Ah! Finally a post on something other than politics. Recently I tripped across an article on a new small output, small wind turbine whose design is meant to resemble a tree!

And so I was thrown back down memory lane to the set design of my childhood filled with farms with barns and windmills dotting the landscape.  Windmills were used to pump water but somewhere between childhood and my teens, the cost of the electricity to run a pump became more economical than the cost of maintaining a windmill with a mechanical pump powered by free fuel (wind).  You have to look hard now to see a working windmill in Wisconsin.*

Wind farms which generate power measured in megawatts, like other power generation (coal, nuclear, gas, oil), are sited outside of the sight-line of large population centers. When the wind stops blowing, the power that was being produced by a wind farm needs to be replaced with power generated by other means.  We the consumers don’t see the wind turbines stop spinning, we don’t know the source of fuel for our power, and so we don’t modify any behaviors based on a change in the availability of our  “free” windy fuel source.

But! I am excited by the prospect of smaller, scalable, distributed wind generation:

  • Visibility.  Consumers can observe when the wind is blowing.  When the wind is not spinning the blades, usage can be modified to reduce reliance on electric grid power.
  • Portability. I presume smaller would be easier to re-site to take better advantage of available wind.
  • Battery storage!  Integration with battery energy storage!  When the wind is blowing and you’re not using much power — sleeping, working elsewhere — the wind generation can be used to charge a battery.  When your consumption goes back up — making coffee, cooking — the battery helps to supply the additional load. (Developments in battery technology are amazing too … but that’s another story.)
  • Costs.  As demand goes up, the market will get bigger, costs (purchase, maintenance, life cycle) will come down.
  • Better designs.  As demand goes up, the market will get bigger, designs will be more diverse.  (I am not a big fan of the aesthetics of the little tree, but hey! It’s a great start. There will be better designs.  There will be worse.  Take joy along the way.)
  • Business creator.  There will be a need for electricians and training for people installing and servicing small wind generators.
  • Other.  I leave this bullet for the unintended consequences that always come with new technologies and new development.  I know my list is incomplete

So here I am full circle tilting at windmills …

*Aside: These.people.know.windmills.  Their website is to get wonderfully lost in — windmill parts, photos, information.  It’s all here. Ball valves and Marcy cylinders. Whoa!