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The beauty of the backyard turbine

Martin Mittelstaedt, Globe & Mail
Industrial-scale installations aren’t the only source of wind energy for Canadian homes and businesses

Looking for a way to help the environment, PEI potato farmer Randy Visser hit upon an idea. His farming operation uses large amounts of electricity to cool, wash and sort potatoes, so he decided one way to help the planet would be to generate some of his own power.

That’s why he’s installing a wind turbine, with a top capacity of 50 kilowatts, or enough to meet the needs of about 16 homes when it’s running full-tilt. It will allow him to cut his electricity purchases by a third to a half, depending on the strength of the gusts, using a non-polluting power source.

… When it comes to wind energy, most attention has been focused on large-scale wind farms, collections of huge turbines that tower over the countryside and pump large amounts of electricity into the grid. Many of these machines are massive, with a capacity of two megawatts and more, dozens of times larger than Mr. Visser’s.

But there is also growing public interest in backyard-scale wind turbines, smaller machines that can allow a cottage to go off the grid, a home to meet some of its electricity needs, or a farm to create some of its own power.
(6 January 2009)

Windmills in India

Randeep Ramesh, Guardian
Winds of change come to country plagued by power blackouts
One man’s vision has turned demand for renewable power into a global business

The forest of white windmills that make up Asia’s largest wind farm can be seen from miles away. Dotted across 2,000 square kilometres of hills and villages on a basalt plateau in western India sit more than 800 turbines – generating more than 1,000 megawatts of electricity.

The towering machines, which stand 80 metres tall, cast shadows across fields tilled by man and buffalo – a stark juxtaposition of ancient and modern India. For one man, however, the windmill farm in Dhule is a fitting riposte to the critics who derided his dream to build a global green energy business from a country plagued by crippling power cuts.

In little more than a decade, Tulsi Tanti has made Suzlon Energy into the world’s fifth-largest producer of wind turbines – selling them at a couple of million dollars apiece.
(30 December 2008)

The High-Tech Search For A Cleaner Biofuel Alternative

Carl Zimmer, Yale Environment 360
A number of companies, including one headed by biologist and entrepreneur Craig Venter, are developing genetically engineered biofuels that they say will provide a greener alternative to oil. But some environmentalists are far from convinced.

Craig Venter is ready for his next incarnation.

In the 1990s, Venter became familiar to the world as a maverick who would sequence the human genome faster and cheaper than a huge team of government scientists. Six years ago he made headlines by announcing his plan to synthesize an entire genome from scratch, insert it into a cell, and manufacture a new species. In both cases, Venter has followed up his promises with some hard results. He published the first gold-standard sequence of an individual’s complete genome (his own). And while he hasn’t made an artificial life form yet, he and his colleagues at the J. Craig Venter Institute have achieved a series of landmarks, from synthesizing large chunks of DNA to performing the world’s first “genome transplant” on a microbe.

Now Venter says he wants to help save the environment. For some time, he has speculated that genetically engineered microbes could help wean the world off oil and reduce greenhouse gases at the same time. In 2005 Venter set up a company, Synthetic Genomics, to pursue that goal. And now, according to Venter, the company is seeking the capital to move forward. “We’re ready to build a pilot plant right now,” he says.

Venter is not a lone voice in the wilderness. A number of other companies have spent the past few years tinkering with microbes in the hopes of producing gasoline, diesel, and other fuels. Some of them are so far along in development that they’ll have microbe-produced fuels on the market in a few years. And their backers say fuels from microbes will be exactly the kind of clean alternatives to oil that the Obama administration will be pushing for.

Yet environmental experts are adopting a wait-and-see attitude. Details on how these fuels will actually be produced are fairly sketchy at this point. A new industry of microbial fuels might indeed prove to be green. Or it might lead to more greenhouse gases and create extra pressure to convert land to farm fields to feed these hungry microbes. “The devil is in the details,” says William Laurance, a senior scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute who studies the environmental effects of biofuels.
(5 January 2009)