Author Q & A
In Wind Energy Basics you discuss how it’s realistic to think wind power could eventually replace oil, coal, and natural gas-fired power plants, in addition to powering all of the cars in the U.S. How straightforward or rapid might this changeover be?
My proposals are based on a long-term commitment to “paying” for renewable energy. This is a departure from two decades of US renewable policy that has been dependent on on-again, off-again tax subsidies. The recent stimulus package contains just more of the same. From a renewables perspective, the stimulus package is the wrong policy at the wrong time.
You write that climate change and the dwindling supply of fossil fuels have increased the presence of alternative energy—especially wind energy, of which you discuss two general forms: wind farms and distributed generation. What’s the difference between the two?
Wind farms refer to large, central-station installations, while distributed generation comes as either household-size wind turbines or community-scale wind projects. North Americans are familiar only with the first two. Germany and Denmark have been successful because they’ve used the third approach: large numbers of community-owned wind turbines, often in small clusters. These are often good examples of “distributed generation” but some are big enough that they’re connected at transmission voltage and, thus, are technically not distributed generation.
What is the difference between power and energy? How does knowing the difference save people money?
The difference between terms is a little too technical to explain well in a short answer. However, what matters for homeowners is that they pay for the energy they buy from the utility company. They don’t pay for the power. Homeowners, then, need to focus on conserving, offsetting, or supplanting the energy they consume and not focus on the “power” that windmill may or may not produce. One windmill with a high power rating may produce less energy than another windmill with a low power rating. I’ve been warning consumers about this for more than three decades.
What are the differences in types of wind turbines for farms, small businesses, schools, and power plants, to name a few? Do they all utilize the same technology?
No. Though most modern wind turbines look alike (three slender blades upwind of the tower), small wind turbines use simpler technology that the giant wind turbines used in wind farms.
How important is considering the site, when thinking about wind power?
Wind is all about the site. Putting up a wind turbine where there’s no wind is like putting a solar panel in the shade. It may make you feel good but it won’t produce electricity.
The question is really, how much wind is enough? I usually turn the question around and ask, how much are you paid for your wind-generated electricity? That will determine what wind you need. If you’re paid a lot, you need less wind than where you are not paid enough.
How can communities work together for wind power?
First, by asking their elected representatives to implement Advanced Renewable Tariffs that include feed-in tariffs for wind energy. If the price, the tariff, is high enough then wind energy can be profitable. When that’s the case, then the community, however you define it, can then go about determining whether they want to install their own community-owned wind turbines. This is what the Germans do and what the Danes used to do before their government stopped them.
All Canadians and all Americans should have the right to develop the wind and solar resource of their communities for a profit. When we do that we will see wind turbines and solar panels spring up all across the continent.
You write about the near universal desire to participate in the renewable energy revolution across the globe. With the current financial crisis in mind, how do you see wind power affecting the economy, say, in the next ten years?
Wind and renewables in general are the best tools we have for reindustrializing the heartland of North America. We need literally millions of megawatts of wind and solar, geothermal and biomass, to eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels. Developing renewables at that scale can create new industries and demand for products from old industries like glass and steel. In doing so we can create hundreds of thousands if not millions of new jobs.
We can repower and rebuild North America and we must do so now. There’s no time to waste.