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Wind

Now here’s a smart wind unit.  I found this in the Journal of Light Construction (JLC) of August ’10.  This small turbine developed by Honeywell generates power at the tip of the blade – by a patented method using permanent magnets.  The makers claim power generation at much slower speeds than the normal turbine, lower maintenance (no gears), and friendlier to birds – because the blades are enclosed in the visible ring.  The tips of a normal rotating turbine move so fast they become almost invisible and presumably it’s at the tips where most bird kills occur.

Price: about $6500 plus installation, which the Windtronics website estimates at $1500 to $4000.  These units are to be made available through ACE hardware stores.  That’s great news because I don’t think residential alternative energy will take off until the units are visible at your local hardware store.

Subsidies are of course available, but differ by state and program and so forth, so you need to look at the current subsidy situation.  Here is the DSIRE list for NJ.

Which gets me onto some other thoughts.

First my usual plug for JLC.  An article in the August edition describes “A Cost-Effective Energy Retrofit” on a small house in California.  The article describes how even an 80 year old house can be made airtight and then insulated to (and beyond) modern standards.  Basically lots of air-sealing, dense pack cellulose, foam board over the wall sheathing and a small energy recovery ventilator (ERV).

So it’s certainly possible.  The effort saves energy and provides added comfort.

But it’s not cheap.  It is hard to see the financial justification for this project.  The author states that the “air-sealing and extra insulation added about $15,000 to the overall $140,000 cost of the project”.  I just can’t see that amount of money being well spent on an ordinary old 2-bedroom house.  [Sorry, but I am the realist]

Which leads me to remind myself that the new EPA Lead-safe requirements apply to anyone working on a pre-1978 house.  Even if an air-sealer/insulator is unlikely to do major renovation work they need to be aware of the requirements.  Details here.

The following title may be a bit over the top – but the points are valid and support the old “if we do a little, we will achieve a little”.

Many Americans Are Still Clueless on How to Save Energy

“ScienceDaily (Aug. 17, 2010) — Many Americans believe they can save energy with small behavior changes that actually achieve very little, and severely underestimate the major effects of switching to efficient, currently available technologies, says a new survey of Americans in 34 states. The study, which quizzed people on what they perceived as the most effective way to save energy, appears in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The largest group, nearly 20 percent, cited turning off lights as the best approach — an action that affects energy budgets relatively little. Very few cited buying decisions that experts say would cut U.S. energy consumption dramatically, such as more efficient cars (cited by only 2.8 percent), more efficient appliances (cited by 3.2 percent) or weatherizing homes (cited by 2.1 percent). Previous researchers have concluded that households could reduce their energy consumption some 30 percent by making such choices — all without waiting for new technologies, making big economic sacrifices or losing their sense of well-being.”

The study is also reported and analyzed in The Economist of August 21, 2010.  The point made here is that we are “comfortable” with the energy use of a 100W light bulb.  By comparison we (or at least the people in the study) overestimate the energy use of a laptop, but badly underestimate what it costs to run an aircon unit or a clothes dryer.

And from the other side of the planet:

“AUSTRALIA could switch completely to renewable energy within a decade by building a dozen vast, new solar power stations and about 6500 wind turbines, according to a major new study.”

Of course it’s technically possible, just not politically and economically.  But we could be there in 25 years and create the biggest boom ever.

So why aren’t we rushing in that direction?  Wired magazine looks at it this way:

They give 5 reasons:

  • Conservation = Loser, [Conspicuous Consumption = Winner]
  • Abundance – America has lots of everything (or can import it, cheap)
  • It’s not new – wind-mills? Ho, hum
  • Lobbying
  • Environmentalists as scolds.

[I would add conservatism – why change if there is no urgent pressing need to?  Which will change in a great hurry when oil prices spike after the Iran attack…]

Let me just expand further on one of those 5 points – lobbying, and the attendant media spin.  I have lost the article, but there has been some breathless talk about how the Texas wind farms have been much less successful than predicted.  How just when you need the wind, on hot summer afternoons, when every air conditioner in the state is running, then the wind does not blow.  Shock, horror!  Obviously we need to stay with oil and gas – otherwise how can we stay cool?  The fact that the sun happens to shine on those hot windless afternoons seems to escape the commentators.

But seriously – of course the wind is fickle and the sun does not shine at night.  But every gallon of oil saved when the wind does blow and the sun does shine can be stored, in a tank, for exactly those times when they do not.

And we need to research, build and test alternative large-scale energy storage solutions as described in this article.

The whole discussion is one for a comprehensive energy policy – which I promised not to write about…

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