By Solon Economou Providence Journal
Send those lumps of coal back to Newcastle; tell the smug desert sheiks what to do with their oil; let Russia and the former Soviet states use their natural gas to quadruple-distill their triple-distilled vodka. The day is approaching when we could replace all fossil fuels with wind power alone, according to a study from Stanford University and the University of Delaware.
Researchers from the College of Marine and Earth Studies at the University of Delaware and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford University have compared the potential wind energy of the Middle-Atlantic Bight (MAB) — bight means the bending coastline — to energy demand in the adjacent coastal states, Massachusetts through North Carolina.
They came up with a remarkable discovery: The MAB wind resource can produce 330 gigawatts (GW) average electrical power, while the summed energy demand of these states (including electricity, gasoline for vehicles, and fuel oil and natural gas for buildings) is currently 185 GW.
In other words, wind power alone could supply the total energy demand of the MAB states, from Cape Cod to Cape Hatteras, with enough energy left over to provide for more than 50 percent growth in regional energy demand in the future.
The researchers were originally looking for a way to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions to head off global warming, which this scheme will accomplish with an enormous 68 percent reduction. This reduction, extrapolated to a global scale, will stabilize the Earth’s climate. But the corollary to this is astounding: We could essentially do away with fossil fuels.
The researchers, recognizing that the U.S. population is concentrated along its coasts (it is estimated that 90 percent of our population lives within 100 miles of either coast) and that surface ocean winds are much faster and less variable than winds over land, concentrated their work on the MAB, an area suitable for modern offshore turbines. This area is also advantageous because of the large continental shelf and lack of Category 5 hurricanes.
Wind speeds were recorded at nine NOAA buoys, one for the past 21 years, in or near the MAB, and only modern towers, like the tubular steel monopoles proposed for Nantucket Sound, were considered in the study. Likewise, only proven and tested wind turbines were included, like the General Electric 3.6 megawatt model, which is under consideration for Nantucket Sound.
This precise scientific study did not accept the manufacturers’ “nameplate” power output of the turbines, but gave average power output as a function of wind speed. For you science buffs, the best fit was a combination of two third-order polynomials. For you non-science buffs, I threw that in to impress you with the fact that these researchers really did their homework.
Arriving at the 185 GW current energy demand figure, the researchers added 73 GW of electrical demand, 29 GW of gasoline demand for vehicles, 83 GW of fuel oil and natural gas demand for buildings. Including energy conversion factors, the wind would have to provide a total of 212 GW to meet current demand. MAB wind power could supply all this with 118 GW left over.
This scheme assumes that heating and cooking systems for buildings and houses would be switched from oil or gas to heat pumps and electric appliances, and that cars would be battery-powered with plug-in “refueling.” To minimize replacement costs, these systems and automobiles could be replaced at time of wear-out.
Ironically, those fossil-fuel plants retained in standby mode would be largely necessitated by, of all things, electric-vehicle “refueling,” which would be more erratic and less predictable than the other energy uses.
This switch would take time, effort, and determination on the part of whichever administrations were in power during the years of transition, but the lesson is incontrovertible: As far as energy is concerned along the East Coast, wind power could eventually do it all.