It was a wind turbine. The turbine's lazy sweep was misleading. Each time one of the three foot meter blades swung past, it hissed as it sliced the air. Tip speed can be well over miles kilometers an hour. This single tower was capable of producing two megawatts, almost half the entire output of the Leipzig solar farm. In Denmark, turning blades are always on the horizon, in small or large groups, like spokes of wheels rolling toward a strange new world.
Denmark's total installed wind power is now more than 3, megawatts—about 20 percent of the nation's electrical needs.
All over Europe generous incentives designed to reduce carbon emissions and wean economies from oil and coal have led to a wind boom. The continent leads the world in wind power, with almost 35, megawatts, equivalent to 35 large coal-fired power plants. North America, even though it has huge potential for wind energy, remains a distant second, with just over 7, megawatts. With the exception of hydroelectric power—which has been driving machines for centuries but has little room to grow in developed countries—wind is currently the biggest success story in renewable energy.
A hail storm did a number on this neighborhood in Palmview, Queensland, Australia — with extensive damage to trees, houses and cars. As often happens at forks in the path — college graduation, quarter-life crisis, midlife crisis, kids leaving home, retirement — questions started to bubble to the surface. I was trying to put a cost to the increase in miles and time, but I was definitely missing some variables. As for GoDaddy, you should definitely be able to set up a WordPress blog with them. I always have been, ever since I was literately a little kind of years old. He got that idea from Robles, too. But a top-down mandate does not work.
He's director of project development for a Danish energy company called Elsam. He means not only the number of turbines but also their sheer size. In Germany I saw a fiberglass-and-steel prototype that stands feet meters tall, has blades feet 61 meters long, and can generate five megawatts. It's not just a monument to engineering but also an effort to overcome some new obstacles to wind power development. One is aesthetic. England's Lake District is a spectacular landscape of bracken-clad hills and secluded valleys, mostly protected as a national park.
But on a ridge just outside the park, though not outside the magnificence, 27 towers are planned, each as big as the two-megawatt machine in Denmark. Many locals are protesting. Danes seem to like turbines more than the British, perhaps because many Danish turbines belong to cooperatives of local residents. It's harder to say "not in my backyard" if the thing in your backyard helps pay for your house. But environmental opposition is not the only trouble facing wind development. Across Europe many of the windiest sites are already occupied.
So the five-megawatt German machine is designed to help take wind power away from the scenery and out to abundant new sites at sea.
Many coastlines have broad areas of shallow continental shelf where the wind blows more steadily than on land and where, as one wind expert puts it, "the seagulls don't vote. It costs more to build and maintain turbines offshore than on land, but an underwater foundation for a five-megawatt tower is cheaper per megawatt than a smaller foundation.
Hence the German giant.
There are other challenges. Like sailboats, wind turbines can be calmed for days. To keep the grid humming, other sources, such as coal-fired power plants, have to stand ready to take up the slack. But when a strong wind dumps power into the grid, the other generators have to be turned down, and plants that burn fuel are not quickly adjustable.
A wind-power bonanza can become a glut. Denmark, for example, is sometimes forced to unload power at uneconomic rates to neighbors like Norway and Germany. What's needed for wind as well as solar is a way to store a large energy surplus. Technology already exists to turn it into fuels such as hydrogen or ethanol or harness it to compress air or spin flywheels, banking energy that can later churn out electricity. But most systems are still decades from becoming economically feasible. On the plus side, both wind and solar can provide what's called distributed energy: They can make power on a small scale near the user.
You can't have a private coal plant, but you can have your own windmill, with batteries for calm days. The more houses or communities make their own wind power, the smaller and cheaper central power plants and transmission lines can be. In Europe's big push toward wind power, the turbines keep growing. But in Flagstaff, Arizona, Southwest Windpower makes turbines with blades you can pick up in one hand.
The company has sold about 60, of the little turbines, most of them for off-grid homes, sailboats, and remote sites like lighthouses and weather stations. At watts apiece they can't power more than a few lights.
But David Galley, Southwest's president, whose father built his first wind turbine out of washing machine parts, is testing a new product he calls an energy appliance. It will stand on a tower as tall as a telephone pole, produce up to two kilowatts in a moderate wind, and come with all the electronics needed to plug it into the house.
Many U. Except for the heavy loads of heating and air-conditioning, this setup could reduce a home's annual power bill to near zero. In Germany, driving from the giant wind turbine near Hamburg to Berlin, I regularly got an odd whiff: the sort-of-appetizing scent of fast food. It was a puzzle until a tanker truck passed, emblazoned with the word "biodiesel. Germany uses about million gallons 1. Biomass energy has ancient roots.
The logs in your fire are biomass. But today biomass means ethanol, biogas, and biodiesel—fuels as easy to burn as oil or gas, but made from plants. These technologies are proven. Ethanol produced from corn goes into gasoline blends in the U. In the U. What limits biomass is land. Photosynthesis, the process that captures the sun's energy in plants, is far less efficient per square foot than solar panels, so catching energy in plants gobbles up even more land.
Estimates suggest that powering all the world's vehicles with biofuels would mean doubling the amount of land devoted to farming. At the National Bioenergy Center, scientists are trying to make fuel-farming more efficient.
Today's biomass fuels are based on plant starches, oils, and sugars, but the center is testing organisms that can digest woody cellulose, abundant in plants, so that it too could yield liquid fuel. More productive fuel crops could help as well. One is switchgrass, a plant native to North America's prairies that grows faster and needs less fertilizer than corn, the source of most ethanol fuel made in the U. It also thrives on land unfit for other crops and does double duty as a source of animal food, further reducing the pressure on farmland.
But technically possible doesn't mean politically feasible. From corn to sugarcane, all crops have their own lobbyists. Frankly, one of the biggest challenges with biomass is that there are so many options. Nuclear fission appeared to lead the race as an energy alternative decades ago, as countries began building reactors. Worldwide, about plants now generate 16 percent of the planet's electric power, and some countries have gone heavily nuclear.
France, for instance, gets 78 percent of its electricity from fission.