Tuesday, February 3, 2009
A Windy Start to TED
Alternative energy is an emerging theme of our current adventure. On Sunday we rented a Prius. On Monday we discovered geothermal power plants on the edge of the Salton Sea. And today we visited the WinTec wind farm.
Together with about 30 other TEDsters -- fellow attendees of TED@PalmSpring -- we got up close and personal with the almost 700 MW of wind power in the valley just outside Palm Springs. Here's what we learned:
* Just outside the city, there is a pass between two tall mountains. As one of our guides explained, that means one thing: every mode of transportation will want to go through that pass. And, sure enough, you have a major highway, a railroad, a natural gas pipeline, and electric transmission lines all sharing the same narrow passage through the mountains.
* And you get wind. The temperature difference between the desert and the sea creates strong, steady winds through the pass, particularly in the summer. As a result, the valley is lined with wind turbines, some newly built and others 20 or more years old.
* Perhaps the most striking aspect of the wind farm is how much land is unused. At this particular facility, the wind turbines are located are about 1500 feet apart. Why? Because each turbine (a) uses up wind power and (b) leaves turbulence in its wake. As a result, you need to leave space -- equal to perhaps 10 times the diameter of the turbine blades -- between the units. The obvious economic question is what to do with all the space. In some areas the land is used for grazing, but that doesn't work in the desert. Perhaps solar power would work, once the economics get sufficiently favorable.
P.S. Look carefully at the photograph - do you see the people standing at the base of the wind turbine?