Friday, November 28, 2008

Worldwide Wind Power

by Jean Henry Mead

Man has harnessed the power of wind for thousands of years to propel sailing ships as well as windmills to pump water and grind grain. Wind power has been rediscovered and giant windmills or turbines are gradually taking the place of more conventional sources of energy.

Wind power converts energy into electricity with the use of turbines, and although windmills only accounted for one percent of our electrical needs at the beginning of the year, worldwide capacity of wind-powered generators was 94.1 gigawatts of power. Wind power generated nearly 20% of electricity production in Denmark, 9% in Spain and Portugal and 6% in Germany and Israel.

Wind farms are spreading rapidly in California, Wyoming, and other states with traditionally windy areas. In the process they’re causing real concerns for environmentalists who are worried about the disruption of wildlife breeding grounds. Most of the commercial grade wind, according to Erik Molvar, a wildlife biologist, is in southeast Wyoming. Wyoming residents, however, won’t benefit from the wind turbines because the electricity is being used by out-of-state consumers, although Wyoming electricity rates have jumped 7% to help pay for the turbines.

Another problem is that Wyoming‘s economy is heavily dependent on its coal mines and petroleum. Now that the price of oil has reached record lows for the year, hundreds of drilling rigs have shut down and coal mines have cut back on production, resulting in massive unemployment.

Two huge wind farms are proposed to be built on private land with a total of a thousand turbines south of the 1-80 corridor by the Power Company of Wyoming, LLC, an affiliate of the Denver-based Anschultz Corporation. Built on cattle grazing land, biologists are concerned that the wind farm will further endanger sage grouse breeding grounds. The birds are already on the verge of extinction.

Farmers and ranchers are in favor of the wind farms because it’s becoming increasingly difficult to earn a living solely on agriculture. So wind farms on private land are becoming a reality. “Having wind energy development that is sensitive to the needs of wildlife is in everyone’s best interests,” Molvar said. But wind farms on remote private land are difficult to regulate.

The first crudely-built windmill was erected in the first century AD and used to power an organ. Six centuries later, a commercial windmill was built in Afghanistan. The vertical axel windmills were made of six to twelve sails covered in reed matting or cloth. They were used to draw water and grind corn as well as aid in grist milling and sugarcane production. Horizontal axel windmills were used extensively in northern Europe for the grinding of flour from the year 1180, and some still exist in Holland.

It looks as though windmills are here to stay.


Ben Small said...

Gee, and here I thought they were just Mercedes Benz ads...

Some day I gotta grow a brain. :)

Mark W. Danielson said...

Great post, Jean. I see wind farms everywhere I fly. Huge ones, taller than many skyscrapers. Funny how we have to turn back time in order to preserve our future.