Tilting at windmills

By Phil Plait | February 26, 2008 8:00 am

I am a little green, I suppose. I turn off lights when I leave the room, try to think of ways of eating up less power, and so on.

I like the idea of windmills, though only for small use; having a farm of them doesn’t make a lot of sense because the losses are so great when you try to pump the electricity from the farm (generally remotely located) to where it’s needed — I learned about this from a Berkeley researcher, before you accuse me of being a neocon or anything. From what I can tell, wind power is better on an individual basis, like solar cells on a house.

But living here near the Colorado front range, where we get scary screamingly-fast chinooks, I don’t think I want a windmill for my house. And I have video evidence of why.

Yikes. I mean, yikes.

Tip o’ the windbreaker to Dan Durda.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Video Blog

Comments (105)

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  1. franKnarf’s bloGolb » Blog Archive » Tilting at windmills | February 26, 2008
  1. yd

    So House (the show) didn’t lie!

    I’ll tell you, those things are _huge_. You have no idea of the scale of one until you see them in person. I was riding my motorcicle through a mountain pass one day and suddenly came around a turn and there was one right in front of me. It was quite impressive.

    Luckily mine didn’t explode.

  2. Sue Mitchell

    Call me a sceptic if you like ;-) but I can’t help wondering why anyone would be filming just one windmill in the critical moments before it blew apart…

    Did he know that it was going to destruct, or does he just spend hours of his life filming windmills in the hope that, if he waits long enough, someting really, really interesting might happen?

  3. It’s puzzling, though… if the losses are so great that wind power isn’t worth it, why are there functional, productive windfarms the world over? Heck, right here in southern Alberta we have companies building and operating windfarms, and they seem to be thriving quite nicely.

  4. Eric

    Hey,

    The windmill failed because the governor which is supposed to keep it from rotating too fast failed… which then caused the structural failure.

    Normally, in a high wind it would have no trouble..

    Eric

  5. Could you be specific about why windmill parks are inefficient? Would a park be more inefficient than another electric generator placed in the same location (say a nuclear or coal-burning plant)? I don’t understand the physics behind you statement.

  6. Edward

    I always thought that the windmill blades could be feathered, just
    like an airplanes propeller, when high winds come along. Maybe
    this mill’s feathering system wasn’t working.

  7. Dunc

    Transmission losses are an issue, but I’m not at all convinced that they’re a sufficiently big issue to make wind farms impractical. Total transmission losses in the US and UK are of the order of 7-8%. Of course, there’s always HVDC.

    Was your “Berkley researcher” an electrical engineer?

    Domestic wind, on the other hand, has major problems in many locations. If you can’t get your turbine high enough above the roof line to be in a smooth flow of air, you can easily lose the majority of your nameplate capacity. I saw a study recently on domestic wind in the UK – the average capacity factor (ratio of actual output to nameplate capacity) was less than 10%. Plus there are some potentially serious structural issues – most modern houses aren’t designed to have a wind turbine on a tall pole attached to one gable.

  8. Brian

    That’s too bad. The land around that windmill will now be uninhabitable for decades. Cancer rates will be going through the roof. And birth defects are sure to see an increase as well.

    Oh wait. That’s what happens when a nuclear power plant fails.

    I’m guessing they could have another windmill operating in the same place within a week if they so desire.

  9. Chas

    It appears that one blade delaminates and fails about 10 feet from the hub — this causes the entire head to tip downwards, so that the remaining two blades hit the support, demolishing it and them. This takes place in 0:16 of the film. One has to double-click on the > / = square to get a psudo-stop motion effect.

    The wind farm south of Clear Lake, Iowa is controlled to feather the blades at speeds above 40 mph to prevent this sort of event.

    I agree with Sue — why was the film being made right then? Did not look like a surviellence camera.
    Chas, PE SE

  10. Carey

    Yeah I’m thinking windmills have some sort of device that prevents them from spinning beyond their rated RPM. It must have failed on this one.

    But that video was cool – imagine the light bulbs you could leave on with the power it was generating!

  11. Tom Woolf

    One viewing of that video and my homeowners association would squash any requests for putting single-unit windmills on the roof…

    As to the transmission losses (keep in mind that this is from a layman, not an engineer or other expert in such things) – I can see the losses being greater from a wind farm vs. standard coal or oil burning plant. Wind farms are generally located in specific windy areas, which could be hundreds of miles from heavily populated areas. Coal fired (and other) plants can generally be placed closer to high-usage areas, making the distance that the power must be transmitted much, much shorter.

    Does that mean that they should not be built? Not really – it’s just another factor that needs to be taken into consideration. Just my couple of cents worth…

  12. Michelle

    I’m the type of person that think there are way too much exageration and scaremongers about nuclear power… It’s a shame on that bit.

    As for the windmill… I guess I could be hippie and say that it probably kills a lot of birds (though that would mean I underestimate the IQ of birds which are actually pretty bright creatures)…

    But uh, I um, I don’t want that thing in my backyard. I’m already scared of my ceiling fan. <_<

  13. Michelle

    PS: I agree with comments above… It’s weird the dude/gal was filming at the exact right time. What was he doing? Was it a test on purpose?

  14. I work over here at NREL and we are doing wind power research. I don’t buy the concept presented you that the loss in power delivery exceeds the generation. While the production by wind turbines does amount to less than current fossil fuel or nuclear plants, as additional and more efficient turbines come on line (the research we are doing), this will offset any current deficits.

    The loss by transmission will be the same a other types of generation. Line loss is well understood and engineered for from all types of generation plants.

    The location of these wind farms can often be an issue if they are so remotely located that the lines must be longer in order to get them on the grid, but there are lots of examples where the “farms” are close to the consumer and they work very well.

  15. Jens Poulsen

    The windmill was filmed because the braking systems (also the back-up) failed, and it was running amok in a storm.

  16. Bradley547

    I suspect that the reason they were filming this is because the windmill probably sent the control center a signal that it was about to fail. They’re all remotely monitored from a central location.
    As for wanting a wind farm in your back yard, I suggest visiting one before you decide. These things are LOUD. Standing in a wind farm is like standing in the middle of a very loud factory.

  17. Stephen

    One of those Chinooks came during Winter break in 2003, while I was in Virginia with my family and my roommate was in Denver. Gusts were 130mph and it shattered a window in our apartment on Mapleton Ave. Our heater tried to compensate for a week before my roommate went back and found the remains of a large panel of glass on our kitchen table. That was one fun power bill.

    On a related note, what is so special about wind turbines that prevents a transformer from increasing the voltage before transmission, minimizing losses?

  18. Calli Arcale

    Indeed, windmills are supposed to automatically feather in storms. Still, there may be areas where the weather prohibits their use. They’re a good idea in many places. Plains states in particular can really benefit, because our wind tends to be much more predictable than what you get in mountain passes — and there’s certainly plenty of it. The vast open spaces are great for wind farms.

    Heck, North Dakota’s biggest energy resource used to be oil — now it seems to be wind. ;-) Granted, you can’t export wind as conveniently as oil, because you can’t just load it into a tanker and drive off with it, but given that the High Plains are starting to try competing with India and Bangladesh as a patriotic and equally inexpensive place to put a call center, it could make very good sense indeed.

    Frankly, I think this video is more of a sign as to why you *should* have wind farms as opposed to individual use — it’s the same reason why it’s generally safer to plug into the grid instead of running your own generator. Let the pollutants be generated in a centralized location where they can dealt with more efficiently, and let the windmills be collected in a centralized location so that if any of them fails structurally, the shrapnel doesn’t hurt anybody. Easier to keep them inspected properly that way too.

  19. Zed

    I seem to recall that modern, vertical windmill designs inherently generate additional internal turbulence past a certain speed, preventing them from overrotating. They also are recognized by birds as solid objects.

  20. PJE

    I’ve heard the bird-death thing before. I read somewhere (I think on a wind power hydro website) that bird carnage is actually quite small, especially compared to a highrise office building.

    One concern I think is that the windmill changes the wind direction near the structure and can actually dry out the nearby land.

    Not sure how important that is, in the long run.

    I think windmills are incredible, but there is LOTS of opposition to them in the areas where developers want to build them (at least in Ontario). “I wants to run their airconditioner, but don’t you Dare put a windmill near my house!!”

    Pete

  21. Tom

    This post may rival the one about the SUV that got some crazy fuel economy in lack of skeptical thought.

    I agree that this was probably some sort of failure test. Does anyone have the date or location?

    Besides, you wouldn’t have a windmill that size in your yard.

    Like another commenter, I saw ONE blade for a windmill about the size shown in the video being carried by a semi truck. Quite impressive.

    Also, as others have brought up, I think the ‘transmission loss’ argument could use a little more skeptical inquiry.

  22. A lot of our problem is that we get ourselves in situations where we feel we’re stuck with something even if it’s a mistake or just not practical any more.

    We transmit power at higher voltages because it’s fewer amps and the lines can be smaller and overall (so I’m told) there is less loss in transmission from whatever factors in play.

    So why not step up the voltage even more?? Instead of 480, why not 4x that?

    Same with cars. Have you ever wondered how much the wiring in your car weighs? Why not have high-voltage, low-amperage auto electrical systems?

    The lowered weight of the wiring will save tons of money in fuel costs due to lower weight cars.

    I’m sure it would be a very big deal (probably much more than I imagine) to rip out an infrastructure and replace it but in some cases I think we just have to bite the bullet and do it.

    Humans aren’t very good at long-term thinking. As a result we cause ourselves a lot of long-lasting problems. Haste makes waste and stuff.

    The problem with windmills is that for them to be effective they are inherently flimsy. The blades are long and thin and the only way to make them stronger is to make them more massive which means way less efficiency.

    I’m sure the makers go to great lengths to balance the blades but even if the blades are feathered they’re only going to handle so much.

  23. DaveS

    I don’t buy the transmission losses objection. Wind farms aren’t a thousand miles away from the consumers, more like 100 miles. Electricity is routinely shuttled many hundreds of miles without concern for the losses. Why be concerned here?

    Distance losses are usually mentioned when you’re talking about DC, which can’t be efficiently transformed. But of course a wind farm would be outputting conditioned AC, probably at 15KV or higher for cross country transmission, just like every other power plant.

    Wind power generators have governors which vary the pitch of the rotors and in varying wind speeds and generator loads to attempt
    to keep the head rotating at a constant most efficient speed. That’s
    why when you see the wind farms outside Palm Springs, CA, all the
    rotors are spinning at the same speed, all up and down the hills, even
    though the wind is different in different places. Governors are mechanically designed to fail feathered, which stops the rotor dead. (It’s the same way constant speed airplane propellers are designed.)
    For non-operation, the blades are feathered and the generator dead-shorted, which acts as a brake.

    It’s obvious that the rotor here was purposely allowed to free-wheel beyond the design limits.

    (I are an inguneer.)

  24. GapStop

    It looks like one of the blades shattered due to the force exerted on it. The lost blade caused the remaining blades to become imbalanced. Then the next blade in rotation smacked into the fiber glass base.

  25. cubicalquad

    I don’t want to be picky but a windmill grinds grain into flour. The correct description is wind generator.

    I am an electrical engineer and the trick to minimizeing line losses is to increase the transmission line voltage. Power (simplified equation) is voltage times current and losses are resistance of the transmission line times the current squared. So for the same power, the higher the voltage, the lower the current and the lower the power loss due to resistance of the line.

    Imagine how cool it would be if we could invent a material that is superconductive at room temperature!

  26. There are certainly drawbacks to wind power. It just seems to me like the drawbacks are a lot greater for every other type of power I can think of, with the possible exception of some forms of solar.

    Wind power doesn’t contribute to global warming.

    It doesn’t increase air pollution and the corresponding asthma, lung disease, and excess deaths.

    It can’t spread radiation over an area the size of a state, like Chernobyl did.

    I’m willing to put up with the occasional turbine failure.

  27. Hoonser

    It’s still marginally better to be flayed by a giant piece of razor sharp metal when a windmill strokes out than to have all your guts rot out when a nuclear power plant melts down.

  28. This is what fan death really looks like.

  29. Jens Poulsen

    http://www.bt.dk/article/20080222/nyheder/802220354/

    It took place friday feb 22nd here in Denmark and certainly wasn’t planned in any way. Due to brake failure it had been running amok for hours before it finally failed.

  30. swatters

    Why would the losses be any greater than any other form of electricity? I guess I’ll answer my own question and say that they wouldn’t be.

  31. Joe

    While I admit BA probably isn’t well-versed in the mechanics of wind power generators, people touting the negative effects of a catastrophic nuclear plant failure are coming off just as clueless. I think everyone here can benefit from some decent research into both of the subjects.

  32. What’s with the weird, out-of-left-field anti-nuclear commentary?

    It’s not like wind and fission are in competition, here. We’d be lucky if either was a valid choice in the USA.

    Besides, both nuclear meltdowns and exploding wind generators are extremely unlikely with modern systems. How many nuclear meltdowns has France had?

  33. GapStop

    “I am an electrical engineer and the trick to minimizeing line losses is to increase the transmission line voltage. Power (simplified equation) is voltage times current and losses are resistance of the transmission line times the current squared. So for the same power, the higher the voltage, the lower the current and the lower the power loss due to resistance of the line.”

    Yeah it’s amazing how much line loss can be minimized with a huge voltage potential and a big fat copper conductor.

    “It can’t spread radiation over an area the size of a state, like Chernobyl did.”

    Chernobyl’s nuke plant design was based on second hand information from the Americans. The reactor layout they used was flawed even by the known standards at the time. Of course operator incompetence didn’t help much either. Modern reactors are far safer and can recycle “spent” fuel.

  34. Brian

    Just for the record, I actually make my living off of nuclear power. I’m all for it. Just wanted to make a point that just because 1 windmill failed doesn’t mean we should abandon the technology.

  35. First, I was making a joke about putting one on my house. This is clearly a giant turbine, which would have different mechanical strength issues than a smaller one.

    The researcher I mentioned is Danial Kammen, and while it’s possible I am misremembering his talk and the part about losses (it was 7 years ago!) I do remember him talking about the idea that wind and solar, unlike oil and nuclear power, are scalable. You can make small version and put them someplace local where you need them, rather than pipe the energy all over the place.

    I am not saying that wind and solar farms are useless, I am saying it makes more sense to build smaller ones where they will do the most good.

    Anyway, this whole post was meant to be slightly tongue-in-cheek, since as I said no one would have a thirty meter turbine over their garage. C’mon folks. Cut me some slack.

  36. Ryan

    Look into a vertical wind turbine. They don’t have blades that sling ice, or fly apart. The helical designs are very practical and very pretty.

  37. ellindsey

    Three Mile Island didn’t cause a single death or injury or contaminate any land when it failed. That’s what happens when a well-designed reactor with proper safety systems and a containment dome fails. Chernobyl was about the worst possible design for a nuclear reactor, and isn’t a valid example of modern reactor design.

    The main problem with wind isn’t the non-zero failure rate or pollution generated during the construction and operation of wind power plants. It’s the intermittency. Wind power only generates electricity sometimes, and the times that wind is at peak power often don’t correlate well with the times of peak electrical demand. You need to either store that power (which has its own environmental issues and efficiency losses) or keep a bank of conventional power plants operating to pick up the slack when the wind dies down.

  38. Guysmiley

    I’ve heard the bird-death thing before. I read somewhere (I think on a wind power hydro website) that bird carnage is actually quite small, especially compared to a highrise office building.

    Yep, the “bird hugger” excuse is a laughable excuse against wind turbines. Domestic cats slaughter (literally) tens of thousand of times more birds annually than wind power ever could.

    Studies indicate domestic cats can kill ten to one hundred million birds annually.

    The smart ones learn to avoid them. Thank you Mr. Darwin.

  39. tomr

    Dan Kammen seems like a pretty respectable guy, so I’d be interested to hear more about his argument. Still (and I can speak at least semi-professionally on this one), the standard case for wind farms is pretty strong:

    – Available wind power scales to v^3, so choosing a good site rather than a close one can increase output by an order of magnitude.

    – Large turbines are quite a bit more efficient than small ones, as much by virtue of being on a tall tower as anything else.

    – Wind’s not dispatchable–it blows when it wants, not when you need–so putting lots of them on a grid is a necessity for effective use. One big exception is when you’re either hooking them up to an energy storage device (which is basically what a water pump is) or are using them to do something where average power is more important than continious power.

    It’s funny, the distributed power people do tend to get a little cultish about their cause, but for the most part, the attractions seem more ideological then technical. Especially for renewables, where your power output is basically a sample of some high-variance natural variable, making it pretty important to get your sqrt(n) as high as possible.

  40. PJE

    But evolution is a hoax (runs and hides..)

    My own cats catch a few birds here and there. I saw my small kitty with a Robin in his mouth (robins are pretty big!). Then I heard the crunch crunch crunch…gross…

    Pete

  41. tomr

    Sorry for a double post, but anyone feel like calculating the risk of being hit by wind turbine shrapnel vs. the risk of getting hit by falling satellite parts?

  42. Will

    When I was a kid they had the vertical generators up at Tehachapi, for some reason they don’t use them now. I’d heard that the blades tend to fail sooner, but that may have been just a rumor.

    Environmentally friendly or not, they do put one heck of a scar on the landscape – each tower needs a flat spot carved into the hill, and a road to service it. They wind up looking kind of like oilfields.

    Just an idea…is ANWR windy?

  43. Quiet_Desperation

    Well, I’ll take the middle ground here.

    IMHO, the greatest inefficiency of a wind farm is the power generated per acre. It takes about 1100 windmills in Britain right now to generate 700 MW of power. One modern breeder reactor can beat that in far less real estate.

    Second on the inefficiency list is the turbines, specifically the bearings, but there might be ways to solve that. This leads to the idea that you also ignore the energy costs of building and maintaining the wind farm. I’m sorry, but you just can’t. The various bits wear out.

    Oops: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/7/7f/Nissan_wind_turbine_on_fire.jpg

    Now don’t get me wrong- wind can be part of the solution, but you folks need to realize that it’s going to be made up of many sources of energy. And you *REALLY* need to release your fear of nuclear power- your fear is completely unscientific.

    A lot of the companies (including big ones like GE) promoting wind power are looking at tax benefits and government grants. Follow the money there. They see a potential market. If you say I can’t trust oil companies on global warming, don’t turn around and tell me to trust energy companies on wind power when there are large incentives for them to pursue it that have nothing to do with the actual energy equation.

    What we really need is better conservation. For example, I know people who are in the housing industry. There are zero incentives to properly insulate houses or make them energy efficient. Buyers can get those things, but they have to request them.

  44. Quiet_Desperation

    do remember him talking about the idea that wind and solar, unlike oil and nuclear power, are scalable. You can make small version and put them someplace local where you need them, rather than pipe the energy all over the place.

    *cough*nuclear*submarines*cough*

    Actually, you *can* do that with nuclear power, and, in fact, there is much research being done in that area.

    The US Army had portable nuclear power in the 1950s.

    Here you go. Put this in your garage. :-)

    http://gizmodo.com/gadgets/i-have-the-power/hot-tub-nuclear-reactor-could-power-cities-326125.php

    http://www.hyperionpowergeneration.com/

  45. tomr

    Re: Quiet_Desperation’s post: You’re completely right that there is no one solution to energy issues–any real energy policy is going to be a cocktail of efficiency, renewables, nuclear, and (gasp) better fossil fuel systems.

    As far as wind farm land use, what you’re missing is that a wind farm doesn’t prevent other use of the land. In many cases, wind turbines are sited in agricultural land, and the farming/ranching/whatever that goes on there continues pretty much unaffected. A wind farm spreads over many acres, but the actual footprint is only a tiny fraction of the that.

  46. Guysmiley

    tomr:

    Exactly. Places like North Dakota have very good average wind speeds and the actual footprint of each turbine is very small. They can easily be placed in farmer’s fields (where the farmer gets paid a lease) and can still use 99% of the field for crop production.

    The upper midwest in general has very good wind power density: Average Wind Power

  47. JackC

    I once sat in a computer conference where a very well known Engineer (Steve Ciarcia) described – in intimate detail – how and why a full colour computer system using more than 4 colours would NEVER be created. Not “not soon” – not “eventually” – not EVER.

    Sometimes I think these guys forget the axiom:

    Engineers never speak in absolutes.

    If you get that, then you are probably an Engineer.

    I want my wind farm, my solar plant, my personal nuclear generator, and my Moeller aircar!

    JC

  48. tahlmorra

    2/26/08

    ATLANTA — Severe thunderstorms flattened trees, knocked out power to at least 93,000 homes and left injuries across metro Atlanta.

    One man was injured in Clem in Carroll County when a tree fell on his vehicle, impaling him. He was taken to Tanner Medical Center. There’s no word on his condition.

    The wind that ripped through Carroll County picked up Linda Bryant, 64, and blew her into some nearby woods as she walked from her house to her car. She is listed in serious condition at Tanner Medical Center.

    Two high school students were injured in Cobb County when a tree fell on their car.

    Three people were trapped in their beds by falling trees.

    In northwest Atlanta, a couple, including a pregnant woman, was injured when a tree fell on their house and trapped them in their bed. Atlanta firefighters used airbags to lift the tree and free the victims. Both were taken to Grady Memorial Hospital.

    A woman was in critical condition after a tree fell on her house on Spring Dr. in DeKalb County and pinned her in her bed. Rescue crews, concered[sic] the roof might collapse, had to stablize[sic] the house in order to free her.

    ———————————————————————–

    ..and not one-wind turbine related injury in the high-wind event.

    Hmm..

    I say we ban trees..!
    ;)

    Seriously, though.. My GF helps run a motel that, for months now, has been mainly housing a crew that’s putting up a wind farm in Cohocton, NY. I believe it’s around a 30-unit setup and the things are impressive as all get-out.

    Fully in favor of wind energy (far back as when I did research on it for LIU/Southampton University Campus back in 1984)..

  49. tahlmorra

    Oops..!

    Meant 1985..after Hurricane Gloria messed with the Long Island power grid.

    They say memory is the first thing to..to…well, to do something..!

  50. Tom

    Thanks for the additional info. The fact that it was in a ‘broken’ state before exploding explains why there’s video of it.

    Missed that you were kidding, BA. Were you kidding about the SUV?

  51. Chip

    As the storm blew and the power was rising, here’s what was going on in the room at the base of that tower! :D
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tTNN5h8CG_Y

  52. Quiet_Desperation

    tomr: I know, but a lot of the nice windy areas don’t seem very arable, although I understand the USA is actually pretty fortunate on that front.

    Maybe we can give tax benefits to farm that want to sideline in energy production.

  53. Jeffersonian

    Fallacy of “Proof by Example”.
    Sure, a wind farm wouldn’t make sense in Berkeley.
    At the northern tip of the same Front Range (actually, an extension, the Medicine Bow Range) is a large wind farm (west of Laramie) that profits just find. If wind farms weren’t viable, then under a free market system, they wouldn’t exist. If you’ve seen the giant farms at Tehachapi or Palm Springs, etc etc , you know this not to be the case.

    As for failure, c’mon, this isn’t some problem that’s baffled design engineers…
    Wind is a bad energy source because, what, it’s dirty? non-renewable? less viable than solar? Its worse crime is eye pollution. Electricity in inherently expensive to ship regardless of the source. There are massive coal burning plants within 100 miles of the Front Range. People don’t want them within sight of the population centers, making it even more expensive to ship – but that doesn’t mean they’re not there or that they’re more functional than wind/nuclear. In fact, the one nuclear plant near the Front Range was converted to Natural gas in part due to public misperception.

    @Brian:
    Funny, but,
    “Oh wait. That’s what happens when a nuclear power plant fails.” Should change “when” to “if” OR “fails” to “fails in the former Soviet Union”. Nuclear power has a great safety record and that’s just based on the old designs which weren’t nearly as safe as today’s standards (though we wouldn’t know in the US since we’re 30 years behind the curve on nuclear power). Nuclear meltdown is essentially impossible in modern plants.

    RANT>
    People in the US are very ill-educated about Nuclear Power (thanks in part to Jane Fonda – hey, look it up!). In the US, politicians gain traction here simply by mentioning the “great evil” of nuclear power. People who know next to nothing about it mention it as a “danger” and people just nod in agreement, like it’s already a closed case or something. This has knocked the US way behind in energy technology and caused sharper demand for fossil-fuel-generated electricity. Anytime a new station comes online, lawsuits and NIMBY doorjacking cause a decade of holds. Part of the blame is xenophobia, part is miseducation, and part is knee-jerk (as opposed to informed) enviromentalism; the latter being commonplace.

  54. Quiet_Desperation

    Put solar cells on the windmill blades!

    http://www.nanosolar.com/

    I am a *genius*!

  55. Calli Arcale

    Well, nuclear does have it’s issues, but I agree that they’re nowhere near what the likes of Jane Fonda (a woman seldom impeded by facts) would have us believe.

    There does seem to be a quite irrational attitude towards the words “nuclear” (or “nucular” *cringe*) and “radiation”. It always bugs me that NMR had to be renamed MRI, because people were equating nuclear magnetic resonance with nuclear fission, even though they have nothing to do with one another.

  56. Will

    I was thinking about the windmills over cropland idea earlier. I think they’d make things tricky for the crop dusters, or maybe just more fun? Seriously, I don’t think you could install turbines at the densities we’ve seen at Altamont or Tehachapi over farmland – but maybe along boundaries and roadways?

  57. nancy

    I lived in a trailer park in North Boulder years ago, and when those winds came galloping down the foothills and across the fields…. yikes indeed. I remember a home across the way from us had the roof peeled back like the lid on a can of catfood. Now back in Southern Calif, I kinda miss “real weather”….. but not the fear that my house was going to blow apart.

  58. Robert

    The windturbine was indeed placed in Denmark, its was an older one, 11 years old and manufactured by Nordtank (does not exist anymore). The windturbine uses three safety devices wich al three failed.

    The first safety is a fixed blade pitch wich should reduce the efficiency at higher windspeeds. The seccond is a brake and the third is an airbrake on the blades themselves, it is not the first time that this airbrake failed, the tend to get stuck with rust and are usually overlooked during inspections.

    Looking at the safety of windmills, even in the netherlands several accidents do happen each year, most of the time the damage is only material, but people do get injured and sometimes even killed. (some sources say that in the last 25 years 20 people where killed by windturbines)

    The turbines are also great lightning conductors.

  59. Tony

    How come people are smart enough to know that an x-ray, which exposes the subject to radiation, does not hurt you when the proper safety requirements are met, but are not smart enough to think for themselves on nuclear power?

    I know, its a huge leap, but still people, THINK! People have a greater chance of getting cancer from sunbathing than they do from a reactor meltdown.

  60. Illucian

    Bird death from wind farms remains a problem because of the many wind farms that happen to be built right along migration highways. And yes, high-rise buildings and feral cats/cats allowed outdoors do contribute far more to bird death than wind farms, but it does seem that it should be an additional factor taken into account when planning wind farm placement; whether the area funnels migrating birds and therefore concentrates them into that area.

    The Altamont Pass Wind Farm in Northern California has high raptor death tolls due to birds that hunt ground squirrels in the area; clearing it for the wind farms actually encouraged ground squirrels to move in and created a buffet. The hunting birds focus on movement below them, not the turbines around them. (This is also why so many raptors and owls strike cars; they become so focused on following their prey that they will fly right into traffic.) Older birds do learn to avoid these hazards, but given that one mistake is easily fatal, it’s easy to see why it continues to be a problem. And that does not even take into account the fact that Altamont Pass receives a lot of migrating songbirds, too; their bird death tallies do not even record songbirds.

    But yes, I am a birdwatcher and therefore I do place importance on the lives of birds. But I do hope anyone who wants to discuss the subject with me will take into account that I have not said I want to do away with the wind farms; just that I believe that additional measures can be taken to make existing turbines less dangerous (I believe larger, slower-moving turbines are easier for birds to see and also avoid), and perhaps planners for new farms should be taking into account migration patterns and whether an area receives large amounts of birds along with other factors when deciding where to place a new farm.

  61. Alan

    “C’mon folks. Cut me some slack.”

    Hehe…methinks this is one of the perils of operating a skeptic blog: no matter how careful you are about saying things in jest, it’s gonna get picked apart as if it were a serious statement. :)

  62. The anti-nucular crowd is just as vocal in Europe (with the possible exception of France) as it seems to be in the US.

    As a colleague of mine put it: “I would call myself an environmentalist if it wasn’t for all those anti-scientific environmentalists out there.”

  63. Anne

    I don’t buy that transmission is a problem for wind farms – at least, not more than it is for hydropower. We get much of our power from the Manicouagan meteor crater, which is a long long way from the nearest city. The transmission lines are expensive, lossy, and environmentally destructive (you need to clear a long strip of land). But those problems are manageable, and the power is worth it. (Incidentally, if you run a power line at above a million volts peak, you start losing a lot of power to corona discharge in the air. Many long power lines actually run on a million volts DC rather than 707 kV AC for just this reason. Power companies are not stupid; if they could make money by raising the voltage they would do it in a heartbeat.)

    I am willing to believe that *storage* is an issue for wind power. You get power from a wind farm only when the wind blows. If this doesn’t happen to be when everyone in California turns on their air conditioner, what do you do with it all? We don’t have many good ways to store energy on that scale. Pumped-storage hydro is good, but good hydro sites are not that common. In principle you could find an energy-limited industry and build a factory next to the wind farm; it makes widgets when there’s wind, and it stops when there isn’t. That’s a royal pain in terms of capital and staffing costs, though.

    If we were using hydrogen as an energy carrier on a large scale, you could store energy by using surplus wind power to make hydrogen. But hydrogen is such a pain to work with – you can’t really liquefy it, it leaks out of everything, and it’s so bulky per joule stored – that it’s not at all convenient as an energy storage scheme right now. There have been proposals for an energy grid that uses superconducting cables cooled by liquid hydrogen to deliver both forms of energy, but that would be a massive change in infrastructure.

    The current best option for small wind stations is to hook them to the grid. When it’s producing more power than you need, you sell it back to the grid. One of my parents’ neighbours has such an arrangement. Unfortunately he gets paid so little for the power he sells back to the power company (something like a third of what he pays to buy power) he just uses the extra to heat his swimming pool. Right now economics seem to be the big problem for small wind plants: it’s really hard to make the hardware pay for itself before you have to replace it. If oil prices keep going up, that may change…

  64. ellindsey says:

    [[The main problem with wind isn’t the non-zero failure rate or pollution generated during the construction and operation of wind power plants. It’s the intermittency. Wind power only generates electricity sometimes, and the times that wind is at peak power often don’t correlate well with the times of peak electrical demand. You need to either store that power (which has its own environmental issues and efficiency losses) or keep a bank of conventional power plants operating to pick up the slack when the wind dies down.]]

    Fossil fuel and nuclear plants aren’t available 24/7 either. And the nice thing about wind and solar is, they max at different times of the day, so a big plant could combine them nicely. Or you can just, as noted, store the excess power.

    We probably can’t run 100% of our electricity off the wind, but we can probably get a pretty good chunk of it that way. Make up the rest with solar, geothermal, ocean thermal, and biomass.

  65. QD posts:

    [[It takes about 1100 windmills in Britain right now to generate 700 MW of power. One modern breeder reactor can beat that in far less real estate.]]

    On the other hand, terrorists can’t get material for a nuclear bomb out of a wind farm.

    [[And you *REALLY* need to release your fear of nuclear power- your fear is completely unscientific.]]

    Is it?

    I, personally, think you could probably design a safe nuclear energy industry — fail-safe reactors, a well-guarded transportation system, a place to store the wastes. But if you did, it would cost more than conventional power, so there would be no point in doing it.

  66. Tony says:

    [[How come people are smart enough to know that an x-ray, which exposes the subject to radiation, does not hurt you when the proper safety requirements are met, but are not smart enough to think for themselves on nuclear power?

    I know, its a huge leap, but still people, THINK! People have a greater chance of getting cancer from sunbathing than they do from a reactor meltdown.]]

    Pro-nuclear post after pro-nuclear post, all saying how stupid those anti-nuclear folks are. Jane Fonda! My God, she’s a liberal! Somebody stop her!

    And you’re forgetting the “you get more radiation from one teaspoon of ordinary tapwater than from 3,000 years standing next to a reactor core” type of comparison.

    It’s true in a way — a nuclear plant under normal operation emits very little radiation. The thing is, there doesn’t seem to be any nuclear plant that has ever operated in the United States that has “normal operation” all the time. Every single one of them has “unplanned releases” of radiation every so often, always followed by a press conference in which some industry shill assures everybody that there’s no real danger.

    Why not believe the nuclear industry? After all, we believe the fossil fuel companies and the car companies and the airlines…

  67. JackC

    There have been several sideways allusions to it, but I haven’t heard anyone yet say we whould outlaw sugar mills.

  68. Anne writes:

    [[You get power from a wind farm only when the wind blows. If this doesn’t happen to be when everyone in California turns on their air conditioner, what do you do with it all? We don’t have many good ways to store energy on that scale. Pumped-storage hydro is good, but good hydro sites are not that common. ]]

    You can build a hydro site. Put up a big tank. Pump water into it when there’s excess power. Let it run downhill through turbines when power is short.

  69. Matt Penfold

    The UK Government is investigating the feasibility of off-shore wind farms. Previous studies have suggested that around 30,000 generators could supply much of the UK energy needs, if coupled with a tidal barrier across the Severn Estuary, which has the second highest tidal range in the world. Solar in the UK is not really an option given the climate.

    And to my mind the problem with nuclear is not the danger of an accident at a plant, although that cannot be dismissed. It is the problem of the waste and the awfully long time it remains dangerous. When you are talking of tens of thousands of years for the most radioactive material to decay enough to not be dangerous then concepts of comparing cost goes out the window.

  70. Matt Penfold

    “You can build a hydro site. Put up a big tank. Pump water into it when there’s excess power. Let it run downhill through turbines when power is short.”

    We have one of those in Wales. It is built inside a mountain, with a lake on the top where the water is stored. It is quite something to see.

  71. Ronan Cunniffe

    On the subject of using intermittent wind power – I came across a very elegant “pumped-storage” idea proposed by a refrigeration engineer here in Yurp. He observed:
    – that the variation in Europe’s wind power capacity roughly matched the power demands of Europe’s refrigerated warehouses,
    – that such buildings are extremely well insulated (he builds them…)
    – that usually, there was only an upper limit, not a lower, to the acceptable temperature.

    The idea is to use those warehouses as thermal batteries – when wind power is plentiful, the power companies sell the surplus cheaply to the warehouses, who then run their refrigeration hard, decreasing the temperature below nominal. When wind power is not available, they don’t have to consume any conventionally sourced (more expensive) power until the temperature gets close to the nominal.

    The beauty of this is that you don’t need to build huge infrastructure – all you need is an extra software module – turn on the refrigeration when the power company offers cheap electricity. It benefits both players, and it’s easy to opt-in/opt-out (i.e. no power-company lock-in).

  72. Jeffersonian

    @Pieter Kokon:
    “The anti-nucular crowd is just as vocal in Europe (with the possible exception of France) as it seems to be in the US.”

    I’m glad to hear that, actually. My experience on this issue in BE, CH, DE, and FR led me to believe that opponents were seen as a curiosity/minority and not as a near-political assumption. Or is it that opponents just have no traction?

    Funny how the definition of “nuclear” is simply “pertaining to the nucleus of the atom”, yet in mainstream culture the word somehow means “bombs and meltdowns”. Everything we do, see, experience is nuclear.

    @BPL:
    “On the other hand, terrorists can’t get material for a nuclear bomb out of a wind farm.”

    Nor can they from low-fissile nuclear fuel. The level of isotope separation required for Weapons-grade Plutonium/Uranium is a different technology; that’s what took so long in the 1930s. You only need to enrich the fissile material to about 1-10% of the mass of the fuel to create power. Weapons-grade material is called “weapons grade” because it’s highly enriched – up to 90%. You could steal nuclear fuel rod pellets but if you didn’t already have the weapons-grade technology you wouldn’t be a very successful terrorist…

    “you could probably…fail-safe reactors, a well-guarded transportation system, a place to store the wastes. But if you did, it would cost more than conventional power, so there would be no point in doing it.”

    We already have all of this – these things aren’t the holdup. The containment of modern nuclear plants is very high tech – much much greater than in the 70s/80s (when US plants came online). The release of radioactivity from atomic energy is merely a chimera; coal-burning plants measurable radioactivity during normal operation.

    http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=coal-ash-is-more-radioactive-than-nuclear-waste

  73. Jeffersonian

    @Pieter Kokon:
    “The anti-nucular crowd is just as vocal in Europe (with the possible exception of France) as it seems to be in the US.”

    I’m glad to hear that, actually. My experience on this issue in BE, CH, DE, and FR led me to believe that opponents were seen as a curiosity/minority and not as a near-political assumption. Or is it that opponents just have no traction?

    Funny how the definition of “nuclear” is simply “pertaining to the nucleus of the atom”, yet in mainstream culture the word somehow means “bombs and meltdowns”. Everything we do, see, experience is nuclear.

    @BPL:
    “On the other hand, terrorists can’t get material for a nuclear bomb out of a wind farm.”

    Nor can they from low-fissile nuclear fuel. The level of isotope separation required for Weapons-grade Plutonium/Uranium is a different technology; that’s what took so long in the 1930s. You only need to enrich the fissile material to about 1-10% of the mass of the fuel to create power. Weapons-grade material is called “weapons grade” because it’s highly enriched – up to 90%. You could steal nuclear fuel rod pellets but if you didn’t already have the weapons-grade technology you wouldn’t be a very successful terrorist…

    “you could probably…fail-safe reactors, a well-guarded transportation system, a place to store the wastes. But if you did, it would cost more than conventional power, so there would be no point in doing it.”

    We already have all of this – these things aren’t the holdup. The containment of modern nuclear plants is very high tech – much much greater than in the 70s/80s (when US plants came online). The release of radioactivity from atomic energy is merely a chimera; coal-burning plants measurable radioactivity during normal operation.

    http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=coal-ash-is-more-radioactive-than-nuclear-waste

    @BA-
    Hey, sometimes you’re a springboard!

  74. Jeffersonian

    Sorry for the doublepost, but I did get an error message saying it did not go through….

  75. That film, pretty much, describes why I hope that some *sustainable* form of electricity generation other than nuclear power or hydroelectric can be devised that will actually be *usable* in parts of the Midwest–because, sadly, neither solar nor wind (which happen to be the two most environmentally friendly methods of power generation) are really *usable* here.

    Even in my area, which is pretty much the “Tornado Driveway” to “Tornado Alley”, we tend to get on average 2-5 major severe weather events a month through most of the year (in fact, our *tornado* season started in *January* this year, and a February-through-November tornado season is no longer uncommon). Even without tornadic weather, we get a lot of high wind and derecho events–nothing quite like summer thunderstorms that tend to pack hurricane-force winds. (Yes, for the record, hurricane straps are required in my area because of *severe thunderstorms*.)

    I’m not so sure that wind power is exactly feasible in areas which are in class IV wind zones (which can have winds of over 250mph in tornadic weather, and over 100mph in a good derecho event)–which also covers not only pretty much the entire Mississippi River valley, but all of Tornado Alley as well.

    For that matter, I’m not sure solar is doable either–not because of not getting sun (we get lots of sun between storms :D )–more because of the solar panels potentially *breaking because of hailstones and wind-blown crap blowing on them*. (This is not a non-negligible risk; 2-inch diameter (and more) hailstones tend to be common with severe events in Tornado Alley, and even here in the “Tornado Driveway” of the Ohio Valley it is not uncommon for people’s roofs to need repair or replacement after a particularly severe hailstorm.)

    Pretty much because of this, we don’t get wind or solar options here. We don’t get that much as far as renewable energy at *all*. The only other option we have other than coal (which is dirty and non-renewable) or hydro (which mucks with fish migration) is nuclear–and frankly, as much tornadic weather as we get in the Midwest (and considering what is pretty much required to build a tornado-resistant aboveground structure that can withstand an EF5 tornado–basically, folks, you have to build an aboveground blast shelter), unless there are some massive advances in materials science and/or someone figures out how to build underground commercial nuclear reactors, this may not be so much of an option either :P

  76. Bill Bones

    Looks like a destructive test -litherally let the thing blow apart to see if it behaves as it should.

    Notice:

    - The windmill is isolated, not in a wind farm
    - blades will auto-feather unless the blade breaks apart
    - windmills are ALWAYS braked, as they do spin at fixed RPM

    This film is the equivalent to seeing a elevator drop… this things don’t happen unless someone causes them in order to see what would happen. So, a test looks like a good guess…

  77. Nemo

    About transmission losses… There was a recent article in Scientific American ( http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=a-solar-grand-plan ) about large-scale solar power that said the plan would entail the use of direct current transmission to keep down losses. I was puzzled by this, because I thought that Tesla had shown that alternating current was the way to go (vs. Edison’s direct current). Do things change at higher voltages?

  78. Wayne

    As for distance-to-consumer, I can see a wind farm from the roof of my house, so they’re not always far away. I’ve stood right in the midst of them, and I’ve never experienced the noise that people complain about.

    I’m disappointed to see so much anti-nuclear hysteria on this page. It’s painfully obvious to me that NO ONE SOLUTION will get us beyond fossil fuels. We are going to need massive nuclear power IN ADDITION TO every other kind we can come up with to keep up with demand. There is no comparison between western nuclear power and Chernobyl, that argument drives me crazy. Others have defended nuclear power better, so I’ll just leave it there.

  79. Kevin

    This post is being made from a wind-powered house. The wind farm is far, far away. It costs me a whopping 2.5¢/kWh extra to use wind.

    Given that fact, I’m not sure I believe the assertion that it’s completely unworkable. Clearly there’s at least a little merit.

  80. I think windmills are incredible, but there is LOTS of opposition to them in the areas where developers want to build them (at least in Ontario). “I wants to run their airconditioner, but don’t you Dare put a windmill near my house!!”

    Hey, in New Brunswick they pay a premium on their electric bill to only get electricity that isn’t generated by nuclear power. Nuclear power electrons just aren’t as sexy.

    But I do like the general idea… Don’t want nuclear power? your power bill goes up. Don’t want windmills? cool, pay more for electricity. All the extra money can be used to scrub the atmosphere of the byproducts of fossil fuel generation.

    Most people (in Canada anyway) have no idea how much of their electricity does come from nuclear power.

  81. Anne

    Building towers for pumped storage hydro is basically infeasible. A quick calculation shows that a municipal water tower that’s 30 m high and has a 10 m diameter sphere on top can store 42 kWh. A power station typically produces 500 MW (or more); thus to store the power station’s output for eight hours you’d need to build a hundred thousand of the towers. Good luck making that pay.

    The way to do pumped storage hydro is pretty much to build a normal hydro station on a lake that has the vertical drop but not the rainfall for a normal hydro station. Or you can use a normal dam during its off-season.

    Peak load is actually a major concern for power companies; here for example they offer homeowners a deal where the price of electricity almost doubles during the coldest days of the winter, to enocurage people to spare the company some peak load. Nuclear plants can’t really adapt quickly to load variations, but hydro plants can, as can some designs of hydrocarbon-burning plants. Solar and wind not only can’t adapt to peak load, they have their own cycles to cope with.

    Of course we need to incorporate solar and wind into our energy grid; but it will take a lot of cleverness and cost.

  82. Stan/Tx

    Any one that believes that wind power is pollution free needs to go and spend a couple of days camping within hearing range of one of the things.

    Wind generators get a nice government subsidy and that is the main reason that they exist.

    Nuclear power is as safe if not safer than other forms of power generation. Most individuals that are anti-nuclear seem to have it as an article of faith that nuclear power plants are bad and there are not enough facts, science or reasons that will make them change their minds.

    The comment that even oil and nuclear power plants are not 24/7 is misleading. While nothing is perfect, I would argue that scheduled maintenance is not the same as waiting until the wind is strong enough but not too strong to generate power.

    Vertical blade wind turbines are not as efficient in normal wind ranges.

  83. I see other people beat me to the “House” reference….

  84. Anne

    Nemo: yes, things change with high voltages (and new technology). The basic advantage of AC is that you can readily step up or down the voltage using a transformer. So you can run long-distance lines at high voltages. But there’s a limit to how high you can let the voltage get: at about a million volts, the air around the wires starts to break down and you start getting corona discharge, which produces ozone, ultraviolet, noise, and most relevantly, energy losses. This happens with both AC and DC. The difference is that since AC is alternating, if you want its peak voltage to be no higher than a million volts, the *average* (RMS) voltage is only 707 thousand volts, so you need a higher current than you would with a DC system that ran at a million volts all the time. So you can effectively run a DC system at a higher voltage. (There are a few other advantages too.)

    You’re still stuck with the problem that you can’t just use a transformer to convert voltages, though. In recent years it has become possible to convert between AC and DC with enough efficiency that the conversion losses are made up for by the reduction in line losses. This is still only worth it for long, high-power lines, but the system is in use. Everything but the very highest voltage still runs on AC, though.

    (Well, all right, at *low* voltages it has become quite easy to convert DC voltages, so that in something like a computer it’s feasible to distribute one DC voltage and have each board convert it to a more useful voltage. This is mostly useful because computers, unlike much of anything in Edison’s day, *need* DC to function. Scaling these systems up large enough to supply your house would be difficult and provide little or no advantage.)

  85. Wow, that was cool.

    Northeastern Pennsylvania is not the most heavily populated of areas, but my understanding is the the electricity generated by our two local wind farms (actually, I think there’s a third one slightly south of here) is sent down a series of tubes to New York and New Jersey…just like the electricity generated at our local 25-year-old nuclear power plant.

    I have seen the turbines turned off in periods of high wind, which made me realize that they could also be shut off during bird migration seasons. It also appears that the turbine masts can be rotated somewhat to face the turbines directly into the wind – or is this my imagination?

  86. oakfed

    How come people are smart enough to know that an x-ray, which exposes the subject to radiation, does not hurt you when the proper safety requirements are met, but are not smart enough to think for themselves on nuclear power?

    Actually, the radiation from x-rays does hurt you. Exposure to medical imaging X-rays will increase your chance of cancer; there is no safe dose. In general, though, the benefits for diagnostic purposes vastly outweigh the risks. This is not always true, however – CT scans especially expose you to much more radiation than an X-ray does (especially more modern X-ray machines), and overuse of them may be an issue.

  87. Chas

    Jens:

    Thanks for the information. In retrospect, it should be clear that someone realized that failure was possible and set up to film it. Not unlike the engineering prof who filmed the Tacoma Narrowd bridge (yikes ^2)

    Also, while I advocate alternative power sources, those who think that wind and solar will eliminate the need for base generation capacity should spend some time becalmed in a small sailboat in the middle of a lake……at night…. :-)

  88. geomaniac

    Cool! I love watching stuff blow up. I guess I watch Mythbusters too much. They are a bad influence on me.

  89. Wildride

    But really, the best thing about wind power is the bear upskirt possibilities.

  90. Dogemperor:
    The two biggest wind growth states are currently Texas and Iowa, so somebody must have a solution to the tornado issue.

  91. csrster

    I must be out of touch. This happens a few miles away from me on Djursland and I read about it first on badastronomy.

  92. There is a very interesting–and pessimistic–book on global warming by the British scientist James Lovelock. He makes the argument that wind farms are not practical because of the amount of land they take up. He also dismisses biofuels for the same reason: To produce power from wind or crops, you have to deforest land, which in turn destroys the land’s ability to absorb CO2. It’s a very interesting argument that has largely been ignored. Indeed, someone only just now figured out that electric cars are bad if the electricity to recharge the batteries comes from coal-fired plants.

    Unlike most environmentalists, Lovelock actually favors nuclear power. Despite the bad press, he feels nuclear power is far less damaging to the environment than carbon dioxide.

  93. I saw that one coming.

    Jeffersonian writes:

    [[coal-burning plants [generate] measurable radioactivity during normal operation. ]]

    Yes, more than nuclear plants during normal operation — except that no nuclear plant I’ve ever heard of has “normal operation” all the time. They all have unplanned releases.

  94. Anne writes:

    [[Building towers for pumped storage hydro is basically infeasible. A quick calculation shows that a municipal water tower that’s 30 m high and has a 10 m diameter sphere on top can store 42 kWh. A power station typically produces 500 MW (or more); thus to store the power station’s output for eight hours you’d need to build a hundred thousand of the towers. Good luck making that pay.]]

    Or fewer towers that were individually much larger.

    I’ve also heard air compression is a possibility. Buildings full of compressed air wouldn’t necessarily have to be elevated, either.

  95. Chas writes:

    [[Also, while I advocate alternative power sources, those who think that wind and solar will eliminate the need for base generation capacity should spend some time becalmed in a small sailboat in the middle of a lake……at night…. ]]

    The situation would be helped somewhat if there were a national smart energy grid. In the long run, I think we can probably get all our power from renewable resources. For sudden power needs, one can burn hydrogen, or in the short run, biomass ethanol or methanol.

    I’m not saying we can switch to all renewables overnight. But we can almost certainly do it within this century.

  96. Lugosi writes:

    [[There is a very interesting–and pessimistic–book on global warming by the British scientist James Lovelock. He makes the argument that wind farms are not practical because of the amount of land they take up.]]

    That’s kind of like an argument that heavier-than-air flight is not practical, made in 1925. Wind farms are doing fine all over the world. Denmark is getting 16% of its power from them.

    [[ He also dismisses biofuels for the same reason: To produce power from wind or crops, you have to deforest land, which in turn destroys the land’s ability to absorb CO2.]]

    But quantitatively, you’re still ahead if you generate power from biomass rather than fossil fuels.

    [[ It’s a very interesting argument that has largely been ignored. Indeed, someone only just now figured out that electric cars are bad if the electricity to recharge the batteries comes from coal-fired plants.]]

    Which is an argument, not against electric cars, but against generating power from coal-fired plants.

    [[Unlike most environmentalists, Lovelock actually favors nuclear power. Despite the bad press, he feels nuclear power is far less damaging to the environment than carbon dioxide.]]

    Despite the constant refrain of nuclear advocates to the contrary, the choice is not a dichotomy between coal and nuclear. There are other power sources available.

  97. Frogmarch

    @BA

    if you think that wind turbines can be dismissed in such a short post and with information that you yourself say you heard “7 years ago”, then you may have received some brain damage from reading too many creationist sites.

    Get thee to a homeopath, they can treat such a problem with seaweed and honey.

    I personally love wind turbines and think that they might just save this planet.

    just admit it, you made the post just so that you could show that video. ;-)

  98. HoustonPhysicist

    I heard a good joke about the windfarms in the Texas Panhandle. A visitor stopped in a small town and asked what all the big fans were. The local told him that they were for summertime when it gets real hot.

    That ought to end this string of posts!

  99. Ron

    Opps, Texas has just shown why large scale reliance on wind farms, even for very modest percentage of the power grid, has it’s problems…

    “Loss of wind causes Texas power grid emergency”

    http://www.reuters.com/article/domesticNews/idUSN2749522920080228?feedType=RSS&feedName=domesticNews&rpc=22&sp=true

    I doubt that wind will ever be more than a niche solution because on the vast majority of places the wind is just to fickle to rely on.
    Not being anti wind but just be practical here and yes I know they have the advantage of not irradiating everyone.

  100. Regner Trampedach

    There is so much misinformation around about windmills – it hurts…
    The windmill in the video was either old or defect – Windmills in general
    put the brakes on and feather the blades. I would suspect it to be staged
    actually – an old windmill that was going to be replaced anyway?…
    I don’t think Denmark has 20% of it’s electricity coming from wind
    if it is unviable to send it to the grid! And what about the US-wide power-
    grid – you can’t be loosing all the power at those distances or the grid
    wouldn’t be there.
    Larger windmills (too large for single households) are more efficient and
    can work at much lower windspeeds. In Denmark groups of private people
    for windmill guilts to share a larger windmill.
    A modern windmill can produce 80 times more energy in it’s lifetime
    than will be spend on producing, maintaining and removing the windmill.
    Birds have brains and eyes – they can see windmills! Duh!
    Some birds have been killed by windmill placed in gullies (work like
    windtunnels) – the birds turn a corner, and WHAM! there’s a windmill.
    I don’t think those are considered optimal locations any more.
    Offshore windmills are no problems for birds or fish either, and serve
    as homes for crustaceans.
    Windmills can be put up tomorrow – they are immediately deployable,
    and can do something about the climate NOW.
    Cheers, Regner

  101. Lars Bruchmann

    The problem was more with older turbines, which rotated faster than the newer ones. Birds do indeed see the newer ones and avoid them. yes, cats’ predation is not a good thing, mine don’t go out much. And they’ve never brought me a “present”. As a pilot and aviation safety student- I can tell you that having a blade seperate is very bad. Aircraft engines will vibrate themselves right off their mounts, and fall off. Sometimes they get tangled on their fuel line and drag under the wing, very bad. That video was awesome!!

  102. Quiet_Desperation

    On the other hand, terrorists can’t get material for a nuclear bomb out of a wind farm.

    Well, I’m sorry, Barton, but I can’t live my life wondering how terrorists can misuse anything and everything I do. That way lies madness, mind killing fear and Republicanism.

    Besides, as others already said, power plants are not a great place to get bomb materials anyway, so it’s moot.

  103. Quiet_Desperation

    And the reason X-Rays have not made people comfortable with radiation is that they drop this big, heavy lead shield on you before most X-Rays. That has quite a psychological effect. It did for me as a kid with dental X-Rays. Fortunately, I got older and read these things called science books…

  104. QD posts:

    [[And the reason X-Rays have not made people comfortable with radiation is that they drop this big, heavy lead shield on you before most X-Rays. That has quite a psychological effect. It did for me as a kid with dental X-Rays. Fortunately, I got older and read these things called science books…]]

    Well, tell the nurse to leave the lead shield off you the next few times. Your superior knowledge of radiation should protect your gonads from the 20 millirems per shot of a medical X-ray.

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