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Never Bring a Windmill to an Oil Fight?

February 26, 2013

Here’s a new one for y’all: Peak Wind.

This new and gloomy analysis for global wind power comes from Professor David Keith of the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. The prof and his collaborator, Professor Amanda Adams of North Carolina uni, have weighed into a row which has been taking place for some years between crusading pro-wind physicists and their critics.

The pro-wind boffins, led by such figures as Harvard enviro-prof Michael McElroy and Mark Jacobson of Stanford, have long contended that if there is any upper limit on the amount of energy that could be extracted from the Earth’s winds it is well above the amount the human race requires. They further contend that extracting these vast amounts of power from the atmosphere will not have any serious impact on the world’s climate.

Both these assertions, however, have been called into doubt – and the first one, that there’s plenty of wind power to meet all human demands, is particularly shaky as it ignores the thorny issue of cost. McElroy, Jacobson and their allies tend to make wild assumptions – for instance that it would be feasible to distribute massive wind turbines across most or even all of the planet’s surface.

Okay, I’m still not over the fact that someone’s actually having this argument.  Maybe it’s me, but do people really believe we can power all the needs of the world by covering every surface with a big prop?  Keep reading the paper… the estimates that they’re tossing around are based on 4 million wind towers.  Really… My original degree in engineering focused pretty heavily on power distribution.  The infrastructure required to jack that many towers together and drive the grid would be prohibitive.  Of course, it could be done once the government persuades the people that we need more stimulus to redo our current electrical grid before it goes belly up, but that’s an entirely different fantasy.

I don’t mind wind power in small increments, and having it as a backup for some things might prove to be useful.  But assuming that an unwieldy wind infrastructure can replace current hydro, coal, and other generating capability only seems to be the bailiwick of people who don’t understand the price of real-estate.  So anyway, I get that people are really hot on wind.  But the realities of the situation are that a lot of turbines using a lot of space and cost to get them there aren’t even going to supply enough power to justify the expense.  Everyone with me?

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