Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Chasing Windmills

We know President-elect Trump finds wind power disturbing, especially when viewed from his golf resort in Scotland. He also fails to see the urgency of getting off fossil fuels, and seeks to exploit all manner of polluting and clean technologies to grow the U.S. economy. His pick for Secretary of the Interior, +Congressman Ryan Zinke (MT), seems to be less hostile toward climate-conscious measures, which is some relief since he will head the department which oversees offshore wind infrastructure.

The first U.S. installation of an offshore wind facility started regular operation last week with five big wind turbines supplying Block Island, RI. With its slow start, offshore wind must be added more quickly than land-based and other renewable technologies in order to become 19% of total electric capacity for coastal states by 2030 as proposed in the Green New Deal. The GND goes into some detail about the need for help from the government to overcome market impediments in order to allow scaling up offshore wind.

Trump and his appointees are going to make it harder to leave fossil fuels in the ground, but there is some hope that state governments will demonstrate enough wisdom to pass on continuing to burn them. Now that solar has become more economical than even land-based wind power in some countries, the need for regulatory and financial assistance for offshore wind is even more imperative to bring this component of renewable power up to speed. Assuming we do power down coal and gas generating plants, installing only solar and land-based wind facilities would make electrical power less abundant and reliable. Having a diverse set of power sources, including offshore wind, is necessary to address the intermittency problem of renewable energy.

The solar power industry is in a virtuous cycle of cost-effectiveness that could rationalize the move away from fossil fuels in many locales. Wind power (which temporally complements solar) is on par, but losing ground, making me wonder: Since we are literally losing ground in the littorals (with the dire likelihood of seeing leagues of ocean where there is currently solid ground), wouldn't it be most economical to just build a lot of seaworthy wind power on the shore and wait for the ocean to sweep over it?
Photo: CGP Grey

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