Log on line a prophecy?
As regular readers of the Lake Ontario Log know, I'm a sailor and a firm believer in wind power. Three years ago, while researching the Great Atomic Lake (cathartic, but the most depressing thing I ever wrote) I posted on the log a story on windpower and a group in Toronto's efforts to construct a turbine a task since completed and placed into service this January last I heard.)
I concluded my Atomic Lake book with the hope we might someday see a wind farm on Lake Ontario to supplement that ominous plume of waste heat rising from Nine Mile Two's cooling tower. Well folks, that may have been a prophecy. A Massachusetts Company is now proposing to build an offshore wind farm† on Lake Ontario and Oswego County home to three ageing nukes and a couple of fossil fuel plants is going green, (or at least† hopes to). The developer ultimately would like to build as many as 80 turbines off shore† plus perhaps one near the old steam station that like Toronto's would be a highly visible reminder that there are other ways to produce power.
I visited the Fenner wind farm near Syracuse last fall with another sailor. We parked the car and walked up to a tall white turbine and looked up into the clear cold blue sky and sun at its slender unstayed white tower and giant three blades. The turbine moved overhead, its dark shadows sliding swiftly over the hill behind us. The wind sang with a high whispering sibilance past the blades while a deep rumble a bit like the white noise of distant surf or a ship's bow wave sounded a counterpart. It was a hauntingly beautiful sound and gazing skyward I thought of the security fencing, armed guards, constant traffic, bull horns, and occasional roar of suddenly vented steam at the nuclear station I once worked at and lived near. That plant 's atomic heart lies hidden by concrete and earth to shield our frail biology from its lethal rays. But here on a quiet hill top no one worried about a terrorist attack in a cornfield where the wind was at work.
Later we knocked on the trailer door and visited with two young men who were supervising the new installation. I watched one turbine restarted via lap top and internet and came away thoroughly impressed by the whole affair.
Of course, as nuclear supporters like Vice President Cheney will quickly point out, nukes are "baseline generators" that supply constant reliable power (at least as long as everything works right and goes according to plan). The buzzword is "dispatchable" power among those who seek to convert us to a sustainable hydrogen economy. And as sailors well know when the wind stops all you can do is wait. Or turn on the dispatchable fossil fuel powered auxiliary.
This winter the Log visited a company with a possible answer to the intermittent nature of wind generation. The corporation, Sky Wind Power, proposes to use tethered air born generators to tap† nearly constant high speed high altitude winds. Their studies show that a tethered air born generator at 10 to 15000 feet could operate at 100 % capacity over 90 percent of the time at the latitude of Topeka Kansas. And while the generators would use some wind power to stay aloft, the wind is so much more constant and powerful aloft there would be power to spare. Sky Wind Power says that available power averages 5000 watts per square meter of intercepted space.
Sky WindPower calls their tethered devices Flying Electric Generators (FEGs). They resemble a helicopter with two equal sized contra-rotating rotors of three blades each. They lift themselves aloft using electric power from the ground delivered through the tether to get up to the desired good wind, and then using the rotor motors as generators, send power back down to the ground via two insulated conductors interwoven with the light weight Spectra fiber line.
Using GPS technology similar to that of unmanned aircraft like the Predator drone used by the military, the Flying Electric Generator's position can be precisely controlled and it can be tilted or adjusted for changes in wind strength and direction. If a storm or complete lack of wind occurs the generator is brought to earth by an automatic winch.
While the whole proposal sounds a bit unconventional, Sky Wind Power's vice president told the Log that all the parts needed for these devices could be assembled using either existing off the shelf components or could be designed from existing technology and material. And Sky Wind Power says they can produce power for as little as one cent a kilowatt hour, cheap enough to make the production of hydrogen from water by electrolysis competitive with fossil fuels.
†Right now, (early 2003) if any venture capitalists are reading this, Sky Wind Power is seeking funding to commercialize their prototype. (A small rotor craft has been flown at low altitudes and has generated electricity. The company now wants to put a 50 kwh prototype up at 15000 feet and keep it there as a demonstration.) Ultimately, they envision arrays of these tethered devices producing vast amounts of power from winds blowing over areas with restricted air space such as inactive military bases http://www.skywindpower.com/†
Iím sure a flying generator sounds odd to some people, but thirty years ago ground based generators were derided as impractical and silly. Now they are producing power for as little as 5 to 6 cents a kwh. Like the fellow Isaiah wrote 3000 years ago - behold I will make a new way. Things move on and change. Why not a new way of wind power?