deal with as well.

Re:Consistent availability is the issue (1)

slim (1652) | about 2 years ago | (#41333483)

The overriding problem with wind power is that, for large parts of the world, it is not constant or predictable.

I get the impression (though I have no source) that at higher altitudes, wind is not only faster, but more constant.

Re:Consistent availability is the issue (3, Funny)

Cro Magnon (467622) | about 2 years ago | (#41333607)

1. Build backup power sources which can meet all your energy demands (for when there is no wind)

That's not hard to solve. That's why we have politicians.

Re:Consistent availability is the issue (2)

grandpa-geek (981017) | about 2 years ago | (#41333647)

One major potential source of battery backup is electric vehicles. Even after their batteries are no longer usable in the cars (about 75% of capacity) they can be used as backup for wind and solar. That also requires either the vehicles or the charging stations to include inverters that can feed power to the grid.

Geographic diversity can do some mitigation of wind variability, but storage is better. Not all storage needs to be in batteries. For example, compressed air and flywheels are other storage technologies that can also help.

The distribution infrastructure needs to be rebuilt, but that is not what would transfer power over larger regions. The transmission infrastructure does that job. One study a few years ago estimated a need for about 10K miles of new 500KV transmission to handle a wind penetration of around 20% to 30%.

Also, there is a need for much more detailed and more statistically-focused weather forecasting to support wind production forecasting. That is needed to help manage a system with high wind penetration.

Re:Consistent availability is the issue (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41333665)

In Portugal, excess wind power is being used to pump river water upstream into dams. Saving the energy to be used later has hydro power.

Re:Consistent availability is the issue (4, Interesting)

kiwimate (458274) | about 2 years ago | (#41333803)

It's being done in the U.S. as well [pjm.com] . Also known as pumped storage or pumped hydro.

Re:Consistent availability is the issue (2)

slim (1652) | about 2 years ago | (#41333829)

This also happens near where I grew up in Wales. However, I think its capacity is pretty low, and to increase it you'd have to flood another valley to make a new reservoir. This tends to be unpopular with the people who live there.

Re:Consistent availability is the issue (2)

olau (314197) | about 2 years ago | (#41333683)

You're oversimplifying this.

If you try "baseload wind power" there's plenty of more info, here's one quote [theconversation.edu.au] :

Addressing Intermittency from Wind and Solar Photovoltaics

Wind power already supplies over 21% of Denmark’s electricity and 15% of Spain and Portugal’s.

Although the output of a single wind farm fluctuates greatly, the fluctuations in the total output from a number of wind farms geographically distributed in different wind regimes are much smaller and partially predictable.

Modelling has also shown that it’s relatively inexpensive to increase the reliability of the total wind output to a level equivalent to a coal-fired power station by adding a few low-cost peak-load gas turbines that are run on renewable biofuels and are operated infrequently, to fill in the gaps when the wind farm production is low.

Current power grid systems are already built to handle fluctuations in supply and demand with peak-load plants such as hydroelectric and gas turbines which can be switched on and off quickly, and by reserve baseload plants that are kept hot.

[Recent studies] (http://www.nrel.gov/wind/systemsintegration/wwsis.html) by the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory found that wind could supply 20-30% of electricity, given improved transmission links and a little low-cost flexible back-up.

Re:Consistent availability is the issue (1)

kiwimate (458274) | about 2 years ago | (#41333723)

No matter how you cut it, building an adequate wind power infrastructure is prohibitively expensive because you have to plan for periods of your total output being zero. No matter how much technology improves, this will always be the case (well, until we can control weather).

Well, no. The actual figure used by planning is 13% of nameplate for peak hour 6 to peak hour 9. (Solar is planned at 38% of nameplate.) Lots of studies are on-going to understand how to forecast wind power much more accurately based on wind plant telemetry and other meterological data. Right now day ahead accuracy has a mean error of around 15%. Hour ahead is much better - about 2%.

That said, yes, it's still a challenge. But batteries aren't the only solution - storage comes in many forms, e.g. CAES, flywheels (at least until the manufacturer goes bankrupt like Beacon recently did), etc.

And to the guy who responded that we have a grid that can move lots of power around - yes, but it's subject to constraints (e.g. thermal limits), and building new transmission is awfully expensive. Wind is a problem in that it's locationally constrained, so you can't necessarily build it close to your load.

That said, on the east coast, we are currently a net west-to-east power system (i.e. power is generated in the western part of the ISO's territory and moved to the eastern part where it's needed), but that has the potential to change with significant amounts of off-shore wind being planned [pjm.com] .

It's still expensive, but once you're up and running your fuel cost is, well, how much do you pay for wind? Coal, on the other hand - yes, traditionally cheap, but so many plants are retiring in the next three years due to prohibitive costs associated with retrofitting your plant to meet the new EPA regulations.

As people have already pointed out, it's not a one size fits all approach. You need a mixture of coal, nuclear, biomass, wind, solar, etc.

Re:Consistent availability is the issue (1)

taiwanjohn (103839) | about 2 years ago | (#41333775)

Liquid-metal batteries [cnn.com] are reliable and inexpensive (or so their inventor claims). It will be a while yet before they're widely available, but Khosla Ventures has invested in a startup to bring them to market. It may not be the silver bullet, but it will help.

Massive sky-grid. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41333303)

Bunch of massive towers, we are speaking skyscraper strength in a support, essentially. In fact, skyscraper it up and use all the floors as energy storage.
Massive links between all of these. A chain-grid could work, but it'd need to be real tough and not move much otherwise it makes the wind-capture less efficient.
Slap a bunch of turbines on them.
Best part about this is you can have turbine-grids all the way from the top to more-or-less the bottom, without all of the costs of building a support for every single one of them or building a skyscraper that can house people.

Of course, you will need to make sure that the skyscraper-like support can also support all that wind coming in at any direction or else it is going to fail horribly.

Optionally you can use that wind power directly to pump water up the skyscraper supports to produce a more solid power-flow. (but admittedly since these are high up they'd be getting essentially constant wind, but still better to be stable)

Even better idea, put all of these between skyscrapers in cities. Not large-scale ones, just ones good enough to capture the winds travelling in and around cities.

While informative... (1)

Q-Hack! (37846) | about 2 years ago | (#41333323)

This study is at best incomplete. Reading through this, I am not sure they understand the true limitations to wind power. Air density and strenght of textiles are the limiting factors. As we increase altitude, we lower air density. Using our current technology at a lower air density will result in less efficiency. In order to maintain output would requrie either a much larger aparatis or far more of current technologies. We can't go much larger as very quickly we run into the similar problem that the folks working on the space elevator have... It would rip itself apart. Increasing the number of turbines to account for the loss in air density would not be economicly smart. I can see that they really would like to push air power, but there are physical limitations to what we can do currently.

Materials (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41333327)

We will need major advances in materials to do something like this (on a huge scale affordably).

Theoretically, sure (3, Insightful)

argStyopa (232550) | about 2 years ago | (#41333331)

Theoretically there's plenty of wind power.
Theoretically there's plenty of solar power.
Theoretically there's plenty of geothermal power.
Theoretically there's plenty of power in the vacuum of space.

It's that niggling practicality of GETTING and USING that energy that confounds us.

Arguably, I'd say the only one that's really proven itself over the long term is solar; as the Earth is essentially a closed system with only solar energy as an input, it's proven that there is amply "enough" input solar energy falling on half of the globe at any given time to drive that system.

Re:Theoretically, sure (0)

d3ac0n (715594) | about 2 years ago | (#41333411)

Even then, solar isn't really that useful as a power source. nice for limited applications such as charging batteries, but not really useful for large scale use. It simply doesn't scale well, and likely never will.

Ultimately, these "renewable" resources are really nothing more than flashy showpieces for environmental groups. They don't seem to be able to compete in the open market, even with billions of government dollars poured into them to prop them up.

We need to stop wasting our time with these silly eco-vanity projects and pull all government funding. If they can survive in the open market with no more support than traditional power suppliers, and then great! If not, then scrap them and use the materials to help build more Nuke plants.

We simply don't have the money to waste on vanity projects anymore.

Re:Theoretically, sure (1)

another random user (2645241) | about 2 years ago | (#41333489)

Re:Theoretically, sure (1)

d3ac0n (715594) | about 2 years ago | (#41333759)

Thank you for so clearly illustrating my point.

Look at the SIZE of that solar farm. Its well over 4 times the surface area of the Apple building itself! Yet this is what it takes to power ONE BUILDING. JUST ONE. Can you imagine the sheer size of the solar plant required to power a mid-sized city? What about a BIG city like NY or LA? What about the entire country? It boggles the mind!

of course, let's not forget that those panels are opaque, so nothing can grow underneath them. The environment loss to solar farms large enough to meet our needs would be STAGGERING. Not to mention the reflectivity of the panels. I can't imagine what it would be like having a giant reflector on the Earth bouncing light back into space and heating the atmosphere on the way back out.

As I stated before. Solar is nice for small applications, but doesn't scale well. It's an eco-vanity project. Not terribly surprising that Cupertino, center of vanity in the tech universe, would have one.

Re:Theoretically, sure (1)

captainpanic (1173915) | about 2 years ago | (#41333493)

In June 2010, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said $557 billion was spent to subsidize fossil fuels globally in 2008, compared to $43 billion in support of renewable energy.

http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Federal_coal_subsidies [sourcewatch.org]

Re:Theoretically, sure (1)

d3ac0n (715594) | about 2 years ago | (#41333661)

I'm fine with not propping up ANY energy supplier. I'd also like to reduce (not eliminate, just reduce) the onerous amount of regulation surrounding power generation. That's half the problem right there.

And please don't bring out the "if we reduce regulation even an iota, rivers will be toxic and full of three eyed fish" strawman. The US has ABSURD regulations in all areas on power generation.

It's not as though we are at the "just enough to stop polluters" level. We passed that DECADES ago and are now well into the "regulation is so onerous and on so many trivial and unnecessary things that our power infrastructure is becoming overwhelmed" area. If we would lighten them up a bit we would see more and cheaper power, and then we might be able to seriously talk about the viability of things like massive amounts of electric cars nationwide, which our current infrastructure cannot support.

Re:Theoretically, sure (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41333521)

Fine - pull all the nuclear funding as well then - let's see that survive the open marketplace with proper controls over disposal of the waste and management of the site for a minimum of 300 yrs after closing. Ah - you don't think that's fair either I suspect.

The open market isn't the right place for energy production (even if that's where it happens now) - it is, however, a great place for large companies to make a fortune off the backs of others, whilst shouldering precious-little of the risk.

Re:Theoretically, sure (2)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 2 years ago | (#41333551)

They would survive fine if their competitors had to pay for waste disposal. Hell, nuclear would be a lot more attractive too, if coal plants could not just use the atmosphere as their dumping ground.

Nuclear power does not survive on the open market. It never has and likely never will. The time to pay back cost is so long that government loans are needed, the site cleanup costs are so far the taxpayers problem and disposal is still an unsolved issue. I like wind power, I love nuclear power, but neither of them can compete on price in the current power market.

Re:Theoretically, sure (1)

khallow (566160) | about 2 years ago | (#41333443)

It's that niggling practicality of GETTING and USING that energy that confounds us.

It's not even that hard. Those approaches have to compete with established means of power generation. If current power generation was more expensive, the alternatives you mention would be used more than they are now.

Re:Theoretically, sure (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41333495)

How do you get that solar power from the light side of Earth to the dark side of Earth?

Re:Theoretically, sure (1)

L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) | about 2 years ago | (#41333577)

You can just fly on up to the sun and pick up some fusion material in a scoop. You won't get burned, because it's night time!

Re:Theoretically, sure (1)

slim (1652) | about 2 years ago | (#41333857)

How do you get that solar power from the light side of Earth to the dark side of Earth?

You don't. You introduce variable tariffs so that night-time energy costs more than daytime energy. Then people will buy storage heaters.

Re:Theoretically, sure (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41333785)

There actually is plenty of potential solar power because the calculations are for a two dimensional surface which is how solar power collection is actually deployed. (and yes, if you want to be picky the surface used in calculations is a disk rather than a hemisphere, but that isn't that big a deal). The wind power calculation however is for a three dimensional shell almost all of which is inaccessible to current or likely technology.

This does NOT give any sort of a boost to supporters of wind energy who don't seem to be all that insightful. Wind energy is for the most part a non-starter unless and until vastly improved energy storage technology becomes available to buffer the erratic output of current wind power sources. As things stand now wind power availability is low, unpredictable, and the dramatic short term variations play merry hell with power grids if any appreciable amount of power is delivered.

Startups are working on that (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41333341)

There are several startups working on exploiting high-altitude wind energy. The basic idea is to have something flying in the air, instead of building very large towers. Two of the more advanced companies are:

Makani Power (Bay Area): They build a small plane that is tethered to the ground. It flies circles in the sky, the propellers are the generators.
http://www.makanipower.com/ [makanipower.com]

Enerkite (Germany): They launch a kite into the air, also tethered to the ground. A generator attached to the cable generates energy most of the time while the cable is unrolling. From time to time, energy generation is stopped and the kite is pulled in.
http://www.enerkite.de/ [enerkite.de]

It is yet to see which concept will win (leightweight kite: + easy and cheap, generator on the ground; - hard to launch, no direct flight control, generation stops in regular intervals; airplane: + much better flight control; generators can be used to launch and land; - much more complex, heavier).

Climate Damage? (1, Insightful)

Spinlock_1977 (777598) | about 2 years ago | (#41333355)

Is anyone going to study what happens when you suck a bazillion joules of energy out of the the wind? Why don't we convert the entire gulf stream to energy? We don't need that pesky gulf stream that bad, do we?

Re:Climate Damage? (1)

sulimma (796805) | about 2 years ago | (#41333509)

I would say that would be about one third the effect of adding three bazillion joules of energy into the wheather system by nuclear reactors with 33% thermal efficiency.

Re:Climate Damage? (3, Insightful)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 2 years ago | (#41333605)

Compare the amount of energy available to the amount we are using. Then reply to yourself telling the idiots that modded you up to stop doing that.

Re:Climate Damage? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41333703)

Is anyone going to study what happens when you suck a bazillion joules of energy out of the the wind?

Like all the millions of trees we've cut down used to do?

Re:Climate Damage? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41333711)

Check this comment [slashdot.org] . Some sources would be nice, obviously. And the arrogance. Man, the arrogance!

Re:Climate Damage? (1)

Shadow99_1 (86250) | about 2 years ago | (#41333751)

While the blurb on slashdot doesn't mention it and this is one of two recent studies on the matter of both how much energy we can get. They also both looked at the environmental impact of taking that much energy out of the climate system. Their is a change of 3-4 degrees C increasing) at ground level using wind power and a change in percipitation of up to 10 percent. Which in my mind is not terribly good results.

Re:Climate Damage? (1)

rasmusbr (2186518) | about 2 years ago | (#41333757)

Yeah that's certainly a justified question. Lot's of research needs to b done, like with any other technology that we might want to deploy on a planetary scale.

There are already some studies on the effects of commercial wind farms on the micro climate around the farms which seem to indicate some warming at the ground level. There are several studies that attempt to quantify the amount of birds killed (per unit of energy delivered). There are anecdotal horror tales about people being poisoned in the mining cities in China where some of the rarer the raw materials for the generators are mined. More research is certainly needed before we can quantify how clean wind power is so that we can compare it to the alternatives.

Bob Dylan was right ... (3, Funny)

Alain Williams (2972) | about 2 years ago | (#41333369)

He knew that: ''The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind''

Re:Bob Dylan was right ... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41333423)

Bob Dylan is a hippy retard. Shut up.

as the doctor says... (3, Insightful)

spectrokid (660550) | about 2 years ago | (#41333387)

just because oranges are healthy, you shouldn't have a diet based SOLELY on oranges. What you want is a good mix of different clean energy sources because:
+ they will compete and advance technologically
+ they won't all fail at once
+ they will all pollute in a different way, diluting the total footprint

No energy form is safe, no energy form is (totally) clean.

Re:as the doctor says... (1)

slim (1652) | about 2 years ago | (#41333875)

Wasn't it Jeanette Winterson who said that?

We need a diverse Energy. (2)

jellomizer (103300) | about 2 years ago | (#41333389)

We need to really diversify our energy.
That included using Wind, Solar, Tidal, Hydro, Natural Gas, Coal, Nuclear...

We need to stop focusing on Green Energy but focus on diverse energy, so we can hedge the trade-offs each offer.

Even coal. While coal has the biggest environmental impact. It is currently the most plentiful in the United States, and shouldn't be discounted.

Re:We need a diverse Energy. (2)

higuita (129722) | about 2 years ago | (#41333629)

Ok, right, you can still use coal... but add the post-combustion treatment to reduce pollution and ways to grab the CO2 (if everything else fails, plant enough trees)

coal is cheap because there is no output treatment as it should, they just vent it to the atmosphere and is someones else problem. It shouldn't! they must take care of their pollution treatment. that way, the coal isnt that cheap (so bigger change for the other alternatives) and coal can finally became a little cleaner and not one of the worst.

Re:We need a diverse Energy. (1)

Errol backfiring (1280012) | about 2 years ago | (#41333645)

Or combine things. In a flat area, you could combine wind and hydro, and use water as your buffer to generate dependable energy.

Check on the raptors (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41333393)

The funny thing is that pundits seem to think wind energy has no impacts. But check on the raptors... If the dams create so much fuzz because they interfere on fish spawning, though it is a far more reliable energy source, I wonder what we should think of wind.

Wrong perspective (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41333437)

People always approach this issue from the wrong angle. The solution doesn't lie in huge corporate entities producing vast amounts of power which they then dole out making a profit. That is why the technology fails. Plus wind farms are UGLY UGLY . People always talk about how wind speed is not adequate in such a such situation to produce power but thats only coming at it from a megaproject viewpoint. Very small wind turbines are quite functional at winds in most locations a good deal of the time (some turbines function with winds as little as 7 kms an hour). There could be lots and lots of people producing some of their power through wind with small unobtrusive wind turbines.

The real stumbling block is control. Some people want to have control over other people. If people produced their own power others would be just one less way they have control over them. It is really as simple as that.

Never (0)

PopeRatzo (965947) | about 2 years ago | (#41333485)

It can't be done because I say it can't be done.

Innovation in energy technology stopped in the late 19th century and if it's not fossil fuels, then it's not energy.

Go Romney/Ryan 2012

Well... you could but... (2)

jameshofo (1454841) | about 2 years ago | (#41333499)

Ugh, sure its a great idea, but I'd be more interested in something that actually did address the logistics. In North Iowa near my hometown, there is a field that they keep the parts for some of the wind turbines, those tings are massive, the field is right next to the railroad tracks because these things are so massive. There's a whole slew of parts just waiting to be assembled into a productive turbine (or 20). But what about the power lines being run to these things? The cost to put one up? legislation that has to be navigated to accomplish all that, the unsung heroes of these kinds of big ideas are the ones who actually (figure it out) and get it done (Logistically).

People don't need to know wonderful and useful $Green_energy_of_the_week is, they need to know how realistic it is (or isn't). Ignoring the fact that you have an implementation problem doesn't make it look any more attractive when it comes time to write the check. Unfortunately that doesn't get much attention because it's the un-interesting part of the problem.

The article has nothing to do with real generation (1)

Chrisq (894406) | about 2 years ago | (#41333601)

From TFA

:..used a model which considered the theoretical limits of energy extraction from the wind to postulate some astonishing results. Low-altitude winds near Earth's surface hold at least 400 TW of power. But go higher up to altitudes between 200 m and 20 km and the winds confine a massive 1,800 TW, at least. Such an extraordinary amount of power can sustain an equivalent of 200 Earth habitations (Earth's global energy demand is 18 TW)!

This is a similar statement to ones like "enogh sloar energy hits the Earth's surface in one hour is enough to power the entire world for a year". Just as nobody is planning on covering the world surface for an hour to collect our annual energy needs, nobody is planning on covering the earth with stacked turbines from 200M to 20,000 M.

constraints (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41333655)

calculating available energy is one thing. solving practical questions another. science is not engineering.

i think we all know that there is abundant energy available in any number of forms. we've known that for a long time. turning that knowledge into processed/products/techniques that are practical, economic, possible has been hard without even considering sustainability or cleanliness.

good to know the numbers, but there are many barriers remaining.

Dubious. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41333725)

We did a quick thought experiment on this in a Mechanical Engineering class at the University of New Hampshire. Assume highly efficient wind turbines (90% +), 75 foot wingspan, 25 feet apart, arranged in a line. Assume a certain airspeed that blows some percent of the time. We found that to equal the power output of Seabrook nuclear power plant, which doesn't even power the whole state of NH, it would take a line of turbines stretching from Portsmouth to Washington DC.

On another note, I wonder if solar panels in orbit combined with a Tesla Wardenclyffe Tower type device could work... hmm...

Two problems (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41333737)

Wind power (and all forms of renewable energy for that matter) have two main problems.

Greedy, already established power companies that don't want the competition (or government required lowering of the rates due to lowered operating expenses). These companies do not hesitate to hire lobbyists to pay off corrupt politicians to block the project.

People who say "wind power is great, just not in my backyard" who complain about assorted eyesore or low frequency rumble problems, or [insert local complaint here]. Some problems are real but most are not. Yes, large wind and solar farms are unsightly but there must be some kind of reasonable compromise in order to satisfy both sides. If someone were to invent a box that produced free power with no environmental impact I think you would be surprised at the number of people that would complain about how it should be made illegal because ...

Re:Two problems (1)

Eightbitgnosis (1571875) | about 2 years ago | (#41333847)

Oil (and coal for that matter) have two main problems.

Greedy, already established power companies that don't want the competition (or government required lowering of the rates due to lowered operating expenses). These companies do not hesitate to hire lobbyists to pay off corrupt politicians to block the project.

People who say "oil power is great, just not in my backyard" who complain about assorted eyesore or low frequency rumble problems, or [insert local complaint here]. Some problems are real but most are not. Yes, large oil and coal refineries are unsightly but there must be some kind of reasonable compromise in order to satisfy both sides. If someone were to invent a box that produced free power with no environmental impact I think you would be surprised at the number of people that would complain about how it should be made illegal because ...
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