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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Could Wind help Save Water?

wind and waterBig news for the wind industry, big implications for water.

First, the Department of Energy released a report that confirmed what the wind industry has already claimed: wind could power 20% of the United State’s energy needs by 2030. Even with growing energy demands, our ample wind resources could meet one-fifth of our needs with continued growth and innovation. Other nations, especially Denmark, are already deriving significant fractions of their energy from wind, sometimes with impressive results. The truth is, wind energy is booming even as the specter of the expiring Production Tax Credit moves to the House of Representatives for a vote.

Another large announcement this week came from ex-oilman T. Boone Pickens, who proved (once again) that every thing’s bigger in Texas.

He just ordered $2 billion worth of wind turbines from GE to build the world’s largest wind farm.

Texas has already shown that wind isn’t just good for the environment, it’s also good for rural jobs. There’s even a town in Missouri that derives almost all of its energy from wind power, and sells excess energy to other towns. These examples and more disprove many of the wind myths that are still floating around. Wind energy is not a perfect technology, but it holds powerful potential to diversify power generation around the world. The Aral Sea, drainedOne of the statistics that struck me is that wind power could:

“reduce water consumption associated with electricity generation by 4 trillion gallons by 2030.”

(Source) With drought affecting many places around the world, including Australia and several American regions, any technology that conserves water carries important implications. Even areas with abundant water resources (and recent flooding) are concerned about over-exploitation of their water. One part of the water issue is that nuclear and coal-fired power plants require a lot of water, billions of gallons per day across the nation. Some of that water is ultimately returned to its source, but some is also lost or polluted.

In areas with scarce or dwindling water resources, a host of hydra-headed problems appear simultaneously: agriculture and food, energy, population, health and sanitation, development,industry, environment. Our lives, economy, and society are intimately linked to water, and scarcity is often a source of instability.

Judging from various efforts around the globe, it’s safe to say that conserving water is cheaper than alternatives. Australia and Barcelona are potent examples of the cost of water shortages; both are spending a lot of money to secure their water supplies. In Los Angeles, recycling sewage is cheaper than piping it in. If things get worse, Boone Pickens’ investment will look like a steal. By investing in water-friendly energy production, you strike two birds with one stone. You add a buffer for communities in case of future water shortages by removing resource conflicts before they occur. Wind power could also help us prepare for the effects of climate change and shifting weather patterns, which are already evident around the globe.

There is also the possibility of harvesting potable water from the ocean, but desalination plants are expensive and use large amounts of energy. Another proven method may be to encourage natural water storage via wetlands. A town in the state of Georgia, outside of drought-stricken Atlanta, has not felt the effects of the southeast’s severe drought due to smart water planning. But even these methods fundamentally react to a water shortage instead of preventing it.

Wind is certainly no placebo for water supply problems, but it could be part of the solution. For me, this is another example of how renewable energy is a sound investment in the long-term, and how we can reap unexpected benefits from clean technology.

Original here

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