Thursday, July 06, 2006

Wind Power: The Foundation of a New Energy Economy

That's what the Earth Policy Institute is saying, according to this article from OneWorld US. Despite the fact that we still hear so much talk about coal and nuclear power, wind is currently outpacing the both in its worldwide growth:
According to the environmental group, global wind electricity-generating capacity increased by 24 percent in 2005 to 59,100 megawatts--a twelvefold increase from a decade ago, when world wind-generating capacity stood at less than 5,000 megawatts.

The report says wind power is the world's fastest-growing energy source with an average annual growth rate of 29 percent over the last ten years. In contrast, over the same time period, coal use has grown by 2.5 percent per year, nuclear power by 1.8 percent, natural gas by 2.5 percent, and oil by 1.7 percent.

"Wind power has been established as a safe, clean, cheap energy option," the Earth Policy Institute's Joseph Florence told OneWorld.

The U.S. has installed 9,100 megawatts of wind power capacity, the group says, including a record-breaking 2,400 megawatts in 2005. Chief among the reasons for the growth were advances in technology and a 1.9-cent per kilowatt-hour tax credit for electricity produced from a wind farm during the first 10 years of its operation.
Aaron Glantz's article doesn't just take note of the wide acceptance of wind power, but also reports on the nuclear energy industry's attempt to characterize it as unsustainable. The main criticism cited in the article is the amount of land required for wind farms, and the Nuclear Energy Institute's Mike Singer claims "Nuclear energy has the smallest environmental footprint of any other emission-free source." However, nuclear power doesn't even come close to the low cost of wind, and requires huge government subsidies for support, whereas the wind industry has grown steadily with much smaller levels of public funding.

A couple of things to consider here. First, why do arguments about wind power always involve wind farms when this is a resource that could be harvested on a much smaller scale? Springwise noted this week the release of two new very efficient roof-top wind turbines, one in the UK and the other in the US. Wouldn't distributed generation strategies negate the land use argument, making wind the clear favorite in the race with nuclear power? Secondly, as EPI notes, wind is a growing industry, and that's simply not happening with nuclear power. Nuclear reactors are expensive, both to build and to decommission, and it takes a long time to do both -- investors seem to have little interest. Add that to the issue of waste (and I realize some of that can be reprocessed, though its not happening in the US) and safety risks (which may be small, but not as small as that from a wind turbine), and, from my perspective, there's no real contest. I know there are arguments about baseload power vs. peak power demands, but I still fail to see how we gain from a strong push into nukes vs. harnessing renewable sources. Furthermore, why isn't anyone discussing conservation? Wouldn't we make a huge dent in our energy usage just by widespread implementation of measures to save energy. Couldn't we do that faster than anything?

I guess I'm ranting, but it seems that so many of these discussions have taken place before... It seems to me that the market's sending clear signals, and they're not in favor of nukes or coal... Thoughts? Feel free to rant, also...

Via digg

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