TED Conversations

David Brossman

Cheif Custodian, The Quixote Project

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Would the wind energy industry make better planet-saving progress if wind turbines didn’t all look like gigantic airplane propellers?

If new turbines could be developed that weren't such enormous fixtures on the landscape, weren't an annoyance to local residents, and didn't eat birds and bats, would it make a difference in sustainable energy development efforts? How can public opinion influence seemingly unshakable corporate trajectories, so innovations are rigorously pursued for human need, rather than for profit?

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    Aug 22 2012: Old windmills had multiple functions. They could be thought of a 'commercial exchanges' or 'community hubs' as well as machines for manufacturing purposes. Bet the local mill owner knew people who brewed beer, for a little light refreshment, knew who was 'credit-worthy', knew who was the most effective farmer and the most effective salesman (not necessarily the same people) and in the days before a literate population might also have been the first point of contact for news from the wider world. Individual windmills are great (often see them on U.S. and Australian t.v. films etc around ranches.) Deeply dependant on the right type of wind, which is why very interested in other sources of energy generation like the water wheel. Also tidal power. Had a great conversation on TED with Daniel Grossman about world weather systems melt-down and possible irreversible move to different climate paradigms. Fossil fuels need to be power source of the last resort. Also found out that photosynthesis far more efficient than man-made U.V. light sources. My friend has just come back from a holiday in Lanzarote, Spain. They said it was horrible this year, the wind was hot as well, just like your phrase 'global broiling' so apt.
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      Aug 22 2012: Makani power is fascinating and worth a look. I wonder what aviation regulators have to say about turbines flying about though..

      For tidal energy you might want to look at Oceans Renewable at http://www.orpc.co/

      And interesting point on old windmills where the miller's family lived on the mill and was a hub of commerce. I could see windmills more along those lines being designed for villages in developing countries. Erecting them of the roof of a central gathering place, ie. a school, hospital or community center. Thanks for your UK perspective. There seem to be two camps in the US - A. We really need to catch up with Europe on wind technology. B - Look at all the problems in Europe! No wind turbines! Let's frac for natural gas, burn clean coal (an oxymoron if there ever was one!) and just stick our heads in the tar sands.
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        Aug 22 2012: Actually dual N.Z./G.B. Grew up in N.Z. on peninsular next to Wellington Harbour, also next to Wellington Airport. One of my favourite smells is aircraft fuel (bit sad but true). I like to think of insects as little flying turbines, especially bees. Not aerodynamically built to do what they do but they do it anyway. Hate the idea of frac. N.Z. has serious earthquakes plus there is volcanic activity. The thermal energy at Rotorua has been harnessed by locals for hot water, heating etc and it has had serious repercussions for geysers. Recent activity in the area hopefully willl keep the local population densitiy down but in other places people will keep living right on the edge of vollcanoes cos the soil is so rich. Did you see the NASA pictures of Earth on M.S.N. today. So beautiful but what is that orange line right across U.S.A. from east to west ? :D.
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    Aug 22 2012: There have been a lot of new wind farms created here in U.K, due to government subsidies. Many out at sea due to horrible whooping noise the blades make. Was going to mention Dyson bladeless fan too but someone has beaten me to it. Lots of coverage of burning wind turbines in the newspapers here after a very strong offshore wind caused the blades too turn so fast the engine housings caught fire. People find their physical structure off putting because of the size (memories of War of the Worlds) and the way they dominate a landscape. (alien trees with no visible eco-systems, anti-bird and insect). Am going to look at what Brett Gracey was suggesting.
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    Aug 22 2012: To be sure I understand, do you mean horizontal rotation as in VAWTs? Vertical Axis? I'd be very interested in the efficiency research, if you know where I could find it? Thanks!
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    Aug 22 2012: There is research indicating horizontal rotation planes would be more efficient and less invasive on the skyline.
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    Aug 21 2012: Dyson wind turbine, anyone? :-)
    • Aug 21 2012: Are you referring to their ridiculously overpriced house fans?

      Check out Saul Griffiths talk or just go to Makani power and see how they are doing wind differently.
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        Aug 22 2012: Thanks! I will check them out. And I was thinking ball vacuum cleaners.