The Problems with Wind Power

by on March 4th, 2011
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There are several problems with wind based energy generation. Two of these problems are energy storage and the fact that there is not enough potential wind energy to cover current, or future, energy requirements. There is a distinct probability that we will cure the storage problem in the future. It is doubtful that weather conditions will ever change enough to dramatically change the potential wind energy available.

Potential wind energy

Some places are windier than others, but there is wind all over the world. Calculations for all the land based potentially viable wind energy in the world range from 20,000 terrawatts per hour per year up to 50,000 twh/year. This is an incredible amount of energy. But–how much do we use?

The electrical energy used by the world in 2005 was in the area of 18,000 twh. The estimated amount of energy used worldwide in 2008 was 132,000 twh. You can see a dramatic increase from 2005 through 2008. There was an estimated 5 percent decrease in energy usage from 2009 to 2010. I don’t believe energy usage will decrease in any appreciable amount for the near future. The estimated current energy use already exceeds the potential land based wind energy by many times over.

This doesn’t mean we should abandon our attempts to capture wind energy. If you drive through some parts of west Texas you can see huge windmills that produce a lot of energy. The power produced is in addition to other energy production methods. These huge windmill farms are hooked up to the national energy grid, so storage of power is not much of a problem.

Wind energy storage

Home wind power is a slightly different problem. Due to equipment size and the vagaries of wind we must have a method to capture and store the energy for use when the wind isn’t blowing. You could produce electricity with wind power and be hooked up to the grid by using an inverter. An inverter is very expensive and some power companies get really picky about how you hook to the grid. It’s an option, certainly, but when you are limited to off grid, or dream of being totally energy self sufficient, then you have to have some method of power storage.

In 1888, Charles Brush, of Cleveland, Ohio, built a large windmill to generate electricity. The power produced by the dynamo (generator) went to 408 dry cell batteries located in the basement of his home. In 2011 electrical power produced by wind energy for most homes is sent to and stored in–yes, you guessed it–batteries.

Energy storage is a big problem. We must store massive amounts of energy that can be accessed in a safe controlled manner. If it’s not safe, it’s a bomb. For the most part batteries have done a good job for what we needed. This may be why the power storage technology seemed to stagnate. Why produce something that is better than it has to be? That has changed. Scientists, engineers, and back yard tinkerers are now trying to advance battery technology, and other long term energy storage methods.

Some possibilities for energy storage are conversion to flammable gases, batteries, capacitors or super capacitors, mechanical (such as a flywheel), molten salts, pumped water storage, and many others.

I expect the energy storage problem to go away as more advancements are made. The lack of wind energy for the future is never going away. That doesn’t mean we can’t effectively use wind energy. In fact, as soon as I can figure out how to erect a 60 foot windmill in my backyard I’ll be energy self sufficient!

Sources:

US Dept. of Energy

Green Energy Ohio

Claverton Energy Research Group


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