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Today I argued lots about wind farms. I'm very pro-environment, and… - Sally's Journal
September 23rd, 2004
09:58 pm

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Today I argued lots about wind farms. I'm very pro-environment, and quite pro-renewable energy, but really really don't think they're a good idea. A bit of it is Nimbyist, but a lot of it is that it's a huge amount of asthetic and environmental* misery for a rather pathetic power output.

Also, I have genuine supervisees next term! :-) Bit nervous about it really. Ah well, I can always ask my clever friends for help.

*as in digging up trees and killing little birdies

Edit

Ok, this was a bit hashed out of google, and is obviously a bit of a meaningless statistic, but I'm convinced it's true to order of magnitude.

If all the UK's power was generated by new top of the range windfarms, spaced equally across the country, there would need to be 23 in Cambridge.

Obviously as there are only certain sensible places to put them, what this really means is that all our national parks will become forests of wind turbines. But Kings parade will probably be safe... (Or they'll be effectively trivial, providing only a tiny fraction of our necessary power... they're just the governments sop to the environmentalists so they don't have to fix anything.)

(46 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments
 
From:yrieithydd
Date:September 23rd, 2004 02:03 pm (UTC)
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I actually like the look of wind farms. But maybe I'm just strange.

What about the off-shore one?
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From:inner_muppet
Date:September 23rd, 2004 02:19 pm (UTC)
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I can see you being a really good supervisor. Hope it goes well.

I also quite like the look of windfarms, though I can see they probably have drawbacks.
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From:aldabra
Date:September 23rd, 2004 02:23 pm (UTC)
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The trees and birdies are going to die anyway if the climate goes to hell, and we can always recycle the windfarms later if we come up with a better idea. On that basis I'd pick wind over nuclear...
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From:arnhem
Date:September 23rd, 2004 03:15 pm (UTC)
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I keep worrying away at the annoying fact that the efficiency of wind-powered generators is so hideously dependent on size; I have a vision of rows of little fans along the ridge-top of house roofs, but sadly ...

On the other hand, googling has found this which is excellent (in a slightly deranged way).

Another bit of googling dredged up the defence that "domestic wind turbines are no more noisy than a domestic washing machine", which seems to me to be damning with faint praise, to say the least.

From:yrieithydd
Date:September 23rd, 2004 03:22 pm (UTC)
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If all the UK's power was generated by new top of the range windfarms

No-one is suggesting that all power should come from wind! With renewables there is always going to be a mix. We also want to be reducing power consumption.

Sticking photovoltaic cells on rooves strikes my as a good place to start!
From:ex_robhu
Date:September 23rd, 2004 03:33 pm (UTC)
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As I understand it the problem with photovoltaic cells is that they just aren't cost effective enough (like pretty much all environmentally friendly power unfortunately)... they need to be either much cheaper or much more efficient.
From:yrieithydd
Date:September 23rd, 2004 03:37 pm (UTC)
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I wonder if they were more widely used whether they would become cheaper?

Putting them on the rooves of new buildings as standard would be a start. But maybe we haven't quite got that far yet.
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From:arnhem
Date:September 23rd, 2004 03:53 pm (UTC)
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My understanding of the problem with photovoltaics is that the environmental cost of their manufacture is a significant part of the problem at the moment. A better use of sun-lit roof space may be hot-water heating as here
From:yrieithydd
Date:September 23rd, 2004 04:18 pm (UTC)
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Passive solar heating is certainly a good plan and not being considered nearly enough.
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From:mewo2
Date:September 23rd, 2004 03:30 pm (UTC)
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I should point out here that nobody in their right mind is suggesting that we use wind power to produce all of our electricity. However, the fact that we shouldn't be completely dependent on them doesn't necessarily mean they're a bad idea. The windfarms that I've seen in Ireland (all on barren stretches of the coastline) produce about 3% of our energy requirement. If a wide portfolio of renewable sources are used, then the individual impact to each area of the environment is minimised.
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From:ilanin
Date:September 23rd, 2004 04:30 pm (UTC)
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England doesn't have any barren stretches of coastline of any significant length. (Scotland does, but then there's a prohibitive cost of transportation of materials and labour to actually build the things, and then to lay power lines afterwards...)
From:yrieithydd
Date:September 24th, 2004 03:25 am (UTC)
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They're building one off England though. Suffolk way I think. I heard about it on Radio 4!
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From:ilanin
Date:September 24th, 2004 08:42 am (UTC)
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Yes, I've heard about it too. I'm generally in favour of building these, but the number of available sites is pretty limited. Many of the places you could put them in the North Sea have Oil Rigs on (you can, of course, convert the Oil Rigs after the Oil runs out, which is probably a GoodIdea); and the Channel is a bit busy as a shipping route to clutter up with Wind Farms, which are a fairly major navigation hazard.
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From:passage
Date:September 24th, 2004 04:36 am (UTC)

Building on Scotland's coastline

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Actually this isn't really the issue, barren coastline is always a little difficult to get stuff to, but aside from that Scotland has plenty of good roads.
The issue is the loss of power to transport electricity. It's generally figured that if you're spending your electricity more than a couple of hundred miles, you shouldn't have bothered in the first place. Scotland already exports electricity because it has so many hydroelectric damns.

It has been pointed out that the two places where we can easily generate renewable engery, the poles from wind, and the deserts from solar, are precisely the places where there aren't people wanting to use that energy. However, it might be possible to generate the electricity there, convert it into hydrogen, and then ship the hydrogen back (but no one has got desperate enough to try this).

Incidently I wouldn't have a problem with 23 wind turbines in Cambridge, but I think offshore is a better plan if we can manage it.
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From:ilanin
Date:September 24th, 2004 08:39 am (UTC)

Re: Building on Scotland's coastline

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You can reduce the power-loss significantly by using superconducting cables (yes, cooling a YBCO cable with liquid nitrogen requires far less energy than cooling a copper one with water); although nobody has yet been daft enough to try this over long distances. (They are used over short distances in cities and at some power stations).

Not that it matters, anyway. Scotland (and, for that matter, North Wales) are always going to export power, barring a major population migration sometime soon. If there is increasing demand for alternative energy sources, it may in time become economic to build wind farms on the Scottish coast. At the moment, it isn't.
From:ex_robhu
Date:September 23rd, 2004 03:31 pm (UTC)
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I thought they wanted to put them all out to sea?

What are your thoughts on nuclear? It seems to have found unexpected friends in the environmental movement recently (or so the media would have me believe).
From:yrieithydd
Date:September 23rd, 2004 03:38 pm (UTC)
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Nuclear is baaaaaad. Too potentially dangerous for my taste and the waste is a major problem.
From:ex_robhu
Date:September 23rd, 2004 04:06 pm (UTC)
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Have you considered some of the newer safer designs?
From:yrieithydd
Date:September 23rd, 2004 04:14 pm (UTC)
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It is not entirely clear from that what how much waste is produced. And safer maybe, safe enough???
From:ex_robhu
Date:September 24th, 2004 01:22 am (UTC)
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I believe (but am basing this entirely on things I read on /. or BBC Radio 4) that the amount of nuclear waste created is larger but that waste is less radioactive, the impression I got was that the overall amount of radioactivity was the same.

I wonder if nuclear power while not ideal may be the best thing to do. Realistically the world mainly runs on money and the pure green energy sources are not yet cost effective enough. Nuclear power has IMHO quite a good safety and pollution record, at least when you compare it with the global effect of say coal power stations on our health and environment.
From:neonchameleon
Date:September 23rd, 2004 04:13 pm (UTC)
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What waste? An amount you can fit into a barrel? And this compares with dumping tonnes of gasses into the atmosphere where they can not be contained how exactly?

At least they've achieved break even on fusion (although it will still be a while before it's anything approaching economic)
From:yrieithydd
Date:September 23rd, 2004 04:16 pm (UTC)
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The stuff Sellafield is looking after.

I'm not arguing for coal and gas fired (and at least CO2 is absorbable by plants)
From:fluffymormegil
Date:September 23rd, 2004 04:49 pm (UTC)
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The stuff Sellafield is looking after.
Oh, you mean the stuff we could do something with if there was the political will to sanction further research and development in the exploitation of spent nuclear fuel. All that yummy strontium-90 could be put in radiothermal generators, for instance.
I suspect the biggest problem waste-wise with current reactors is neutron-bombarded engineering materials that have become radioactive, since they're not radioactive enough to be useful.
From:ex_robhu
Date:September 24th, 2004 01:23 am (UTC)
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What we will eventually need is Fusion power - entirely safe, produces very small amounts of radio active waste and providing plentiful power.
From:fluffymormegil
Date:September 24th, 2004 01:39 am (UTC)
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Again, dont' forget the neutron-bombarded engineering materials.
But, yes. I want terrestrial fusion power.
From:ex_robhu
Date:September 24th, 2004 02:53 am (UTC)
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Shame we've got a loooong wait before we come up with reactor designs that are economically feasible (20-30 years?)
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From:ilanin
Date:September 24th, 2004 08:46 am (UTC)
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Economically feasible fusion power has been 20 years away since 1950. Most scientists in the area have thus given up making predictions as to when it will be available, as far as I can tell, because everyone laughs at them when they're made.
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From:pellegrina
Date:September 23rd, 2004 03:37 pm (UTC)
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I also quite like the look of windfarms, and the sound too: they make me think of ships' masts. Therefore I am horribly torn whenever I read about mangled red kites. On the other hand, the only mangled red kite I have actually *seen* was on the verge of the M40, but no-one is planning to ban cars.
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From:emperor
Date:September 24th, 2004 03:20 am (UTC)
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are kites unable to spot spinning blades or something?
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From:pellegrina
Date:September 24th, 2004 03:28 am (UTC)
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I don't know - all the articles against wind farms always cite numbers of birds of prey found dead at the foot of wind turbines, and birds of preys are dear to my heart, especially the kites.
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From:atreic
Date:September 24th, 2004 03:52 am (UTC)
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The government do take the trouble to at least ask if people think there's a migration route over proposed sites, as it's really only migrating geese that fly high enough in large enough numbers to be embarressing.
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From:the_marquis
Date:September 23rd, 2004 03:57 pm (UTC)
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Ditto Pellegrina, I actually find the one on the edge of the Lake District aesthetically pleasing. I do think though that generally the big ones need to be in windy places, and away from homes in case things fall off, but small ones could go on rooves. Why not, with trying to save our human friendly ecosystem every little helps.

Which brings in the question, is it worth having hydro turbines in town fresh water systems (which is pressured by pumps) to add a few Mw (or fractions thereof) per house to the grid?
From:ex_robhu
Date:September 23rd, 2004 04:09 pm (UTC)
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I have a (unsubstantiated) feeling that their efficiency increases with their size, so building lots of small ones (say for the top of housing) would be very expensive, generate little electricity, and have a poor short-medium term environmental impact (as there is an environmental impact in creating them).
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From:arnhem
Date:September 23rd, 2004 04:12 pm (UTC)
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It does, significantly. Plus there are problems with turbulence at and near ground level, so even small domestic wind turbines get shoved up fifty feet in the air where possible (apparently).
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From:feanelwa
Date:September 24th, 2004 03:02 am (UTC)
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Um...would that work? If power from the national grid is used to pressurise the water, and the mini-turbines would put energy into the national grid and make the water pressure coming out of the taps slightly lower in the process, wouldn't it just be more efficient to reduce the pressure in the first place and use less energy in the pumps? (But please don't. Mains cold water pressure is already low enough in a lot of places...)
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From:arnhem
Date:September 24th, 2004 11:37 am (UTC)
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I think the thing here is that many households have header tanks in the attic.

So the mains water pressure has to be sufficient to pump the water up there, whatever. If you can stick turbines in the pipe on the way back down, then you gain something back, that otherwise would have been wasted.

However, I suspect this is in milliwatt territory, else people would stick turbines in their rainwater downpipes ...
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From:feanelwa
Date:September 25th, 2004 04:36 am (UTC)
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Ah, okay. The rainwater thing is such a good plan. Milliwatts it would be, but if you had enough of them...hmm. Could run a lightbulb at least.
From:neonchameleon
Date:September 23rd, 2004 04:08 pm (UTC)
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Such a pity most of the environmental lobby is terrified of nuclear power...
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From:passage
Date:September 24th, 2004 04:44 am (UTC)
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Can you blame them? Possibility of accident at the power station aside (a risk which I think has been reduced to acceptable proportions), it creates a dangerous waste material which we don't know how to deal with. CO2 we can make go away (or at least plants can), radioactive waste you're stuck with.

Secondly no one (as far as I'm aware) has figured out how you decomission a nuclear powerstation. That's an important question I feel really should be answered before we build more of them.
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From:mobbsy
Date:September 23rd, 2004 04:53 pm (UTC)
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An excellent study on this is the RCEP report Energy - The Changing Climate. I have a bound paper copy if you feel like reading the whole thing, otherwise their four illustrative scenarios outlined in Chapter 9 are very interesting.

All four scenarios are looking at 2050, and assume a 60% reduction in CO2 emissions from 1997 levels. Only one assumes no reduction in energy consumption, that one requires nuclear power equivalent to 46 Sizewell B stations in addition to renewable resources. The others all assume a significant reduction in energy consumption.

Onshore wind power is only the fourth largest renewable energy contributor in these scenarios after fuel crop and waste burning, offshore wind and wave power, and photovoltaic cells. It's still an important factor however.
From:ex_robhu
Date:September 24th, 2004 01:29 am (UTC)
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Interesting link - I'll have to read it at lunch time.
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From:ewx
Date:September 24th, 2004 01:25 am (UTC)

King's parade will probably be safe

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You mean we can't mount a bunch of turbines on top of King's chapel?
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From:emperor
Date:September 24th, 2004 03:22 am (UTC)

Re: King's parade will probably be safe

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Now that would be a classy student prank - one turbine on each corner, powering a flashy-sign thingy saying "use more environmentally sound power sources". Oh, more likely "We ownz0r y00!", alas.
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From:ewx
Date:September 24th, 2004 03:34 am (UTC)

Re: King's parade will probably be safe

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Multistorey carparks might be a better urban wind turbine site, actually, given they are generally so ugly that a turbine would improve them in almost any aesthetic. But KC is just crying out for some kind of modern architectural brutalization.
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From:passage
Date:September 24th, 2004 04:48 am (UTC)
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they're just the governments sop to the environmentalists so they don't have to fix anything

I accuse the above sentence of bitter, but unjustified and profoundly unhelpful cynicism (so Neil, when was the last time cynicism was helpful?).

It's been a few years since I look at such things, but when I did most wind turbine farms seemed to be of the "okay, let's get this concept out into the real world and see if it works, which designs are good, where they work" etc. If we never test the ideas, we're never going to make them really work.

I'm all for potential renewable engery sources being given a proper trial to understand how we can refine them, and what they can really do. If we keep working away at them, we have a good chance of improving their efficiency, if we do nothing with them we have an excellent chance of never improving their efficency.

Finally I would observe that right now wind turbines have a certain novelty value. I think people would find their asthetic appeal drastically reduced if they were everywhere.
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From:pavanne
Date:September 27th, 2004 10:41 am (UTC)
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23 sounds a really small number to me. Is that just central Cambridge, or out as far as Girton? I reckon 23 would be quite fine, as an alternative to, say, ceasing to use electricity. Which nobody seems to be planning to do any time soon, and they seem to complain about forking out truly enormous sums for (rapidly-improving) photovoltaic.

Wind turbines don't produce electricity in amounts of the same order as fossil fuel or nuclear power stations, but that's kind of the point of distributed generation- you don't get concentrated renewable sources, apart from rivers, and hydroelectric dams are *really* bad for the local ecosystems.

In practise, as lots of people have said, it's going to have to be a combined solution- onshore wind, offshore wind, solar, biomass, bits and pieces of other things, and really importantly increased efficiency. I'm not sure we can afford to neglect any possible renewable source, especially one which is financially viable *now* as opposed to in five years and after a lot more carbon dioxide has been emitted.

I'm rather fond of birds myself, though I have to say I think climate change could do away with birds more effectively than any number of windfarms. I read a study at work that said that you can at least minimise the impact of them on the bird population, particularly by making them higher than most birds fly and siting them off main migration routes, and also by keeping the bases of the towers free of vegetation and hiding places so that small animals don't hide there and attract raptors right up to the towers. There is quite a lot of space between turbines for bushes and undergrowth, and the towers are pretty low-maintenance, so there is no reason why you can't have a normal ecosystem around the bases.

As for them being a sop to environmentalists, sadly nearly everything that is being done at the moment is a sop, and we have to be glad of what we get. At least subsidising current turbine projects means more R&D money for renewables, and produces evidence that you can actually generate power without fossil fuels, which increases investor confidence in the renewables sector in general.


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