Wind power can be a steady and reliable source of power
That is the message in a paper on off-shore wind power potential that is hot off the presses of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Wind is often criticized for the fact that individual wind farms are at the mercy of local weather for when they produce power. Yet U.S. researchers found that if you linked them together along the entire U.S. East Coast (and I would add, why not continue on up into Canadian waters?), then they provide a surprisingly consistent source of power.
The authors pored over five years of data from off-shore weather monitoring stations, and found that if there were wind farms in those locations there would always be some power produced (a better record than fossil or nuclear stations, which have higher rates of “forced,” i.e. unplanned, outages). Moreover, the power was pretty steady, simply because weather systems tend to move from south to north.
The study also notes that tapping two thirds of the off-shore wind power potential off of the U.S. northeast would provide sufficient power to provide all electricity, all light vehicle transportation fuel (think electric vehicles and electrically-powered mass transit systems) and all building heat for the adjacent states from Massachusetts to North Carolina. Add in some aggressive conservation measures and that power could cover off most of North America’s energy.
But we don’t have to wait for the whole system to be in place. By developing a portfolio of renewable energy resources, we can also help level out their output. Solar panels generally produce the most power when the wind isn’t blowing, and vice-versa. Output from bio-energy plants (from sustainably-managed forests and agricultural lands) can be ramped up and down to fill the gaps.
Which is why it is such good news to see a mix of new renewable energy sources – wind, solar, bio-energy, hydro – coming to Ontario.
We still have to make sure that these projects are appropriately sited to minimize environmental impacts, but if we are going to get off coal (and ultimately oil), then we are going to need to meet our energy needs in a way that doesn’t trash the planet.