Despite my own misgivings about wind power it seems to be taking off globally. This is a good thing – the more clean energy the better. I am still not convinced that wind is the ultimate solution, but it certainly does help.
This graph and excerpt from The Economist shows that global wind power production is climbing exponentially. Also, USA has now become the largest wind power producer in the world.
The Economist has a long article on the history and details of wind power over the years. Using the wind to generate electricity is beloved of greens because it produces little or no pollution. However, I have never had a good feeling about wind power as a solution.
Here are some of the reasons that I feel wind isn’t the way to go.
1. Not the final solution
Wind energy on Earth is vast, but not unlimited. According to a study quoted in the article wind-energy potential is only 5 times global energy demand. So even if all wind energy was captured (wind turbines all over Earth) we wouldn’t have a solution to meet substantial energy demand growth.
2. I don’t like wind turbines
Wind turbines are massive, expensive, noisy, and damaging to birds (okay that is a little tenuous). In order to make significant inroads into our energy requirements enormous numbers of the beasts would be required. It doesn’t seem like an elegant solution. They are also too expensive to be economical.
3. Winds are irregular and in the wrong places
Not only do you need to find a location for the turbines, but they need to be where the winds are. That is often not where (and when) the winds are so you need to build huge transmission networks to the middle of nowhere.
Conclusion – wind power isn’t the way to go
I just don’t believe that wind power is going to solve our problems. I really like the idea of personal turbines (especially in windy Vredehoek) but wind power is not the solution to the energy crisis!
I believe that solar power is the ultimate solution, but until then nuclear energy is definitely the way to go. Proven technology, not too dangerous, green, economical. Nuclear is the way to go.
It’s a good thing that being ‘green’ is becoming fashionable. We are hammering our environment so increased awareness is a good thing. That said, people don’t always think things through so sometimes their efforts don’t make the most sense. For instance in the past I have blogged that organic food is not necessarily good for the environment.
A fashionable way of eating green is to eat local foods – food bought from local producers. The idea is that buying local foods decreases ‘food miles’ – the distances that food must be transported by vehicles emitting greenhouse gasses.
However a study covered in a recent National Geographic article has shown that eating local doesn’t have much of an impact. The fact is that ‘food miles’ only contribute 11% of the total climate impact of foods. Eating beef 1 day a week less would be more effective that buying 100% of your food locally!
The reason for this is that producing cows is really tough on the environment. Cows need lots of grazing, and crucially produce a lot more methane. This impact is so significant that by reducing beef consumption you could easily benefit the environment more than by buying locally produced foods.
There is quite a lot of news at the moment about a large piece (a little smaller than Swaziland) of ice shelf that recently broke off Antarctica. You can read about it here: National Geographic, Wired, BBC.
Ice shelves are made of ice already floating on the ocean so this incident won’t raise sea levels, but these shelves are holding back glaciers which will raise see levels. As the floating ice shelves break away there is nothing to hold back the land based glaciers which run faster and do raise sea levels.
These ice shelves are notoriously sensitive to warming (another one broke off during a brief warming period around 1920) so they do act as good early indicators of global warming happening – apparently “average Antarctic temperatures have risen 3 degrees (Celsius) over the past 50 years!”
If you are interested there is an busy debate going on in the comments section of the Wired article. Even if you aren’t that interested, I think you should be worried.
This is an interesting gallery before and after satellite photos of mankind’s impact on the environment. They come from a new book called Fragile Earth and are pretty interesting. It can be quite sobering to see what a real impact we are having on our environments
This one shows a rainforest ecosystem around the Iguacu falls in South America getting nailed. Feb 1973 to May 2003
This is Lake Chad in Africa disappearing between 1972 and 1987 – largely due to irrigation projects. Things have actually gotten worse since the second photo was taken… I have blogged on this one before.
Finally, this is jungle in Bolivia getting turned into a major agricultural area.
Humans need a lot of energy. We consume energy for light, heat, transport, food… Basically everything we do requires energy. The problem is that using energy in it’s popular forms is doing some serious damage to our environment.
Currently most of the energy we use comes from fossil fuels (oil, natural gas and coal) which we burn to create energy. Unfortunately burning those fossil fuels also pollutes the air and drives global warming. Global warming = bad.
So we need to change our habits (waste less energy) and we could change our energy sources (to those less damaging). There are renewable sources like solar and wind power which basically make use of the copious amounts of energy the sun beams down to earth every day. However, these sources are expensive, inconsistent, and chew up large amounts of space.
Nothing is ideal, but you should be rational and not emotional in your decisions.
There is another great option, also not ideal, but the best (in my opinion) currently available. Nuclear power has an unfairly bad reputation. When used properly it is an excellent energy source – and it produces no air pollution! As the Economist says:
- Nuclear power offers the possibility of large quantities of electricity that is cleaner than coal, more secure than gas and more reliable than wind. And if cars switch from oil to electricity, the demand for power generated from carbon-free sources will increase still further. The industry’s image is thus turning from black to green.
The Economist has articles here, here, here and here describing that:
- Nuclear power is very clean as the graph below shows.
- Nuclear power can be safely generated. Even taking into account Chernobyl (4,000 dead) and Three Mile Island (0 dead) nuclear power is extremely safe – and getting safer.
- Nuclear power can be generated cheaply. Initial costs are extremely high, but over time it makes economic sense. This would be especially true were the negative environmental costs of fossil fuels built into their already high cost.
- There are pretty good ways of storing the radioactive waste generated.
- Many previous nuclear protesters and “greens” are changing their minds and advocating nuclear power.