Tag Archives: wind power

Can we get wind power without the blades or the actual wind? These startups believe so

Wind power is mostly associated with sweeping white blades, taking advantage of the strong gusts that blow over the land or the sea. But what if we could forget about the blades and even the wind and instead just have a turbine? That’s the idea of a group of European companies, who have come up with new ways to expand wind energy without the limitations of a conventional turbine.

Image credit: Vortex Bladeless

Wind has gradually turned into a leading energy source around the globe, with costs dropping every year. But turbines can be problematic: they’re unsuited for some areas, they can harm birds, and they’re not recyclable. This has led green energy pioneers to start thinking of ways to reinvent wind power – even forgoing the need for the blades in a tower.

In Spain, the small startup Vortex Bladeless has come up with a design that can create energy from winds without the actual blades. The company claims not to be against traditional windfarms but instead hopes to fill the gaps in locations where traditional wind farms may not be appropriate, such as in urban or residential areas.

“We hope to offer people the possibility of harvesting the wind that passes over their roofs or through gardens and parks with devices that are cheaper to install and easier to maintain than conventional wind turbines,” David Yañez, Vortex co-founded, said in a statement. “Bladeless turbines can adapt more quickly to changes in wind direction than conventional ones.”

Vortex’s design of a turbine is similar to a slender wobbling or oscillating cylinder. The device has only a few moving parts, doesn’t need much maintenance, generates very little noise and is relatively easy to install. The company argues the turbine also has less visual effect and impact on wildlife compared to conventional bladed turbines.

Instead of relying on the wind to move a blade, Vortex’s device oscillates as the air passes around it and vortices build up behind – a process known as vortex shedding. As the wind blows and vortices build up, a lightweight cylinder affixed vertically to an elastic rod oscillates on its base, where an alternator converts the mechanical movement into electricity.

Initial tests by Vortex suggested that their device can generate electricity about 30% cheaper than conventional wind turbines on a levelized cost of energy basis. This is largely because of the lower installation costs and the minimal maintenance requirements. Still, the turbine so far developed is small and Vortex is now looking for an industrial partner to create a larger one.

“Our machine has no gears, brakes, bearings, or shafts. It does not need lubrication and has no parts that can be worn down by friction. Thanks to being very lightweight and having the center of gravity closer to the ground, anchoring or foundation requirements have been reduced significantly compared to regular turbines, easing installation,” Yáñez said in a statement.

Other companies are taking similar steps across Europe, with high hopes of expanding wind energy. Alpha 311, a UK organization, has developed a small vertical wind turbine that they claim can generate electricity without wind. The turbine, made of recycled plastic, fits on to existing streetlights and generates electricity as passing cars displace the air.

The company argues that each turbine could generate as much electricity as 20 squared meters of solar panels, more than enough electricity to keep the streetlight on and help power the local energy grid. As a starting point, Alpha 311 will install a scaled-down version of the turbine in the 02 Arena in London, an entertainment venue, that will generate enough electricity for its visitors.

“While our turbines can be placed anywhere, the optimal location is next to a highway, where they can be fitted onto existing infrastructure. There’s no need to dig anything up, as they can attach to the lighting columns that are already there and use the existing cabling to feed directly into the grid,” Mike Shaw, a spokesperson for the company, told The Guardian.

Meanwhile, in Germany, the startup SkySails hopes to use an airborne design to harness wind power directly from the sky. The company builds fully automated kites that can fly up to 400 meters to capture wind power. As it goes up, the kite pulls a rope secured to a winch and a generator on the ground. Electricity is generated as the kite goes up into the sky.

The design can generate a maximum capacity of 100 to 200 kilowatts, but the company hopes to increase the output from kilowatts to megawatts. Stephan Wrage, the chief executive of SkySails, told The Guardian that the technology has a minimal impact on people and the environment, “working very quietly” and with “no visible effects on the landscape.

Offshore wind capacity could grow eightfold by 2030, led by an expansion in China

Global offshore wind capacity could grow eightfold by 2030, reaching 234GW (from the 29.1GW registered last year) according to a new report. It anticipates an exponential growth of the sector over the next decade in the Asia-Pacific region as well as continued strong growth in Europe.

Credit Øyvind Holmstad. Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) published its Global Offshore Wind Report for 2020, which provides an overview of the sector worldwide. The council revised its forecast for 2030 up by 15GW after the fastest ever growth registered in 2019, when new wind farms added 6.1GW to the global count.

“Offshore wind is truly going global, as governments around the world recognize the role that the technology can play in kickstarting post-COVID economic recovery through large-scale investment, creating jobs and bringing economic development to coastal communities,” said Ben Blackwell, CEO at GWEC, in a press release.

The offshore market has grown on average by almost a quarter every year since 2013, the report showed, mainly by a larger number of new projects in Europe, which as 75% of the world’s wind farms. Nevertheless, the rate of growth is expected to pick up in the next decade due to an array of new projects.

China remained in the number one spot for the second year in a row for new installations, adding a record 2.4 GW, followed by the UK at 1.8 GW and Germany at 1.1 GW. Europe is still the leading region for offshore wind, but countries in the Asia-Pacific region as well as the US are picking up the pace.

The report shows that 900,000 jobs will be created in the offshore sector over the next decade – and this number can only increase if policymakers put in place recovery strategies that can further accelerate the growth of the sector. Furthermore, the report found that every 1GW of offshore wind power saves an equivalent of 2.5 million tons of CO2 in emissions.

Feng Zhao, GWEC Strategy Director, said: |The industry’s outlook has grown more promising as more countries around the world are waking up to the immense potential of offshore wind. As the market continues to grow, innovations in the sector such as floating offshore wind will continue to open new doors and markets.”

The report estimates that by the end of the decade China will host more than a fifth of the world’s offshore wind turbines, totaling 52GW, while the UK will reach 40.3GW. The third-largest market for offshore wind by 2030 will be North America, where offshore wind capacity will reach 23GW.

Wind power has the potential to supply the world’s electricity needs 18 times over

Despite it now accounts for 0.3% of the world energy, wind power is on the right track to quickly expand thanks to lower costs and more green policies, the International Energy Agency said, claiming the energy source could provide sufficient clean electricity for every person on Earth 18 times over.

Credit Wikipedia Commons

The report by the EIA found that global offshore wind capacity could increase 15-fold and attract around $1 trillion (£800bn) of cumulative investment by as soon as 2040. This is driven by the declining costs in installations, supportive government policies and “remarkable technological progress.”

The report said the global offshore wind market grew nearly 30% per year between 2010 and 2018, led by the EU. There are now about 150 new offshore wind projects in development around the world, with China adding more capacity than any other country in 2018.

“Yet today’s offshore wind market doesn’t even come close to tapping the full potential,” the authors write. “With high-quality resources available in most major markets, offshore wind has the potential to generate more than 420,000 terrawatt hours per year worldwide. This is more than 18 times global electricity demand today.”

Nevertheless, the EIA says a lot of work has to be done to bring a clean energy revolution to fruition. “More and more of that potential is coming within reach, but much work remains to be done by governments and industry for it to become a mainstay of the clean energy transition,” said Faith Birol, EIA head.

Behind the growth of wind energy there’s the growing awareness of the climate crisis and political responses to environmental concerns, the report said. In just 20 years, wind could become Europe’s main source of energy generation.

Now, offshore wind capacity in the EU stands at almost 20 gigawatts, and under current policies, that is set to rise to nearly 130 gigawatts by 2040. However, if EU countries meet their stated carbon-neutrality aims, offshore wind capacity would jump to around 180 gigawatts by 2040, the report said.

An even more ambitious vision in which government policies drive an increase in demand for clean hydrogen produced by offshore wind could push European offshore wind capacity “dramatically higher,” according to the EIA.

In this scenario, electricity generated by wind turbines would be used to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen atoms, with the hydrogen then being stored and ultimately blended with normal gas supplies to heat houses or fuel vehicles. It could also be recycled to generate more clean electricity.

In the meantime, China will soon take the lead as the nation producing the most energy from offshore wind. The technology is particularly attractive in China, where major efforts are underway to reduce air pollution.

“By around 2025, China is likely to have the largest offshore wind fleet of any country, overtaking the United Kingdom,” the IEA said. “China’s offshore wind capacity is set to rise from 4 gigawatts today to 110 gigawatts by 2040. Policies designed to meet global sustainable energy goals could push that even higher to above 170 gigawatts.”

Careful design and placement of wind turbines can minimize the threat to birds

Renewable energy is expanding quickly across the globe, but so are concerns over the impact of wind farms on wildlife. Wind turbines, in particular, have shown their potential to generate clean energy, but there are also concerns about their potential threat to birds.

A new study looked at the issue further, noting that wind turbines can affect bird populations — but there are ways to minimize the impact through wind turbine design and placement.

Researchers recommended that turbines be taller and with shorter blade length to minimize the harm done to birds.Credit Wikipedia Commons

The study, published in Energy Science, estimated that about 150,000 birds are affected by wind turbines in the U.S. every year. This includes bird collisions with turbines as well as changes in bird habitat due to wind disturbances. When looking specifically at grassland birds, researchers found fewer negative impacts.

“We found that there was a negative impact of three birds lost for every turbine within 400 meters of bird habitat. The impact faded away as distance increased,” Madhu Khanna, co-author of the study and professor at the University of Illinois, said.

The researchers looked at data on wind turbines, breeding birds, land use, and weather across the United States over a six-year period. The study included 1,670 wind turbines and 86 bird observation routes across 36 states from 2008 to 2014.

The negative impacts on birds identified in this study are lower than estimates from some other studies. However, those studies were done on a smaller scale. This research uses a large dataset over a longer time frame, yielding more systematic and accurate information.

“We compared bird routes that were close to turbines with those that were further away, making it possible to more easily and precisely identify the impact of the turbine, while controlling for other unobservable factors,” explained Ruiqing Miao, assistant professor of agricultural economics at Auburn University and lead author on the study.

While there’s an impact, there are a set of key factors that can help reduce it, the study argued. The size of the wind turbine and the length of the blades make a difference, as taller turbines and shorter blades reduce the impact on birds. Other studies have found that turbine height was negatively correlated with bird count.

As the impact on birds diminishes as the distance increases, the researchers suggested that wind turbines be placed outside a 1,600-meter buffer zone of high-density bird habitats.

Policy decisions regarding wind energy must consider the tradeoff between sustainable energy and bird populations, Khanna points out. “No single technology is such that it is only beneficial and has no negative consequences. You can minimize the effect by making the recommended adjustments,” she said.

Limited effect

This is not the first time a study looks at the effect of wind turbines on wildlife. While there is an impact, if they are well-sited and managed the impact is much lower. Environmental organizations such as BirdLife have expressed their support to the deploy of renewables, highlighting windmills don’t pose unacceptable risks.

Wind farms have one of the lowest rates of impact on birds (and other wildlife) of any form of power generation. Cats, buildings, and cars pose a higher danger, according to the National Audubon Society.

Statistically, wind turbines kill between 214,000 and 368,000 birds every year. On the other hand, cell and radio towers take the lives of 6.8 million birds annually. On top of that, cats are responsible for about 1.4 billion to 3.7 billion bird deaths.

A 2009 study that used European and US data on bird deaths concluded that fossil fuel-based power stations kill fifteen times more birds than wind and nuclear power stations.

The study remarked that nuclear power stations and wind farms caused about 0.3-0.4 fatalities for every gigawatt-hour (GWh). On the flip side, power stations that run on fossil fuels lead to 5.2 fatalities per GWh.

On top of all, there’s an even larger threat to birds and all species – global warming. Increasing temperatures are causing changes in bird migration and reproduction patterns, as well as impacting habitats, food and water sources, and nesting sites. In Europe, a warming climate accounts for the decline in 92 bird species, while in North America, 314 species are imperilled.

Europe could power the entire world with wind power, study finds

Wind power could play a much more significant role in Europe, according to a new analysis from the University of Sussex and Aarhus University. Researchers showed that Europe has the capacity to produce more than 100 times the amount of wind power it currently produces.

Credit: Flickr

The research analyzed all suitable sited for onshore wind farms and concluded that Europe has the potential to supply enough energy for the whole world until 2050. If all its capacity for wind energy was realized, Europe would have an installed capacity of 52.2 TW, which is equivalent to 1 MW for every 16 European citizens.

Nevertheless, reaching this target would mean ramping up onshore wind power production by a factor of more than 100, scientists say. It’s a tough challenge, but the team argues that the world needs to drastically increase wind power to avert the worst consequences of global warming.

“The study is not a blueprint for development but a guide for policymakers indicating the potential of how much more can be done and where the prime opportunities exist,” Benjamin Sovacool, co-author, said. “The horizon is bright for the onshore wind sector.”

A spatial analysis of Geographical Information System (GIS)-based wind atlases allowed the research team to identify around 46% of Europe’s territory which would be suitable for siting of onshore wind farms. The data helped to factor in a far greater range of exclusionary factors including houses and roads.

The study estimates that more than 11 million additional wind turbines could be theoretically installed over almost 5 million square kilometers of suitable terrain generating 497 exajoule (EJ) of power which would adequately meet the expected global energy demand in 2050 of 430 EJ.

According to the authors, Turkey, Russia, and Norway have the greatest potential for future wind power density. Large parts of Western Europe were also considered ripe for further onshore farms by the research because of favorable wind speeds and flat areas.

“Onshore wind power is the cheapest mature source of renewable energy, and utilizing the different wind regions in Europe is the key to meet the demand for a 100% renewable and fully decarbonized the energy system,” said Peter Enevoldsen, assistant professor in the Center for Energy Technologies at Aarhus University

Scotland produces enough wind energy to power itself twice

The list of countries breaking records in renewable energy just got bigger, with Scotland now joining the bandwagon. In the first half of 2019, the country generated enough energy from wind power to supply its homes twice over.

Credit: Cowrin (Flickr)


Data from WeatherEnergy shows that Scottish wind turbines generated just over 9.8 million megawatt-hours of electricity between January and June, or enough to power roughly 4.47 million homes — nearly twice as many homes as there currently are in the country.

“These are amazing figures, Scotland’s wind energy revolution is clearly continuing to power ahead,” says Robin Parker, the Climate & Energy Policy Manager at the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). “Up and down the country, we are all benefiting from cleaner energy and so is the climate.”

The new figures are a record high for wind energy in the nation and it means the turbines could have provided enough electricity for every dwelling in Scotland, as well as northern England. March was the high watermark, with 2,194,981 MWh of output produced in the month.

“These figures really highlight the consistency of wind energy in Scotland and why it now plays a major part in the UK energy market,” says Alex Wilcox Brooke, Weather Energy Project Manager at Severn Wye Energy Agency.

The UK as a whole is on a roll in renewable energy. It just managed its longest stretch without relying on coal power since the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century. Coal power stations didn’t supply any energy to the grid for seven days in a row, according to the National Grid in the UK – a total of 167 consecutive hours.

That’s in line with the UK government’s target to do without coal completely by 2025, and it looks as though Scotland could have a big part to play in reaching that goal. The country is seen as a pioneer when it comes to wind power, with onshore and offshore farms now at a capacity of 8,423 MW as of December 2018.

The country has a goal of using renewable energy sources to provide 100% of Scotland’s gross annual electricity by 2020. If it accomplishes this goal, that would mean that beginning next year, Scots will not be using any fossil fuels to generate electricity.

Back in 2015, Scotland had already met and exceeded its interim goal of powering 50% of its electricity with renewable energy. Wind energy is a favorite in the country, but other renewable energy sources include solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, hydrokinetic, and biomass.

The proposed wind turbine will have two blades instead of the three usually employed. Credit: Pixabay.

World’s largest wind turbine will be taller than the Empire State Building

In wind energy, bigger is almost always better. With this in mind, six leading universities and institutions have banded together to design that world’s largest wind turbine yet. Standing at 500 meters (1,640 feet), the SUMR project will be about 57 meters taller than the iconic Empire State Building. The concept features two 200-meter (650-foot) turbine blades which are twice the size of an American football field.

The proposed wind turbine will have two blades instead of the three usually employed. Credit: Pixabay.

The proposed wind turbine will have two blades instead of the three usually employed. Credit: Pixabay.

Over the last two decades or so, wind turbines have become larger and larger. In the 1980s, the largest wind turbines had a rotor diameter of only a couple tens of meters. Today, land-based supply is dominated by turbines in the 1.5 and 2 MW range — enough to power 500 American homes — and typical wind farm towers stand around 70 meters tall. This dramatic evolution in size is no accident because power output depends on the rotor blades’ size and the wind turbine tower’s height.

The higher up the turbine is, the better the winds are and the more kinetic energy can be harvested. A taller structure can thus capture more energy. It also enables lengthier blades and a larger swept area — the circular area drawn by a blade’s rotation. Interestingly, a turbine’s power output doesn’t linearly increase with the blade’s size. Because the swept area is what matters, if a system’s blade length doubles, the power output can actually quadruple.

Wind turbine design and power output progression along the years. Credit Dong Energy.

Wind turbine design and power output progression over the years. Credit Dong Energy.

The mega-turbine

So, all of this explains why companies and universities are going for bigger, taller wind turbines — it just makes economic sense to do so. Eric Loth, the project leader of SUMR which is directly funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA–E), says his team wants to design a 50-megawatt turbine, with blades that span up to 200 meters long. If they can make it work, their resulting turbine would be around ten times more powerful than anything that came before it.

The team is led by the University of Virginia and includes Sandia National Laboratories and researchers from the University of Illinois, the University of Colorado, the Colorado School of Mines and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Corporate advisory partners include Dominion Resources, General Electric Co., Siemens AG and Vestas Wind Systems.

The current largest wind turbines in the world are housed outside Liverpool Bay where 32 gigantic structures dot the landscape, each 195 meters (640 ft.) tall and carrying 80-meter-long (262-foot-long) blades that can generate 8 megawatts of power. SUMR50 would be more than twice as tall. Its turbine structure would be fundamentally different too as it will be fitted with two blades instead of the usual three to lower the weight of the structure. Typically, cutting down the number of blades from three to two would lower efficiency but the team is compensating for the loss with an advanced aerodynamic design.

“Exascale turbines take advantage of economies of scale,” said Todd Griffith, lead blade designer on the project and technical lead for Sandia’s Offshore Wind Energy Program.

What the SUMR project could look like. Credit: Chao Qin

What the SUMR project could look like. Credit: Chao Qin

Like today’s biggest turbines built by Dong Energy, SUMR turbines are meant for offshore deployment, as much as 80 kilometers away from the coast, where winds are generally stronger and people can’t see or hear them.

“The U.S. has great offshore wind energy potential, but offshore installations are expensive, so larger turbines are needed to capture that energy at an affordable cost,” Griffith said.

At the same time, this makes the engineering effort even more challenging. Building a half-kilometer tall wind turbine that can withstand hurricanes doesn’t sound easy at all. Loth already has some safety features in mind. For instance, wind speeds above 80 to 95 km/h will trigger the shut down of the system causing the blades to bend away from the wind instead of resisting, somewhat akin to how palm trees withstand gushing winds. According to Sandia, “SUMR’s load-alignment is bio-inspired [….] The lightweight, segmented trunk approximates a series of cylindrical shells that bend in the wind while retaining segment stiffness.”

“At dangerous wind speeds, the blades are stowed and aligned with the wind direction, reducing the risk of damage. At lower wind speeds, the blades spread out more to maximize energy production.” Griffith said.

Todd Griffith shows a cross-section of a scaled down model of a 50-meter blade already in operation, which is part of the pathway to the 200-meter exascale turbines being planned under a DOE ARPA-E-funded program. Credit: Sandia.

Todd Griffith shows a cross-section of a scaled down model of a 50-meter blade already in operation, which is part of the pathway to the 200-meter exascale turbines being planned under a DOE ARPA-E-funded program. Credit: Sandia.

But there are also many other puzzling engineering problems that don’t yet have a complete solution. There are many reasons no one has built a turbine with 200-meter-long blades, one of them being it’s very difficult to put them together — and offshore, tens of miles away from the coast to boot. And while bigger is generally better for wind turbines, no one is really sure where the sweet spot is. Will SUMR50 have an optimal design?These questions and more are on everyone’s mind right now in Loth’s team.

They will learn more once they have a small-scale working prototype ready by the end of this summer. It will only be two meters in diameter so next year they’ll have a much larger version with two 20-meter-long blades to run tests in Colorado. These experiments will be crucial in establishing whether a 500-meter-tall turbine is worth the investment or the concept can be shelved as sub-optimal. It’s amazing to look back and reflect how much wind turbines have changed over the last 30 years though. Just like solar energy mega structures, today’s wind turbine design echoes rapid developments in renewable energy which, in the United States, has tripled its capacity in only nine short years. Steadily but surely, the word ‘alternative’ will stop to make sense for wind or solar — they will become the de factor energy sources soon enough despite the ‘best’ efforts of some people who wouldn’t like this to happen.

An NS train. Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Ad Meskens.

All electric Dutch trains are now 100% powered by wind energy

An NS train. Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Ad Meskens.

A NS train. Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Ad Meskens.

As of the 1st of January, 2017, electric Dutch trains are now completely powered by wind energy, according to NS, the national railway company. Only the couple of Diesel trains in the fleet will use energy derived from fossil fuels.

NS partnered with energy company Eneco for a 10-year contract which will see electricity produced by wind farms directed to powering trains.

The Dutch railway company will use 1.2 billion kWh of electricity this year or as much as all households in the country consume. Roughly 600,000 passengers will travel on trains 100% powered by wind energy in 2017. As an interesting trivia fact, only three strokes of an Eneco wind turbine are enough to push a railway trail one kilometer. Every day, NS operates 5,500 train trips.

“Mobility is responsible for 20 percent of CO2 emissions in the Netherlands, and if we want to keep traveling, it is important that we do this without burdening the environment with CO2 and particulate matter,” Michel Kerkhof of energy company Eneco said last year.

The contract initially stated that the Dutch trains will be wind-powered by 2018, but the milestone was reached much faster, according to NS spokesman Ton Boon.

Boon says more wind farms will be installed in the Netherlands, both inland and off the coast, to offset the new demand. Meanwhile, NS is also working on ways to make train trips more efficient. The goal is to bring down the energy use per passenger by 35 percent by 2020 compared to 2005.

A monster typhoon as seen from the ISS. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

New wind turbine could harness typhoons and generate enough electricity to power Japan for 50 years

A monster typhoon as seen from the ISS. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

A monster typhoon as seen from the ISS. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Wind power hasn’t worked that well in Japan but not gusts are lacking. On the contrary, the country of the rising sun is often bombarded with typhoons whose devastating force easily destroy wind turbine blades which are designed and rated to withstand much milder conditions, like those in Europe. At the same time, Japan needs to supplement its renewable energy mix if it’s ever to become free of fossil fuels. The 2011 Fukushima meltdown also made a dent in the public’s support for nuclear energy which means the shackles of carbon-intensive energy generation have grown harder to break.

A typhoon eggbeater 

One inventive Japanese named Atsushi Shimizu, isn’t deterred away by typhoons. Instead of a threat, he sees potential. It’s believed that the energy encased in a typhoon is equivalent to half of the world’s current electricity generation capacity. Harnessing the power of a single typhoon could provide enough energy to power Japan for 50 years.

To this end, Shimizu, who is the CEO of a green-tech company called Challenergy since 2013, has come up with a new turbine design that’s meant to withstand powerful and unpredictable forces of nature. Instead of the familiar rotor blades, the new turbine is essentially made up of three pillars rotating around a vertical axis.

According to Shimizu, the design was modeled to take advantage of the Magnus effect, which is used to explain the often mysterious and commonly observed movements of spinning balls in sports like soccer, baseball tennis, table tennis, volleyball, golf and cricket. Basically, the Magnus effect explains why a spinning ball curves rather than follow a straight trajectory — the interaction between the air and the side of the ball that rotates in the opposite direction of the ball movement creates a low-pressure area.

So far, the turbine hasn’t been tested in real life conditions. Prototypes have been installed in Okinawa in July, and Shimizu and his team are currently waiting for a typhoon to strike. They’re one of the few people in the world eagerly waiting it. The video below shows how the turbine works during a benchmark in the lab.

Nevertheless, if it works it would mean a lot for Japan which currently has to import 85% of its energy requirements. Of course, while a typhoon can release a lot of energy that doesn’t mean we can harness all of it — most likely just a fraction of it because there’s no way to store a country’s 50 years worth electricity with current technology.

Wind Turbine Syndrome? Legal courts aren’t buying it

Credit: Mark Ellis/flickr

After digging around on several articles and editorials, I still haven’t found an exact, concise definition of what Wind Turbine Syndrome is. It is not recognized by any international disease classification system and does not appear in any title or abstract in the massive US National Library of Medicine’s PubMed database. From what I could find, it has no scientific basis, and the idea that it exists is mostly spread by people who claim to be suffering from it. Alleged symptoms include physiological problems such as insomnia, headaches, tinnitus, vertigo and nausea. But judges aren’t buying it; the Energy and Policy Institute, a clean energy advocacy group, reviewed rulings from 49 lawsuits and similar complaints filed in five Western countries. They found that no judge accepted the validity of Wind Turbine Syndrome – except for a single case, in Massachusetts. That single case is a definitive decision, and is currently being appealed.

“These claims about wind turbines causing health impacts are not being upheld, which means there isn’t sufficient evidence to prove that wind turbines cause any problems with human health,” said Gabe Elsner, the nonprofit’s executive director. “That’s a big deal, because claims about that are used across the globe by anti-wind advocates to try to slow the development of wind farms.”

In the case I mentioned above, a government board sided last year with neighbors, including a Vietnam War veteran recovering from PTSD, who said they were sickened by a pair of town-owned wind turbines. Until the appeal is settled, the blades are shut down every night from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. and during Sundays and public holidays.

Credit: Energy and Policy Institute.

“Of course wind turbines make noise, and we all know that noise can be annoying,” said Melissa Whitfield Aslund, a scientist at the Canadian consulting firm Intrinsik, whose clients include wind energy developers. “Once sited properly, where you have appropriate noise regulations in place, and where people aren’t being exposed to excessive amounts of noise, there’s no direct evidence of adverse effects on human health.”

The thing is, as I said, it’s not really recognized as a disease or a health threat in any way; and even noise is highly questionable – a study we wrote about in 2013 found that wind turbines are, for locals, “quieter than a heart beat“.

“There’s really nothing else about wind turbines that’s unique to wind turbines that would be expected to cause any adverse health impacts,” Whitfield Aslund said.


Wind Turbines are quieter than a heartbeat, study finds

Among the criticism that wind energy gets, one main idea some people complain about is that wind turbines are noisy; some people have even went as far as to claim that even though most of the created noise is way below the range of human hearing (infrasounds), it can cause health problems, including heart issues and vertigo. Now, a study conducted by acoustical experts from Australia has shown that this idea is nothing more than pseudo science mumbo jumbo.

Picture Source.

Picture Source.

The Association of Australian Acoustical consultants found that that infrasound generated by wind turbines is less loud than the infrasound created by a human heartbeat. Even though the noise increases as the wind speed increases, you’re never going to hear it – it will always be masked by the natural noise of the wind as it passes through the environment. The acoustic engineers showed that “those investigations conclude that infrasound levels adjacent to wind farms are below the threshold of perception and below currently accepted limits set for infrasound.”

So even though the created noise is relative, people are subjected to far more significant sources of noise every day in every urban environment – the sound of cars, aircraft, wind, and waves – all do much more noise than wind turbines, and all are still in the tolerated limits.

“Our environment has lots of infrasound already in it, the levels generated by wind farms from our point of view are quite low in comparison and they’re no higher than what is already out there in the natural environment. … People themselves generate infrasound through things like their own heartbeat, through breathing and these levels of infrasound can be substantially higher than an external noise source.”

So why did people believe that it was the turbines causing them harm? Some even went to the doctors reporting symptomes of what came to be called “Wind Turbine Syndrome”. As it turns out, they were simply suffering from a nocebo (the negative, opposite of a placebo); people simply think they hear sounds which will make them sick, and they suggestion themselves into becoming sick. The human mind is a wonderful place.

Picture Source

Picture Source

Coal energy slowly becoming more expensive than wind

I recently came across a great article written in the Washington Post which really gives some insight about the economics behind wind power and coal power.

A new dawn for wind power…

If you happen to listen to the more politicized or economic discussions, you’ll probably notice that the ball is thrown into the field of natural gas: many believe that low fortune of coal companies is caused by the low costs of natural gas, which convinced many industries to opt for them, but that’s not entirely true: the cost of mining coal has been going up. Why is this happening? I mean, the US are often regarded as the Saudi Arabia of coal, with resources enough to last another 200 years. The answer lies in the increased costs of transportation, explosives and wages, but most of all, it lies in geology. Whenever a resource is tapped, the easiest access, richest areas are always explored first. Now, despite the massive resources the US and many countries still have, it will be quite hard to extract them, which means more costs, and less profit; the “easy” coal has run out.

While coal power is in its twilight

But then again, on the other side of the coin lies wind power; according to the American Wind Energy Association, the costs of wind energy were 10 times higher in 1980 than they are now. More efficient, better technologies are alwasy appearing to lower the costs, and there is no “easy” wind or “hard” wind. Being a renewable energy, you can access a great area indefinitely. At the moment, a lot depends on local subsidies, taxing, etc, but we are definitely nearing a point where the costs of wind and coal will be pretty much equivalent – and that will definitely be a game changer.

Large wind farms might cause local (not global) warming

Large wind farms might have a warming effect on the local climate, a research conducted in the US claims, casting a shadow on the long term sustainability of this type of renewable energy.

Wind farms and warming


Wind farms have quite an unusual way of heating the surrounding environment: by drawing the hotter air from above, they cause the temperatures in the area to rise slightly. Liming Zhou of the University at Albany, State University of New York and colleagues used land-surface temperature data gathered by NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites to examine the effect.

These satellites can measure temperature with a spatial resolution of 1 square km, and they used them to analyze the climate in Texas, one of the world’s leading areas in terms of wind power. Their results, which were published in Nature Climate Change, showed that areas with the farms were about 0.5 degrees warmer than the rest of the region, indicating a 0.72 degrees warming trend per decade.

“We attribute this warming primarily to wind farms,” the study said. The temperature change could be due to the effects of the energy expelled by farms and the movement and turbulence generated by turbine rotors, it said. “These changes, if spatially large enough, may have noticeable impacts on local to regional weather and climate,” the authors said.

Wind power is still our friend


The results are not quite relevant for every turbine, as authors explain that more measurements in more areas need to be done before a definitive conclusion is drawn. The warming was particularly pronounced at night, but unlike previous studies, didn’t report a cooling of the day to balance it out. Zhou explains that the warming is not a direct result of the turbine’s blades with the air, but rather a result of mixing the cooler ground-level air with warmer air higher up. Still, he insists that wind energy remains one of the key aspects in fighting climate change and the energy crisis.

“Maybe we could modify wind turbines or simply think about where we put them, so as to minimise their impact. This research is just the first step.”

This view is shared by many, who believe this type of energy to be the best things we can come up with at the moment; one of the leading authorities in the field, Axel Kleidon of the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena, Germany, explains:

“Wind turbines have to be part of the solution, but it would be naive to think that they don’t have an impact. Balancing the impacts of various technologies is key to tackling climate change.”

Via NewScientist

South Africa electric plan for 2020: nuclear, wind and solar for 70% total power

South Africa's only nuclear power station in Koeberg, close to the Atlantic Ocean. (c) Bjorn Rudner

You might think that this isn’t quite the best time in the world to announce a nation wide nuclear plan, with the Japan double tsunami/earthquake incident which lead to the consequent Fukushima nuclear crisis and all, but South African officials don’t seem to let nature intimate them. As such, South Africa’s cabinet ratified a controversial 20-year Integrated Resource Plan that calls for nuclear power to fuel nearly a quarter of the country’s new electricity production in the future.

“We were quite bold to do that,” Dr. Rob Adam, chief executive of the Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa, said of the government’s decision to proceed. “The European countries panicked. I don’t think public opinion has changed.”

Besides, this bold act, what’s maybe even most remarkable in South Africa’s energy plan, dubbed IRP-2, is their intention to raise renewable energy sources like the sun and the wind output to account for 42 percent of new electricity generation. This attempt would practically turn South Africa almost 180 degrees around from its current energy situation, as the nation’s electricity grid is based 84% on coal. To meet the new mandate, half a dozen new plants will probably be built along South Africa’s coastline, the industry say.

Back to South Africa’s nuclear plan, critics are slamming the government for its decision of expanding nuclear power. Of course, the Japanese example is being thrown in at every pace protesters make, as local eco-activists strive to convince the government that non-nuclear waste producing alternatives should be looked for. Curiously enough, South Africa can be considered a fairly natural disaster free area, with little to no earthquakes. Currently, South Africa has only one nuclear power plant, located in Koeberg and functional since it’s inauguration in 1984.

Critics of nuclear power note that fault lines a few miles from the Koeberg nuclear plant gave rise to an earthquake 200 years ago that is estimated to have had roughly the same magnitude as the recent quake in Christchurch, New Zealand: 6.3. Luckily for South Africans, in any event, the Koeberg nuclear plant was built to withstand earthquakes of magnitude 7, at least according to Hilary Joffe, a spokeswoman for Eskom, the national electric company.

Environmentalists express skepticism. “Show me one that’s withstood a 7.0,” said Muna Lakhani, branch coordinator of Earthlife Africa’s Cape Town office. “I don’t think you can engineer for mother nature.”

>>RELATED: Nuclear Energy – 4.000 times safer than coal plants

Reports state that South Africa needs to double its current electrical grid capacity, at pace current consumer demand is increasing. This is due most probably because of  the countries large number of unelectrified homes which just now or soon will finally get plugged to the network. Its estimated at least 20% of the South Africa’s population doesn’t have electricity. Yeah, the real ecoactivists…

Whether or not critics will still be over it after the Japan situation slowly fades down it remains to be seen, but a nuclear power plant takes a bit to build, the first new power plant being slated for around 2020.