My latest article in Earth Magazine co-authored by Michael Webber is now available online. Here’s an excerpt:
Humans have harnessed wind energy throughout history for milling, pumping and transportation — in a way you could say it’s the “original” form of industrial energy. But only recently have we built massive, powerful turbines to convert that wind into electricity. As concerns about pollution, carbon emissions, resource depletion and energy security mount, wind farms are an increasingly attractive alternative for meeting growing energy demand.
Unlike many other “solutions,” capturing the wind’s potential emits no hazardous wastes or greenhouse gases, and is an inexhaustible energy source. A boom in development has also created thousands of new jobs during a period when most industries are letting workers go. In 2009 alone, the American wind power industry grew by 39 percent and now accounts for 2 percent of electricity produced in the United States. The total resource in the U.S. central wind corridor could satisfy our total demand for electricity. In the last year, although many renewable technologies have taken a hit as the global economy continued to struggle, wind power — especially offshore wind power — seemed to do all right.
Offshore wind projects are particularly attractive because coastal wind tends to blow more reliably than onshore winds, especially in times of greater demand, such as hot summer afternoons. In addition, a significant fraction of the U.S. population lives near the coasts, so coastal wind farms are close to demand centers, obviating the need for transmission lines that are hundreds or thousands of kilometers long. Ideal conditions involve relatively shallow water, low wave heights and high-speed winds. Development has been rapid, but not uniform because each state must work within its own governance framework to establish the institutions to support them. In 2010, things have progressed in intriguing ways in Massachusetts and Texas, two states with very different perspectives on energy.
Read our full piece here…