Evolution of Wind Power

Wind energy often takes a bad rap for its role in bird deaths (though as I’ve posted before, vastly higher numbers of birds are killed yearly by cars, plate glass windows, bridges etc. than by windmills). Neverthless:

SF Chronicle: With 5,000 windmills in a 50-square-mile area, the Altamont Pass is the world’s largest wind farm, producing enough electricity to power 200,000 households annually. But it is also the worst in the country for slaughtering birds.

Environmentalists are not stuck in limbo on wind energy though. Installations like Altamont have become both proving grounds and object lessons for one of the cleanest, most renewable energy technologies we have. Newer towers are much taller, with much larger turbines, both factors that greatly reduce bird deaths by making themselves more visible while spinning, and by spinning above the altitude where predatory birds fly. And, according to the Chronicle piece, we’ve learned that placing the turbines on the leeward side of mountains, we remove them from the paths favored by birds.

4 Replies to “Evolution of Wind Power”

  1. leeward
    adj : on the side away from the wind; “on the leeward side of the island” [ant: windward] n 1: the direction in which the wind is blowing [ant: windward] 2: the side of something that is sheltered from the wind [syn: lee, lee side] adv : toward the wind; “they were sailing leeward” [syn: upwind] [ant: windward]

    I think the prediction that, “We’ll have the same amount of energy production — 38 megawatts — with fewer turbines,” may be a bit rosy. I mean, it stands to reason that if you put fewer turbines in a place with less wind, the power generation is going to take a hit.

    I’d like to see some kind of high-altitude (think stratosphere) wind farm. Far beyond the ceiling of bird flight, and sitting in the most powerful wind currents on the planet. Balloons? I dunno. But as it stands 200,000 households sounds like a lot, until you figure that’s less than a third of the homes just in the Bay Area.

    I guess California could go all-wind power if we just blanketed New Mexico and Arizona with turbines. ;)

    Gunh … what’s the answer? It sure ain’t fossil fuels in 500 years.

  2. This sounds like the concern of a post-materialist liberal; not someone with any sense of magnatude or science.

    A few birds verses the untold damage of excessive fossil fuel use, which is it going to be?

    That is to say, we can eventually fix the bird problem, but it should not in any way inhibit the adoption of wind power.

    Or, we can always got back down that clean coal bunny hole… or, nuclear power…

    As an aside, what might the other implications of wind farms be? Specifically, on climate? Cities have a tremendous effect on the local climate, what would acres and acres of wind farms across the planet do?

  3. Tim, microgeneration is really attractive, but of course requires re-fitting or retro-fitting every house in the country/world, which is almost inconceivable. Wind farms and other sources at least allow the existing infrastructure to be used pretty much as-is. But it is a fascinating idea, and I hope we see more new homes built to be self-sustaining. I sure would love to build one.

    mneptok, no doubt the leeward side is going to have somewhat less wind, but I don’t think they’d be planning leeward deployments if it were going to result in infeasibly weak power generation (IOTW I’m sure they’ve done plenty of experiments adn calculations to make the determination already).

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