High-altitude urban windpower: not just blue-sky thinking

Paul Raven @ 17-06-2009

Energy sources don’t come much cleaner than wind power, but there’s no way of deploying it in large urban areas, right? Well, not so; if you can get the turbines away from ground level, you not only avoid the problem of siting all those windmills but also get access to the much richer store of power that exists at higher altitudes.

The first rigorous, worldwide study of high-altitude wind power estimates that there is enough wind energy at altitudes of about 1,600 to 40,000 feet to meet global electricity demand a hundred times over.

The very best ground-based wind sites have a wind-power density of less than 1 kilowatt per square meter of area swept. Up near the jet stream above New York, the wind power density can reach 16 kilowatts per square meter. The air up there is a vast potential reservoir of energy, if its intermittency can be overcome.

Even better, the best high-altitude wind-power resources match up with highly populated areas including North America’s Eastern Seaboard and China’s coastline.

“The resource is really, really phenomenal,” said Cristina Archer of Cal State University-Chico, who co-authored a paper on the work published in the open-access journal Energies.”There is a lot of energy up there, but it’s not as steady as we thought. It’s not going to be the silver bullet that will solve all of our energy problems, but it will have a role.”

According to that article, there’s a handful of start-ups beavering away at making workable prototypes to take advantage of all that wind and promising their first sales in a year or so. It’ll be good to have another non-vaporware option on the renewable energy table, but I imagine any city that has a lot of aircraft traffic passing through isn’t going to be too keen on the idea…

Solar power achieves $1-per-Watt milestone

Paul Raven @ 05-03-2009

solar panelsDepending on who you ask, solar power is somewhere between the ultimate clean solution to our energy addiction or a blind alley of inefficiency and cost that distracts us from more reasonable solutions. Recent developments have added a little weight to the former argument, with a solar panel manufacturer claiming a $1-per-Watt grid parity on manufacturing costs:

Using cadmium telluride (CdTe) technology in its thin-film photovoltaic cells, First Solar claims to have the lowest manufacturing cost per watt in the industry with the ability to make solar cells at 98 cents per watt, one third of the price of comparable standard silicon panels. The efficiency is in part due to a low cycle time – 2.5 hours from sheet of glass to solar module – about a tenth of the time it takes for silicon equivalents.

Cost is only part of the battle, of course, but dropping prices can’t harm solar’s status as a contender in the renewables marketplace. [image by laurenatclemson]

However, somebody somewhere is probably going to find some other reason for not deploying it – look at the NIMBYism that has plagued windfarms.

Down the co-op: wind farms in the UK

Tom James @ 18-12-2008

Good news on the alternative energy front: researcher Baidya Roy has found solutions to some problems with wind energy. There’s also an article here on wind-farm co-operatives in the UK:

The cooperative, which began production in March, is the first wind farm to be wholly owned by individuals in Britain, which with gales sweeping in from the Atlantic has the best wind resources in Europe.

“We have produced energy every day since then,” Adam Twine, a farmer who started the project 15 years ago on his plot of land by installing five wind turbines 49 metres (160 feet) in height.

Overall, the project cost eight million pounds (8.9 million euros, 11.9 million dollars), nearly 60 percent of which came from individual shareholders, with the remainder being funded by a bank loan that is to be repaid over the next eight to 10 years.

CO2 emissions resulting from the production, installation and the lifetime of the turbine, which stretches 25 years, will be offset in just six months.

This is quite a heartening story: it combines the best elements of top-down (government subsidy) and bottom-up (locally-owned co-operative organisation) energy solutions.

[from Physorg][image from pierreyves0 on flickr]

Outquistion of The Future

Arun Jiwa @ 16-07-2008

At the WorldChanging blog, Alex Steffen has posted an article that could be the seed of half a dozen sf stories. He talked with novelist/activist Cory Doctorow about a number of topics, foremost among them the social and economic changes facing America in the future:

We were talking about the slow-motion collapse here in America, the looming climate crisis,the futility of survivalism; and we began to play with the thought, what kinds of heroes would actually do some good for the communities that get hit hard?Because if the ruins of the unsustainable are the new frontier, and if, as is already happening, the various economic and environmental transitions we face will leave many people unmoored from their familiar assumptions…a huge number of people are going to need help forging new ways of life.

What they come up with in answer to these problems, is The Outquisition:

What would it be like, we wondered, if folks who knew tools and innovation left the comfy bright green cities and traveled to the dead mall suburban slums, rustbelt browntowns and climate-smacked farm communities and started helping the locals get the tools they needed. We imagined that it would need an almost missionary fervor, something like the Inquisition (which largely destroyed knowledge) in reverse, a crusade of open sharing, or as Cory promptly dubbed it, the Outquisition.

Imagine these folks like this passing out free textbooks, running holistic programs for kids, creating local knowledge management systems, launching microfinance projects, mobilebanking and complementary currencies. Helping rural landowners apply climate foresight and farm biodiversity… In other words, these folks would be redistributing the future at a furious clip.

It’s a very engaging article, and definitely worth a read, if only for the huge number of SFnal ideas that it posits.

[story from WorldChanging, found via Beyond The Beyond]

Dynamic Skyscraper in Dubai

Tom James @ 25-06-2008

The announcement of the world’s first dynamic building has echoes of the futuristic and modernist designers of the Archigram movement:

archigram domesThe 420-metre (1,378-foot) building’s apartments would spin a full 360 degrees, at voice command, around a central column by means of 79 giant power-generating wind turbines located between each floor.

It is interesting to see certain elements, including the modularity, individualism, and dynamism of concepts like the Archigram Plug-in-City re-emerge in the 21st century.

The Dynamic Tower itself is impressive in it’s grandeur and the scale of it’s ambition. The fact that the architect claims the building “would be energy self-sufficient as the turbines would produce enough electricity to power the entire building and even feed extra power back into the grid” adds to the wonder.

[story via BBC News][image by Claire L. Evans]

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