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To Get Wind Power You Need Oil

Each wind turbine embodies a whole lot of petrochemicals and fossil-fuel energy

3 min read
To Get Wind Power You Need Oil
Illustration: Dan Page

Wind turbines are the most visible symbols of the quest for renewable electricity generation. And yet, although they exploit the wind, which is as free and as green as energy can be, the machines themselves are pure embodiments of fossil fuels.

Large trucks bring steel and other raw materials to the site, earth-moving equipment beats a path to otherwise inaccessible high ground, large cranes erect the structures, and all these machines burn diesel fuel. So do the freight trains and cargo ships that convey the materials needed for the production of cement, steel, and plastics. For a 5-megawatt turbine, the steel alone averages [pdf] 150 metric tons for the reinforced concrete foundations, 250 metric tons for the rotor hubs and nacelles (which house the gearbox and generator), and 500 metric tons for the towers.

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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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