Stories tagged wind


Electricity from wind was cheaper: I saved 44 cents on my July electric bill because 100 per cent of my electricity is from wind power.
Electricity from wind was cheaper: I saved 44 cents on my July electric bill because 100 per cent of my electricity is from wind power.Courtesy ARTiFactor

I saved money because my electricity comes from wind

About two years ago I signed up for Windsource (click to see my Buzz writeup). Windsource is an Xcel Energy program that allows customers to have all or part of their electricity come from wind (click here for details about windsource charges).

Benefits of wind energy

I did not sign up for Windsource to save money. I was willing to pay extra for wind generated electricity because wind energy has multiple benefits.

  • No carbon dioxide emissions
  • No sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, or mercury emissions
  • No water consumption requirement
  • Creates jobs
  • Creates income for farmers
  • Wind is forever (renewable)
  • Wind energy reduces need for importing energy and exporting dollars

Want to help promote wind energy?

Renewable energy credits have provided incentives for investments in wind energy. A federal production tax credit (PTC) has an expiration date less than five months from now. If you agree that continuing incentives for renewable energy is wise,

Urge your Members of Congress to extend the Production Tax Credit (PTC)

Click the link above for help on how to take action.


Splitting water to store electricity: A snapshot showing the new, efficient oxygen catalyst in action in Dan Nocera's laboratory at MIT.
Splitting water to store electricity: A snapshot showing the new, efficient oxygen catalyst in action in Dan Nocera's laboratory at MIT.Courtesy MIT/NSF

Saving up energy for use at night

Want to be energy independent? Solar and wind energy are great but what do you do when the sun goes down and the wind doesn't blow? Batteries with the needed capacity are very expensive.

Energy can be saved up by breaking water apart into hydrogen and oxygen

Using a surprisingly simple, inexpensive technique, chemists have found a way to pull pure oxygen from water using relatively small amounts of electricity, common chemicals and a room-temperature glass of water. At night that oxygen can be combined with hydrogen (also extracted from water) in a fuel cell to make electricity.
The new process, enabling water to more easily be split, is to use a catalyst consisting of cobalt metal, phosphate and an electrode, placed in water.

"When electricity -- whether from a photovoltaic cell, a wind turbine or any other source -- runs through the electrode, the cobalt and phosphate form a thin film on the electrode, and oxygen gas is produced."
"The new catalyst works at room temperature, in neutral pH water, and it's easy to set up. That's why I know this is going to work. It's so easy to implement," Danial Nocera (MIT news office)

Within ten years

Nocera hopes that within 10 years, homeowners will be able to power their homes in daylight through photovoltaic cells, while using excess solar energy to produce hydrogen and oxygen to power their own household fuel cell. Electric vehicles will also power up from this home system.

Learn more: MIT News

It's still at the observational stage, but investigators are looking at the link between strength of garage doors and the amount of damage a home incurs from a passing tornado. After reading this Star-Tribune story, it sounds like a case of the general public connecting the dots before the scientific community.


From time to time as I gather up the questions from the on-site Scientist on the Spot features we find some good questions that don’t connect well to the featured researcher. Here are some of those questions.

Why are stars circles?

Iapetus' equatorial ridge
Iapetus' equatorial ridgeCourtesy NASA
I am assuming you mean, why are they round or spheres? It’s because of gravity. The larger something is (or the more mass something has) the more gravity it has. That gravity pulls equally in, so that’s why stars and planets are round, gravity makes them that way. The fancy-pants scientific name for this is isostatic adjustment.

But the Earth, for example, is not a perfect sphere – it bulges out in the middle because of its rotation. Smaller asteroids are oddly shaped because they don’t have enough mass to produce the gravity necessary to pull them into spheres. Some planets are oddly shaped too, and scientists are not sure exactly why. Saturn’s moon Iapetus is a great example. It is for some reason shaped more like a walnut and has an equatorial ridge that scientists cannot come to a conclusion as to how it formed.

What is a pimple?

Well, our skin has pores which are connected to glands that produce sebum – like an oil. Sebum is a good thing - it acts to protect and waterproof our skin, and keeps it from becoming dry. When these pores get blocked by dirt or dead skin (which we shed constantly) the secretions of sebum that would normally come from the pore are blocked and build up. These can become infected with bacteria which causes pimples to form.

The harder question is for me – to pop or not to pop. I can’t resist popping a pimple – it is a character flaw that has resulted in me sporting many a wound worse than the original zit. A great “how to pop a pimple” step-by-step is posted here.

Why do beans make us fart?

When food gets to your large intestine it is eaten by the 200+ different species of bacteria that live there and target parts of the food our stomach and small intestines can't digest, and gasses such as methane, hydrogen and hydrogen sulfide are produced as a by-product. Beans contain several sugars that we can’t digest, so lots of gas is produced by bacteria eating the otherwise indigestible material.

What is the scientific name for a pig?

Sus scrofa domestica.

What is the moon?

The big whack
The big whackCourtesy NASA
You mean besides being the only natural satellite of the Earth and the cause of the tides and so forth?

I think that the Earth collision theory (also known as the Big Whack) for the creation of the moon is the coolest, and is the one that is the most accepted today. The hypothesis goes that a Mars-sized (Mars is less than half the size of the Earth) planet collided with Earth a looooooooooong time ago and the debris that was created orbited around the damaged Earth and formed into the moon through a process called accretion – or the growth of large bodies like the moon by gravitationally attracting more matter. So the little bits of debris were attracted to bigger and bigger bits as the bigger bits had more gravity. As we learned above, the spherical shape arises from gravity as well. It is believed that as a result of the collision the smaller planet (Theia) was destroyed, ejecting its mantle into space while its core sank into Earth’s core.

Did you know that the moon is in synchronous rotation with the Earth? That means it keeps nearly the same face turned towards the Earth at all times.


Noted hurricane forecaster Dr. William Gray has offered up his 2008 Atlantic hurricane season predictions. (The season begins on June 1 and runs through November 30.)

Hurricane Katrina, 8/29/05: This image was taken by NOAA's Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES).
Hurricane Katrina, 8/29/05: This image was taken by NOAA's Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES).Courtesy NOAA

Gray's team, working out of Colorado State University, is predicting an above-normal season, with 15 named storms, 8 hurricanes, and 4 major hurricanes (category 3 storms or higher). Why? A La Nina pattern creates cool water conditions in the Pacific and warm sea surface temperatures in the eastern Atlantic. Warm sea surface temperatures are critical to the formation of hurricanes.

What's "above average"? An average hurricane season produces about 10 tropical storms and 6 hurricanes. In 2007, 14 tropical storms formed, and 6 of those strengthened into hurricanes. But 2005, of course, was a record-shattering year, with 28 storms, including Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Here's the Science Buzz feature on hurricanes.

Buzz thread on Hurricane Katrina, started on 8/29/2005.

Buzz thread on Hurricane Rita, started on 9/22/2005.

Buzz thread on the 2007 Atlantic hurricane season

Buzz thread on the 2006 Atlantic hurricane season

Do you know about the 1938 hurricane that crashed into New England?

Interesting weather websites

Share your natural disaster stories.

And, lastly, here are the hurricane names for 2008:

  • Arthur
  • Bertha
  • Cristobal
  • Dolly
  • Edouard
  • Fay
  • Gustav
  • Hanna
  • Ike
  • Josephine
  • Kyle
  • Laura
  • Marco
  • Nana
  • Omar
  • Paloma
  • Rene
  • Sally
  • Teddy
  • Vicky
  • and Wilfred

A solar powered telephone: And you thought the Death Star was sinister? Well that never destroyed our planet, so no. (photo by redjar on
A solar powered telephone: And you thought the Death Star was sinister? Well that never destroyed our planet, so no. (photo by redjar on
According to Dr. Jesse Aubusel, the Director of the Program for the Human Environment at The Rockefeller University, renewable energy isn’t a super good idea. That is to say, he thinks it’s a pretty bad idea.

Using math and numbers, Dr. Aubusel figures that the amount of land necessary for “green” energy sources makes them extremely impractical, especially when compared to nuclear energy. According to Aubusel, were we to flood all of Ontario (900,000 square km), it would only provide 80% of the energy that Canada’s 25 nuclear power stations could produce. I guess that’s the end of my plans to flood Ontario. Or, to provide enough electricity for New York City, all of Connecticut would have to be turned into a wind farm (although, who’s to say that Connecticut would mind). Also, to grow a single pot of basil, it would take more dirt than there is in my whole room. So no basil.

Aubusel, in this article, always brings the issue back to the matter physical space required for renewable energy, and the number of watts produced per square meter. “Nuclear energy is green,” he states. He’s not referring to its radioactivity, I think, so much as to its relatively small physical footprint, and the potential to use already existing infrastructure.

It might seem to some that this is a pretty simplistic way of looking at things, but we should all make sure that we’re doctors before we disagree.

When asked if he could imagine technology that uses and creates energy more efficiently than those he based his research on, Doctor Aubusel states, “No.” When asked if he could possibly try, he replied, “That’s not really my style.”


Wind farms produce clean energy, but some people consider them eyesores: Photo by fieldsbh at
Wind farms produce clean energy, but some people consider them eyesores: Photo by fieldsbh at

A new book, Cape Wind: Money, Celebrity, Class, Politics, and the Battle for Our Energy Future on Nantucket Sound, tells the story of efforts to build wind turbines off the coast of Cape Cod to provide clean, renewable energy for the state of Massachusetts. However, some of the wealthy people who live in the area – including some renowned environmentalists – object to the project located so close to their own homes.

This article from the Cape Cod Times describes some of the legal maneuvering that has thus far blocked the project. One objection is that wind turbines kill migrating birds. The reporter did some research and came up with the following statistics:

Human-caused bird deaths

• Domestic cats: Hundreds of millions a year
• Striking high-tension lines: 130 million - 1 billion a year
• Striking buildings: 97 million to 976 million a year
• Cars: 80 million a year
• Toxic chemicals: 72 million
• Striking communications towers: 4 to 50 million a year
• Wind turbines: 20,000 to 37,000

Source: National Research Council

Clearly, turbines are not a major threat to birds, while the clean energy they provide would be a major boost to the environment. So why are some environmentalists opposed? The authors of the book say it’s because the turbines, several miles off the coast, would still be visible from their beach-front property. (It is also interesting to note that some of the anti-turbine legislation has been proposed by congressmen from states that just happen to produce a lot of coal.)

For an overview of the issue, read this article from The Boston Phoenix.


Farming the Wind: photo by Dirk Ingo Franke.   licensed under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 1.0
Farming the Wind: photo by Dirk Ingo Franke. licensed under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 1.0

Want to make a difference?

Did you know that you can insist that the amount of electricity you use be produced without generating carbon dioxide emissions or other forms of pollution (mercury, sulfer). Windsource electricity is produced without air emissions, such as carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide, both considered to contribute to greenhouse gases. Wind-generated electricity also uses no water and therefore requires no water treatment during production. I am doing this by joining the Windsource program.

Xcel Energy will be held accountable for using Windsource funds appropriately: it must file annual reports with the Minnesota Department of Commerce and Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, accounting for program revenues and expenses and wind generation and sales. In addition, all wind facilities supplying the Windsource program will be certified by the Minnesota Department of Commerce. Sierraclub

What does it cost?

I have agreed to pay $2 per 100 kWh extra on my electric bill. This month I used 304 kWh so I was billed an extra $6.08. Since my electricity is pollution free I was rebated the Fuel Cost Adjustment that I otherwise would have paid ($2.76). So I paid an extra $3.32 last month know that I am helping rather than hurting our future environment. When fuel cost rise enough the rebate can become greater than what you pay for Windsource. You can sign up for Windsource here or call 1-800-895-4999 anytime.


Farming the Wind: photo by Dirk Ingo Franke.   licensed under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 1.0
Farming the Wind: photo by Dirk Ingo Franke. licensed under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 1.0

Is wind a good cash crop?

At the State Fair I observed as several farmers were researching whether a 1.5 million dollar wind turbine would make them money. The biggest factor was how much wind was available where they lived.The break even point was if they had better than 7.5 mph average wind speeds( see map pdf). Apparently several banks and also John Deere are financing projects if the numbers look good. Power companies will give a 20 year contract to buy electricity. The wind generators usally have a life expectancy of 25 years. Most farmers pay back the loan in ten years, then can reap profits of over $100,000 a year for the next 15 years. Sounds tempting, doesn't it?

An Iowa company hopes to build a $200 million wind farm.

Iowa Winds LLC hopes to build a 200- to 300-megawatt farm covering about 40,000 acres in Franklin County.

Company officials said the farm could be the nation's largest -- depending on the permits and the county's power grid infrastructure. If the county approves the project, construction would start next spring and take about a year, said Franklin County Supervisor Michael Nolte. LiveScience

Texas leads the nation with 2,370 megawatts of wind energy installed and California has 2,323 megawatts (American Wind Association). Iowa is in third place with 836 megawatts. Minnesota is fourth with 794 megawatts. The total United States capacity is about 10,000 megawatts. These numbers and rankings are changing. Wind energy output is growing by about 30 percent a year globally.

Want more? Go to the Minnesota Dept. of Commerce wind energy information web page.


Satellite vulnerability: Photo from Wikipedia Commons
Satellite vulnerability: Photo from Wikipedia Commons

One possible solution

The high energy particles spewed out of sunspots can knock out satellites and electric power grids. To prevent this from happening the US Air Force and the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have proposed using very low frequency radio waves to flush particles from radiation "belts" above Earth and dump them into the upper atmosphere over either one or several days.

What are the consequences?

This deluge of dumped charged particles would temporarily change the ionosphere from a "mirror" that bounced high frequency radio waves around the planet to a "sponge" that soaked them up, says Dr Craig Rodger of Otago University's physics department.
“Airplane pilots and ships would lose radio contact and some Pacific Island nations could be isolated for as long as six to seven days, depending on the system’s design and how it was operated,” he says.
GPS would likely also suffer large-scale disruptions, as signals between ground users and satellites were scrambled by the ionosphere, he added. Otego media release

Is it worth it?

Can people like Joe can go without geocaching for a week. Smart bombs also would need to take a breather because they use GPS to find their targets. We are seeing a minimum of sunspot activity right now. Sunspots peak every eleven years. The last memorable blast from the sun was July 14, 2000 so we need to make up our minds before 2011.