by Robert Frenz
09 May 2001
You have probably heard many stories about how we should harness the wind – a "renewable" energy source – and wean ourselves from the politically incorrect fossil fuels. The reason we don't, according to some, is because of a gigantic oil/government conspiracy to fill their pockets full of loot "stolen" from the sweet innocent consumer. This reminds me of that popular slice of baloney which circulated in the 1950s, about a 200 mile per gallon carburetor which the oil companies prevented from being marketed. As I demonstrated then, any high school kid with a science background plus a U.S. Rubber Chemistry-Physics Handbook could show this 200 MPG stuff to be pure hot air. So it is with wind power – another bucket of hot air.
The reason for the existence of this "alternative" energy rain-dance lies in a simple understanding of what the otherwise useless Ph.D.s of academia do for a living. Most of them lecture to those who are not listening, and write books no one reads. Many seek grants for research which serves to grant them a paycheck. Without grants most Ph.D.s would be doing something useful, such a growing tomatoes. How does one secure this sort of employment, that is, how does one secure a grant? Simple. Just get a few simple-minded congressmen to go for it. To keep those grants coming in on the tax-payers conveyor belt, "results" must be demonstrated. In the case of wind power, another grant is granted to build a few hundred giant fan/generators in some desert where the wind hardly blows. I've seen acres of these in California, for example.
Joe Sixpack can roar down the highway at 60 MPH in his suburban status-mobile getting 25 MPG. Gasoline weighs about 6 pounds per gallon and each pound has the energy equivalent of about 20,000 British Thermal Units (BTU). One horsepower (HP) is about .7 BTU per second. A brief calculator exercise shows us that Joe's barge is whacking out about 114 HP at this rate of fuel consumption. Don't get too excited at this point after seeing that HP figure. This represents the total HP IF all of that gasoline energy was turned into mechanical energy, which it is not. About 26 HP goes to propel the vehicle and the rest is actually heat energy, most of which goes out the tail pipe. Let's go to our windmill, now that this gasoline thing is established.
We'll start with a 15 MPH steady breeze, the kind that is always present whenever a congressman gives a talk. A propeller, like the kind used in those wasteful California desert arrays, is very, very inefficient. Therefore I choose to use an efficient air turbine – a very, very, very expensive air turbine with a 20 foot diameter. This affords about 314 square feet of cross section area. Incidentally, the reason all of the tax-payer funded experimental stations use fans instead of real turbines is because (1) turbines are too damned expensive to build, (2) turbines require very high RPMs and (3) the whole thing is a side show anyway – to keep the boobs convinced that "something is being done".
Keep in mind that no energy could be extracted from moving air unless the velocity of the air leaving the turbine is lower than that entering. No reduction in velocity means no energy loss from the air and hence, no energy available to drive our electric generator, or whatever.
Air weighs about .08 pounds per cubic foot. Let's assume that the 15 MPH wind is reduced to a 13 MPH wind as it leaves our turbine – a not unreasonable assumption considering the available data on turbines. (I wrote in 1970 that the much ballyhooed Chrysler time-waster of designing turbine powered cars would be a colossal flop. It was. Before I continue, I'd like to mention that the relatively low wind velocities considered here render such devices extremely inefficient. Actual turbines spin in the tens of thousands of RPM. Something impossible even during a hurricane. As ludicrous as the wind power folderol is, I am going overboard with my figures just to deprive the nitwits of a counter argument.) Each second, about 520 pounds of air whistles down our super efficient wind tunnel. This translates to about 1.8 HP. In other words, we'd need about 64 of these buggers running full blast to keep up with one gallon of gasoline and that's using the best turbine technology available.
Each year the average motorist uses about 500 gallons of gasoline. This means 31,500 wind generators reserved just for one car, per year. Construction considerations would indicate that at least 100 square feet would be needed to house one of our teflon-plated generators. (Note that a gasoline engine producing the same HP could be held in your hand.) 31,500 of them would mean 3,150,000 square feet, or .12 square miles. There are about 180 million cars zipping about on mainland U.S.A. That's 20 million square miles of wind generators needed just to supply those automobiles with energy. Considering that the U.S. has a land area of 3.6 million square miles, I'd say we have somewhat of a problem. This obviously exceeds in importance the other massive problem: the one of distribution which, if considered, reduces the whole affair to insanity.
The effective use of wind as a power source had its heyday a couple of centuries ago. It was called sailing.
Frankly I have little stomach for this sort of popularized nonsense and when I recover from this upsetting sojourn, I'll be back with comment on yet another Barnum and Bailey fantasy – solar power.