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Power Earth

US Becomes Top Wind Producer; Solar Next 388

Posted by kdawson
from the beneath-our-wings dept.
SpuriousLogic sends along a SciAm piece that begins, "The United States overtook Germany as the biggest producer of wind power last year, new figures showed, and will likely take the lead in solar power this year, analysts said on Monday. Even before an expected 'Obama bounce' from a new President who has vowed to boost clean energy, US wind power capacity surged 50 percent last year to 25 gigwatts — enough to power more than five million homes."
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US Becomes Top Wind Producer; Solar Next

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  • Makes you wonder (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mosb1000 (710161) <mosb1000@mac.com> on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @03:51AM (#26706523)
    Kinda makes you wonder if government intervention is really necessary.
  • by chalkyj (927554) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @03:56AM (#26706551)
    Yes, pat your selves on the back. America (9,161,923 SQ KM) has over taken Germany (357,021 SQ KM). Good work.
  • Per capita (Score:3, Insightful)

    by moonbender (547943) <moonbender@NoSPaM.gmail.com> on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @03:59AM (#26706573)

    So that comes down to 300W of solar power per capita in Germany, 83.3W of solar power in the US and 20.2W of solar power per capita worldwide. Just about enough to drive a netbook. ;)

  • by plasmacutter (901737) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @04:02AM (#26706589)

    Kinda makes you wonder if government intervention is really necessary.

    We have roughly 4x the population of germany, which means, per capita, we are far behind the rest of the industrialized world in development of renewable energy.

    If the disposition described in this article were applied to housing, it would be like declaring the wealth gap had closed because everyone who worked minimum wage pooled their resources and lived 4 families to a single family house.

    In other words: our renewable energy production is not up to pace with the rest of the world, which various international organizations say is STILL not enough.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @04:23AM (#26706723)

    Well, but the real shame is that Germany is actually no.1 in solar power and was no.1 in wind power (I say this as a German).
    Given the climate and the size of Germany, it's quite a joke.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @04:28AM (#26706751)

    I wonder how the USA compares to the EU overall?

  • by qc_dk (734452) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @04:31AM (#26706771)

    The helix towers are also less efficient. And,
    the higher up you go the more wind there is.

    Finally, I like the standard windmills. I think they are a beautiful monument to human ingenuity.

  • Efficiency (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jez9999 (618189) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @04:33AM (#26706781) Homepage Journal

    Unfortunately, the US is infamous for using vast quantities of energy and using pretty inefficient devices (as a whole, not saying it applies to everyone). So some pretty serious energy efficiency measures are also called for.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @04:41AM (#26706821)

    Well, you have to consider the long term goals of this.
    The main problem is that there is a chicken-egg problem with solar energy: with high panel prices is there is no demand and without demand the prices will remain high in the long term.

    They want to break this cycle by creating artifical demand. While the prices go up in the short term, the increased production capacity and investments into new technologies will drive them down in the long term.

  • by plasmacutter (901737) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @04:53AM (#26706887)

    Hell if planned economies worked, India and the UK would have grown faster than free market places like the US in the 50's and 60's. Actually, despite being poorer, they grew more slowly until they implemented free market reforms.

    And yet everyone who lives there has adequate healthcare and the same standard of living without massive national debt.

    Go figure!

    As for subsidies, the US subsidizes a lot, and the US manufacturing sector has died because of a LACK of subsidies: specifically, the insistence that the government should not be providing healthcare, leaving it to businesses to pick up the slack.

  • by cheetah_spottycat (106624) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @05:03AM (#26706935)

    It puts the achievement into the right perspective. Outperforming a country with less than 4% surface (and similarly smaller number of citizens) is not quite as relevant as the headline wants to pretend. Whats next? "Russia outperforms Principality of Monaco in natural gas production! Film at 11!"?

  • And per capita? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by kitgerrits (1034262) * on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @05:09AM (#26706981)

    Wow, a country with over 300 million people, 9,629,091 square kilometers and sea on the east and west side
    managed to produce more wind power
    than a country with 80 million people, 57,022 square kilometers and sea on the (mostly useless) north side.

    Call me when they reach 90 GW...

  • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot@@@hackish...org> on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @05:17AM (#26707031)

    For example, there was a bunch of excited speculation about when China's GDP would surpass the U.S.'s, despite the fact that that would still leave China nowhere near the U.S. on a per-capita GDP basis.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @05:18AM (#26707039)

    Your friend is an idiot. Do you really think people who have used windmills for hundred of years did so purely for the fun of it?

    "Lets spend months building a windmill", they thought, "to saw lumber or grind corn. Who cares if it costs more energy to build it then it ever delivers and we could easily saw all that wood ourselves with the same energy".

    Your friends argument is similar to those who claim we don't have global warming because it is freezing cold outside. It seems superficially true but comes from such a poor understanding of the issue you can't even begin to correct.

    However, presuming you ain't as big a moron as your friend, here is the reason this myth has come into being.

    It costs X amount of energy to build a generator. This is far higher then you probably think because if it uses for instance aluminum. Simply put, if all energy was equal, a generator that costs X energy from the grid to produce should pump X+ energy into the grid over its lifetime.

    Now comes the killer. What is its lifetime? Economic lifetime? Period it is written off in? Or shortened lifetime because it was demolished before it was obsolete/rundown?

    It is very easy to claim a generator should produce its energy in say 1 year claiming that is its lifespan for whatever reason. In that case, the cost of producing it must be recovered in a year. Thanks to the way goverments work there have been projects where windmills were put up and torn down in a matter of months. Of course these never recouped their energy. The headline went into the newspaper, idiots didn't read the full article and myth is born.

    This however also applies to nuclear reactors that are dismantled before they are ever brought online and countless other big projects.

    A normal windmill produces far more power over its operational life then it has cost to produce. If it didn't it wouldn't make economic sense and countless windmills have come up for no other reason than that the owner wants to make money from them.

    They have been doing this ever since the first windmill was invented hundreds of years ago.

  • by Anspen (673098) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @05:24AM (#26707073)
    Yes it is, since this increase is the *result* of government intervention. The guarantees a minimum feed-in tariff which makes building wind installations commercially viable (not just because of the subsidy but also because it makes the large up front investment predictable). What's more, the past has shown what happens when it's left to the free market. Since the law has to be renewed every two years political wrangling means it's sometimes in place and sometimes not. When it's not, investment immediately collapses (see the graph at the end of this article [theoildrum.com]).

    And since so far it hasn't been renewed installation this year will most likely be significantly lower.

    Beyond that total installad capacity is only important when looked at relatively. Total population is almost four times as large in the US than it is in Germany, energy consumption per household it much higher in the US and even Germany only gets a relatively small percentage of it's electricity from wind (7% according to this [wind-energie.de]). So overall: good start, but most of the work is still to do.

  • by bigmouth_strikes (224629) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @05:25AM (#26707087) Journal

    Well it's good to see your valuable, thought-provoking, high quality comment complaining about worthless comments enhancing the signal-to-noise-ratio...

    Clearly, Slashdot is a US-centric website where many articles and discussions are in the format of comparing the situation on a scientific or technological topic in the US versus the rest of the world. Nothing wrong with that, since there are many positive outcomes from that if one can raise oneself above petty nationalism.

    In this particular discussion it is valuable to compare the statistics which are a bit skewed by the vast differences in size, population and population density. Nevertheless it is interesting to note that being able to power 5 million US homes by wind power is an astonishing number in itself, and brings hope for a brighter future!

  • Re:Audit (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Ihlosi (895663) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @05:26AM (#26707095)

    A friend of mine who is a mathematician told me he rad an article that showed that the total amount of energy required to create a windmill would never be recovered by the device.

    ... and that's exactly why you pick an engineer or physicist if you need to solve real-world problems. ;)

    Oh, and he "read an article"? I can write lots of articles that show all kinds of things. Did the article pass any plausibility checks?

  • by mcvos (645701) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @06:08AM (#26707275)

    Well, locations where these 'wind farms' are both out of eye sight and ear shot (as they can be quite loud) are rather rare.

    Much more so in a relatively densely populated country like Germany, though.

    But they don't need to be out of sight or ear shot, you just put them in a place that's noisier and uglier than windmills. Along motorways, for example. And that's something that Germany has a lot of.

    No idea if they actually put them there, though. Much of Germany is probably too hilly. Along the coast is more efficient, but Germany is rather short on coastline.

    I think there was a story last year, where some rich community in Florida managed to get a off-shore wind farm denied because the towers would just be visible on the horizon...

    So they don't have power lines, highways or railroads in Florida? Or, I don't know, ugly apartment blocks? Wind farms are benign in comparison. But hey, put them wherever the oil platforms are.

  • by mcvos (645701) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @06:22AM (#26707349)

    It puts the achievement into the right perspective. Outperforming a country with less than 4% surface (and similarly smaller number of citizens)

    Number of citizens isn't quite that much smaller. I think Germany has about 30% the population size of the US.

    But Germany is quite clearly a front runner in clean energy. It's inevitable that larger countries will eventually overtake it in absolute numbers. And I'm glad the US is already doing that. Good job!

  • by master_p (608214) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @06:26AM (#26707373)

    If you want to talk about shame, then here is Greece we are last in solar and wind power...and we have sunshine 2/3 of the year and winds all over the season (because Greece is surrounded by sea)...

  • by grimJester (890090) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @06:30AM (#26707387)
    I'd argue that wind power per inhabitant is also wrong, since it doesn't take into account that the average American uses 1,460W while the average German uses only 753W. As a fraction of consumption, Germany has about eight times more wind power. Link [wikipedia.org]
  • by Bearhouse (1034238) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @06:55AM (#26707559)

    Kinda makes you wonder if government intervention is really necessary.

    It's vital. Regardless of one's political preferences, a couple of things are clear:

    1. Although the gap is closing, most forms of 'sustainable' energy production, such as wind and solar, are still more expensive then burning fossil fuel. Demand, (which drives innovation in both R&D and production technology) is closely linked to Gov. subsidy - for both installation cost and 'buy-back' of the power generated. That's why you've got so much solar in Germany & Japan - homeowners got massive subsidies.

    2. Transmission infrastructure investment is required, since solar, wind and tidal generation locations are typically located a long way away from demand for the juice. These investments are massively expensive and difficult to do, for many reasons including NIMBY, hence the reluctance of the private sector to 'go it alone'.

    The current situation is that:
    * The private sector is starved of cash,
    * The recent fall in oil & gas prices has once again opened the gap between fossil generation and sustainable,
    * Few Govs have coherent long-term plans that the private sector can use to base investments on.

    So, yes, Gov intervention is really necessary.

    The cash is there - few people realise that massive amounts (billions) are given away in subsidies to the oil, and now ethanol industries. If some of this money was diverted to renewables then we'd see a big difference.

  • by TapeCutter (624760) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @07:17AM (#26707691) Journal
    For all his fault's Blair deserves credit for spotlighting the problem to people who didn't want to know. It's indeed a pity the cupboard is bare.

    I had the good fourtune to spend 5 weeks driving around the UK staying at B&B's. I don't know if you have driven down the west coast of Scotland but the sceanery is breathtaking, same with the Yorkshire dales (eg: Fountains Abbey), the orkneys, parts of Ireland. Being an Aussie I was amazed at the extent of wide open spaces and postcard views. You need to keep as much of that as is practicable, even if it means moving a couple of miles away and losing a few efficiency points.
  • by kqc7011 (525426) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @07:28AM (#26707755)
    How much per KWH does this windmill produced electricity cost, without subsidies? Then compare it to your electric bill.
  • by vtcodger (957785) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @08:13AM (#26708037)

    ***Bring on the nukes!***

    I've always been mildly pro-nuclear. It's non-polluting compared to coal, and has much higher availability than a wind-farm or solar array with a similar sticker output in MW or GW.

    But there are only a limited number of sites with cooling water, satisfactory geology, and where evacuation of the neighborhood in the event of trouble is realistically possible.

    The US could, I am quite sure, treble our current nuclear output. We might even be able to increase it by an order of magnitude to 1000 plants although we'd have to scrounge up some fuel that probably exists, but isn't currently in proven reserves. But every time I work the numbers, I get the same answer. US energy needs are so great that we need more like 5000 nuclear power plants just to replace oil.

    And we need to remember that there are 5.7billion folks on the planet who are not Americans and they are going to want to use energy on much the same scale that we do.

    So -- unless we believe that the world has unlimited hydrocarbons and there is no limit to the amount of CO2 the human race can vent into the atmosphere without consequence, it isn't wind OR solar OR nuclear. It's wind AND solar AND nuclear AND conservation AND any other non-carbon emitting technology we can come up with.

  • by CastrTroy (595695) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @08:24AM (#26708133) Homepage
    Also make sure you factor in the energy consumption of the average American. According to Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] the US uses almost twice as much energy per capita as Germany. So it stands to reason, that if they use more, they should be producing more. 7.5 x the population and 2 x the energy consumption per person means they used 15 x more energy than Germany. They should be producing a lot more power from wind.
  • Re:Efficiency (Score:3, Insightful)

    by CubicleView (910143) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @08:38AM (#26708259) Journal
    Not sure if it's really fair to compair to just Scotland, it's too small. It wouldn't account for all the difference of course, but for example, unlike several states in America, Scotland would be more concerned about heating its homes than cooling them. To do that they burn oil and gas which wouldn't consume much electricity.
  • by MyLongNickName (822545) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @08:51AM (#26708365) Journal

    Wow. 99% of the time if I read a U.S. paper, I see how bad the U.S. is at everything. I see us slammed, mocked. I see how we rank behind every other country in just about everything. I am not sure where the "empty bravado" is coming from that offends you so much.

  • by Jaysyn (203771) <jaysyn+slashdot@ ... m minus math_god> on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @09:09AM (#26708595) Homepage Journal

    "So they don't have power lines, highways or railroads in Florida? Or, I don't know, ugly apartment blocks? Wind farms are benign in comparison."

    Yes, but they are all either far away or hidden from said rich communities.

  • by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @09:13AM (#26708655)

    Most of the "solar stuff" you see at the roof is not solar-power, it's "solar-thermie". To produce warm water while the sun is shining. cheers

    And your point is? It reduces requirements for traditional power generation just as much as it would if it were enough solar-electric to do the same job.

  • Re:Audit (Score:4, Insightful)

    by kabocox (199019) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @09:34AM (#26708991)

    Then why is it being subsidized?

    Short answer: politics.

    Here's a hint. You are being leeched to pay for "renewable energy" built by your good ole "energy companies" of yore.

    They aren't stupid. They know that the public doesn't want to fund to build coal, oil, or nuclear power. They know that the public has a thing for anything termed "renewable" even if it is more expensive than other sources. So they get us to pay as much of their costs as possible. Even when "renewable energy" becomes price competitive to build on its own, they'll still try to use subsidies as far as possible on general principles.

    I can't blame the "energy companies." I'm iffy on blaming the politicians in this case. They've actually been doing what voters want. The problem is when to stop subsidies. That's one of those trick questions in politics.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @11:52AM (#26711845)

    if in your entire lifespan it is [one of] the hottest 80 years on record

    But because the CO2 we already put into the atmosphere is staying there, and we continue to put in more, the warming trend will continue and the mean temperature will continue to increase.

    Which means one of the next few years will likely be the hottest in 100 years, the year after that the hottest in 500, some year after that the hottest in 1000, etc.

    We're already seeing that trend with droughts in Western America. We're exceeding 1/100 year shortages routinely.

    Your dismissal would be valid if the climate were stationary. It's not. It's changing.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @05:09PM (#26717865)

    What about wind power as a fraction of total energy produced? That's really the stat we care about; it doesn't matter that the US is 1 in wind power if we produce ten times as much "dirty" energy as Germany.

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