Questions for Greg Cuomo

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In Fall 2006, Greg Cuomo answered visitors' questions about wind and sustainable energy.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Erik's picture
Erik says:

Is using solar panels to creat hydrogen for cars a viable option?

posted on Fri, 10/20/2006 - 12:27pm
Greg Cuomo's picture
Greg Cuomo says:

Solar cells convert the energy in sunlight into electrical energy. That electrical energy can be used to split a water molecule into pure hydrogen and pure oxygen (a water molecule is two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen; or H20). The hydrogen can be used as fuel to make a car go, either using a conventional engine or a fuel cell. Using this process to power a car is currently possible; the main bottleneck is cost. However, scientists and inventors are coming up with new ideas fast and our ability to use solar powered, hydrogen cars are just a few bright ideas from becoming a reality.

posted on Tue, 10/24/2006 - 7:27am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

What makes the wind blow?

posted on Fri, 10/20/2006 - 8:12pm
Greg Cuomo's picture
Greg Cuomo says:

A good question. Sunlight heats the earth’s surface as well as lights it. The sun also does not heat everything the same. Sunlight heats more near the equator and less near the poles, it heats less under clouds, does not heat where it is night, and it heats land more than water. When air is heated, it expands and rises. When air rises, air from somewhere else (where the sun has not heated it as much) will come in to fill that space. This air movement is wind.

As long as the sun shines there will be wind. This is why many people think that wind power can be a big part of producing electricity for people to use. Wind will always be there and it causes no pollution.

posted on Sat, 10/21/2006 - 1:38pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I am five. I love gadgets. I think your wind generator is awesome. I saw some on my way to Iowa. How does wind really do it? Turn into electric energy?

posted on Sat, 10/21/2006 - 1:45pm
Greg Cuomo's picture
Greg Cuomo says:

This is a really good question. People have used wind power for a very long time. Wind has powered many things, from sail boats to pumping water. It may be easiest to think of wind as an invisible river. It is always moving and pushing against things. You can feel this as you walk outside on a windy day or see the wind blow in trees.

So, how do you make electricity from a wind turbine? The blades of a wind turbine are designed so that they turn when the river of wind hits them. The turning blades drive a shaft (or rod) that is connected to a generator that produces electricity. It is the energy produced by the turning of the blades that eventually produces electricity.

posted on Thu, 10/26/2006 - 5:29pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

why do you sell the extra power from the university to the power companies, why don't they build their own?

posted on Mon, 10/23/2006 - 12:56pm
Greg Cuomo's picture
Greg Cuomo says:

The electricity produced from the wind turbine goes directly to the University of Minnesota Morris. They use all of that electricity they can. If there is any left over, it goes out to the utility to be used in other homes and businesses. The reason we send the extra electricity to the utilities is that we do not want to waste any of the electricity produced from wind.

The University of Minnesota is doing research on other uses for electricity produced from wind. One exciting use is making fertilizer to help grow food, so there might be other uses for that extra electricity in the future. More about that in another question!

Many utilities have built, or are considering putting up their own wind turbines. The Buffalo Ridge near Lake Benton, Minnesota is an example of this. In the future there will be more wind farms, both owned by utilities and by individuals and groups.

posted on Thu, 10/26/2006 - 5:27pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

What other renewable energy things are you doing at the Morris campus?

posted on Tue, 10/24/2006 - 5:37pm
Greg Cuomo's picture
Greg Cuomo says:

There are really a lot of cool projects going on in Morris besides the wind turbine. The University of Minnesota-Morris is building a “biomass heating and cooling plant”. Biomass is stuff that grows. So plant materials (corn stalks, grasses, wheat straw, wood chips, etc) can be used to heat and cool the campus instead of using natural gas (a fossil fuel). The biomass plant will team with the wind turbine to produce most of the energy needed to run the Morris campus. The electricity from the wind turbine will supply the electricity to light the campus, and the biomass plant will heat and cool the campus.

If the wind is blowing at night, the University does not always need all of the electricity produced from the wind turbine. Being able to store and use that energy later or for other things is another project in which the University is working. The extra electricity can be used to split water (H2O) into hydrogen and oxygen and then we could store the hydrogen. Stored hydrogen is stored energy, much like the energy stored in gasoline. That hydrogen could then be used to power an engine to produce electricity when the wind did not produce enough electricity for the campus. Hydrogen can also be combined with nitrogen from the air (the air we breath is about 78% nitrogen), to make nitrogen fertilizer. Currently nitrogen fertilizer is made from fossil fuels. With this technology, nitrogen fertilizer could be made from wind (to make the electricity), water (to get the hydrogen), and air (to get the nitrogen). This would be a very clean and sustainable way to help us grow the food we eat.

Another project that should get underway soon is a Renewable Energy Research and Education Wing at the West Central Research and Outreach Center. Some of the latest ways to conserve energy (use less energy) would be used and demonstrated in the building and available for people to come and see.

posted on Thu, 10/26/2006 - 5:26pm
MrX's picture
MrX says:

Do you feel that the oil and coal companies will interfere with the development of alternative energy sources like wind and hydrogen?

posted on Fri, 10/27/2006 - 1:41pm
Greg Cuomo's picture
Greg Cuomo says:

Change is hard for companies and industries, just like it is for you and me. However, I think energy industries are beginning to understand how important renewable energy will be in the future. Many of the companies I come in contact with are thinking about an energy future where things like wind and hydrogen play an important role.

posted on Thu, 11/02/2006 - 4:23pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Xcel energy offers customers the ability to sign up for wind energy as an alternative. Do you think this is something that more people should do? What are the benefits?

posted on Fri, 10/27/2006 - 7:05pm
Greg Cuomo's picture
Greg Cuomo says:

I do think signing up to buy wind energy from utilities like Xcel is a good thing. Utilities will produce the kind of power its customers (us) want. The more wind energy people buy, the more the utilities need to have. More people buying wind energy means more turbines and more renewable energy.

What are the benefits of paying more to buy wind energy for your home or business? Utilities don’t make extra money when they sell wind energy. That money goes into research and development of renewable energy (like wind). With more research, wind will become even less expensive. This will make it a better deal for both utilities and customers, and we will see wind becoming a bigger and bigger part of our energy supply. So, buy away.

posted on Thu, 11/02/2006 - 4:21pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

wouldn't wind turbines affect air currents if used in large numbers?

posted on Mon, 10/30/2006 - 11:49am
Greg Cuomo's picture
Greg Cuomo says:

This is a very good question. There is a story about how a butterfly moving its wings can impact the wind and weather thousands of miles away. And I guess that is possible. Anything that the wind hits changes its currents. This is true for buildings, cars and even you and me. Wind turbines do affect wind currents, but by their design they change the wind very little and probably have about the same impact on wind currents that tall trees might have.

posted on Thu, 11/02/2006 - 4:20pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

how much energy can one wind turbine produce in one year?

posted on Tue, 10/31/2006 - 12:13pm
Greg Cuomo's picture
Greg Cuomo says:

How much electricity (energy) is produced from one wind turbine in a year depends on how big the turbine is (its potential) and how much wind blows. Smaller wind turbines, like the ones you might see on a house, produce about what a house needs. Some of the larger wind turbines you see around the countryside produce a lot of electricity. The turbine in Morris provides about half of the electricity needs to the University of Minnesota-Morris campus. Another way to think about the Morris turbine is that it could provide all of the electricity for about 550 homes.

The other part of how much electricity can be produced from a wind turbine in one year is how windy it is where the turbine is put up. More electricity can be produced in windier areas compared to areas where there is less wind.

posted on Thu, 11/09/2006 - 3:58pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Will an increased use of wind and other renewable energy sources eliminate our dependance on fossil fuels, or will we always have them to some extent?

posted on Sun, 11/05/2006 - 10:14am
Greg Cuomo's picture
Greg Cuomo says:

This is a good and important question. Using more wind and other renewable energy sources certainly has the potential to contribute greatly to the earth’s energy needs in the near future. In our lifetime I am hopeful that renewable resources will produce most of our energy. Fossil fuels will continue to be used until scientists (maybe you) figure out new ways to make the energy we depend on.

If we think of people living on earth for thousands of years, energy will have to come from renewable sources. There is only so much fossil fuel available, and using it how we have been has environmental consequences. I don’t know where this saying comes from, but I think it is appropriate. It says “the stone age didn’t end because of a lack of stones”. To me this is saying that we don’t have to use up our fossil fuels before we do something different. It is important that we find renewable ways to provide our energy as soon as possible.

posted on Thu, 11/09/2006 - 3:45pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Is the wind turbine in Morris noisy?

posted on Sun, 11/05/2006 - 10:15am
Greg Cuomo's picture
Greg Cuomo says:

The wind turbine at Morris is not very noisy. In the 1½ years it has been running, we have never had anyone complain about noise. If you stand under or close to a big wind turbine you can hear it swish through the air as it makes electricity. It is interesting to me that the best time to hear it from a little distance away is on a very still morning. Even if there is no wind on the ground, there is often enough where the wind turbine is (230 feet up in the air) for it to be turning.

posted on Thu, 11/09/2006 - 4:24pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Given all the positives of wind energy, why aren't there more wind turbines in the US? Why don't we utilize this resource more?

posted on Sun, 11/05/2006 - 10:15am
Greg Cuomo's picture
Greg Cuomo says:

There are a couple of things that slow the building of more wind turbines:

1)Access to transmission – For electricity to be used it must be moved from where it is made to where it will be used. That is done along the wires (transmission lines) we often see going across the countryside. If turbines are far away from main transmission lines it is difficult (expensive) to move the electricity to the transmission lines. Also, in many cases main transmission lines are already full.

2)Contracts – In many instances the amount of money paid for electricity made from a wind turbine will not pay for the wind turbine, so they are not built.

3)Public acceptance – Many people, while they want clean energy, do not want to see the wind turbines. I personally think they are pleasing to look at. The turbine at Morris looks very majestic on the prairie landscape.

Many more wind turbines are being built. In the future as we find new ways to use electricity from wind (like making hydrogen for fertilizer and to fuel cars) the transmission and contract issues will become less important and more and more wind turbines will be built.

posted on Tue, 11/14/2006 - 9:06am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

In my enviornmental science class we watched a video on alternative energy sources. It said that hydrogen was not an efficiant back up because it requires natural gas to work.. in a car or however. Is this true?

posted on Sun, 11/05/2006 - 12:04pm
Greg Cuomo's picture
Greg Cuomo says:

Right now we do make most of the world’s hydrogen from natural gas, but we don’t have to. We already know how to make hydrogen from renewable resources and scientists are working hard to make renewable hydrogen more efficient and more economical.

In Morris, at the West Central Research and Outreach Center they are building a system where they will take the extra electricity from the wind turbine (electricity that is left over after the University of Minnesota-Morris uses all it can) and splits water (H2O) into hydrogen and oxygen. They can then store the renewable hydrogen for later use (in a car, to produce electricity, or whatever the need is). In this case, you can make hydrogen from wind and water, both very clean and renewable resources. We can also make hydrogen from biomass. As the ability to make hydrogen from renewable resources becomes more economical, hydrogen may not only be a good back up, it may be a good replacement for fossil fuels.

posted on Thu, 11/09/2006 - 4:21pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

how much do each of the wind turbines cost?

posted on Sun, 11/05/2006 - 4:13pm
Greg Cuomo's picture
Greg Cuomo says:

There is a saying that it costs about $1000 per kilowatt to put up a wind turbine. So, a home sized 35 kilowatt wind turbine should cost about $35,000 while the 1.65 Megawatt wind turbine at the West Central Research and Outreach Center in Morris should cost about $1,650,000 to put up.

A number of things end up impacting the cost of putting up a wind turbine, including the cost of steel (there is a lot of steel in a wind turbine) and how much US money is worth compared to money in places where the turbines are built. In 2005, when the Morris wind turbine was put up, it cost about $2,000,000 and it would be more expensive today.

posted on Tue, 11/14/2006 - 9:18am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

It seems like there is some resistance to the development of wind-generated energy, but I have heard few arguments against it other than the opinion that wind turbines are unsightly (which I find completely untrue!). What are the disadvantages to using wind energy as opposed to other forms of energy, renewable or not?

posted on Sun, 11/05/2006 - 7:31pm
Greg Cuomo's picture
Greg Cuomo says:

If you step back and look at a bigger picture there are few arguments against wind power, particularly as the costs of other sources of electricity become higher. Many of the short-term challenges have to with the current structure of energy production.

It is true that much of the public criticism of wind power comes from how they look. While I respect their opinion, it seems as though people want a cleaner environment and more sustainable energy, but just not where they can see it. I often wonder if people think very deeply about the alternatives.

posted on Mon, 11/20/2006 - 8:20am
mark bailey's picture
mark bailey says:

How much power will a single wind turbine generate?

posted on Mon, 11/06/2006 - 11:16am
Greg Cuomo's picture
Greg Cuomo says:

Thanks for the question Mark. Wind turbines are rated for how much electricity they can produce under good wind conditions. For example, some of the smaller wind turbines you see at homes or farms may be rated at 35 kw (kw means kilowatt). That means if the wind is blowing fast enough, they will produce 35 kw of electricity in an hour.

The wind turbine at the West Central Research and Outreach Center in Morris is a 1.65 MW wind turbine (MW means megawatt, one megawatt equals 1000 kw). If the wind at Morris is blowing fast enough that turbine will produce 1.65 MW (or 1650 kw) of electricity in one hour.

How much wind is “fast enough”? The 230 foot wind turbine at Morris turns when the wind is between 8 and 50 mph (miles per hour). It makes the maximum electricity (1.65 MW of electricity in an hour) when the wind is between 24 and 50 mph. When the wind is above 50 mph the turbine turns itself off to help keep the equipment in good shape.

posted on Sat, 11/11/2006 - 12:47pm
Karan's picture
Karan says:

How did you decide to put the wind turbine where it is. How did you know there would be enough wind in that spot?

posted on Tue, 11/07/2006 - 9:55am
Greg Cuomo's picture
Greg Cuomo says:

Thanks for the question Karan. A wind turbine needs to be in as windy a spot as possible and where things that might change wind currents (buildings, trees, etc.) do not disrupt wind flow to the wind turbine. The turbine in Morris took advantage of the wind currents that come up a ridge from a river. For a wind turbine, a little more wind (or less) can make a lot of difference in the amount of electricity that can be made.

There are two ways to know how much wind there is where you live. If you want to know how much wind is in a general area, there are wind maps of Minnesota available on the web. If you want to know how much wind there will be in the place you want to put a wind turbine, an anemometer (measures the wind) can be used. At Morris a 50 meter (about 160 feet) tower with an anemometer was used to measure wind for about a year.

posted on Tue, 11/14/2006 - 9:02am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Dear Greg,
How do the generating wind mills connect to the power grid and who is responsible for the cost of the connection?

What do you know about Knob Hill? What state has the first wind generating connection that fed back into the grid? The year?

What do you think about Great River Energy? How do they compare to nationally in regards to innovation?

Thanks for your consideration of my questions.

Thank you,
Sincerely,
Jenny

posted on Thu, 11/16/2006 - 3:23pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

What is the difference between renewable and sustainable energy?

posted on Thu, 11/16/2006 - 3:23pm
Greg Cuomo's picture
Greg Cuomo says:

A very good question. Most people use the terms renewable energy and sustainable energy to mean the same thing. However, renewable and sustainable are different and it’s important we understand that. To me, renewable means the energy source can renew itself. Plants can regrow; the wind will keep blowing, etc. A sustainable source is one that can be used, but is not used up. Wind is a good example of a renewable and sustainable energy resource. We can make electricity from wind and the wind will never run out.

However, if wood is used as an energy resource we need to be careful we don’t use too much wood before it regrows. In other words, while wood is renewable (it can regrow) if we use it too quickly, it will not be sustainable (it could run out). We also need to consider that wood and other biomass (stuff that grows) serve an important role where it grows (holds the soil in place, replenishes the soil with nutrients, etc). It is up to scientists to understand all of the parts of renewable energy systems to be sure our future energy production is not only renewable, but also sustainable.

posted on Mon, 11/20/2006 - 8:57am