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Thomas Edison – wind pioneer

Heather Rogers, NY Times
…Edison, godfather of electricity-intensive living, was also an unlikely green pioneer whose ideas about renewable power still resonate today. At the turn of the 20th century, when Edison was at the height of his career, the notion that buildings, which now account for more than a third of all energy consumed in the United States, would someday require large amounts of power was only just coming into focus. Where that power would come from — central generating stations or in-home plants; fossil fuels or renewable resources — was still very much up for debate.

A 1901 article about Edison in The Atlanta Constitution described how his unorthodox ideas about batteries could bring wattage to the countryside: “With a windmill coupled to a small electric generator,” a rural inhabitant “could bottle up enough current to give him light at night.” The earliest wind-powered house was fired up in Cleveland in 1888 by the inventor Charles Brush, but Edison aspired to take the technology to the masses. He made drawings of a windmill to power a cluster of four to six homes, and in 1911 he pitched manufacturers on building a prototype.

Edison’s batteries also fueled some cars and trucks, and he joined forces with Henry Ford to develop an electric automobile that would be as affordable and practical as the Model T. The Constitution article discussed plans to let people recharge their batteries at plug-in sites along trolley lines; the batteries could also be refreshed courtesy of the home windmill.

…In the end, Edison’s proudly free-standing Suburban Residence was hooked up to the grid, and neither his in-home wind-generated electricity plant nor his battery-powered vehicles ever reached the mass market. In 1931, not long before he died, the inventor told his friends Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone: “I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.”

Heather Rogers is a filmmaker and the author of “Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage.”
(3 June 2007)
Also see Edison on Renewables (Energy Bulletin).

Wind supporters line up

Elizabeth Douglass, LA Times
Industry players at a Los Angeles conference are told that two years of record growth could be just the beginning
Forget Chicago. This week, Los Angeles is the Windy City.

The wind-power industry’s biggest players have blown into L.A.’s downtown convention center, and their mission is not just to celebrate their soaring fortunes amid a nationwide green-energy boom.

The wind-energy business in 2006 booked its second year of record growth, and executives are pushing the industry faithful to think bigger. Much bigger. By 2030, they want wind farms to supply 20% of the nation’s energy – a huge leap from today’s contribution of less than 1%.

“It’s not a forecast, but it is a plausible scenario,” Randall Swisher, executive director of the American Wind Energy Assn., told attendees at the opening session of the group’s Windpower 2007 conference.

Getting there won’t be easy, he cautioned. “It requires a transformation of the electric industry and a whole number of things that we don’t have today.”

The most crucial of those needs: an extension of the federal production tax credit that has helped make the United States the fastest-growing wind power market. The on-again, off-again credit is set to expire at the end of next year.

Other obstacles include the rising costs of wind turbines and other equipment and a shortage of electrical transmission lines to carry wind energy to the power grid. Then there’s public concern about noise, the danger to wildlife and visual intrusion caused by the rows of giant, white wind turbines that typify wind farms.
(6 June 2007)

Wind power: some lessons from 2006

Jerome a Paris, European Tribune
The Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) center has published its Annual Report on U.S. Wind Power Installation, Cost, and Performance Trends: 2006 (pdf – the graphs below come from the accompanying powerpoint presentation – also pdf).

I’ve cherry-picked a few tidbits of information that underline what are in my view interesting lessons from last year for the wind power sector.

…The report by EERE suggests that the economies of scale from building large windfarms are not that big, which should be an encouragement for people to team up, as they have in Denmark and Germany, to invest in one or two windfarms in their community if they have the space to do so – and most rural areas could do that.

Anyway, the conclusions I draw from all if this are as follows:

* windpower is booming, and is reaching a stage where it becomes a noticeable source of electricity in a number of countries. This is not the time to stop supporting it – it’s time to make the essential part of electricity production: any kWh from wind lessens the need for coal-fired plants – or for nuclear. As such, the US is still really far behind and needs a sustained effort to catch up. Germany has twice the capacity with one twentieth of the land;

* windpower still depends on having a stable and clear regulatory framework. It is close to being competitive in absolute terms, but given the powers of incumbency of other power sources (gas, coal, nuclear), and the more or less hidden subsidies that go with it, it still requires a lot of support – including grassroots support. That matters to get the manufacturing capacity and the local jobs that come with wind power;

* windpower is a good bet for utilities: its cost will not increase with the price of gas and oil, and is already lower than other sources. It is a perfect business hedge against oil & gas dependence.
(3 June 2007)
Also posted at The Oil Drum and Daily Kos

Eye on Mali: Jatropha Oil Lights Up Villages

Alana Herro, WorldChanging
Some 700 communities in Mali have installed biodiesel generators powered by oil from the hardy Jatropha curcas plant to meet their energy needs, according to Reuters. The Malian government is promoting cultivation of the inedible oilseed bush, commonly used as a hedge or medicinal plant, to provide electricity for lighting homes, running water pumps and grain mills, and other critical uses. Mali hopes to eventually power all of the country’s 12,000 villages with affordable, renewable energy sources.

The landlocked West African nation, at the southern edge of the Sahara desert, is seeking to boost the standard of living of its 80-percent-rural population and to reduce migration from impoverished rural areas. “People have to have light, to have cool air, to be able to store vaccines, even to watch national television,” Aboubacar Samake, head of the jatropha program at the government-funded National Centre for Solar and Renewable Energy, told Reuters. “As things stand, a snake can bite someone in a village and they have to go to [the capital] Bamako to get a vaccine.”

Energy self-sufficiency is another goal of the program. Private international companies have offered to develop the jatropha industry in Mali, but were told the biofuel would not be approved for export until the country’s domestic energy needs were met. Standard diesel and other imported fossil fuels can be costly to transport to remote villages and are unaffordable for much of the nation’s population. Jatropha provides an inexpensive, local source of fuel, with the plant’s seeds containing about 35 percent oil.
(5 June 2007)