BY VERN TURNER
While working on my fourth book [in which this essay will be found] I came across a topic that works to light up my science geek lights. I watched a documentary film that exposed the downsides to using giant wind farms in proximity to people as alternative electricity sources.
These wind generators are enormous. They are over 400 feet tall, have a rotor that weighs seven tons and spins at close to 200 miles per hour tip speed. This action creates a boundary layer of air that smacks into the pylon and makes a whoosh, whoosh, whoosh noise audible for half a mile or so.
When the sun is low the blades create a pulsing shadow/light phenomenon that drives people nuts.
Furthermore, the companies trying to market this technology create all sorts of community strife while buying their way into poor, rural areas that have lots of wind.
A little research shows that there are over 83 countries using wind power to generate as much as 25% of their national electricity. We are at something below 5%. But due to intermittence of the wind, there has to be a gap-filler in the electrical grid to keep the lights on. That means that coal, oil, gas and nuclear power plants can’t go away. The same logic applies to solar electrical generation.
It costs about the same to generate a wind farm that produces enough electricity to replace a coal or gas facility, but you still need the fossil fuel plant for the problems stated above.
So, this pathway to energy independence takes us to a new paradigm: Grid Level Electron Storage.
An MIT professor, Donald Sadoway, has worked with graduate students to develop a device that provides sufficient electricity when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing. It is called the liquid metal battery.
It uses the very basics of the original battery invented by Mr. Volta himself: two different metals and a salty electrolyte to conduct electrons. The address following shows Professor Sadoway’s introduction to this technology:
The really interesting part is that this battery stores enough electricity for a practical usage scale and is cheap to produce at the start, not by the one millionth unit. The battery requires electrical input to keep the electrons circulating and that’s where the solar and/or wind devices play a supportive role, not a primary role in providing electricity. Oh, and the excess heat generated by the chemical reactions inside the battery may be used to heat homes or make steam.
As of March 2012, he and his team of scientists, funded by both private companies and government agencies, produced a four KwH battery that is smaller than a medium coffee table. Four KwH is enough to power a small cottage.
Their newly formed company, LMBC Inc., is working on a shipping container sized battery that can provide two megawat hours of electricity, enough to supply 200 homes. The metals used are not rare, but are plentiful and found in this country.
Earlier you read my column that suggested building a space-based solar array that beamed electrical energy to Earth. It might have a use for other things, but this battery is available now and it’s much, much cheaper that anything we’d put in space.
I can be swayed by facts and practicality, too.
The point is we cannot drill or bomb our way out of our energy difficulties. The wind will keep blowing somewhere on Earth all the time. The sun is good to go on lighting us up for another three billion years, or so.
Cheap, reliable electrical power readily available to everyone and anyone gets this and every other nation dependent on Middle Eastern oil off of their nipple.
I can’t imagine that there are any reasons coming from sane people who can disagree with this premise.
This doesn’t mean that wind is a minor player. With the new materials we can build huge sails for ocean-going ships thus easing their total dependency on oil as their fuel for sailing goods from one country to the next. Plus, with liquid metal batteries and plenty of wind and sun at sea, they can seriously augment their diesel fuel use with the combination.
I hope some entrepreneur gets onto this and markets the daylights out of these simple devices to indeed remove people from the grip of energy companies not motivated to employ new technologies. As long as there is plenty of oil and gas, they won’t do a thing.
Once again, We the People must stand up and demand the new technologies, invest in them and make the changes toward an oil-free future.
We’ll get there one way or another, sooner or later. Wouldn’t it be nice if we were prepared for that day?
– Vern Turner is a regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer. He lives in Marble Falls, TX, where he writes a regular column for the River Cities Daily Tribune. He is the author of three books – A Worm in the Apple: The Inside Story of Public Schools, The Voters Guide to National Salvation and Killing the Dream: America’s Flirtation With Third World Status – all available through Amazon.com.