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Energy Update: Something’s Sure Blowin’ in the Wind…

By Mark Devlin

April 16, 2012

First U.S. Offshore Wind Turbine: Approved…

…and it’s not far away from my own backyard, according to this article at the Virginian-Pilot.

Recently, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, which regulates the state’s coastal ecosystems and fisheries, unanimously voted to approve what could be the first operational offshore wind turbine of the U.S.—if it’s built on-time.

Interestingly, the state has so far spent nothing on the project. Two companies—Gamesa Energy USA and Huntington Ingalls Newport News Shipbuilding—have each fronted $2 million ‘in case something goes wrong.’ (That’s a very odd way to word such an investment.) Overall, the companies are investing a combined total of $30 million for the pilot project that’ll include a turbine standing 479-ft tall. Location? Chesapeake Bay, ‘about three miles off Cape Charles on the Eastern Shore,’ on state-owned acreage.

Output? About 5 kW.


The location was chosen to ‘simulate’ real, offshore conditions, with the new turbine being built in 53 ft. of water depth. It’s expected to be visible from Cape Charles (the citizens of which gave the project ‘a warm embrace’) and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. (Why would we have to ‘simulate’ offshore turbines when we already have plenty of international history with the technology?)

Additional permits are required from the Coast Guard and Army Corps of Engineers, but those are expected soon.

I’m mixed these days on wind energy (read on), but I hope the Virginia project doesn’t screw-up my amazing views of aircraft carriers and surfaced nuclear subs on my fairly regular jaunts across the always impressive Bay Bridge. (I can do without the views of the bazillion tanker ships. Please mess-up those views.)

Here’s more on the project from the office of Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell. “The Energy Capital of the East Coast?” That’s potentially scary.

In related news, the under-construction Cape Wind project—which also bills itself as “America’s First Offshore Wind Farm” (on New England’s Nantucket Sound) will supposedly reduce regional electricity prices by $7.2 billion (over 25 years). Sounds great, but I want to see the bills. For more on this one, see the Cape Wind Associates LLC-sponsored report here (PDF).

Here’s an Idea: Float a Bunch of These over Your Home Town

I’m all for great ideas—even many that seem particularly off the wall. But inflatable wind turbines?


What the heck is that? It’s the…

…Altaeros Airborne Wind Turbine (AWT) — and as the name suggests it's actually a turbine set inside an inflatable shell full of helium, which is held in place with strong tethers that are also used to transfer energy back to ground level. The AWT was recently demonstrated in Limestone, Maine where it managed to reach a height of 350 feet, produce twice the amount of power typically generated at standard turbine height, and then land successfully.

…according to this brief at The Verge. (via inhabitat and Altaeros Energies [PDF]).

Here’s a clip directly from Altaeros…

The AWT climbed up 350 feet high, produced power at altitude, and landed in an automated cycle. In addition, the prototype lifted the top-selling Southwest Skystream turbine to produce over twice the power at high altitude than generated at conventional tower height. The turbine was successfully transported and deployed into the air from a towable docking trailer.

Generating more electricity than at conventional tower height? Fantastic, and impressive. A thousand feet high? Not high enough. We can still see it there, and that is one ugly power generation device. If higher equals better, put it up where we can’t see it. Please.

Besides ugly, there are positives such as easy setup (‘in a matter of a few days’) as well as obvious advantages to ‘small villages and military sites.’

I’m sorry. I can’t support this unless and until it’s made to look like something from a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Plus, you might want to consider using something other than helium, which some say is artificially cheap and, thus, has been squandered worldwide.


At least put a cartoon face on it.

I’ll Just Leave This Here…

In our mad rush to be green, renewable, and environmentally correct, are we missing important things along the way? Yes, apparently.

Before you venture to believe that wind power is great—and I’m not taking a position here; I’m just here to report things in a fair and balanced fashion—consider this…

"An industrial scale wind turbine uses more than a ton of magnets, 35 percent of which is dependent on neodymium.... To extract rare earth metals, aggressive acids are pumped into well-like bore holes where chemicals dissolve the deposits. The slurry is then pumped into ponds at high occupational and environmental risks".

Here’s a little more about one such rare earth processing facility, ‘developed in 1985 by…

…Mitsubishi Chemical at Bukit Merah [Malaysia] in northern Perak state near the city of Ipoh that turned into an environmental disaster.

The facility was closed in 1992 amid allegations that it was causing widespread
groundwater and other environmental contamination and was responsible for
deaths from leukaemia as well as birth defects in children living nearby.

The Bukit Merah site, 20 years later, remains one of Asia’s largest radioactive waste cleanup sites despite the fact that Mitsubishi has owned up to the pollution and poured an estimated US$100 million into the cleanup.

Umm, isn’t nuclear’s long-term record looking pretty good in comparison?

As presented by Dr. Per Peterson, professor and chair of nuclear engineering at Berkeley, here’s the amount of mining require to ‘1 megawatt year of electrical energy’ by technology…

676 tonnes (0.74t steel + 8.44t concrete + 666.7t U ore at 300ppm)

680 tonnes (123t steel + 557t concrete)

~5,500 tonnes (4.19t steel + 16.4t concrete + 5,500t coal)

Combined Cycle Natural Gas
963 tonnes (0.147t steel + 2.88t concrete + 960t gas)

Reasonable source? I’m not sure. We certainly can’t believe everything that’s on the interwebs, but here’s the link in case you’re interested. Interested in more? Check this out.

Despite a couple of rare (and very preventable) disasters, I happen to believe that nuclear makes more sense than alternatives, despite Hollywood and The China Syndrome, for instance.

But, I’m merely a technology blogger, and I don’t mean that snarkily. You’re the engineer: what do you think, and why?

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