Weatherdem's Weblog

Bridging climate science, citizens, and policy

Science: 2 Wind Energy Pieces and the next Space Shuttle Mission

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The credit crisis is affecting most Americans, rich and poor. It is also affecting business plans, big and small. Among those business plans are renewable energy projects. The recent run-up in fossil fuel prices have made wind power much more competitive in the marketplace than it was just a few years ago. Despite the fall in fossil fuel prices since July, wind power remains nearly competitive with oil, natural gas and coal. Solar power isn’t too much further behind wind. With a little more help from the government, the wind and solar industries could be allowed to mature further. That’s where the credit crisis monkey wrench comes into play. Projects for wind and solar have been viewed as more risky than fossil fuel projects, due to maturity differences. With banks less likely to fund risky ventures, wind projects are among those suffering. That includes T. Boone Pickens’ plan to build the largest wind project in the world. I’m not a fan of his entire plan, mostly because he doesn’t view climate change as the predominant problem that needs attention. I would classify him as a delayer due to his efforts to switch our transportation system from oil to natural gas. That would keep us dependent on his businesses and delay any serious work to stop forcing the climate system. No thanks. That also means I’m frustrated that wind projects will be downsized or delayed while the credit markets come back online.

Could off-shore wind farms alter ocean currents? Sure. Removing energy from the atmosphere would have to have an impact on wind stress placed on the ocean. As a result, upwelling could occur in places it currently doesn’t (or the magnitude of processes could shift). The specifics aren’t yet well studied. This kind of assesment would require a closer collaboration between physical oceanographers, biologists and others. It should be examined further.

NASA’s Space Shuttle Endeavour is preparing for a Friday afternoon launch. It is the next mission to the International Space Station. This mission will deliver infrastructure that will allow the station to house six persons, up from the current three. That would allow more science to be done. Endeavour is bringing a spare toilet, a second kitchen, new exercise equipment and a water recovery system designed to turn urine into potable water. The water technology, if successful, could make its way back down to Earth. Water is going to become a more scarce resource in the 21st century. Any method of conservation will ease the impact of that.

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