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I’m going to say it straight off the bat; I’m a greenie, I love my bike above all other modes of transport, our Earth is going to hell in a hand-basket, and it’s the rich and industrialized nations of the world that are doing it to us! My kids, and my kids’ kids future may already be irrevocably screwed!.. That political statement out of the way though, I want to take a look at the latest alternative-energy projects , and how they can ensure our living on Earth without gills for as long as possible.
One of the issues with power provision throughout the world is that the majority of it comes from “dirty” methods such as coal. When it comes to our cars, we’d rather play dangerous political games than allow gas prices to go up, restricting our usage of SUVs… Nuclear energy still generates a lot of controversy and deserves its own article. On the opposite side of the coin, many of the “alternative” power sources are cumbersome, dangerous or plain ugly. All over the world rural communities are up in arms because the governments want to install wind-farms nearby. Heaven forbid they have some giant windmills next door to help provide power for thousands; goodness no! They’re ugly!
Thankfully though, there are some clever minds out there that have provided answers to those communities who think more about their scenic beauty rather than the future of themselves, and those around them.
Floating Wind Farms
Location: The North Sea
A research pact between Norwegian energy group Norsk Hydro and German engineering firm Siemens has begun looking to implement a floating wind-farm in the North Sea somewhere in 2009. “It’s attractive to have windmills out at sea, out of sight of land, away from birds’ migration routes,” said Alexandra Bech Gjoerv, head of Hydro’s New Energy division. (source)
(image credit: Greencarcongress.com)
This will be the first type of oceanic wind-farm of its kind. Several other wind-farms have been planted out at sea (here is the list of offshore farms in Denmark, for example), built in to the sea-bed itself, but the extra costs involved in drilling down to stable ground drives the cost skyward. With floating wind-farms, that cost will be negated. And while the floating variety of wind-farm will cost more than the land version, it will be able to provide power to both coastal cities, as well as offshore drilling platforms. Read more about this project here.
Click to enlarge to see a tiny human on top of one turbine
(image credit: Frank Sabatier)
(image credit: Alex de Carvalho)
Other locations: The offshore wind turbine REpower 5M (rotor diameter: 126 m) after its successful erection in the Scottish North Sea.
There are sizable wind farms in Turkey, and Alberta, Canada.
Air Rotors: Floating Wind Turbines
Magenn Power Air Rotor System is a lighter-than-air helium-lifted wind turbine, which can be considerably larger than all other land- and sea- based windmills.
“It works on both straight lift from the helium and the “Magnus effect”: as wind speed increases, rotation increases, lift increases, drag will be minimized because of reduced leaning, and stability increases.”. Magenn Power is based in Ottawa, Canada and is on schedule to put the first units into production at the end of year. It’ll start small with 4 kW residential systems, costing just $10,000 USD. The future versions will dwarf even some legendary airships (more than 200ft long) and will provide power for up to 300 homes. Read more about it here.
Small Residential Wind Turbine may turn out to be a very effective method to cut down on your energy bill: this site details the pros & cons of operating one, and suggests to use it in combination with solar panels.
On a significantly larger scale – these are BUILDING-INTEGRATED wind turbines, currently under construction in the Middle East.
Bahrain World Trace Center structure is pretty high-tech and energy-independent with wind turbines located in plain view between two towers.
TIDES: MOON POWER
Tidal Power Stations
Location: New York City, East River near Roosevelt Island
Moving away from wind and on to water, but keeping the same technology, are the tidal-power stations that are beginning to pop up across the globe. One of the first is located in New York, currently consisting of six 35-killowatt turbines with plans for a total of 100 turbines.
(image credit: Marine Turbines)
Location: San Francisco
Following New York’s lead, San Francisco have initiated a $1.5 million study to determine the most suitable location for their own tidal-power installation. Harnessing the currents of San Francisco bay would be a great boost to their power supply, and according to The City of San Francisco and their electrical utility, PG&E, they believe they can provide up to 400MW of power. More info here.
Location: Northern Ireland
And in what will be the first commercial tidal-power plant, supplying a thousand homes with power, Northern Ireland is getting in on the act. Generating a measly 1.2MW, the Irish plant is a test run for what could be an entire network of ocean-bound turbines which, for an island nation, is a very popular idea. (more info here)
Marine Turbines company is currently developing several tidal power projects, for example “Seagen” – the first “full size” twin rotor system to be rated at 1MW.
(images courtesy Tidal Streaml, with permission)
The tidal turbine is shown for comparison against an offshore wind turbine of the same power rating:
(images courtesy Tidal Stream)
So what is it about tidal-power stations that have got the whole world all hot and bothered? Simple; whereas with wind-farms one must rely on favorable wind conditions, with the right location, a tidal-power station would never cease receiving energy. Tides will always roll in, and they will always roll out. It is a limitless power source, and the fact that we’re only just getting around to it is a sad testament to human stupidity. It’s not without specific challenges, however. Difficult access, following stream direction, etc – a good article about perspective use of tidal power – “deriving energy from the Moon” – has been published here.
Solar Thermal Power Plants
Location: Seville, Spain
We’ve discussed two of the three emission-less sources of energy, which leaves only our beloved sun. And now, thanks to Solucar company, the residents of Seville, Spain are seeing the rise of a 40 story tower which is the center to Europe’s first commercial solar power station. Consisting of the 300 ft tower, surrounded by a mass (624) of photovoltaic panels, the new power station will be able to provide a staggering 60,000 homes with power – more than 11 Megawatts (MW).
Panoramic image by Lou Rouge – Click to enlarge
One writer in BBC article describes his first impression: “… Like something out of Austin Powers films where Dr Evil unleashes a giant “tractor beam” of energy…. The tower stood bathed in intense white light, a totally bizarre image in the depths of the Andalusian countryside. It looked like it was being hosed with giant sprays of water or was somehow being squirted with jets of pale gas.”
We also think that this tower would the perfect location for Transformer’s Energon Cube. (look for the morphing GM vehicles around the neighborhood)
Further development is in the works to provide the majority of Seville, some 180,000 homes, with power using a series of towers (two of which are in the process of being constructed) and standard photovoltaic panels power plants, as well as the newer type of mirrors, parabolic solar collectors. Hoped to be in operation by 2013, the entire development will generate zero greenhouse gas emissions.
According to an article at Inhabitat.com, the system works by reflected light from the fields of panels being reflected to the top of the tower, which then heats water within to steam to provide the power. In fact, according to the reporter, sunglasses are needed in viewing the location, as the reflected light actually illuminates the dust and water vapor in the air.
A few other solar towers are currently in operation, one of them in Daggett, California – generating up to 10 Megawatts (MW). More towers are planned for Australia and China.
(image credit: Jon Wedd)
Such possibilities inspire visions of whole deserts covered in solar panels, gathering and transmitting tremendous amount of energy to the colder regions of Earth. Quite a concept, capable to revolutionize our energy situation – but only if the developed countries and their respective leaders will get on the bandwagon and start to cooperate. Provided this wagon isn’t going to “run off the cliff” any time soon, the new alternative energy projects are poised to lead us into the future.
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