Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Crazy Spinning Things
North Cape, Prince Edward Island is the location of a wind farm. There are around 20 of the big tall windmills, several versions of the middle sized ones and a dozen of the smaller ones. North Cape has the misfortune to be experimenting unsuccessfully with the question on how to produce hydrogen. I wasn't listening too carefully, I was in the middle of a Road Trip Shawl ruffle with increases and while it is simple to knit, it does require more attention than listening to how hydrogen is made. (I expect many of you agree)
The main gist of the thing is that while the wind farm can produce hydrogen, which is seen as a potential alternative fuel resource, it takes ka-trillions more energy in the production process than the end resulting hydrogen can offset. It is a negative equation.
Steve is standing in front of the piece that holds the three blades and attaches those to the tower pole. People look askance at negative equations and I agree especially if it is my money or chocolate that is disappearing. But somebody had to put the question to the test. Perhaps there were models suggesting in advance that the wind farm would not meet this goal so some critics are being smug.
But as is often the case with any experiment, there are unexpected outcomes. Here are the ones that I conclude. I'm not on the team of scientists compiling the success/failure report, this is me, Joette-Not-Paying-Much-Attention-To-Yet-Another-Crisis-Question and I do think there were some successes.
Look at this sky line,isn't it fascinating? Aren't the aerodynamics of the windmills stunning to look at? Yes they are.
I am standing around 80' back from this one wing to get it all in the camera frame. There is a beauty of line and proportion that is elegant. Can you say this about a hydro-line or a hydro-station?
Listen! Can you hear the roar and thump that many argue will drive everyone nuts and cause lasting damage to mental and physical health. OK, you can't listen, I didn't do a video clip. I have hearing that can track a mouse at the other end of the island while also hearing the conversations of two people whispering across the river. I listened like mad. There was a ja-duh, ja-duh sound that was like a soft thump. I was standing right underneath one of the big bugger windmills. If you have listened to the 17th century windmills in Holland, you will recall that they whir-thump-dunk at a very fast repeat, filling your ears with sound. You shout at the person standing next to you. There was a second undertone to the modern windmills that I didn't like. It is the same electrical sound that everyone's fridge makes only maybe two degrees louder. I loathe my fridge's noises. I hear it all through the house when it is on and I am always secretly pleased during a power-outage that the fridge will be silent. I walked 20 feet away from the windmill and could barely hear the noise. Another 30 and it was gone.
In the images, you will notice that there aren't any homes within 50' of the windmill acres. So I predict there isn't as large a noise issue if the right machine is placed in the right context.
One caveat is that it was whopping windy that day. Some gusts of wind made standing difficult so that may have competed with the windmill's noise to a degree.
As for the vibration, I didn't feel it. There was some discussion about how vibrations travel through bedrock, Steve saying things (more accurately than portrayed here) that sound can travel through rock and me scoffing about how subways around the world would then be causing cities to fall down with vibrations. Let's just say that my complete lack of understanding of the subject of vibrations led to a few tense marital moments that were only overcome later by some amusing chocolate chip cookies. Maybe there's a documentary that won't react to my incredulity to statements like sound vibrations can travel 600,0000000,000 miles underground. (He didn't say that but you see the problem, it just sounds silly (especially if the listener is not listening carefully)) So I concluded there weren't any vibrations to get excited about (in this context at least).
I loved this place. It was windy, exciting, inventive, beautiful in its setting which is the northern most point of Prince Edward Island where
the currents of the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Atlantic Ocean duke it out over this amazing rocky reef, the largest one in North America. There is all kinds of potential for education. The interpretation building was closed for the season. That was too bad. Given the range of wind machines, it seems there are many options for many applications. For sure there are issues around getting the energy produced into the grid system and there are issues around maintaining grid lines and balancing power along the grid. I bet there were these problems originally when men in heavy cotton dungarees climbed up poles with metal foot holds and did repairs with asbestos gloves. They sometimes did repairs during thunderstorms before they figured out this was a bad strategy for staying un-electrocuted. I think this is a system that is deserving of further experimentation. Maybe we need to be a little less specific in our goals and expectations of the experiments and a little more "what can we learn overall" from them.
I think we have to go back when the interpretation building is open to see if I'm being snowed.