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By the end of grade school, my mother maintains, I had attempted to deconstruct everything in the house at least once (including a squirrel that fell to its death on the front walk). Somewhere in the fog of my childhood, I shifted from deconstruction to construction, and one of my earliest machinations was a windmill, inspired by a dusty three-foot-diameter turbine blade laying idle in the garage thanks to my father’s job at a fanand -turbine manufacturer. Fortunately, the turbine ’s hub screws fit snugly around a found steel pipe, which formed a relatively solid, if rusty, axle for the contraption. I mounted the axle in wood rather than steel, since my parents had neglected to teach me to weld. There were no bearings, but I dusted the naked holes with powdered graphite for lubrication; I was serious. Lacking the resources to design a tower, a wood picnic table in the backyard proved sufficient. Some subsequent day, as cool winds ripped leaves from surrounding oak trees and threw them 2. Wind Power’s Flurry of Limitations Evidence conforms to conceptions just as often as conceptions conform to evidence. –Ludwik Fleck,GenesisandDevelopmentof aScientificFact  Seductive Futures at passersby, I hauled the rickety contraption from the garage to the picnic table, exposed nails and all. I first pulled the wooden mount up onto the table, weighing it down with bricks and other heavy objects. I then inserted the axle-and-turbine assembly. The already rotating blades hovered out over the table’s edge, but there was little time to appreciate my work. Before the lock pin was properly secured, the heavy blade had already begun to spin uncomfortably fast. Only at that moment did it become apparent that I had neglected to install a braking mechanism, but it was too late. I removed a brick from the base and pressed it against the rotating axle to slow it down, pushing with all my might. The axle hissed as the blades effortlessly accumulated greater speed. I jumped back when the axle’s partially engaged lockpin flew out. The picnic table vibrated as the dull black blades melted into a grayish blur. The steel sails thumped through the air with a quickening rhythm of what in essence had become an upended lawnmower shrieking the song of a helicopter carrying a hundred cats in heat. What happened thereafter can only be deduced, because by the time the howling and clamor came to an abrupt end, my adrenaline-filled legs had already carried me well beyond the far side of the house. I returned to find an empty picnic table in flames. Now, if you can imagine a force ten thousand times as strong, you’ll begin to appreciate the power of modern wind turbines, weighing in at 750 tons and with blade sweeps wider than eleven full-size school buses parked end-to-end.1 Like solar cells, wind turbines run on a freely available resource that is exhibiting no signs of depletion. Unlike solar cells, though, wind turbines are economical—just a sixth the cost of photovoltaics, according to an hsbc bank study. Proponents insist that wind power’s costs have reached parity with natural-gas electrical generation. Coal-fired electricity is still less expensive, but if a carbon tax of about thirty dollars per ton is figured into Illustration 2: An imposing scale Raising a blade assembly at night outside Brunsbüttel, Germany, with a second tower in the background. The turbine sits on 1,700 cubic yards of concrete with forty anchors each driven eighty feet into the earth. (Photo by Jan Oelker, courtesy of Repower Systems ag)  Seductive Futures the equation, proponents insist that wind achieves parity with coal as well.2 Either way, wind turbines seem far more pleasant as they sit in fields and simply whirl away. Today’s wind turbines are specially designed for their task and as a result are far more technologically advanced than even those built a decade ago. New composites enable the spinning arms to reach farther and grab more wind while remaining flexible enough to survive forceful gusts. New turbines are also more reliable. In 2002, about 15 percent of turbines were out of commission at any given time for maintenance or repair; now downtime has dropped below 3 percent. Whereas a coal or nuclear plant mishap could slash output dramatically or even completely , wind farms can still pump out electricity even as individual turbines cycle through maintenance. Similarly, new wind...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780803243361
Related ISBN
9780803237759
MARC Record
OCLC
808337203
Pages
456
Launched on MUSE
2012-06-26
Language
English
Open Access
No
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