That’s Mr. W, aka the wind. Wind power is the most majestic looking power source we use. When I drive through northern Iowa, there’s a stretch of interstate with windmills everywhere and it’s dangerously distracting. I’m fascinated by them, and I think most people are.
The trouble with wind, as power companies like to reiterate, is it’s variability or intermittency. You can’t predict accurately how strong the wind is going to blow and it makes balancing the load on transmission lines pretty difficult for power stations. A revolution in battery technology could fix that, but in the mean time there are some innovative solutions.
- Smart Grids – “a regional or even continental electricity network able to control and route power much more intelligently than is currently the case, making better use of available energy sources to maintain constant supply.” – From Wind Energy Update. Wind energy would be directed to the places that need it and when the wind is slower, the grid would be able to route power from another source (hopefully wind in another area, but most likely a fossil fuel).
- Pumping Water – “…in the meantime the best bet for wind energy to establish itself as a base load is to use excess electricity to pump water into dams that can then power hydroelectric plants.” – From Wind Energy Update. It’s a makeshift battery essentially, where the wind power pumps water when it has extra power and when that power is needed it comes from the hydroelectric source.
- Automatic Blade Angle Adjustment – There is a laser that senses the wind and prepares the machine… “The lasers act like sonar for the wind, bouncing off microscopically small particulates and back to a fiber optic detector. That data is fed to an on-board processor that generates a three-dimensional view of the wind speed and direction. Subtle adjustments in the turbine blade’s angle to the window allows it to capture more energy and protect itself in case of strong gusts.” – From Wired.
- Widespread Offshore Wind – This one has not been tried, but here’s how the idea works: “If you spread out wind stations far enough, each one will experience a different weather pattern. So it’s very unlikely that a slackening of the wind would affect all stations at once. The result is steadier power.” – From Wired. the University of Delaware study looked at the coast from Maine to Florida, connected by an underwater cable. Their experiments indicate that while one area may produce nothing for some time, the overall system remains constant with slow and small variations.
So, I hope Mr. W gets bigger and better opportunities to power the world as we implement innovative solutions like these and new technologies as they come.
Author’s note: I really like how Mr. W walks and I enjoy his little hat. I will probably emulate his style just for fun sometimes from now on.