Here is a transcript of our brief interview (link to my questionable YouTube effort):
LCG: Low Carbon Girl here leaning in today with Claiborne Yarbrough founder of Sprout Energy Corp at Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head, NC where the wind is 10 mph WSW to discuss wind power.
How does wind power compare to other renewable energy options such as solar, hydro or geothermal?
Claiborne: Wind power a great source of alternative energy. It is the sexiest because it is the most visible. And, definitely, at Jennette’s Pier with three turbines at 120 feet engages people as they are able to walk under them and actually fish. However, I will say that wind energy is completely reliant on a constant wind source. This is something that has to be placed in particular areas so that the power generation can be as much as possible and that differentiates it from the other renewable energy sources.
LCG: There’s plenty of wind here, right? Today we have gusts between 7-14 mph.
Claiborne: This is one of the things we started to think about with Sprout. This is what we wanted people to be able to understand, to not only see renewable energy sources but to also understand how much power was being produced by the amount of sunshine and amount of wind. What you start to understand about wind, is that even though these Bergies out here, for example, have 10mph of consistent wind they are not producing as much energy as you might expect. With wind energy there is a bell curve, because at some point there is too much wind and it’ll shut itself down. [More wind isn't necessarily better, consistent wind produces the most energy.] It’s all about the rotors. The rotors are creating electricity and if it’s going to fast it’s not able to generate electricity. So, again, siting of wind turbines is incredibly important. What I think what some people want to do is just throw up a wind turbine, but I’m not talking about people in the Midwest who have used turbines for hundreds of years to operate wells and provide water for livestock, or something like that. To truly offset of this size [9,000-square foot pier house], you really have to have a consistent wind source. I’m not saying they’re not doing some of that, it’s just misleading in a way.
LCG: Right, on their website they mentioned that at maximum capacity the three wind turbines generate about half of the electricity needed for the building.
Claiborne: Yes, just a little over half. I was looking at yesterday’s data and it looked like a 1,800 kwh of electricity were consumed. And, about 80 kwhs of electricity were produced by the wind turbines and solar panels. It was pretty windy yesterday.
LCG: Their website mentions that the solar panels light their walkways.
Claiborne: Yes, and that’s a great application for solar. We’ll get into that some other time.
LCG: OK. Most people assume the best place for wind turbines is in the windiest location, but what do you think of the University of Washington’s Conservation magazine’s assessment that CO2 emissions would fall the most in the Midwest, which currently relies heavily on coal-fired generators? [In contrast, California saw a relatively small drop in emissions, partly because the state already uses gas-fired plants.]
Claiborne: I think that, again, this is much larger issue. In terms of wind energy, as long as the wind source is consistent then it makes some sense. But, always the bigger picture is CO2 emissions. I would say in the Midwest unless you’re up on a range, or up on top of a mountain it really doesn’t make much sense to have wind applications or wind farms, you’d be better off, better served and it would cost less money to service a solar farm.
LCG: Where do you think wind power is today?
Claiborne: I think wind power is still in its infancy. I know a lot people think it’s a failed business model but, in fact, the recovery act money that went to wind really wasn’t significant. What is driving wind energy is a market-based economy. There are some smaller wind turbines that are very appropriate for coastal businesses and homes, like the Windspire, but a lot of these businesses are coming up with technology then going out of business. So it’s very volatile. Definitely something to keep your eye on. But, a better thing to do is use a more reliable resource like solar power. Hopefully with solar power, wind energy and these alternative energies its really more just getting people to think about these things and change their consumption habits.