Courtesy Jesus MartinezIn an interesting match-up between alternative energy sources and wildlife protection, wind energy appears to have come out the winner.
The Obama administration and the Interior Department last week decided it will waive penalties for up to three decades to wind energy farms that kill bald eagles in the generation of electrical power. The birds are killed when flying into the path of spinning wind turbine blades. Eagles in flight are especially susceptible to turbine blades as they're attention is often focused on the ground looking for prey rather than looking forward to see obstacles.
The new rule will give legal protection for the lifespan of wind farms and other projects if companies obtain permits and make efforts to avoid killing protected birds. If they end up killing more birds than estimated at the start of the project, additional safeguards for the birds would then kick in. Numbers of eagle kills would be reviewed every five years. Wind power companies would have to document eagle deaths caused by their blades, but that information would not be made public.
Proponents of the plan say it will free up companies to look into expanding wind farms and providing "cleaner" electrical power. Currently there are no protections against eagle kills, which might be limiting building new wind farms. Just last month a company was prosecuted for eagle killings at two wind farms in Wyoming.
Bald eagles were removed from the endangered species list in 2007 but are still protected under two federal laws. Since 2008, official numbers peg eagle deaths due to wind turbine blades at 67. But that figure does not include eagle kills from the Altamont Pass in California, where a large wind farm is believed to kill about 60 eagles a year. Wind turbines can be massive, reaching up to 30 stories tall. Tips of the turbine blades can be spinning at speeds of 170 miles per hour on extremely windy days.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agrees with the new regulation as it will allow it to more closely monitor the relationship between eagles and wind farms.
So what do you think? Is the price for increased "clean" electricity worth the cost of more eagle deaths? Share your thoughts here with other Science Buzz readers.
Courtesy JMTThe way technology usually works, things get smaller and faster to be more efficient. That's not the case with wind turbines. Read this interesting piece on how new innovations are making wind turbines taller (reaching up into the sky the length of a football field), the blades are getting longer and are moving slower. All of this is actually generating more electricity.
So there's this rumor running around that wind turbines kill birds, and it's true--they do. But are turbines the greatest threat birds face?
Courtesy Lionel Allorge
A number of things kill birds in the wild--predators (including cats and other birds), pollution, cars, windows, tall buildings, airplanes, and habitat loss are some examples. In suburban areas, cats may be the single greatest bird predator. A recent study in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. showed that cats were responsible for nearly 37% of gray catbird deaths--the number one cause of bird death.
Nationally, cats kill about 500 million birds per year, according to the American Bird Conservancy. By comparison, the US Fish and Wildlife Service states that wind turbines kill 440,000 birds per year--that's less than 1% of the number killed by cats. As wind farms sprout up across the US, expects turbines to kill over 1 million birds per year by 2030. Even so, that's a paltry sum compared to cats. So why all the hubbub about wind farms?
One reason may be that wind turbines are unnatural--people are fine with predators doing their thing, even if that thing is killing birds in the wild. By comparison, when human-made turbines kill birds, it makes us uncomfortable because it makes us responsible. But housecats and their feral cousins are certainly a human-related killer, too. They're not even native to North America.
Another potential reason is the NIMBY factor. NIMBY stands for "not in my back yard." It refers to situations where people reject a project, even if it's beneficial, because they don't want the negative consequences near their homes. NIMBY rears its head when people vote down a bus depot in their neighborhood, or when a group campaigns against a power plant near their homes.
Many such projects projects end up getting built in neighborhoods that don't complain--often in low-income neighborhoods, where people feel disengaged from the political process or don't have the time or money to spend fighting a project. Sometimes that's a good thing, if it's an important project and brings good things to the neighborhood. Other times it can lead to a concentration of polluting or otherwise nasty projects being built all in one place.
Courtesy Friedrich Tellberg
With wind turbines, many cite the birdie death toll, noise, and even appearance as reasons to cancel wind farm projects. But as technology improves, the turbines kill fewer birds and become quieter. New planning approaches site wind farms outside migratory paths so that birds are less likely to come into contact with them. They also place wind farms out to sea, or use designs that sit closer to the ground. There are really a ton of ideas blooming right now for wind power.
And as for the view, well, would you rather look at smog? Or cooling towers? I mean, power has to come from somewhere, and chances are it will involve building something.
But the cats, well…there isn't much you can do to improve them. (I know, I've tried teaching my cat to do the dishes, but she refuses to get her paws wet.) If you really want to help the birdies, perhaps the most effective method is to keep your kitties inside. I got mine a fake bird and she doesn't even know what she's missing.
Courtesy Dirk Ingo Franke
The Global Wind Energy Council said that China doubled power capacity from 12 gigawatts to 25 gigawatts last year.
The wind power sector grew rapidly last year. It was up 31% despite the economic downturn. The market for new wind turbines was worth $63 billion in 2009.
China is aiming to increase that sixfold — to 150 gigawatts — by 2020. The Chinese Renewable Energy Industries Association says it could hit that target far earlier. But wind power still accounts for only 1% of China's total electricity consumption.
The United States still ranks as the world's largest user of wind power — with 35 gigawatts of capacity — although only 2% of its total electricity consumption comes from wind, the Global Wind Energy Council said. The European Union depends on wind for 9% of its power.USA Today
Courtesy Robert I. McDonaldRenewable energy is awesome! Do not read me wrong. However, there are many things to take into account when we think about a new energy technology like wind or ethanol. Like, how much land do we need to devote to producing that energy? A new study shows that some darlings of the renewable fuels set are pretty land intensive (NPR story on energy sprawl). What's the least land intensive? Reducing our consumption....gulp.
Courtesy Mark RyanIs the wind being knocked out of the sails of the wind energy industry? A study to be published this summer in Journal of Geophysical Research seems to be pointing that way. Wind measurements in the Midwest and eastern parts of the United States in particular have shown a decline in the energy source.
Two atmospheric researchers, Sara Pryor (no relation to Science Buzz’s own Liza Pryor – or is she?) of Indiana University, and her co-author Eugene Takle, a professor at Iowa State University say their research shows a distinct drop in wind speed in areas east of the Mississippi River, especially around the Great Lakes. Wind speeds there have diminished 10 percent or more in the past decade, and an overall decline in wind has been taking place since 1973.
Global warming may be the cause. Differences in barometric pressure drive wind production. In a global-warming environment, the Earth’s polar regions warm more quickly than the rest of the globe, and narrow the temperature difference between the poles and equatorial regions. That reduced difference in temperature also means a reduced difference in barometric pressure, which results in less air movement (wind).
Peak wind speeds in western regions of the US such as Texas and portions of the Northern Plains haven’t changed nearly as much. Pryor speculates the reason the Great Lakes area shows the greatest decrease may be because wind travels more slowly across water than ice, and in recent years there’s been less ice formation on the Great Lakes. Changes in the landscape such as trees and new construction near instrument stations may have also skewed the research. Still, wind speed studies done in Europe and Australia showed similar declines there, adding credence to the Pryor and Takle findings.
There are detractors to the study. Jeff Freedman, an atmospheric scientist with a renewable energy-consulting firm in Albany, N.Y., says his research has revealed no definite trend of reduced wind speed. And even though research hasn’t been published yet, some climate models studying the effects of global warming seem to agree with Freeman’s findings.
But if Pryor’s and Takle’s study proves to be true, it could mean big losses to the wind energy industry, since a 10 percent drop in peak winds would mean a 30 percent change in how wind energy is gathered.
Courtesy FlickrLast week, I was lucky enough to partake in a fun-filled road trip to Colorado. Though the Rocky Mountains are a spectacular site, I found myself more excited to see all of the wind turbines on the 15-hour drive from Minneapolis to Colorado Springs. This ultimately resulted in a research extravaganza, as I wanted to know more about how wind energy works and what the US was doing to improve renewable energy.
Lets start with a few Minnesota wind facts :
• Total installed wind energy capacity is currently 1752.16 megawatts
• Total wind energy potential is 657 billions of kWh/year
• Currently ranked at 4th in US for current wind energy output (Go Minnesota!)
On average, one household will consume around 4,250 kilowatt-hours per year , so think of how many homes can be powered if Minnesota was reaching its wind energy potential.
I also came across this article that came out today in Scientific American that discusses the great steps that Hawaii is taking towards renewable energy. Recently, Hawaii signed an agreement with the US Department of Energy (DoE) that outlines a plan to obtain 70 percent of its power from clean energy by 2030, in which 40 percent will be from renewables like wind farms.
As of right now, the state relies on imported oil for 90 percent of its power. If a man-made or natural disaster were to occur that would prevent shipment of oil, Hawaii cannot plug into the mainland’s electrical grid, making them extremely vulnerable. So not only will they gain energy security, but the cost of electricity will also lower by reducing the amount of money spent on shipping money to foreign countries for oil (10% GDP).
The largest source of renewable energy will be makani, or wind. There are currently two proposed farms for Lanai and Molokai islands that will together generate a total of 400 megawatts of electricity, which will provide 25 percent of Oahu’s total generation capacity. Considering that over 70 percent of the stat’s population lives in Oahu, that’s a lot of energy! Solar water heating, geothermal energy, and the novel technologies in ocean thermal plants will also be used to provide the Hawaiian islands with clean, renewable energy.
For more information on what you can do here in Minnesota, check out this blog post from ARTiFactor that describes Windsource, a great program through Xcel Energy.
Wind farm kills unfortunate goats.
The United States overtook Germany as the biggest producer of wind power last year, new figures showed, and will likely take the lead in solar power this year, analysts said on Monday. Wind accounted for 42% of all new electricity generation installed last year in the U.S.
Another interesting change:
The wind industry now employs more people than coal mining in the United States. (click links in red to learn more).
Courtesy Mark RyanA new dual solar and wind-powered charger for personal electronic devices was on display at last weekend’s annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The K2 by Kinesis Industries is a handheld unit that allows you to harvest energy from both the sun and the wind and store it in an internal battery that can then be used to power all your energy-hungry USB-powered electronic gadgets.
You know what? I’m a sucker for this kind of thing. There’s been a few times I’ve lost battery power in my camera or cell phone and wished I had something like this. I’ll probably buy one even if I never use it. The idea is just so cool.
Portable chargers like this have been around for a while. Solio of California produces an array of solar-powered handheld chargers. PowerFilm in Ames, Iowa manufactures foldable thin film solar modules for a number of charging and direct powering applications. They rolled out a new USB and AA charger at this year’s show.
But evidently none match K2’s capacity or versatility. One hour gathering sunlight or wind with the K2 is enough to power 30 minutes of cell phone use or over 300 minutes of mp3 music. A full charge is enough to fully power your cell phone five times over. You can also plug the K2 into an AC outlet and store up power for later use that way.
But what happens if you forget to do that and it’s a cloudy day and the weather is dead calm? What’s a poor techno-weenie to do? Well, not to worry, the K2 also has a nifty side clip so you can attach it to your bicycle and generate your own wind. As of yet there’s no release date for the K2 but when it does come out, it’s expected to retail for about a hundred bucks.
Now, just so we’re clear, I have not personally tried any of the products mentioned in this story, so I can’t endorse or pooh-pooh any of them. You should do your own research before making any purchase of this technology. I just like the idea of being able to charge my gadgets anywhere I go. That way next time I’m stranded out in the middle of Wyoming and my iPod’s battery starts to fizzle during Britney’s latest hit, I’ll be golden.