Some Enercon wind turbines (E-101/E-115 left, E-126 right)
But what the heck, why not go for the optimistic gusto? Let's splurge and cogitate on a better way to make electricity and things that can be made at a reasonable price using what we know works now. Let's imagine our leaders do what is right by the planet, and by most people, and not just for the lucky few (which usually includes themselves in that picture - right?)… So, off we go……
Recently, GE announced that they had just sold their 20,000th wind turbine - but their arch-nemesis in Germany - Enercon - has also just sold it's 20,000th turbine. And that unit was not just any kind of turbine - it was one of the biggest in the world (see top picture) - the E-126 (now undergoing serial (or "mass") production about 100 to 200 per year). This VERY hard to hide unit (a 135 meter (443 feet) tall tower, 126 meter (413 feet) rotor diameter) is rated at 7.5 MW, and for about $US 20 million, it can be obtained as long as you don't want it installed in the USA. Like with many Enercon units, the tower is made of reinforced concrete (steel is too flexible), and like all Enercon units, this unit is gearless, often with around 108 poles on the low rpm generator (higher spinning speed generators only have 4 or 6 poles). Turbine number 20K was installed at a huge auto raceway (sort of like Watkins Glen) in Brandenburg, and the intention was most definitely NOT to hide it. For those opposed to wind power, this is an in your face refutation of the superstition, bigotry, ignorance of science and climate insanity that generally (key word here is GENERALLY) seems to be associated with hatred of renewable energy systems. And since the winds at 135 meters above the ground are roughly 12% faster than those at 80 meters in forested regions (like those in Brandenburg or Watkins Glen), this E-126 should be able to put out about 1.4 times as much power per unit rotor area as a smaller unit on an 80 meter tower (which is the majority of US commercial scale wind turbines).
Enercon is a privately held company that does not have to pay dividends, unlike GE, which is a publicly traded company. GE makes all kinds of energy related stuff, both pollution related (gas turbines, steam generators for coal fired plants, nuclear reactors, coal based sun-gas systems) and renewable (biogas gen-sets, wind turbines, steam turbine/generators for biomass, geothermal and solar thermal systems), while Enercon only makes renewable energy systems, and is almost entirely wind turbine oriented. But, between the two companies, over 60 GW of wind turbine capacity has been installed worldwide, with an output equivalent to 20 x 1.1 GW rated nukes. But these wind systems are not made for altruism - this is a money making arrangement. The combined sales of the GE wind division and Enercon (an odd corporate couple if there ever was one) is over $120 billion in the last decade. Nice work if you can get it…. and a bit more than chump change. Plus, they both see growth opportunities worldwide in the wind biz, even if the US wind industry for 2013 is but a shadow of what it was for 2012…
Wind turbines have a number of nifty features. They have an EROEI (Energy Returned On Energy Invested) value of between 20:1 to 40:1, far greater than what PV is for good locations (about 6:1). For an EROEI analysis, all of the energy used in making and installing the system as well as the "embedded energy" in the materials used (for example, concrete and steel) is added up and compared with the expected lifetime energy output. The "energy payback" period of a wind turbine tends to be 6 months to a year, depending upon the wind speed at the given location. And thanks to the development of "Low Wind Speed Turbines", about half of the land mass of the planet can generate electricity at prices between 5% to 50% of the same location's solar photovoltaic potential. Another nifty feature is production cost stability - annual production costs are fixed when the financing for the project has been nailed down, so that long term power purchase agreements are a viable way to do business. And once the turbine has been paid off, production costs are really low - between 1 to 2 c/kw-hr. The electricity production without CO2 emanations is also pretty cool....
So let's get cracking, and "Git 'er done", as that sage provider of wisdom (Larry the Cable Guy) is known to say in his very emphatic way.
And since "we're not gittin' 'er done", climate-wise, what's the problem? There's that widespread unemployment problem, and that infernal Global Warming "super-wicked problem" which both need to be solved ASAP. Wind power might just be THE dominant way to do this, world wide - but especially in the USA, (since we have such an awesome wind resource both on and offshore) much to the chagrin of futurists and other prognosticators of what is likely to come (wind turbines never seemed to be in their picture..). Especially in conjunction with either pumped hydroelectric (low cost option) or compressed air (more expensive, but when you either don't have hills and/or water…) energy storage facilities. We in the US should have at least 1 million people directly employed making and installing wind turbines, and yet peak employment maxed out at around 75,000 earlier this year before it became apparent that the PTC incentive system was not going to be allowed to be extended by Republicans in the House of Representatives. There is so much room for improvement… so what's the problem? You don't want to be in violation of Larry the Cable Guy's Climate Fixing Edict now, do you?
Actually, the problem lies with the way we pay those who generate electricity, and what costs imposed on the world are not paid by those paying for the electricity. Right now the going rate paid to electricity generators in the US is in the 3 to 6 c/kw-hr range (it's likely to be 3 c/kw-hr in WNY for 2012). And if we decide that since we haven't paid for the CO2 pollution problem (or the nuke rad waste trash disposal problem, either) and we really don't want to raise electricity prices by between 8 to 10 cents/kw-hr to do this, maybe there is an easy compromise. If it costs around 6 to 12 c/kw-hr to generate electricity by commercial scale wind turbines (depends what the wind resource is at a given location), maybe we could just set a price for wind based on the average cost to make it in a given region plus some reasonable profit rate. The cost to make wind based electricity remain constant (yearly basis) and are not affected by the price of coal or natural gas (which don't necessarily reflect the cost to deliver them to their users but instead how much money can be extracted from those users). Pricing systems for electrical generation based on fossil rules or renewables should not be the same if the cost of fuels is pretty much the main refrain (coal, natural gas) or irrelevant (wind turbines). Putting your left shoe on your right foot is stupid, and so is using identical pricing arrangements for wind turbines and pollution based fossil fuel powers approaches.
So that's how you "Git 'er Done". Got a problem with that? That same pricing system was integral to winning World War 2, where we simply out-produced Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan COMBINED as part of the war effort.
And while the USA is nominally a democracy, the number of non-politicians who are the main determinants ("energy deciders") of how our political leaders vote on energy related issues (and pricing is the big one on energy) is a really minute fraction of our population, and as a rule are wealthy white dudes. And while it might be possible to identify them, convincing them is likely to be an impossible (at minimum highly improbable) even if you are a relative, offspring or spouse of them. It would be nice to think that that sad dog look (when it's time for food but the owner spent the dog food money trying to get lucky (if you know what I mean), and probably endedcoming up unlikely, the owner is going to rightly be on the receiving end of THE LOOK) would dip the trick. You know, the kids saying "why are you trashing my future, big time?", along with the neighbors and everyone else in the community of these "energy deciders". Except the communities in which these "energy deciders" tend to live are all filled with rich white dudes - and rarely young ones, either - in some very socially, economically and quite often politically segregate communities.
Odds are, some candidate states (like NY?) will need to be selected, and some relentless citizen pressure will need to be applied to both politicians and those "energy deciders" who tend to be walled off in rich people suburbs. And they will need to be proverbially beat upon with the combination of green jobs, economic activity and sane climate compatible policies, and called out when they are promoting lies, such as "tracking is good for us" (the apparent present Cuomo NY State energy policy). And while this may seem like the equivalent to pumping out a malfunctioning septic tank and at times quite distasteful, remember that life is a lot better when such things are working than when they are not. It took many decades to build up the non-renewable, depleting resource based energy system that runs our country. And its has been a decade of "money for nothing" renewable energy pricing systems based on the de-facto policy bribing of rich people via tax avoidance subsidies that needs too be overcome. Just like in physics where to move a body at rest it requires energy to be expended, it's going to take work to adjust the electricity pricing system in a place like NY State. But seriously, what's the alternative - more unemployment, more Frankenstorm Sandy's as well as ever increasing energy prices and exports of money to pay for imports of fossil fuel energy if we keep the status quo? That sounds like going nowhere, ad infinitum. Nope, it's got to be "pester politicians relentlessly", and proverbialy "beating upon their financial contributors" until the job gets accomplished. And don't forget to shine a light on shady groups like the local "Chamber of Commerce" or equivalents.. They will only change if they are "motivated" by others, even if they stand to make a ton of money "going renewable".
Anyway, we have a change of year coming up soon. Time to get cracking' and "Git 'er Done". Besides, some of those wind turbines can be so darn photogenic….
Images: Enercon turbines, from "Windblatt" Vol 3, 2012 (http://www.enercon.de)