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Will Wind Power Change Earth's Climate? 883

Posted by samzenpus
from the hot-breeze dept.
lommer writes "The Globe and Mail is currently running an article on a recent wind power study. A group of Canadian and American scientists has modelled the effects of introducing massive amounts of wind farms into North America and have come up with surprising results. While still having only 1/5th the impact of fossil fuels, wind power will still adjust the earth's climate with the equatorial regions warmed while the arctic grows colder. Could this be a boon for the nuclear lobby, or is this just further evidence for a diversified power-generating system?"
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Will Wind Power Change Earth's Climate?

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  • Finally! (Score:3, Funny)

    by LinuxRulz (678500) * on Wednesday November 10, 2004 @11:46PM (#10784134)
    Wow! so we can affect temperature by building wind farms.
    Just hope they will build a lot of these north of my town so we can stop that freezing north wind.
    • Energy.... (Score:5, Funny)

      by vwjeff (709903) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:14AM (#10784345)
      1. Walk to Taco Bell.
      2. Buy 2 bean burritos.
      3. Walk home.
      4. Wait 8-16 hours.
      5. Energy in the form of gas.
      6. Sell gas to power company.

      Repeat steps 1-6.
  • by el-spectre (668104) on Wednesday November 10, 2004 @11:49PM (#10784153) Journal
    You think wind farms (which are, after all, designed to let most of the wind pass) are going to have more effect than cities full of blocky buildings?

    I think not.
    • Wind farms certainly will cover as much (if not more) surface area/acerage as the tall blocky buildings. And the blocky buildings aren't designed to be as efficient as possible in removing kinetic energy from air -- the streets of Chicago are still windy. Large buildings also are generally clumped tightly together, acting more like a single unit on a large scale than the relatively widely-spaced wind turbines.
    • by wass (72082) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @01:13AM (#10784766)
      I've brought up possible challenges to wind power many times on previous discussions on slashdot. I've been modded into oblivion each time, often labelled as an oil-lobby troll for indicating wind power may not be as 'green' as most people claim, for the very reasons cited in this article. Even though I never claimed it wasn't, I was just pointing out it MIGHT alter the climate, we just need to study it a bit, and such a study is certainly within reason to do. I wish I was able to access my previous posts (even from only a few months ago) just to say 'nya nya nya nya'...

      Anyway, your point is brought up often, either mentioned as buildings or forests. Buildings channel wind energy, while windmills more-or-less absorb it. Buildings alter the flow of wind, have you ever noticed the wind tunnel effect near some buildings? Sure buildings will absorb some of the wind's kinetic energy, but that is through frictional shear and is relatively small.

      Windmills, on the other hand, are 'moving' against the wind, thereby absorbing wind energy. The wind is constantly pushing the turbine, fighting the back-EMF of the generator, and the windmills thus do extract the kinetic energy of the wind.

      The way this affects the planet's weather is to consider thermal transports, through the jet stream and gulf stream, for example. Slowing down these streams, by extracting the kinetic energy of the flows, will slow the transfer of heat being carried by these streams. Result - more heat gets 'dumped' closer to the equator, less heat makes it to the poles.

      Effects of thermal streams is greatly important. Look at a World Map [wikipedia.org], and compare cities in Northeastern USA and Canada with European cities at the same latitude. The European cities are MUCH warmer, thanks to lots of air and ocean currents carrying them heat. Now if these currents are interrupted, that means less heat flowing to these places.

      An analogy I came up with previously is the following. Imagine Springfield every day sends 10 trucks full of boiling water to Shelbyville. There's two energies at play here - the kinetic energy of the truck to deliver the boiling water, and the heat energy within the boiling water itself. The heat energy keeps Shelbyville warmer than it would be if the water never arrived. Now assume the trucks carry exactly enough fuel to just barely make it to Shelbyville on nice smooth roads. If we go and add friction to these roads (say dig some ditches on the way) the truck won't make it all the way, and the heat energy of the boiling water will be given off somewhere else. The results - Shelbyville gets colder, and the area between Springfield and Shelbyville gets warmer. Note that the heat energy can be much greater than the kinetic energy needed to stop the flow, so windfarms have the ability to affect much greater energy scales then they produce.

      Okay, now I'm really glad scientists have modelled this wind-power study, because I've been proposing ecologists do it for years. Climate is a very tricky thing to calculate, because so many factors are intricately woven together. But the fact that this is finally being studied by people claiming to be independent professionals give me some relief.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 11, 2004 @05:03AM (#10785674)
        Interesting troll. You're up to "5" and someone out there thinks there is insight in it so I'll bite.

        [and I've got a degree in atmospheric physics and hate to see people believing crap...]

        The jet streams are quite a bit higher than the wind mill which resides in the lower boundary layer. The wind mill is at 100m. The jet stream above 10 kilometers. By definition the jet has high shear, and a tiny bit of turbulence miles below is really just a grain of sand on the beach to it..

        Sure there's an effect, it is just so small in a practical sense that it sums to near zero.

        You got the bit about solar energy being transported to the poles correct. That doesn't make the rest of your argument float one bit though.

        I wish you had taken the forest vs building thing further.. forests absorb *way* more energy than a few thousand windmills ever could. (look at mean wind conditions in Antarctica for example)

        Of course if you do a study where you fill all of Canada with windmills spaced every 100m you start to increase drag.. so what- it isn't a realistic scenario.

        You've got a theoretical and small problem from wind power. You've got a actual and large problem from fossil fuels. Therefore keep the status quo! Brilliant.
  • by LostCluster (625375) * on Wednesday November 10, 2004 @11:49PM (#10784154)
    Energy cannot be created nor destroyed. There's a finite quantity of it in this universe, and it's not changing. Of course, Planet Earth is constantly gaining energy on a daily basis thanks to the generosity of The Sun.

    It shouldn't come as a surprise that any form of energy capture, no matter how you do it is going to take energy out of the environment and that as a result changes the environment. I'm pretty sure if we had massive solar panels all over the place, that'd effect the temperature by taking sunlight that would have heated the ground and diverting it. There's no free source of energy, you've gotta take it from somewhere!
    • by bleakcabal (719309) on Wednesday November 10, 2004 @11:53PM (#10784195)
      Don't listen to him ! It's just this kind of thinking which is keeping people from investing in my perpetual motion machine !
    • by deglr6328 (150198) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:12AM (#10784322)
      There is one "free" energy source. Thermonuclear fusion [wikipedia.org]. Running fusion reactors for a hundred generations at full world energy capacity would lower the level of the oceans by 1mm [madsci.org]. Again and again and again we come back to this in these conversations about future energy supplies. Fusion is the only realistic long term, clean and safe solution to the world's "constant on" high energy density and high power density needs. Yet even today we languish [interfax.ru] in pissing contests over where the first demonstration reactor will be built. Fusion is an extraordinarily difficult but ultimately solvable problem, and we will solve it. We have to solve it.
      • by thpr (786837)
        The problem with "free" is that there is no free lunch. The problem with Thermonuclear fusion is that it is producing HEAT. Even used to produce electricity, the end result (at my computer or light bulb or whatever) is HEAT.

        That HEAT changes the environment, because it is a net addition of energy. The earth must dissipate that energy (presumably the atmosphere losing heat into space) or the environment will still be changing.

        Don't get me wrong - It may be a LOT better than any other power system becau

        • by toddestan (632714) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @01:08AM (#10784728)
          The problem with "free" is that there is no free lunch. The problem with Thermonuclear fusion is that it is producing HEAT. Even used to produce electricity, the end result (at my computer or light bulb or whatever) is HEAT.

          That HEAT changes the environment, because it is a net addition of energy. The earth must dissipate that energy (presumably the atmosphere losing heat into space) or the environment will still be changing.


          Hmm... maybe we could use wind turbines to remove some of this energy from the air?
    • by oolon (43347) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:16AM (#10784361)
      "Energy cannot be created nor destroyed" is the First law of themodynamics and can be credited to James Prescott Joule and Hermann von Helmholtz NOT Newton. He wrote the laws of motion!

      Anyway this is nothing to do with the amount of energy in the system is to do with how the energy within the system is distributed, the wind fans increase the mixing of air levels (Turbulance). This has little affect during the day (apparently) but in the night results in warming air from higher up being mixed in.

      James
    • Newton said what? (Score:4, Informative)

      by PigBoyOhBoy (749359) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:16AM (#10784368) Journal
      As someone else mentioned, the Earth is pretty much in energy equilibrium. Energy from the sun arrives at the planet, stirs things up a bit, and is re-radiated out to the universe. What goes out is basically equal to what came in. Using fossil fuels or nuclear energy disturbs the equilibrium by converting potential energy sources into heat which must be radiated out to space along with the stuff that's already coming in from the sun.

      Renewable sources such as wind or solar energy may disturb what happens in the atmosphere one way or another (cooler here, warmer there..), but they don't upset the overall energy balance. Energy that would have gone directly into heating the atmosphere, is channeled through our widescreen TVs and electric vehicles first, where it ultimately converts to heat that is re-radiated back to the universe.

    • by Almost-Retired (637760) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @03:28AM (#10785344)
      Of course, Planet Earth is constantly gaining energy on a daily basis thanks to the generosity of The Sun.

      And I believe that statement is not the actual scenario. If it was, we would long since have been toasted, say about 4.5 billion years ago because this planet started out far hotter then than it is now.

      This planet, for all its cold weather here and there, still has a molten iron core from its original formation days. It loses heat to the night sky, heat both from the previous daytime solar influx over the past few weeks AND a certain amount of heat coming up from below as this iron core continues its several billion year cooldown.

      One should never forget that the tempurature of the clear night sky is about 2.3 degrees absolute, and thats damned cold. Give thanks for these few miles of air, it not only has oxygen for us to breath, but often furnishes a very effective insulating blanket with its clouds of water vapor.

      My take is that the night time heat loss exceeds that of the solar influx by a very small but measurable amount. Probably far less than 0.001% of the total, but there none the less. Perhaps someone who has studied this can further comment with some solid facts?

      As far as the buildings not taking any energy out of the moving air because they don't move, there is still some net loss of energy from the viscosity losses if nothing else. Since the buildings are generally a much larger cross section than the windmill blades, I'd think that it would be a tossup as to which disturbs the air flow more.

      Big trees OTOH, would seem to effect it to a much higher degree simply because they have so much more surface area per foot sticking up for the air to eddy and swirl about, losing energy in the process as it moves by.

      In the really tall tree areas, like in Big Trees National Monument in central CA, what might be a 35 mph wind swaying the tops of those 300 foot trees, is reduced to a very gentle breeze at ground level. You are not really aware of it till you look up wondering where the wind noise is coming from.

      Ditto for some of the high country that I've walked around on in Colorado. 14 foot of powder at 10,800 feet in February, makes for real work getting around when you have a microwave site sitting on the very peak of the mountain thats died and must be fixed. That rocky peak might have a 50mph 'breeze' carrying a 3 foot thick blanket of heavy powder going by it, but drop 200 feet down the hill into the trees and even 20 below becomes tolerable if you are dressed right.

      But that last 1/4 mile from the end of trees to the shack, and back to the trees when you are done could kill you very easily. Been there, done that, carrying 25-35 pounds of tool boxes, spare parts and test gear, several times. On North Mountain, TBE. Thankfully, theres not that much snow to slog thru at the peak, the wind keeps it cleared away rather nicely.

      Cheers, Gene
  • by AyeFly (242460) on Wednesday November 10, 2004 @11:49PM (#10784156)
    From what I understand of Global Warming, the arctic getting warmer is a problem. According to the article these non-polluting wind farms would make the arctic colder...Bonus!
  • Nucular (Score:5, Insightful)

    by celeritas_2 (750289) <ranmyaku@gmail.com> on Wednesday November 10, 2004 @11:50PM (#10784167)
    Why is it that people are so scared of nuclear plants, i would find global climate change to be a lot worse than the ever reducing risk of a nuclear accident. I'd rather have a few square miles potentially ruined than a certain change to the global system.
    • Re:Nucular (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Mr. Slippery (47854) <tms.infamous@net> on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:21AM (#10784412) Homepage
      Why is it that people are so scared of nuclear plants...I'd rather have a few square miles potentially ruined than a certain change to the global system.

      Between mining tailings, waste disposal, and the risk of a meltdown or reactor breach, we're talking about a lot more than a few square miles. (Chernobyl affected dairy farms in the U.S., for example.)

      Yes, some people are unreasonably scared of nuclear power. Other are unreasonably enamored of it, some Gersbackian techno-fetish of Big Science to Save The World

    • Re:Nucular (Score:4, Funny)

      by jebiester (589234) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:28AM (#10784468)
      Nucular?? Is that you, George?
    • Re:Nucular (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:36AM (#10784518)
      The problem with nuclear power is, at least for most people who knows anything about nuclear powerplant safety control, not the problem of nuclear accidents. Today, nuclear accidents should not occur if it was not for two reasons:
      • outside security risks such as earth shakes and BIG F*CKN missiles (remember, these sort of threats are taken in to consideration (today) when building a powerplant - it's not you're average shed)
      • neglection of maintenance
      The big problem nuclear activists (with any sort of clue and who don't resort to FUD campaigns) showcase is how we're dealing with nuclear waste. That is how do you store contaminated material and burnt out fuel (low rate uranium - it decays you know...). Over the years this waste piles up big time and it isn't really responisble to ship it away to a third world country or to dig it down.

      Today there exists quite a lot of technology to improve this situation, but it still is mostly both expensive and somewhat inefficient.
    • Re:Nucular (Score:3, Insightful)

      by oolon (43347)
      While I myself am pro nuclear, these do not provide "free" energy, To drive the turbines they produce steam (normally), the heat used to produce this steam gets vented to the outside, warming river/sea or increasing cloud cover if released as steam. When the electricity is used this eventually it is eventually turns to EM radation and heat. The "advantage" is its not putting out CO2 which increased the capture rate of energy from the sun. Fossil fuels are still required to build and maintain the nuke statio
    • Re:Nucular (Score:5, Informative)

      by jmv (93421) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:43AM (#10784562) Homepage
      I'm not that much worried about power plant accidents. What worries me is that nobody has yet found anything to do with the wastes. Oh and there's no really sure way of stocking tons of wastes for centuries either.
      • Re:Nucular (Score:4, Interesting)

        by CamMac (140401) <PvtCam@yahoo. c o m> on Thursday November 11, 2004 @02:56AM (#10785235)
        Actually, look at a series of reactors knows as Breeder reactors. More expensive to build and fuel, but they run off of the waste from other reactors. At least before that waste got embedded in glass, drowned in concrete, and put someplace. They also generate more fuel than they use.

        There are also methods to process the waste to reduce the halflife of it. Worse case senario? Bury it along an subduction fault, and let tectonic forces carry it into the mantle. My personal favorite? Bury it all, and set up a geothermal powerplant on the site.

        There are alot of nuclear waste options out there that need more research and better public understanding.

        --Cam
      • Re:Nucular (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Afty0r (263037) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @08:12AM (#10786212) Homepage
        Oh and there's no really sure way of stocking tons of wastes for centuries either.
        Of course there is. Thermal Subduction.

        First use Breeder Reactors so the physical amount of waste is minimal, and cannot be weaponised, and is really efficient per unit mined.

        Next up, infuse the waste material into relatively small glass rods, and bury these rods in the Ocean floor (probably mid-Atlantic, most consistent movement) very close to a faultline where the plate is burying itself beneath another. Hey presto, 50 years or so later your waste is buried pretty deep, getting deeper, and in a few centuries is part of our Magma. Problem solved.
    • by taharvey (625577) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @02:31AM (#10785131)
      Nuclear energy is an interesting science experiment, but a bad commercial energy source.

      1. Its too expensive, the last plant to come on line in the eighties in the US, generated electricity a cost higher than solar power of the same era (the luz plant). After around $3 trillion in R&D funding, subsidies, loan guarantees, insurance no fault legislation, etc nuclear power is STILL a commercial failure only to exist out of the "goodness" of governments around the world.

      2. Smart engineers know Murphy always wins. Its not IF there's going to be a serious accident (there have been many already), its WHEN. Reliability and safety only comes in nines - no such thing a 100% perfect.

      3. Nuclear proliferation. The nuclear power industry is the only other major user and generator of nuclear materials other than nuclear weapons. You eliminate nuclear power and nuclear proliferation is easily controlled. Remember it only takes 5lbs of plutonium or 25lbs uranium to make a bomb. Once you've got the material, the bomb itself is literally garage science.

      4. Compared to alternative energy (solar, wind, geothermal, wave, etc.), it's less commercially viable with far more risks. Nuclear power only wins on one account: energy density. And yet, outside of a nuclear submarine, this isn't an advantage! Transmitting power is twice the operation costs and ten times the capital cost compared to the generation of that power. Small decentralized power souces such a solar, photovoltaics, wind, etc is far cheaper overall.

      5. Large monolithic power plants take years to build, the investment makes no sense without government subsidies if you have to wait 5 years just to begin to make some income, and 15 years to breakeven. Modular power technologies that are built on an assembly lines, such as photovoltaics generate returns within days.

      I could go on here, but I think you get the point. Nuclear energy is a fun science experiment, but commercially we should cut our losses and run.

      Solar power is after all fusion power already done for us, at a safe distance, and transmitted free nearly equally around the world with sufficient energy density to suit the worlds needs for millennia to come.

      Interpretation for computer guys:
      Nuclear power: old complex clunky mainframe, prone to bugs.
      Solar power: wireless handheld with worldwide networking

  • by LWATCDR (28044) on Wednesday November 10, 2004 @11:51PM (#10784174) Homepage Journal
    "Could this be a boon for the nuclear lobby, or is this just further evidence for a diversified power-generating system?"
    Yes and yes. Of all the alternative power sources wind is just about the least practical for large scale explotation. Use the right system in the right place.
  • I'm sorry (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nwbvt (768631) on Wednesday November 10, 2004 @11:51PM (#10784178)
    Does someone out there really expect wind power to become the major supplier (more than fossil fuels and nuclear) of Earth's energy? Is anyone out there really that naive?
  • by darnok (650458) on Wednesday November 10, 2004 @11:51PM (#10784179)
    ...I was amazed by:
    - how big it was (huge!)
    - how noisy it was (I sort of thought it'd be silent; not sure why...)
    - how still the air was immediately below it, even though the windmill itself was turning at a moderate rate

    Quite an amazing piece of gear; if you ever get the chance to get up close to one, take it.
  • by mcg1969 (237263) on Wednesday November 10, 2004 @11:52PM (#10784183)
    ...that any man-made alteration of the ecosystem is necessarily bad?

    Seriously. OK, so a few species will go extinct. But who's to say that some species won't flourish as a result. The ecosystem will be different, but it won't necessarily be worse. The ecosystem will adapt.

    I think it's safe to say that the poisons introduced by fossil fuel burning have a net negative effect. But wind farms? I mean, solve the bird blender problem and what's the harm otherwise?

    I also wonder what effect huge solar farms would have on the ecosystem. Extracting energy from sunlight that would normally heat the crust of the earth might also have an interesting impact. But again, I don't think we should automatically assume that change is bad.
    • Were you sitting in a big leather wheelchair wearing a monocle and petting a white Persian cat as you typed that post?

      How about this - we have no freaking idea what the consequences of a rapid climate change will be.

      "Oh crap, we killed all the phytoplankton. Now what?" This is heavy stuff.
    • Seriously. OK, so a few species will go extinct. But who's to say that some species won't flourish as a result. The ecosystem will be different, but it won't necessarily be worse. The ecosystem will adapt.

      The real danger to bio-diversity is when the climate changes quickly. That leads to mass extinction, and at times like that, the top of the food chain, and the specialist species are most at risk.
    • by nickco3 (220146) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @06:16AM (#10785849)
      Seriously. OK, so a few species will go extinct. But who's to say that some species won't flourish as a result. The ecosystem will be different, but it won't necessarily be worse. The ecosystem will adapt.

      The ecosystem will adapt, it always has, some species will be losers, some will be winners. The question is: which will homo sapiens be, a winner or a loser? The losers tend to be those at the top of the pile when it was kicked over (i.e. us), the winners tend to be little things living at the bottom of the food chain. The Permian-Triassic extinction event wiped out 70% of all land species and 95% of all marine ones. For some time after the dominant form of life was fungus. I don't know about you, but I'm happy reading about that in a book, I don't particularly feel the urge to experience an "adjusting" ecosystem at first hand.

  • This blows (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 10, 2004 @11:53PM (#10784189)
    So does this mean the United States is going to start invading windy countries?
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Shhhh... Liberating, you mean LIBERATING windy countries.
  • by Spoing (152917) on Wednesday November 10, 2004 @11:54PM (#10784199) Homepage
    ...kill yourself.

    Be quick about it, OK? OH, and when you kill yourself, do it in a forest by yourself so that you can be converted into plant material with the minimum of impact.

    We can't get all of that last fifth of the 5 fifths -- though you worthless schmuck should do your part ASAP and stop ruining the environment with each extra breath or moment that you block the wind.

    Thanks!

  • hmmm... (Score:4, Funny)

    by mangnato89 (759794) on Wednesday November 10, 2004 @11:54PM (#10784201)
    would it help if they make the turbines spin the other way?
  • by fossa (212602) <pat7@NoSPam.gmx.net> on Wednesday November 10, 2004 @11:58PM (#10784224) Journal

    I've heard numerous times that for the same power output, a nuclear reactor generates less radioactive material than, say, a coal fired plant. The problem is that the nuclear waste is in a big chunk, and must be stored somewhere. My question is, why not pulverize said nuclear waste and pump it into the atmosphere? At worst, we'd be doing slightly better than coal plants right? And we'd have solved the waste storage problem... right? I'm sure there's something I'm missing (other than the obvious: that's just insidiously stupid).

    • by FortranDragon (98478) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:41AM (#10784553)
      Check out one of my old replies: http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=123955&cid=104 06692 [slashdot.org]

      Moderators, please save your mod points for other comments. I don't think it would be right to get more karma for the same post. ;-)

    • by Idarubicin (579475) <allsquietNO@SPAMhotmail.com> on Thursday November 11, 2004 @01:33AM (#10784858) Journal
      My question is, why not pulverize said nuclear waste and pump it into the atmosphere? At worst, we'd be doing slightly better than coal plants right?

      Part of the problem is that pulverizing the waste and putting it into the atmosphere is hard to do. Particularly when you want to distribute it evenly, so that you don't inadvertently create hotspots downwind. Heavy metal dust will have a tendency to settle rapidly--in a nuclear war, we'd call it fallout. You've probably noticed that the smokestacks of an operating coal-fired generating station very quickly become stained black. It's a very bad situation if that unsightly blackness is high-level nuclear waste instead of just soot.

      The uranium content of coal in the United States is about one part per million. To dilute nuclear waste to a similar concentration for disposal, each gram would have to be mixed with a full ton of other matter...might be a bit impractical. And grinding it up to push it up the stack is likely to be both difficult and energy intensive.

    • by dbIII (701233) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @02:07AM (#10785040)
      My question is, why not pulverize said nuclear waste and pump it into the atmosphere?
      The Russians did that a few years ago, but the neighbours complained.
  • Nuclear heat (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sunderland56 (621843) on Wednesday November 10, 2004 @11:58PM (#10784226)
    How can this possibly be good news for nuclear energy? A nuclear reactor produces huge amounts of heat - hence the huge, highly visible cooling towers. This point generally gets ignored, since people are far more concerned with other side effects of nuclear power - but any unbiased study of the total global side effect of each kind of energy generation is going to show wind ranking far above nuclear.
  • by Doug Dante (22218) on Wednesday November 10, 2004 @11:59PM (#10784234)
    I recall attending an environmentally oriented summer camp while in High School (Back in the dark, dark, 1980s when we had the worst environmental US President ever. Oh, never mind).

    Anyway, the Prof in charge of the camp did some calculations showing that at the rate of growth for demand for electrical power, in order to switch to Nuclear, we would have to make enough plants so that no person in the Continental US would be father than 100 miles from one (don't remember all of the constraints - perhaps it was BS).

    Anyway, if we use less power ( more efficient windows, LCD displays rather than monitors - the basics), we need less power, and we can cause less environmental impact for the same level of "goodness" of power benefits. Of course, we need to make some capital investments to get the same "goodness" with less power.

    ("goodness" in the Adam Smith's "The Wealth of Nations" sense).
  • Let's face it... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Pollux (102520) <speter AT tedata DOT net DOT eg> on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:06AM (#10784280) Journal
    I think there's something to be said from this:

    No matter what we try and harvest as an energy source, we're always going to screw up this planet in some way.

    Of course, that is until the invention of Mr. Fusion [sergioleone.net]!

    Course, on the other hand, since we're already warming up the planet with global warming, perhaps we can use this "side effect" of Wind Energy to balance the equation!
  • by sl3xd (111641) * on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:08AM (#10784299) Journal
    I have yet to see a 'magic bullet' in terms of generating electrical power. There just isn't one yet. Every single kind of power generation has problems involved with it.

    Wind -- Mentioned in article, provides a place for raptors to perch, allowing them to expend much less energy when hunting for prey, which decimates rodent populations (bad thing? depends on who you ask...) Also has been known to kill birds in the rotors. Plus rather complex and expensive engineering problems in generating the power to begin with as well.

    Hydroelectric -- Trouble with fish populations, sediment issues, changes some local ecosystems. Removes hiking areas from lobbyists, prompting them to protect their recreation in the name of environmental protection (google 'drain Lake Powell.') But it's more straightforward to generate power than wind.

    Coal -- Cheap, mature technology -- becoming MUCH cleaner than it has historically been. Lots of coal. Still quite polluting.

    Oil -- Mature, relatively cheap -- also becoming more efficient, but still quite polluting, oil prices skyrocketing.

    Biomass -- Uses biological sources (plant matter, leaves, food scraps, paper, etc.) to generate power -- less polluting than many think, since the 'fuel' used releases the same carbon into the atmosphere anyway (often within a few weeks/months) -- it just accelerates the process. Still, it's not the most optimal of solutions, and there are always valid concerns about toxic chemicals being released from burning garbage.

    Natural Gas -- Cheap, cleaner than oil or coal, can be placed near suburban areas with few complaints (My job is next door to one, and I don't even hear it). Prices going up, limited fuel.

    Nuclear Fission -- Can be very cheap, very little airborne pollution. Becoming very mature. Also has nuclear waste, public paranoia, U.S. refusal to reprocess used nuclear fuel that is 98% unburned -- they just 'dispose' of it. No new power-generating reactor has been built in the US in my lifetime. Although I hate to admit it, I personally think it may be something we'll have to rely on until well after I'm dead. Hopefully it'll buy time to get Fusion to a more practical state.

    Nuclear Fusion -- Still experimental/unable to generate useful power, hopefully clean. Depending on the type of fusion, can be anywhere from near zero radiation (and radioactive waste) to levels (both instantaneous, and in terms of high-level waste) that have the same problems as fission.

    Solar -- Woefully inefficient, one of the most expensive methods of generating electricity, although prices are dropping.

    Geothermal -- I've heard this is (or has been) a maintenance nightmare, and is only practical in certain geological locations anyway.

    Cold 'Fusion' -- not really sure if it belongs here, but there are still question marks about where the 'excess energy' generated is coming from. It simply sounds too good to be true - clean, safe power? I want to believe...

    There are other types -- but I still haven't heard of the magic bullet. The best thing we can do as a society is strive for the highest efficiency in electrical use -- from generation to transmission to expenditure. Turn off those lights when you're not in the room (and, even if you are in the room if they aren't necessary...)

    • I have mostly lost hope on Thermal Fusion. After many, many decades and billions spent, break even still has not been reached. All design estimates show that any Fusion reactor will have to be much larger than a Fission reactor with the same power output (so it will be more expensive), plus there is the small issue of lithium blankets, which constitute radioactive waste that must be discarded after they are irradiated with neutrons.

      The Tokamaks and similar thermal fusion devices (Stellarators, etc) are a


    • Good Post. Energy problems are not technological problems. Technology is a McGuffin [chicagoboyz.net]:

      The McGuffin Delusion arises when someone argues that an instance of technology, and not the individual who controls the technology, represents the source of a problem. This delusion shows up in a lot of technology-related political discussions.

      It is named after Alfred Hitchock's description of his plot device, a McGuffin, that every character in the story searches for believing it will solve their problem. In Hitchock's

    • by dbIII (701233) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @02:11AM (#10785058)
      :%s/magic bullet/monoculture/

      There is no "one true energy" - people that say so are usually selling something. Everything has advantages and disadvantages.

  • Deforestation (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Omega1045 (584264) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:09AM (#10784306)
    Just put them in the deforested areas of the areas previously known as rain forests. The trees were there before impacting the wind - now we can replicate this with windmills!
  • by RealProgrammer (723725) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:10AM (#10784308) Homepage Journal
    Their model is obviously not right. Maybe somebody slept through the class where they said, "If your program's output doesn't match common sense, it's probably your program that's wrong."

    We occupy less than a third of the Earth's surface.

    Windmills are maybe 100 meters high. The Earth's atmosphere is over 1000 times that thick (though it is, of course, thinner as you go up).

    A windmill doesn't keep air from flowing even at the surface, it just slows it and disturbs it a little. Kind of like a tree. Are trees bad, too?

    There is just no way we could build enough windmills to affect the Earth's climate.

    Even if you could affect climate that way, who knows what other factors would show up to change the result? And that's ignoring the Earth's been getting warmer lately. Or has it? I can't keep up.

    Taking energy out of the air doesn't destroy the energy - it just moves it. It'll get released into the atmosphere as heat somewhere else, eventually.
    • Their model is obviously not right. Maybe somebody slept through the class where they said, "If your program's output doesn't match common sense, it's probably your program that's wrong."

      Relativity doesn't match "common sense". Quantum mechanics doesn't match "common sense". If it goes beyond the experiences of the every day your "common sense" is not suited to extrapolating results and whether or not something matches common sense you better check and recheck your results. (Until you've checked their mod
  • by RisingSon (107571) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:13AM (#10784332)
    Ha! I knew wind was not a replenishable resource. It will only be a matter of time before we realize the photons absorbed by solar panels will eventually send the Earth spiralling out of its orbit around the sun. Back to strip mining the shit out of nature and paving it over when we're done.

    Seriously, though, it seems as though if we require extreme amounts of energy to power our world, we will alter the world we extract it from. There is no free lunch (lifted from the article). Perhaps the answer is in being more efficient with the power we use, thereby requiring less. But I hate those damn econo-flush toilets.

  • by manganese4 (726568) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:20AM (#10784402)
    For those of you who care the research paper can be found at http://www.pnas.org/cgi/reprint/0406930101v1.pdf [pnas.org]
  • In Calgary... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by SClitheroe (132403) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:23AM (#10784425) Homepage
    Our entire electric light rail C-Train mass transportation system is powered by wind generation. Obviously, it's probably small potatoes on a global scale, but it does go to show that wind generated electricity is viable in regions that have steady wind patterns (ours is generated south of Calgary, in Pincher Creek). My understanding is that most of Pincher Creek is also powered by wind generated electricity. I honestly can't see how the climate could possibly be affected - the region is dry and extemely windy. Keep in mind that the towers are not very tall. I highly doubt they affect anything other than surface winds.

    For those that are saying that they are noisy (they aren't, unless you're up close to them) or unsightly, I'd encourage you to check out a field of wind turbines, if you have one nearby. I'm not sure about the bird kill issue here in Alberta, I'd have to research that, but I've never seen a dead bird near any of the turbines any time I've visited them. They are clean, quiet, amazing structures. Pure geek awe, really...

  • How many windmills? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mnmn (145599) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:40AM (#10784548) Homepage
    10,000 windmills made a change of 2C 'locally' with its eddies. It did that by disrupting air close to ground. Trees could do that. Mountains could do that. I'm as worried about local temp change as I'm about the change in temperature in the generator of the turbine.

    The article also didnt mention how many turbines will it take to cool the arctic and warm the south. Millions?

    I believe 10,000 turbines are sufficient to power all Canadian homes and businesses, and will produce far less 'local' temp difference than all Canadian nuclear power plants.
  • by labratuk (204918) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:41AM (#10784552)
    From TFA: "...have turbines that spin at 400 kilometres an hour..."

    These guys are magic. Measuring an angular velocity in linear units.

    Is it just me or is there something about journalists where, in technical articles, they have to put in gratuitous meaningless figures for no reason? Maybe it's to prove that they understand the subject.

    Irrelevance be damned!
  • by cyfer2000 (548592) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @01:09AM (#10784737) Journal

    The mercury [envirohealthaction.org] evaporated into the atmersphere by burning of coal is casting hazard to most of the industrial countries. And it must stop [epa.gov].

    From this point, wind power is better than fossil power anyway.

  • arrogance (Score:3, Informative)

    by Doc Ruby (173196) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @01:22AM (#10784803) Homepage Journal
    Of course we puny humans can't affect the weather with our insignificant activities [sciam.com].
  • by xtal (49134) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @01:22AM (#10784804)
    Ballparked the numbers from Google; they should be reasonably accurate. Oil is a very powerful medium to transport energy.

    Oil alone;

    MBPD = million barrels per day

    Average US consumption of oil per day: ~22MBPD
    World Consumption: ~85-90MBPD

    Energy in a barrel of oil: ~6.1e9 J

    1kWh = 3.61e6 Joules.

    Doing some numbers: 1 barrel of oil ~1700kWh

    1700kWh/barrel x 22e6 barrels/day x 365day/year =

    1.37e13 kWh - Yes, that's 10^13

    How many windmills is that?

    Let's assume medium-sized windmills for an average - 500kW units. Those are some big honking windmills, but not impractical.

    How much energy will one of those provide assuming a 50% cycle (a little on the high end, but hey, let's be optimists) over the course of a year?

    500kW x 24h/day x 365d x 0.5 = 2.2e6kWh

    1.37e13kWh / 2.2e6 kWh = ~6,234,000 windmills. That's six MILLION windmills. ..that is JUST to replace oil consumption ..and that's JUST for the USA alone ..and that assumes an optimistic 50% productivity ..and that assumes 100% energy transfer like oil provides - you'd probably have 50% transfer loss on top of the above - how's 12,000,000 500kW windmills sound? ..and that assumes 0 growth in USA oil production

    In short.. fusion, hot or cold, or someone better find out how to extract energy from the quantum vacuum (e.g. casimir effect [wikipedia.org]) or we're all fu.. er, finished.
  • by mbone (558574) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @01:44AM (#10784929)
    There is something wrong with this study.

    The lower kilometer or so of the atmosphere is called the planetary boundary layer (PBL). It is not really modeled well in numerical atmospheric models, but is typically treated as a friction layer (i.e., given a single coefficient of friction). It is very hard to get these "lumped" coefficients of friction right - for example, they tend to be too low over mountain ranges.

    The equator to pole temperature exchange occurs in the 20 km or so of the troposphere ABOVE the PBL. The PBL is barely involved, and is frequently ignored entirely in numerical models. Vertically averaged and spatially averaged, the pole to temperature heat exchange causes a wind of about 10 meters per second (in the 20 km of the troposphere above the PBL). To first order the PBL is decoupled to this and doesn't move at all (mean wind speeds of a few meters / second at most).

    So how in the heck are even a forest of wind farms in the PBL (basically all of them except for any on mountain tops will be in the PBL) significantly slow down the heat exchange up in the troposphere when

    - they hardly interact with it and
    - the PBL has about 1 /1000th of the total kinetic energy of the total heat exchange at most

    This doesn't pass the back of the envelope smell test; it's no wonder that they had such a hard time passing peer review.
  • by Jahf (21968) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @01:46AM (#10784934) Journal
    We already knew that hydro-electric generators have this effect on water ecology. It only makes sense that wind would do something similar above ground.

    But this being a push for the Nuclear lobby? No thanks. No, I'm not a conspiracy nut who refuses to acknowledge that a properly run fision plant built to modern specs can be run safely ... but nothing stops the production of nasty spent fuel and we've proven over and over that stuff along those lines will leech into the environment at least a little no matter what we do.

    Until Nuclear -fusion- is possible here on Earth, or unless someone figures out that solar panels will cool the Sun, I think I'll take my fusion energy from the sky.

    Yes, Solar is more expensive ... as was pointed out today on a local NPR station when talking about Colorado's new requirement that energy sellers must produce 10% from renewable sources by 2015. They pointed out that 4% of the total must come from solar and are balking because wind and hydro are so much cheaper. Yes, cheaper for -them- but still more expensive to everything in the long-run.

    Of course, I will gladly watch wind and hydro generators replace "clean coal" (that damned coughing eagle!) and hold back fision lobbies, as pointed out wind is still more friendly by far than those sources. But in the end the only good solutions are going to be solar, fusion and if the Sim folks are right, Helium3.
  • by geg81 (816215) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @05:30AM (#10785747)
    The authors looked at what would happen if a significant percentage of the earth's surface was covered with wind farms; most advocates of alternative energy sources propose a diverse mix of different renewable energy sources. And, yes, it would have an effect. Probably, an effect not very different from the effect of having lots of forests.

    Unlike greenhouse gas emissions, the effect is immediately reversible (CO2 stays in the atmosphere for centuries, but wind farms could be stopped or removed), and it mostly counteracts the consequences of the greenhouse effect (e.g., it creates arctic cooling).

    The author himself states that he thinks that this is unquestionably preferable to greenhouse gases--he called it a "no brainer", actually.

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