Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Future of Wind Energy

by Glen Hendrix

Our futures are blowing in the wind. To support us in the manner to which we are accustomed takes energy and a lot of it. As oil peaks and temperatures rise, we will be taking longer and harder looks at how to harness solar energy, waste heat, geothermal, and the wind. Right now, let's talk wind.

Courtesy Vattenfall on Flicker

The above photo will be a more common depiction of future wind power sites. Wind is nearly constant at some places near coasts. There are still protests that they create a visual blight. People don't want them in their back yard or even the visible horizon. The obvious place to put them is the middle of the ocean. There is no one there to protest the sight and sound of 300 foot diameter whirling propellers.

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The problem is how to get that energy back to where it is needed without transmission lines. I think I have a solution. Store it as fresh water and compressed air. When the storage ship is full it takes the bountiful harvest to a port where the potential energy is converted to electricity and the water is distributed. Here are a couple of snapshots from the Sketchup 3D drawing I created to visualize such a scheme. The turbines run compressors and pumps instead of generators, making the gearing simpler and the overall mechanism lighter and less expensive.

Compressed air energy storage and distribution systems have been around since 1870. Paris, Birmingham, Dresden, and Buenos Aires had systems that distributed to homes and businesses running dentist drills, sewing machines, and printing presses. Mines have also used them since the 19th century to power locomotives, pumps, and drills.

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But why that combo of fresh water and compressed air? Because the heat produced by compressing air is always a problem with such systems. It's inefficient because the heat is wasted. Here, the heat can used to desalinate ocean water. The potable water is then stored in the upper vessel where it represents not only a source of fresh water but a source of energy as it is run through a turbine at port to produce electricity on its way to consumer taps. 

Compressed air is stored in the bottom two pods. The whole thing sprouts sails for transportation to a site needing power or water or both. The intriguing part about the compressed air is its versatility. Besides running it through turbines or compressed air piston engines to produce energy for the electrical grid, it can be used directly by vehicles. A modern, fiber-reinforced bottle can be as energy dense as rechargeable lead-acid batteries but they are much lighter. A portion of the ocean wind farm's output charges up such bottles to use in cars, motorcycles, and even airplanes. Strategically located, they could act as fueling depots for cargo ships using compressed air engines. Wide-spread usage of such wind farms could go a long way to reducing carbon emissions and be a vital addition to burgeoning green energy industry.

For blogs on other future technologies be sure to check out the following:

Peak Water: What We're Going To Do About It - Practical technology for today's problems.

3D Printing Big Bang - It's gonna be big.

Saving the World From an Asteroid Strike - Don't be afraid of asteroids.

The Space Mirror Hack - Inexpensive, inflatable, orbital death ray.

Asteroid to Habitat: The Transformation Begins - The death ray combines with the asteroid to...

The Space Egg - Living, and thriving, in space.

Dramatic Changes Coming to the Airline Industry - Enjoy a hot tub on your $100 trip from LA to NY

When Nothing Means Something - Antigravity (kinda), but patentable.

Your comments are always welcome.

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