Wednesday, April 18, 2012

What is Renewable WIND Energy??

I know alot of people who dont have a clue what a wind turbine is, they just say "Oh those big, white, windmill looking things" This is always after they ask why we live where we do..

Here is a picture of some.

So to clear up some common misconceptions about wind energy and wind turbines, I took the time to interview the site manager at the local "wind farm" project (aka my hubby) to answer some of your possible questions.

Things that aren't true about wind turbines:
they are loud, they kill birds, they make more wind/ effect the weather, they use electricity, govt pays for them.

We all take energy for granted in the US. When you turn on a light or plug in your cell phone charger it works instantly doesnt it? In other countries thats not always the case, there is an energy shortage. Blackouts are common and energy isnt as reliable. We are fortunate here in the states to have to land available to develop renewable energy sources.

I just never thought about it, but we all pay for electricity so where does it come from?

Most Common Sources of Energy:

Fossil Fuels:
  1. Coal Power Plants
  2. Natural Gas
  3. Oil
Fossil fuels supply about 70 percent of all energy used in the United States. Some examples of fossil fuels are coal, lignite, peat, oil and natural gas.

Nuclear power: is the second most commonly used source of energy in the United States. Increasingly used since the 1950s, nuclear power accounts for 14 percent of the total power used in the United States.

Renewable Resources:
  1. Hydroelectric Power (dam/ water)
  2. Wind Energy
  3. Solar Energy
Hydroelectic Power, the water is sent through the hydroelectric power plant and the kinetic energy of the water is converted into other usable forms of energy. About 10 percent of the electricity used in the United States comes from hydroelectric power.

In order to use wind turbines, the wind speed must be more than 12 to 14 miles per hour. From 2008 to 2009, the generation of energy from wind power increased by 33.5 percent, making wind energy 1.9 percent of all energy produced in the United States.
Sunlight can also be converted into electricity using solar cells, also called photovoltaic cells.
Now that we all know where energy comes from (a gist), So lets move on to why renewable energy?

The obvious answer to that question is to renew, in this economy everyone is taking steps to save money and resources somewhere in their life. Whether its using reusable grocery bags at the store, or bringing your own coffee mug to starbucks and having them fill it up, to using reusuable cloth diapers!

So how is wind energy renewable? how can you reuse it?

I could google all day an find all these answers from people who could be accurate or they could be guessing on the topic. So instead I interviewed my hubby who has worked in the wind energy field for the last 6 years and who is now the site manager of a wind project. So I am guessing he knows the facts.. Before we get into the interview I put together a slideshow of pictures I have taken or got from others to show you them in action!

Wind Energy - making a free slideshow
If your on mobile the photo slideshow doesnt work.

Interview with Site Manager Dan F. Wind Project, Mojave, CA, April 2012
  • So how exactly does power get made from a wind turbine? "Basically, as the wind blows past the turbine blades, it causes the blades to turn. The blades are attached to a shaft which goes into the nacelle of the turbine. That shaft is attached to a large gear. That large gear turns slowly, but it is attached to a smaller gear that turns much faster. A shaft is attached to the smaller gear, which goes inside an electrical generator. The electrical generator is basically an electromagnet, and as the shaft turns, electricity is generated and transported down and out of the turbine on cables."
  • How is this process renewable? "Wind is the fuel that powers this type of energy, wind is free, it doesnt cost anyone anything to make it. It is always there and being renewed naturally. "
  • How is it stored or moved to be used? "For the most part, the electricity cannot be stored. Some companies are working on developing that technology, but it is not widespread at this time. Instead, the turbines are connected with underground cables to a substation. The substation increases the voltage and is connected to other substations through overhead power lines. The connected substations are a part of the electric grid. Also attached to the grid are substations which take the electricity, lower the voltage, and transfer it to homes and business on other overhead or underground cables."
  • Is there a possibility the power can be stolen? "Electric meters are used to measure electricity going back and forth all along the grid. The system would know if electricity was missing. Electricity and power is constantly “lost” to the air because transmission systems are not perfect."
  • So how much does it cost to make or put up these turbines, and who is paying to put them up? "Cost varies greatly based on a number of factors including the size of the turbines, location of the project, terrain, schedule, time of the year, existing infrastructure, new infrastructure, environmental requirements, distance from transmission lines for the power, etc, etc. In general though, on a per kilowatt basis, Wind Energy plant construction costs are right in line with the costs associated with building a clean coal, nuclear, or natural gas power plant. Hydroelectric, Solar, and Geothermal tend to be more expensive than Wind Energy. There are multiple levels of financing and investment companies that develop the park, but in short, the company that sells the power to the local utility company, who in turn sells it to consumers, is the one paying to build the park."
  • How much energy is produced from one turbine? "At peak production, each turbine can produce just over 3 MW (mega-watts) of energy. Obviously, the turbines do not produce at maximum output all the time. The average household uses around 9000 KW-h (kilowatt hours) per year, so in short, each turbine provides enough power for around 800 homes. What about 100 turbines? 80,000 homes."
  • How many does it take to energize an entire city? "Depends on the size of the city. New York City is estimated to use around 40 Billion KW-h per year. The entire wind energy network is the United States has a capacity of just under 46 GW (giga-watts), meaning enough to power 3 New York Cities every year. 100 3MW turbines would produce enough energy for a city of 50,000-60,000 people.
  • What is the main benefit of using wind energy vs nuclear energy? "Wind Energy does not require any fuel to operate, does not produce any harmful by-products, and is generally considered far safer than nuclear energy. Wind Energy also does not have the social and political stigma associated with nuclear energy."
  • Who specifically benefits from your project? & How? "I would say everyone. Renewable Energy is far better for the environment than other sources of energy such as fossil fuels and nuclear. Impact to the environment through construction is also minimized because of the relatively small amount of land required for the turbines to be built upon. In most areas, farming and other uses of the land can be performed right up next to the turbines and roads."
  • Does wind energy help the community in any way? "The local economy is helped with the creation of jobs and all of the money that is spent locally on both construction materials and stimulus to the economy from the employment. Housing, restaurants, local business’ all benefit."
  • Does wind energy destroy the environment in any way? There are some effects of course, but they are far less than the impacts from traditional power plants such as coal or natural gas. Impact to the land and wild life is minimized and mitigated as much as possible. Impacts to birds are widely misrepresented by anti-wind groups and the majority is propaganda. Again, traditional power plants kill and harm far more wildlife than wind turbines."
  • Are there requirements for where these "wind farms" have to be located? or can they be put up anywhere? "Wind Farms could be built just about anywhere the wind blows, but they are located in areas that have the strongest and most reliable winds. The energy generated is cheaper if it is more consistant, which makes those locations better. There are also other considerations such as ease of construction, environmental impacts, distance to population centers that require the electricity, etc."
  • Could someone put up a smaller scale turbine on their land to power their property? "Yes. There are small scale turbines available that people can install on their land to power their property. Some utility companies even allow the turbines to be connected to the grid and extra electricity can be sold back to the utility for use by others. "
  • What do you see for the future of wind energy? What about solar energy? A number of states have renewable energy initiatives requiring a certain percentage of their energy to come from renewable sources. This will continue to drive the industry. The size of turbines will continue to grow in order to take advantage of areas with less reliable wind resources. Wind turbines will also be installed off-shore in the ocean or in lakes to take advantage of consistant wind resources in those areas. Smart grid systems and electricity storage systems will also continue to be developed. All renewable energy, including solar, will continue to grow and become a stronger part of our economy going forward."
  • Is there a place people can go to support wind energy? "There are a number of resources available on the internet. is the American Wind Energy Association and they have a number of valuable resources for people looking to learn more about or support the industry. They have a free monthly trade publication that usually has some good articles and information as well. The US Department of Energy is also a good source of information."


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