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It's not always great news for wind power

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By: SGN Staff

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By Doug Peeples

SGN News Editor

 

Wind farms showed record growth in 2012 with a 19% increase in capacity, says the Global Wind Energy Council. China has 38 offshore wind power projects underway with the expectation of producing capacity of 16,500 MW. Google is spending $200 million for a stake in a West Texas wind farm (Google really likes clean energy). And the American Wind Energy Association says U.S, utilities are climbing over themselves for wind power contracts, encouraged at least in part by the extension of the wind production tax credit and lower prices.

 

Americans really like their wind power, although they may not be terribly fond of forests of turbine towers near scenic locations. At the end of 2012, U.S. wind power capacity was recorded at 60,007 MW, second in the world behind China (75,564 MW, for the record).

 

It's easy to see why wind is so attractive. It's cleaner than traditional fossil fuels and while wind is intermittent it's not going to run out as an oil well can. So the idea that wind power is essentially limitless seems sensible.

 

But to turn a tired expression around, every silver lining has a cloud.

 

Do we really have all that capacity?

Harvard applied physics professor David Keith, who has a very long list of credentials, brings one of those clouds to the discussion. While he does not say current estimates of wind capacity at large-scale installations are definitely wrong, he suggests it, as a Phys.Org article put it. It's a pretty strong suggestion.

 

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