Wind power has a couple of fundamental flaws that must be overcome before it can become a major source of renewable power in the Western World. The first is that it is not a constant source of energy. If the wind doesn’t blow, the windmills don’t generate power. The second is that wind power is often best generated in remote areas a long way away from where the power is needed. Recent advances in technology and thinking have started to improve the prospects of wind power as a reliable alternative to nuclear power.
In the Canary Islands, Spanish Islands just off the coast of Morocco in the Atlantic Ocean, a neat and environmentally solution to storing up wind power has been devised. The idea is to use wind energy generated by the many wind turbines on the island to pump recycled agricultural and domestic water up into the mountains in the centre of the islands and into a series of reservoirs. When power is needed the water is then released and used to drive turbines on its way back down to sea level. The reservoir stored water thus acts like a giant battery, storing up useful energy for future use when they is no wind. An added bonus of the system is that the water can be used to irrigate farmland after it has passed through the turbines.
Using this system, the island of Gran Canaria plans to generate half of the islands electricity needs (for a population of over a million people) in an entirely sustainable manner. The nearby island of El Hierro, while much smaller, is close to becoming the first island in the world to generate all its electrical power needs from sustainable sources.
This low-tech solution to the problems of storing wind generated power may not work everywhere, but does prove that elegant solutions to problems often presented as insurmountable by wind power opponents do exist.
The second problem with wind power is the loss of energy as an electrical current move along wires. If you generate a lot of wind energy too far away from where it is needed, it is almost impossible to transport that energy efficiently enough for it to be worthwhile. Recent developments in high voltage direct current cables have started to change this. The technology dates back to the 1930s but recent advances mean it may become a cost effective solution to long-distance electrical power transmission.
Compared to the well documented problems with nuclear power, including the cost of decommissioning old nuclear power plants and a lack of viable options for long tern storage of radioactive waste, wind power should not be dismissed lightly as an alternative to nuclear energy.