Too Much Wind, Blowing Too Hard

The wind is capricious and unpredictable. It comes and goes, and when it blows, wind farmers dump as much power into the grid as they can. Of course there are portions of the power supply that do not wax and wane in such  wild and wily ways, like hydroelectric, coal, nuclear, oil, are set and fine tuned to the needs of the grid. It is also very difficult to increase or decrease their production on demand. When a vicious howler blasts across the plains of western Oregon, spinning the turbines like crazy and filling the wind-farmers’ pockets with government subsidies, other parts of the grid have to try to temper their production to suit the change. So, instead of shutting down coal plants burn coal but don’t make electricity (because it can take several days to turn them back on), dams spill water but don’t run the plant.

The current problems with our wind power generation system lie in the fact that there are no good ways to store the power. Contrary to what some people may think, the energy in our system is not stored in any way other than by moving it around from areas with an abundance to those with need. When there is too much energy, some has too be thrown away or else risk overloading the entire system, causing power outages or serious damage to the grid (also, moving power around the grid wastes a vast majority of that power, considering the tremendous loss of energy to heat). Now, we could build energy storage devices for our wind generators; however, there is no such thing as a giant battery, and merely building bigger and more wires as some propose would just create more waste and push the problem a little bit further into the future.

I propose construction of a system of water reservoirs, filled via wind power, which could be drained and used to either make electricity or irrigation or both. Where would this water come from? I suggest the Pacific Ocean. But what about the salt water? If we build a closed system, the water could be used over and over again in the same wind-hydro-reservoir system to make electricity. And, any electricity that is created could be used to desalinate more water for public use.

Its time to stop thinking about single, stand-alone solutions to our energy problems. Water, energy, food, these things are all interrelated and require unified, connected solutions. Networks of turbines that pump water or compress air (think air powered cars that run on tanks of compressed air) could build their own power infrastructure that is apart from the electricity grid we have now. Wind is not a final solution to all of our power needs, not by a long shot; however, if we are going to use wind power, we need to use it wisely and effectively.