Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Grasping at Windmills

As this country struggles to find ways to deal with our dependence on foreign oil, we continue to grasp for alternative technologies without doing much thinking. The non-stop talk about the development of wind energy is great; but stop talking. Before this country actually moves ahead with pending proposals, somebody needs to start thinking.

Off shore proposals have been getting all of the press and political support. How stupid are we? Does anyone realize the excessive costs of developing our energy off shore? Building windmills that can live through 150 MPH winds is one thing; but what additional costs are needed to engineer wind energy facilities that can live through a 50 foot wall of water from a storm surge or rouge wave? Now you build them so you have to maintain them. How do you do that? You build a fleet of ships to service all off shore facilities. Now you need to build infrastructure to get transmission lines out to sea; I'll bet you that's not cheap! Of course you've made your decision to build your electrical grid and energy generators in the most corrosive environment on earth. That's right you giants of industry, didn't anyone ever teach you that salt water corrodes? I'm not saying that you engineering geniuses can't solve the problems; but at what cost?

While traveling in Austria a few years ago I marveled at the miles and miles of wind farms adjacent to the train traveling from Vienna to Saltsburg. You see, the windmills were growing in all of the agricultural fields. There was still plenty of room for crops and the land was serving multiple purposes. We are always looking for ways to help our farmers. Why can't our turf farmers in Rhode Island be growing windmills along with their grass. Why not line the median strips of major east coast highways (Route 95 - Maine to Florida - Route 195 in Rhode Island and Massachusetts) with windmills. The highway is close to the ocean, energy infrastructure is readily available along the way, maintenance can be accomplished using trucks from GM, Ford and Chrysler, windmills do not have to be able to withstand 50 foot waves, corrosion is of less concern because of inland locations, infrastructure to fuel electric cars will be roadside and construction costs have to be a fraction of the costs of developing off shore.

Building the future wind energy infrastructure needs to be done on shore. Some will tell me that there is a problem with wind. Yes you may lose a few turns on the generator, but east coast highways are all close to sea level. Build the structures high enough and you'll save billions on construction costs. And you know what? Our electric bills will be a lot cheaper and the construction can occur a lot faster.

Please start thinking!



  1. The cars traveling along highways as well as the trucks will add to air disturbance and enhance the performance of windmills along our major highways. Great column!

  2. Hey, I agree with you, except that I would prefer a nuke! Rick

  3. Engineering is a continuous dance between optimum and prudent. Rarely does convenience play a significant roll.

    One factor dominates the first principle equations for extracting kinetic energy from wind, the velocity of the wind CUBED.

    As an example, consider a wind generator designed to produce 5000 watts at a wind speed of 30 mph.
    At a wind speed of 15 mph, it would produce 625 watts at best!

    In this example, it would take EIGHT generators to produce the same amount of energy.
    How economical would that be?

    Your property is at a slightly higher elevation than nearby Rout 95.
    Ask yourself how often you have experienced a dead calm day in your back yard vs. the Rhode Island shore line.

    It is not going to be easy for man to go thru withdrawal from our addiction to fossil fuels.
    Special interest groups and their puppets in government will make the task even harder. Lets not add to the problem.

    We might not always be able to put wind generators in optimum locations, but in this case, convenient should never trump prudent!


  4. You have not proved that there would be a signifigant difference in wind speed for facilities just off shore verus facilities just on shore. The factor that slows the wind is the landscape; however, by placing the windmills high enough, is there really a significant difference a few miles away? In my back yard, there is wind almost always (450 feet above sea level). Mount Washington has the highest wind production in the world (6200 feet above sea level)and it is many miles inland. Nobody has calculated the beneficial affect of highway travel and locating wind facilities in median strips of major highways. I have seen studies that suggest that the Midwest has the highest wind potential. You should know that the corrosive environment of the sea will create untold problems into the future. Show me data and cost/benefit analysis. I've searched for what I would consider reasonable analysis and I have not been convinced by anything that I have seen. I do know that on shore facilities have been very successful in Europe and elsewhere. In New England the State of Maine has the largest on-shore facility and it has been very successful and the green sector of Maine's economy is leading the way in New England.

  5. The windmill recently constructed by the New England School of Technology along Route 95 in Warwick Rhode Island is always cranking. And I mean cranking!!!!

  6. This is not about ocean vs. land.
    It is about wind speed CUBED.
    Wind generators need to be where the the wind blows reliably and strong. On the East and West Costs, off shore is where to find the mother load.

    These maps clearly show this.

    There are plenty of places to build wind turbines on land but opportunities on the East cost are sparse.


  7. That map looks like the I95 corridor is a great place to put wind turbine facilities. It also does not take into consideration recapturing energy from passing semi-trucks and vehicles along one of America's busiest highways. Resolution on that map is very suspect. I know the game of GIS mapping! It is not very accurate. Take for example the turn in the wind around Cape Cod. That quite frankly is faulty data. Funny, Mount Washington and the White Mountains don't even show up in red. Beyond that, I'm not arguing that there will be a loss of wind, but not to the amount you imagined in your example. Wind speed cubed aside, the cost of installation, like the Big Dig will grow faster than wind speed cubed. I know how government gets ripped off for construction costs. Now maintain them. Off-shore may be necessary in time, but lets get going on shore quickly and I think the worth will be proved.

  8. Harry:

    What's the significant difference between "superb" and "fair" on that web site. Route 95 and 195 is in the window!

  9. Why does that GIS map say "wind/water potential"?

  10. Picky, Picky, Picky.
    I thought that a map published by M.I.T. would be good enough to make my point.
    Silly me!

    For the record:
    My example is very conservative. I give the theoretical best answer possible. Actual results would be worst. This is all a result of a CUBED law. Remember that light and gravity are governed by SQUARE laws. CUBED laws are rare and in this case really suck!

    The map is labeled wind/water because wind makes waves and waves can also be tapped to make electricity.
    Please don't say that this changes the results. All the useful East coast resources are still offshore.
    The map shows that Route 95 and 195 corridor does not even deserve a rating of FAIR.
    With further research I found the following maps which rate this corridor as mostly POOR with a view places that might merit a MARGINAL. These maps do not include wave energy and will also clear up some of your other questions.
    One map is Rhode Island the other Massachusetts. You can work your way down the entire cost if you like but I'm sure the results won't change.


    You are correct in pointing out that we must not waist money or resources.
    That is the point I'm trying to make.
    Because of the CUBED law, putting wind farms where the wind don't blow is a bigger mistake than putting solar farms where the sun don't shine!


  11. Harry: Here are a couple of web sites that give support to both of our positions:


    http://www.worldofwind energy.com/vbnewsph...&artid=35&title=wind-ecology-and-pollution

    The cost of off shore wind production is not being honestly presented. This is how the cost of the Big Dig went from 1.6 Billion to 16 Billion. There simply is too much involved in establishing working wind farms off shore. The first web site contends that this is the real reason why it has not happened yet. If the economy was there, we would have them in place already. There are many on-shore facilities to date throughout the world because they are economical to build and maintain. I agree - they will not produce the same amount of energy but the cost per kw may very well be far more competitive than off shore facilities in the end. Maintenance of off-shore facilities will prove to be an economic nightmare.

  12. Harry: A little vindication!!!


    Unfortunately, the web site as I read it today does not have the entire article that appeared in the Providence Journal. I will save the article for you. National Grid will not buy electricity from the proposed off shore site to power Block Island because of excessive construction costs. The cost per kwh would be almost 3 times that of conventional sources. Here's the thing; if they put the proposed turbines (8 of them)on Block Island, the cost of producing the energy and maintaining the facilities would be drastically reduced. The company proposing the off shore facilities did not even account for the instillation of transmission lines and I'm sure gave no consideration to the cost of maintenance. Turbines could be installed on the Island itself instead of 15 miles off shore and I contend will catch a respectable amount of wind that would increase the economic viability of the project.

  13. At least people are talking. Whether on land or sea, eight generators are a start, be it a small one.
    One has to ask:
    How many generators would fit on Block Island?
    How do the locals feel about their scenic island being "scarred"?
    How do you get the electricity to the mainland or will it be used only on the island?
    In any case, I think this article helps support what I say below.

    The state of Rhode Island faces a clear and stark choice.
    Develop utility size wind farms offshore or go without.

    In Europe, offshore wind farms are already in operation and more are being built. The economics are, at the very least, good enough for additional farms to be in the design and planning stages.
    You can bet your ass that European governments are helping this industry get on its feet just as the U.S. government helped this countries fossil fuel industries get going when they were young.

    The main reason that America is so far behind is because lobbyist for the fossil fuel industries and other special interest groups are very good at what they do and our elected government representatives have yet to find the balls to fight back.

    While we are waiting for that to happen, lets not forget about the Route 95 and 195 corridor.
    My suggestion would be to plant switchgrass and hemp in the median strip.
    Ah! I just got a whiff of the future.


  14. If the last thing were to happen I would not want anyone to throw from their moving vehicle their cigarett butt! You are right though, e could generate more energy that way.

    The initial 8 generators were to be for demonstration purposes and the electricity would supply Block Island only. Phase 2 was to add an additional 150 windmills to sell electricity to the mainland. Costs problems are significantly compounded to supply the mainland. To date, there are no off-shore windmills in the US. The electric kwh costs in Europe are considerably higher but so is the cost of oil, gas and natural gas. There are many on-shore wind farms in the US and I maintain that they could not have been built unless there was an economy of scale that made it profitable for somebody.

  15. Tom's last comment is spot on. I am in complete agreement.

    Wind farms are making money in this country.
    Physics, technology, CUBED laws, and various "not in my back yard" arguments determine where they can be located. The economic landscape determines if money can be made. At the present time economics in this country limits wind farms to suitable locations on land. Developing these sites should continue.

    Lets not quibble over Block Island. You say it's land and I say it's in the ocean. We're both right and it gets us nowhere because it represents only a tiny fraction of the wind power available off the coast.
    For Rhode Island there is no alternative. Its mainland has few if any sites able to support utility size wind generators.

    You correctly state that the U.S. has yet to build its first off-shore wind generator. Exactly!
    Current economic conditions in this country refuse to let the offshore wind industry get off the ground even as it is booming in Europe.

    The wind energy resource available to this nation off the East and West coasts will sooner or later be recognized for the national treasure that it is. It needs to be added to our land based resources, not ignored. It is only a matter of time before it will be a source of jobs and help increase our nations security.

    Rhode Island and most of the entire East and West coasts have a choice to make. Sit and wait for the economic landscape to change enough to support off-shore wind farms or actively try to make it happen sooner.

    In a previous comment you provide a link to an article in The Providence Journal titled "National Grid again rejects contract with Deepwater Wind". Thank you for bringing this to my attention. What a golden opportunity!

    Here is a company willing to take the risk of building the nations first off-shore wind farm.
    The only thing stopping it is the current economic landscape. The National Grid company has decided this electricity would be to costly and will not commit to buying it. Government could step in to break this local monopoly and change the economics enough to let this project move forward. Why not begin to wean the fossil fuel industry from some of the governments financial incentives that have long outlived their intended purpose and divert some of the funds to this and other green energy projects?

    My understanding is that Rhode Island is currently on its "financial death bed". If true, it can be forgiven for not stepping up to the plate. Even though I do not live in Rhode Island, I would have no problem with federal money being used for this project because once electricity is connected to the nations power grid it benefits us all. This would not be true if the wind generators were isolated on Block Island.

    Is it possible that the massive government economic stimulus program that has given billions of dollars to prop up giant banks and other financial institutions doesn't have the relatively small amount of funds required to prop up eight wind turbines?

    Let me ask you this. What's more important to your future well being, electricity or financial derivatives?


  16. Many points well taken. Electricity will be all important to my future, I could care less about derivatives! Billions for bailouts seems to move us nowhere forward. All the money did was stabelize the markets which was still important but does not take the country into the future.