Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Wind power, like ethanol, faces pitfalls as it grows

Is wind power the new ethanol? Both experienced periods of exponential growth, aided by hype as the next clean energy and promoted through federal subsidies. An article in the October issue of The Atlantic asks whether wind power will experience the same fall from grace. Matthew Quirk says ethanol is "now viewed almost universally as a disaster," contributing to the global food crisis. While wind power is unlikely to have an effect on that scale, other problems associated with the energy source may result in a similar "blowback."

The two primary problems Quirk cites are transmission and variability. Most of the wind power comes from Western states with low population, while most of it is used in larger population centers on the East Coast. The cost of building new transmission lines could cost between $3 billion and $6 billion. At the same time, "wind farms tend to produce the most energy when it’s not needed—at night and in the spring and fall, when demand is low." Similarly, unexpected weather changes could leave power plants without backup energy sources, causing energy shortages at random. (Read more)

Lisa Linowes, executive director of the Industrial Wind Action Group, told Mark Svengold for his story in The New York Times Magazine that there is no effective utility-scale mechanism for storing off-peak wind power. "Eric Rosenbloom, president of National Wind Watch, a Massachusetts-based group, adds that wind power’s inherent unreliability requires that backup natural-gas power plants be built alongside wind plants, and that this 'increases, rather than decreases, both the overall expense of wind power and its carbon footprint'," Svengold writes. (Read more)

As luck would have it, the greatest concentrations of wind plants are in the Upper Midwest, also the area when ethanol plants are most concentrated. The map below, from The Atlantic, shows average wind speed, wind plants and proposed plants. (Click here or on map to view larger version)

1 comment:

Mahmoud Kabalan said...

Nice Article! wind alone is not the solution. It should be combined with solar power to give an effective solution to the energy crisis.