The interest in harvesting power from flowing environmental fluids, such as wind and streams (water) is not new. According to www.eia.gov: “People used wind energy to propel boats along the Nile River as early as 5,000 BC. By 200 BC, simple wind-powered water pumps were used in China, and windmills with woven-reed blades were grinding grain in Persia and the Middle East.” Archimedes invented a screw to move water uphill driven by a hand clank. www.fuergy.com has a good history of the water turbines. This history lesson is to provide a background for my discussion on where a shift in focus might be needed.
I heard a talk at the AWEA (American Wind Energy Association) WINDPOWER 2007 Conference held in LA, California, by Brian Schweitzer, who was the Governor of Montana, he talked about Montana’s interest in wind power generation and the problem of getting the electricity out of Montana to where people needed it. He was an inspiring speaker and pointed out some ways to solve the issue, including “browning the Green” by using compressed air generated by the wind turbines & stored in the underground caverns which was used in a turbine after being heated by burning coal. A greener solution was to “roll” the power to Canada where large power lines were used to roll power across Canada. The idea was to send the power to the Canadian power grid and Canada could send more of their production down the coastal grids back into America.
My take on these & other presentations was the focus is more on grid level power generation not the local (distributed) production in-spite of the success discussed by an individual who was selling 10 kW Bergey Wind Turbines to locals in the valley. He said with the California 50% installation subsidy & the PG&E pricing structure, his customers were paying off their total cost is less than 4 years. He also said there was a state or local law that required more than 10 acres for a second wind turbine installation, which had already come up with some of his customers. That trend in southern California of installing small (10 kW or less) wind turbines is driven by the electrical pricing structure of PG&E & the subsidy of the state, but it has produced lots of green electrical power. Another slight difference to that grid level focus is the current plan by California that all their new houses will have some solar power harvesting capability. The major wind turbine farm in western Texas was recently scraped because the power lines to get the power from the wind turbine field to the users were not able to be constructed, mostly due to land owner rights & power line construction costs. Another example of the conflict between the grid level focus on power generation and the realities of getting the power to the end user.
There is a better way, while I am not advocating the move to off grid, I am pushing local (distributed) production of power. More small power production systems like the 10 kW wind turbines in California or even better Bragi’s more efficient HL wind turbines, that do not have open rotors. The average US home in 2020 used ~1.22 kW/hour (www.eia.gov) and with the increase in battery electric & plug-in hybrid vehicles that usage will increase. While farms & ranches in America are a smaller part of the overall US electrical system their power usage will also increase as they will also use more plug-in hybrid & battery electric vehicles. Those rural users require more miles of wire (for power lines) as they are not near the city center, where all the users are located. The water power harvesting in streams and downstream from ponds using Bragi’s water turbines, as well as wind power in rural regions can simplify the production and distribution of electricity. When the is a large power outage a family in the city might lose the food in their refrigerator but a farm might lose significant amounts of food that requires refrigeration. Also, having grown up on a farm the way power lines are fixed is from the center outward. The main lines from the power plants have to be repaired then the distribution centers and finally the “last mile” which in this case is the power lines to the homes & farms. There was a major storm in Kentucky and the power & telephone lines were all knocked out. The state focused on the power line repair and encouraged the cell phone companies to run their cell towers on the back-up power systems (batteries and the diesel generators) that are on site at the cell towers.
BTW, I think that Hydro-power is a renewable & green power source and Vermont passed a law in 2010 agreeing (see http://www.eba-net.org/assets/1/6/16-553-powell-treatment_of_large_hydro.pdf) & to quote the synopsis of the 9 page article: “The decision to treat large hydropower as renewable energy by the State of Vermont is likely to be a matter that will be discussed and debated by other states as they consider the content of renewable portfolio standards (RPS). The lessons learned and decision-making in Vermont will be helpful as other states consider changes to existing or proposed RPS standards or establishing new clean energy state policy goals. This article explores the legislative, political, and legal history in Vermont that led to the enactment of the 2010 law.” I would have thought hydropower was renewable & green since we have been using it since before the turn of the 19th century