Mark Brandon is the Managing Partner of First Sustainable (http://www.firstsustainable.com), a registered investment advisory catering to socially responsible investors. In addition to Socially Responsible Investing (SRI), he may opine on social venturing, microfinance, community investing, clean technology commercialization, sustainability public policy, green products, and, on occasion, University of Texas Longhorn sports.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

MIT Technology Enables Far-Out Wind Farms

Offshore wind turbines have huge promise. Just a few miles offshore, the winds are far more steady than onshore, and turbine size (which has a proportionate effect on power generation) can be increased dramatically without being an overly burdensome eyesore, noisy, or dangerous to birds. Yet, despite the promise, NIMBY-ism has prevented construction of large-scale wind farms. Most notoriously, a proposed farm off Massachusset's Cape Cod has met opposition by rich coastal homeowners because of the blight it would bring to their ocean views. Although conservatives like to point out that liberal icon Edward Kennedy is opposed to the construction, NIMBY-ism in Massachussets is mostly bi-partisan.

The National Renewable Energy Lab, along with MIT Researcher Paul D. Sclavounos have unveiled a new design that would enable locations much farther out to sea, and thus out of sight. The system relies on tethering the turbines to concrete blocks on the bottom of the ocean, up to depths of over 600 feet. Currently, wind turbines are in relatively shallow water and built on a sea-floor foundation, similar to a bridge or oil platform. Sclavounos claims that having the turbines further out will double the power generation because of the steadier and faster winds farther out to sea. However, their press release does not mention what kind of power losses would occur when transmitting longer distances.

Although birds may find their migratory paths still interrupted, these offshore turbines are much less likely to kill them. First, the size of the turbines means that the blades turn more slowly so that the chances of striking a bird mid-flight is much decreased. Second, whereas near-shore and on-shore wind turbines are frequently mentioned as bird-killers, far fewer flocks of birds are found that far offshore.

As for sea life, the best evidence shows that wind platforms create an artificial reef that is beneficial. Oil platforms have become havens for ocean eco-systems. Wind platforms would most likely be un-manned and therefore, less polluting. Both types create a haven for sea life from commercial and recreational vessels.

The vast amount of ocean real estate, available for a relatively benign use makes this breakthrough much needed. Now, we just need policies that can allow for rapid construction and testing.

3 Comments:

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