Washington’s Windy Power

The Dutch have been harnessing the power of the wind for centuries. They built dikes and pumped out the sea from many square miles of now dry land when sailing ships were the only transportation technology better than horses.

Surpassing the hydropower generated in Washington State for the first time last year, wind power is a viable, non-polluting, economically valuable resource. Since Washington voters’ Initiative 937 was passed in 2006 mandating that 15 percent of our state’s power generation come from renewable sources by 2020, investments into sustainable energy have increased.

I-937 was a great piece of direct policy-setting work accomplished by Washington voters.

Along with national security advantages and climate crisis mitigation, a further advantage of using the wind is that the turbines use little space. Much of the wind power is generated on land where Washington farmers continue to grow their crops while simultaneously reaping the steady economic benefits of the wind.

Thanks to wise investments in the first nine months of 2012, 4,728 megawatts of wind power were added to the U.S. electrical grid, which was more than the total generating capacity from wind in 2002 (4687 megawatts). The untapped potential of the wind is far greater.

The development of wind power off the Mid-Atlantic U.S. coast would create more than 70,000 direct jobs from New York to Virginia, with an additional 40,000 jobs in the supply chain, and 50,000 further jobs related to the increased economic activity, as was concluded by an industry-sponsored study. Backed by Google, the Atlantic Wind Connection is building a 380-mile power line that would carry up to 7,000 megawatts of electricity to be produced at offshore wind farms in the shallow seas of the continental shelf.

A new type of wind power called the “Solar Wind Downdraft Tower” is a hybrid system developed by a U.S. company, Clean Wind which harnesses solar energy to create wind-power. Using large cylinders which resemble grain towers, Clean Wind’s system sprays water at the top in a mist. As the mist evaporates it creates a strong downdraft exceeding speeds of 50 mph which runs out through turbines at the bottom. The system can be used when the wind is calm. Additionally, conventional wind turbines can be attached to the structure for use during periods of windy weather.

We need about 16 terawatts to run everything on Earth that our global civilization uses now. With each addition of cleanly-generated megawatts from free-for-the-harnessing energy sources like solar, tidal, geothermal and wind that we add to our power supply mix, we approach that attainable goal.

Saphon Energy patented a new bladeless wind power technology in Tunisia in September of 2010, and won an international patent in March 2012. It is 230 percent more efficient, and costs about half the price of conventional wind turbines. It discards the most expensive components in current wind turbines, the blades, hub, and gearbox.

Will Tunisia lead the world in developing better wind power? Or is the innovative, “can do” entrepreneurial spirit which lead the race to the moon in the 1960s still alive in the U.S.?

How quickly our species makes the transition from the burning of limited and exhaustible, extremely costly fossil fuels will directly affect the habitability of our home planet. Will our descendants curse us or will they thank us?

With feedback, comments, progressive ideas or alternative perspectives, please contact Orlando Martin at mrm61@uw.edu