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The Rise of the Personal Power Plant

Discussions of conventional and alternative energy production technologies.

Re: The Rise of the Personal Power Plant

Unread postby kublikhan » Mon 15 Oct 2018, 12:20:15

Ghung, I don't think your priorities are strange. Some things the government does I also have a problem with. And there are some changes I would like to see for our grid as well. However I do not think it is a good idea to turn every household into a power plant. I realize it was baha who was pushing "the rise of the personal powerplant" argument and not you, but this is the argument I was responding to when you joined the conversation. And it's not because your choice makes me feel insecure about how dependent I am on the system. I came to terms with that long ago. This ship goes down we're all going down with it! It's because I feel some things are better done in a central, organized manner rather than independently.

Did you know this country used to have private fire companies? There used to fight each other(I mean physically brawl) when a fire broke out to see who would get to put out the fire while the building was burning behind them. Other times they would stand and watch a building burn down because that household didn't pay for fire fighting services. This is not a proper way to run a fire fighting service. Running a centralized and official fire company is a much more efficient, even if a degree of independence is sacrificed because of this choice.

In a similar vein I think centralized power production is the better path for society to follow instead of rooftop Solar PV + batteries + backup generator for everyone. One large utility solar PV array produces more energy at a cheaper cost than a similar number of rooftop panels. And one backup power plant and pumped storage facility is more efficient and lower cost than thousands of diesel generators and battery banks. And I am not simply referring to a financial cost. That also includes the environmental cost, material costs, etc.

And as for subsidies, Solar PV is far more heavily subsidized in terms of dollars per MWh than fossil fuels:
A study by the University of Texas projected that U.S. energy subsidies per megawatt hour in 2019 would be $0.5 for coal, $1- $2 for oil and natural gas, $15- $57 for wind and $43- $320 for solar. Many of the renewable energy subsidies come in the form of a Production Tax Credit (PTC) of 2.3 cents per kilowatt hour.
Renewable Energy Subsidies -- Yes Or No?

I have no problem giving subsidies to new technologies. However given that solar & wind are now cost competitive with fossil fuels(absent the intermittency issue) I think this is a good time to wind down those subsidies. Perhaps put more effort into the intermittency/storage side of the equation. I also share KJ's sentiments on the unfairness of net metering. If people still want to put solar panels on their roofs after these subsidies are gone, let them.

But I don't have any problem with a few weirdos going off grid for whatever reason. Just the opposite actually. These guys almost always have a smaller environmental footprint than grid users. So any inefficiencies from the personal power plant angle are more than offset by the lower energy consumption level. Thus they are better stewards for Mother Earth than grid users. I just think this is a niche and we should not "let the grid rust away".
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Re: The Rise of the Personal Power Plant

Unread postby KaiserJeep » Mon 15 Oct 2018, 13:11:39

Kub, one small input. The central power plant shines in densely populated areas as you and I have both noted. But rural areas are where the grid cannot pay for itself, especially rural residences. My Grandfather's dairy farm was 3/4 mile from the road, and he didn't have milking machines or pasturizers or any modern machines (back then). He had a few bare bulbs in his house, dangling from the ceilings, and an electric fan in the Summer. But NO WAY did the REA ever make back their investment in electrifying his farm.

Today's tech is very different, and it may not make sense to have a rural power grid anymore. It may make more sense to have rural single-farm power plants.
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Re: The Rise of the Personal Power Plant

Unread postby kublikhan » Mon 15 Oct 2018, 14:38:37

Let's assume for the moment you are right KJ and it is more economical to have rural america go off grid. The grid is already there and these people are already used to grid power. Are you suggesting we dump 60 million rural Americans from the grid? I think you will piss off alot of people going that route. It does not seem politically feasible to me.

Microgrids seem to be growing in popularity though. In advanced countries like the US these grids are still connected to the main grid, but it also has community Solar PV, batteries, and/or a generator. The microgrid can also island itself in the event of the main grid failure. So the microgrids are a step forward in both reliability and sustainability.

The research firm GTM counts “1,900 basic and advanced, operational and planned microgrids” in the US, with the market expected to grow quickly. Most microgrids today are basic, one-generator affairs, but more complex microgrids are popping up all over — there’s a cool one in Brooklyn, a cool one on Alcatraz Island, and the coolest one of all in Sonoma, California. Microgrids also play a big role in plans to rebuild Puerto Rico’s grid.

Grid-connected microgrids can “island” from the larger grid
Most microgrids, especially in wealthier nations, are grid-connected — they are embedded inside a bigger grid, like any other utility customer. All the examples cited above fit this bill.

What makes a microgrid a microgrid is that it can flip a switch (or switches) and “island” itself from its parent grid in the event of a blackout. This enables it to provide those connected to it with (at least temporary) backup power.
Meet the microgrid, the technology poised to transform electricity

Also, don't power companies charge higher rates to dispersed farms to compensate for the higher transmission charges? I think they also try to get them into demand response programs: "You scratch my back by dialing back your needs during peak demand and I'll give you a lower rate."

Farmers make up a significant share of industrial electricity customers in certain states. This is because of demand from farm irrigation systems, which are categorized by electric utilities as industrial load. For example, Nebraska is largely rural and agricultural, but it has the third-highest count of industrial electricity customers in the United States. The same factor drives up the number of industrial electricity customers in Idaho and Kansas, which are also among the top 10 states in number of industrial electricity customers. States with a large agriculture industry also tend to have among the lowest industrial sales of electricity per industrial customer.

Irrigation load from farm irrigation systems can be costly to serve, because of the high cost of connecting these dispersed systems to the electric grid and the high cost of having enough capacity available to meet seasonal irrigation load. Dawson Public Power District, a rural electric cooperative in an agriculture-heavy region of Nebraska, accounted for less than 3% of statewide industrial electricity sales in 2012 but had one of the highest average prices for industrial power. In general, the highest industrial electricity prices in Nebraska tend to be located in the rural southern and western portions of the state.

Many agricultural-heavy electric utilities use demand-response programs to manage the costs of connecting a large number of small users to the grid. Nebraska's Dawson Public Power offers lower rates for agricultural customers who allow the utility to control the electric usage of these systems when demand for electricity is high, a form of demand response. This allows the grid operator to adjust the load shape in a given day and reduce the need to bring on more expensive sources of electricity generation.
Many industrial electricity customers are farmers

It doesn't seem likely to me to see an advanced country go through any large transition to off grid, even if we are only talking about rural users. India though is adding alot of off grid capacity. 90 GW of of grid power are expected to go up in India by 2040. To put that in perspective though, 900 GW of total capacity is expected to be added. In other words, 90% of new electricity connections in India are expected to be grid tied, 10% off grid.

India’s path to power
India’s power system needs to almost quadruple in size by 2040 to catch up and keep pace with electricity demand that – boosted by rising incomes and new connections to the grid – increases at almost 5% per year. The power system has grown rapidly in recent years. Taking population growth into account as well as the high policy priority to achieve universal electricity access, India adds nearly 600 million new electricity consumers over the period to 2040. The vast majority of Indians continue to receive their power via the grid.

Keeping pace with the demand for electricity requires nearly 900 GW of new capacity, the addition of a power system four-fifths the size of that of the United States today. Uncertainty over the pace at which new large dams or nuclear plants can be built means strong reliance on solar and wind power (areas where India has high potential and equally high ambition) to deliver on the pledge to build up a 40% share of non-fossil fuel capacity in the power sector by 2030. Some 340 GW of new wind and solar projects, as well as manufacturing and installation capabilities, are galvanised to 2040 by strong policy support and declining costs, although the pace of deployment is slowed by anticipated issues with networks, land use and financing. Decentralised rooftop solar and off-grid projects account for around 90 GW of this total, but the bulk of the additions is utilityscale. Balancing a power system in which variable renewables meet one-fifth of power demand growth requires flexibility from other sources (a role largely filled by gas-fired plants in our projections) and a much more resilient grid.
India Energy Outlook
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Re: The Rise of the Personal Power Plant

Unread postby KaiserJeep » Mon 15 Oct 2018, 15:16:27

While nothing you say is exactly WRONG, you are not seeing the big picture. Firstly, there are not 60 million US citizens (i.e. 18%) in rural areas anymore. That was true for the 2010 census but the US Census Bureau estimates that the 2017 figure was 45 million (i.e. 13%). The headlong flight from the countryside, and the absorption of the family farmsteads into corporate farms and ranches continues unabated.

NO, the rural customers don't pay more, in fact large corporate farms pay a corporate/industrial power price. Family agriculture is a marginal business as is, and rural power customers are still subsidized in many states. Electric company profits are distinctly lower on such rural sites.

Secondly there are a great many retired folks (soon hopefully including me) occupying rural homesteads, magnificent old farm homes. The electricity use is minimal and residential, the large rural power consumers in the country are large corporate food processing/packaging and meat refrigeration/freezers. These food production facilities and the smaller towns are well served by the power grid, and the old farmhouses that are presently occupied by "gentlemen farmers" and the horsey crowd are good candidates for personal power plants.

Admittedly I am an EE, but I spend a lot more time on the water well maintenance and septic tank/field routine (call it "problem avoidance") at my Nantucket home than I do on the solar panels on my roof here. You have to manage what you put into the septic tank every meal, you can't even own a garbage disposal, and then add the proper enzymes every week. Then you must compost vegetable/fruit/grain food waste seperate from meats/greases and discard the latter in the trash bin. The power company doesn't manage my well and septic system, I do. Managing a personal power plant would not be an issue if it was Internet connected like a Powerwall, or my rooftop panels/inverter, which are remote controlled by my power company PG&E via cellular modem.

Non-compliant solar systems on the grid are the only issue I see. Other compliant systems whether standalone or grid-attached can be managed remotely.
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Re: The Rise of the Personal Power Plant

Unread postby GHung » Mon 15 Oct 2018, 17:35:52

Baha; "How many times do you want to pay to rebuild your infrastructure?"


How many times do you want to pay to rebuild someone else's infrastructure? That's what grid folks do when another part of their grid gets trashed. It's nice; the right thing to do, but I get tired of paying via my taxes to rebuild the coast of the Carolinas when our local infrastructure repair and upgrades are deferred to fix stuff on/near the coast. Modern problems I suppose, but I'm still not sure how much more our economy can absorb.

Know this: None of you will ever be paying to get my power back on, or to clean up my power plants, or to clean up the mess from my ash ponds, yet my taxes go to help do all of these things. Maybe you should just say thanks.
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Re: The Rise of the Personal Power Plant

Unread postby KaiserJeep » Mon 15 Oct 2018, 18:27:37

Well said, baha and GHung. Now to refocus on power plants and what we can do to minimize power consumption.

First of all, we need passive solar friendly zoning changes. I do not want to be forced to face my house to the street no matter what that direction must be. If I have a wall of windows in a cold climate, I want them facing within a few degrees of due South for maximum solar heat gain, and with a roof overhang that shields those same windows from direct Summer sun.

Walls should be a minimum of R-90 and roofs a minimum R-120. High performance windows and doors should be mandated, insulated basements or foundation slabs should be the norm, plus ground source heat pumps. Solar or wind local power generation where appropriate.

You either get serious about saving energy, or you don't. The basic structure of a Passive Home vs. an Energy Star home costs about 30% more, but uses less than half the energy. Retrofits can be made to the Passive House standards, but it's better and cheaper to build that way.

I've said it before, I believe that in the USA after we have renewed our infrastructure to save energy, we can live lifestyles equivalent to today while consuming 1/6 the energy we consume today.

But you have to get serious, and that requires leadersip.
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Re: The Rise of the Personal Power Plant

Unread postby kublikhan » Mon 15 Oct 2018, 20:33:06

baha wrote:I have never seen a complete analysis of centralized energy. Grid scale solar is great and cheap but no one ever includes the cost of distribution in the analysis. You keep saying the grid is already there...tell that to the folks in PR or FL.
The EIA provides this info.

Electricity delivery costs have increased in real 2016 dollar terms from 2.2 cents per kilowatthour (kWh) in 2006 to 3.2 cents/kWh in 2016, roughly offsetting the decrease in the generation cost. Delivery costs include

* Transmission expenses such as towers, poles, wires, substations, and communications equipment necessary to ensure reliable transmission of electricity from generators to neighborhoods
* Expenses for distribution equipment to deliver electricity at lower voltages to households and businesses
* Distribution expenses to install, operate, and maintain meters and sensors
* Customer billing, education, relations, and other services that allow customers to participate in utility programs such as energy efficiency, rebate, and time-of-use pricing programs

Transmission and distribution costs have risen for several reasons. In many areas, aging electric infrastructure has been replaced with new equipment that allows utilities to repair faults on transmission lines remotely, to read meters remotely, and to more quickly find, repair, and communicate with customers about neighborhood reliability problems and outages. Other infrastructure has been built to improve reliability and resiliency, to connect to new sources of electricity generation (including wind and solar), and to reduce transmission-line congestion in quickly growing areas.
Electricity prices reflect rising delivery costs, declining power production costs

So the grid costs 3.2 cents per kWh for delivery costs. How does that compare to the spread between utility and rooftop solar? lets find out:
While utility-scale solar costs have declined nearly 30 percent, residential- and commercial-scale solar system prices have lagged behind at 6 percent and 15 percent reductions, respectively, according to a new report, “The U.S. Solar Photovoltaic System Cost Benchmark: Q1 2017PDF,” by NREL’s Ran Fu, David Feldman, Robert Margolis, Michael Woodhouse, and Kristen Ardani. The report shows that the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) benchmarks without subsidies for the first quarter of 2017 fell to between 12.9 and 16.7 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) for residential systems, 9.2-12.0 cents a kWh for commercial systems, 5.0-6.6 cents a kWh for utility-scale fixed-tilt systems, and 4.4-6.1 cents a kWh for utility-scale one-axis tracking systems.
Record-low costs enabled by decline in module and inverter prices

So rooftop systems cost between 12.9 and 16.7 cents per kWh and 4.4-6.6 cents per kWh for utility grade systems. That gives utility scale systems a 8.5-10.1 cent per kWh advantage over rooftop systems. But we have to reduce that by 3.2 cents for transmission and distribution. That still gives utility scale solar 5-7 cents per KWh advantage. And we haven't even added in battery storage costs yet for our rooftop system. Suffice it to say utility scale costs are much lower than rooftop costs.
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Re: The Rise of the Personal Power Plant

Unread postby kublikhan » Mon 15 Oct 2018, 20:35:48

baha wrote:Now if you wish, you can take a govt tax rebate that pays you back 30%. Your payoff becomes 13 years and mine is 9.1. You can see why I jumped early :) I don't feel a bit guilty for taking the money. No one will die from asthma due to my system. No ash ponds will be ignored so they can wash away in a flood. No fuel trucks, no garbage trucks, and no CO2. Does that make me superior? Mother Nature thinks so
Those panels you are installing might not be as green as you think.

A recent Washington Post article has revealed that China’s booming solar industry is not as green as one might expect. Many of the solar panels that now adorn European and American rooftops have left behind a legacy of toxic pollution in Chinese villages and farmlands.

The Post article describes how Luoyang Zhonggui, a major Chinese polysilicon manufacturer, is dumping toxic factory waste directly on to the lands of neighboring villages, killing crops and poisoning residents. Other polysilicon factories in the country have similar problems, either because they have not installed effective pollution control equipment or they are not operating these systems to full capacity.

So far, the environment has been the biggest loser in China’s rapid economic growth. The irony of the recent Post exposé is that the environment is not even being considered seriously by those Chinese industries that bear a “green” tag, and whose products support progress toward a better environment.
The Dirty Side of a “Green” Industry

Solar panels create 300 times more toxic waste per unit of energy than do nuclear power plants.

While nuclear waste is contained in heavy drums and regularly monitored, solar waste outside of Europe today ends up in the larger global stream of electronic waste.

Solar panels contain toxic metals like lead, which can damage the nervous system, as well as chromium and cadmium, known carcinogens. All three are known to leach out of existing e-waste dumps into drinking water supplies.
Are we headed for a solar waste crisis?

US emissions of a greenhouse gas thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide have expanded tenfold over the past two-and-a-half decades, according to fresh government data. And one reason - wait for it - is America's increasing reliance on solar power.

The gas, nitrogen trifluoride, or NF3, is a key chemical agent used to manufacture certain types of photovoltaic cells for solar panels. researchers warn NF3 is dangerous due to its devilish efficiency in trapping energy, and long atmospheric lifespan of up to 740 years. NF3 is thought to be 17,200 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, according to the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The 1,057 percent increase in US annual emissions of NF3 from 1990 to 2015 compares to an increase of 5.6 percent in carbon dioxide emissions, according to EPA data in a recently-published draft of a new report, Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2015.

"The big question is: What's going on in Asia?" Almost half of NF3 demand now comes from Asian manufacturers.
A Potent Greenhouse Gas Used to Make Solar Panels Is on the Rise
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Re: The Rise of the Personal Power Plant

Unread postby kublikhan » Mon 15 Oct 2018, 21:03:42

baha wrote:I will compromise and let you keep the grid...for a while.
That's awfully nice of you. And here I was afraid I was going to wake up to a powerwall grinning at me and solar pv panels on my roof while screaming: "BAHA! GIVE ME MY GRID BACK!"
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Re: The Rise of the Personal Power Plant

Unread postby Newfie » Tue 16 Oct 2018, 06:55:30

@ KJ

We have a wind generator and 630 watts of solar and 4 golf cart batteries.

What fraction of daily American usage is that?
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Re: The Rise of the Personal Power Plant

Unread postby KaiserJeep » Tue 16 Oct 2018, 10:48:33

I get by with two solar panels (400w) on top of the Jeep when camping. You can easily design a temporary residence, boat, or road vehicle for reduced power, but let's be honest, that does not represent your average energy consumption. But I'm betting, you also have a galley stove and space heating burning some form of hydrocarbon fuel. Just like I buy seasoned fire wood and use a propane Coleman stove/oven.

I would dearly LOVE to put up a 15-25kVA wind turbine on Nantucket, but the zoning and permits for a "Historic District" (not to mention I'm a mile from a busy airport), are formidible hurdles. I am thinking of building 1 or 2 rental properties first, then a single wind turbine to power several homes, all all-electric (except backup heat), with efficient applliances and heat pump HVAC systems.
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Re: The Rise of the Personal Power Plant

Unread postby vtsnowedin » Tue 16 Oct 2018, 11:56:18

The grid power went down again here last night. A windy evening so probably a tree on the line somewhere. My Honda contractors generator is humming away outside letting me have the computer and TV as I write this. That 4000 watt Honda is a great backup tool but I wouldn't want to listen to the hum or buy gas for it long term.
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Re: The Rise of the Personal Power Plant

Unread postby KaiserJeep » Tue 16 Oct 2018, 14:19:30

Here in sunny Kalifornia I own a $99, 500w capacity (1000w surge) 2-cycle Made-in-China generator. I have twice in 8+ years waited an hour for power to come back, then went around and unplugged everything except the refigerator and wine cooler to lessen the electrical load. Then you go outside and open the main breaker to seperate from the power grid, and remove the PCMCIA cellular modem card from the solar inverter. Then I plug the generator into the house with a male/male "cheater cord".

Five minutes after you start that little generator and advance throttle to maximum, the solar inverter powers up/syncs up and adds 2.8kVA to the existing 500VA from the tiny little generator, and you can throttle it down. The grid-attached inverter happily powers the house, less hefty appliances like the electric oven, clothes dryer, and furnace. I can still cook with gas and heat with my fireplace if it ever comes to that. But it has never come to that, our peak power consumption is mid-Summer and mid-day, with all the A/C in use, and I can run my piddling 14,000BTU A/C plus the fridge/freezer and wine cooler as long as the sun shines.

I suppose if it ever comes to it, I would preserve the food and cook from the freezer every meal. But I can't remember a power failure where that was required since 1986 when I moved here.

BTW, I don't care if Al Gore approves or not. The little generator when throttled back sips fuel and will run for days on the 2-cycle premix in the 2-gallon plastic can.

I also own a 500VA UPS system in my computer/entertainment center that (although I have never tried it) would probably backfeed the house and trigger the solar inverter online just like the generator. But using that would require that I open the branch breaker for the refigerator/freezer until the solar kicked in. I might try that next power failure.

Who needs expensive Powerwall batteries?
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Re: The Rise of the Personal Power Plant

Unread postby KaiserJeep » Tue 16 Oct 2018, 16:01:32

Nantucket did indeed make NOAA's list of the top 10 wind power sites in the USA a couple of decades back. However, the place doesn't allow traffic lights, or even neon signs - you can hang one painted sign less than 10 square feet and illuminate it with a plain electric bulb, and if you turn the lamp on outside of allowed hours, you get fined.

It gives the place a distinctly different "look", confuses the He!! out of tourists, and snarls traffic unbelieveably in Summertime.

The local High School has a wind turbine:
Image
...and a local farmer has four more:
Image
..but this is what they actually want in terms of wind power:
Image
It is called simply "The Old Mill", and it was constructed in 1646 from timbers salvaged from shipwrecks on the shoals. I make a point of buying corn meal every time I visit it, for corn muffins.
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