Wind Power isn't Necessarily Small or Beautiful

Wind energy certainly isn't small by any standard; opinions differ as to whether it's beautiful

2 min read
Wind Power isn't Necessarily Small or Beautiful

Wind, having been the fastest growing component of power generation during much or most of the last two decades, is bigger all the time. And it's not just big in terms of generating fraction. As wind farm developers seek to tap higher-speed winds up-hill and off-coast, the size of the turbine towers and blades is getting huge.

The April issue of MIT's Technology Review magazine, available to subscribers online now, contains an outstanding photo essay describing the construction of a 367-MW wind farm in the Irish Sea. The $1.5-billion project is being managed by Denmark's Dong Energy. The turbines, the height of a 30-story building, are supplied by Siemens.

To put such projects in a human scale, IEEE Spectrum's "Reap the Wild Wind," by Robb Mandelbaum, is still worth a look. It's not available online but can be found in the print October 2002 issue. Mandelbaum gives a vivid account of what it feels like to climb one of the giant turbine towers.

A month just spent in a Vermont writers' retreat provided reminders that wind not only is not small but, in many minds, not beautiful either. In a small town east of Burlington, 18-wheelers carrying "oversized loads"--just pieces of the huge turbine blades, actually--regularly rumbled through town. An interstate highway rest area just outside Burlington (photo above) turned out to be chock full of the trucks and trailers.

Personally, I generally find wind turbines strung along a mountain ridge to be a stirring and gorgeous sight. But among the artists and writers resident at the Vermont retreat, more than one felt that the giant turbine towers are about as lovely as a power transmission line. An art photographer confessed to a longing for the old-fashioned nuclear power plant, tucked inconspicuously into a valley glen, capable of producing three times the energy they'll get from that farm in the Irish Sea.

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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