By Paul Dvorak, Editor, Windpower Engineering & Development. These views are his own.
Critics will use any club they can to beat the wind industry. It harms birds, they cry, while ignoring the worse effect of cars, cats, and large picture windows. It’s intermittent, others weep, while ignoring nuclear shut-downs for multi-month repairs. All power producers have shortcomings, but those of the wind industry are far more surmountable than those of others, and its benefits reach around the world. The obvious benefits include producing clean electrical power at reasonable rates.
The jobs created are just as significant. People are needed to design and build the wind turbines, then ship them to the job sites, erect them, and then take care of them. The wind industry has prompted investments in new and more efficient power transformers and switch gear. At each step, different skill sets of many people are employed to advance useful technology.
The employment the industry brings to rural areas is invaluable because it is so wide spread. Rural school districts get regular tax payments and farmers with turbines on their land collect up to $10,000 each year per turbine. This means farmers can stay on land that may have been in his family for years. Technicians that care for the machinery probably live in the area, and (good news of sorts) there is a shortage of trained wind technicians.
The jobs spread to most every state in the Union. The Great Lakes Wind Network keeps an online map that pinpoints manufacturers and suppliers.
What’s more, wind turbines inspire people in ways coal-fired plants never could. Consider the world shortage of potable water. It hits third world populations hardest because there are so many water-borne diseases. Frequently sick children neither grow nor study well. Believe it or not, wind has a solution. A French firm Eolewater designed a 30-kW turbine that drives an air conditioning condenser, a device that collects naturally occurring humidity while filters in the tower make it fit for human consumption. In a dry climate, the company reports the turbine collecting some 350 liters/day, and in humid air near a coast, 1,200 liters/day. In a little fun-with-math exercise, scaling the unit to, say, a 1.5-MW model, a size for which several assembly lines are already running, water production could top 60,000 liters/day and maybe 420,000 liters in a week.
In a similar case, Associated Wind Developers has hooked wind-turbine manufacturer Aeronautica with products from Reverse Osmosis Systems to provide a package that produces potable water from sea water. The first such system will go onto Cape Verde, a small island off the coast of Africa. The island was chosen because it has good wind and its desalinization plant depends on diesel generators. The 750-kW wind turbine will contribute to the island grid and drive the reverse osmosis equipment with capability to produce twice the water (2,800,000 liters/day) and at half the cost. What’s more, a training program will teach islanders to take care of the turbine and filtering equipment.
Non-engineers have given the world a lot of bad ideas that won’t go away, ideas such as the nanny state, central planning, and deficit spending. Engineers, on the other hand, solve real problems, create meaningful jobs, and push progress. If there were a Nobel Prize for Engineering, the companies above should be the first candidates. WPE