Science travel

Wind Energy, California

Wind Turbines, California

The sight of a almost endless range of wind generators as you travel towards Palm Springs, California,  is one where you just have to pull over in a convenient parking space and stop, and look in awe or in horror, or with a mixture of both feelings. The wind-tunnel effect offered by the San Gorgonio Pass certainly meets the requirements for the location of wind farms, with a high average wind speed during the year, and has the potential to supply many southern californians with a 'clean' supply of electricity, free of the emission of carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide which are the result of generating electricity from burning fossil fuels.  Yet, there are drawbacks to such a development.  The wind turbines use up large areas of land, since there has to be a reasonable space between the turbines for each to retain a high conversion efficiency from kinetic energy to electrical energy.  Yet, the increased efficiency and improved technology has led to an actual reduction of turbines, even though the output has increased.  Whether you consider the actual presence of the turbines to be a visual form of pollution, or a technological marvel with its own intrinsic beauty in a natural location,  the sight of these thousands of  turbines across the valley certainly cannot be ignored.

Windy california

The basic principle of generating electricity by the use of a wind turbine involves the conversion of kinetic energy of the moving air (wind) into electrical energy. The movement of air past the blades forces them to rotate. This rotational movement is used to change the magnetic feld within a set of coils. This change of magnetic field results in a voltage appearing across the coils. This principle is known as electromagnetic induction.
Since the air must move past the blades for the operation of the blades, then there is no way the windmills can ever reach 100% efficiency, since the total amount of kinetic energy of the air cannot be extracted. This fact even applies to a 'perfect' turbine where no energy conversion into heat would occur. 

Wind Power California

The new scenery looks distinctly different from the broken windmills of the late 1980's , neglected by their owners and damaged by the sand-laden winds through of the San Gorgonio Pass. The new wind farms use more advanced technology and are more efficient than the predecessors, and are kept in fine running order by the wind farm owners.The greater power output and efficiency of the new machines has resulted in a reduction of the number of the machines since the late 1980's

Wind Turbines

The future of the development of the wind farms is largely dependent of whether Congress will continue with its tax credit advantages for those organisations willing to invest in wind-energy farms. Without the federal tax credit , the electricity generated from wind-energy would still be more expensive than from fossil powered stations. To produce 1 kilowatt-hour of electrical energy ( the energy required to run a 1 kW device for 1 hour) costs 4 to 5.5 cents by wind-power.  This is reduced to 2.5 to 4 cents by the application of 1.5 cent per kWh tax credit. This make it comparable to the 2.5 to  4 cents per kWh required for generation of electricity from fossil-powered stations.

Wind Farm California

The future of the wind farms is also largely dictated by the choice of  the source of electricity by consumers of electricity. Since April 1st 1998 , Californians have been able to choose thier supplier of electricity. Wind-energy organisations in the valley sell their electrical power to Southern Californian Edison or to a growing number of  'green-energy ' wholesalers ,who then sell the electrical energy to consumers.

Wind Power USA

The replacement of the relatively old turbines with new, more efficient and powerful devices is impressive. Wintec recently removed 211 of the earlier models in one area and replaced them with only 17 turbines.  In October 1998 , SeaWest (a San Diego 'green' company) started to replace 425 old turbines with only 60 new turbines, which offered a much greater power output. Each of these turbines can produce 700 kW . So, despite the uncertainty in the loss of  the tax credit for power generation , many of the companies are investing heavily  in the process known as "repowering".

It might seem impressive to know that over half the consumers who have switched energy providers have chosen the 'green ' providers of their electricity. Yet, up to August 1998 , only 51000 of all households had made any switch at all. Yet the switch of  provider is only one phone call away ...
Large businesses are beginning to lead the way, and Toyota Motor Sales and Patagonia Inc have switched to 100% 'green' electricity.

Further research into the technology and reliability of turbines are likely to bring the cost per kWh down even further in the next few years. However, not all news is good news. The onset of deregulation has brought no guarantee for the tax credit for producers of 'green' power. This tax credit is likely to finish this year (1999) . Congress might decide otherwise,  such is the uncertainty of the future of the success of  wind-power.

Barstow, California
Most of the travels were spent along the famous Route 66,
and I-40 ...and following the Santa-Fe Railroad.

This photo gallery and report  is provided by Martyn Overy,  North Chadderton School's Website Editor. Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this information. However, any corrections/amendments would be gratefully acknowledged. Copyright exists with the owner. Please contact Martyn Overy is you wish to use any of this material.

Webworld 3 : Special Issue