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Issue #33 of The Two But Rule
The otherwise harmonious worlds of environmental conservation and clean energy generation have a dilemma. The latter is building a ton of wind turbines that are killing between one and six million birds a year in the US alone. Even though there are bigger things contributing to avian mortality, that’s a lot of dead birds. And clean energy people don’t want bird blood on their hands.
Birds vs Blades
In the late 2000s, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wanted to protect endangered bird species, including the red-tailed hawk and golden eagle. Wind energy developers wanted to continue expanding wind farms to produce clean energy and combat climate change. That’s not a bad goal, but doing so without a solution for the bird fatality problem could have led to legal action and fines, not to mention providing a potent argument for those opposing wind farms. BUT engineers found that the placement and spacing of vertically oriented wind turbines could significantly reduce bird fatalities. This led to the development of vertical axis wind turbines.
But there were a bunch of physical and energy efficiency issues with their designs. They couldn’t take advantage of wind direction, and they took an efficiency hit as half of the blade system was always moving against the wind. The vertical orientation also limited how high they could be built and how much wind had to be present to get the contraption moving. They also produced a lot of vibration and structural stress, leading to higher maintenance costs. BUT some suggest that the notion of vertical blades led to the development of bladeless wind turbines, a new technology that promises to generate energy without rotating blades.
Bladeless turbines use vertically-oriented strands of resonating material that capture wind energy from all directions. They have no moving parts and are cheaper than traditional wind turbines to produce. They don’t have the bird kill problem, and they are quiet, making them preferable for both environmentalists and neighbors. But, while they are increasing in efficiency, they are still as much as thirty percent less efficient and they require higher wind speeds to start generating energy. BUT, this is a relatively new technology, and teams are making significant improvements. And because they take up less space and are cheaper to produce, bladeless wind farms could produce more total power per square mile than traditional wind farms. By 2030, an estimated 1,500 traditional wind turbines will be nearing end-of-life. It’s possible that a bladeless alternative could replace them.
Innovation Is Better Than Compromise
Innovators working on wind energy and conservation didn’t accept the false choice between deadlock and unacceptable compromise. They didn’t say, “Six million dead birds is too much, BUT five-hundred thousands would be acceptable.” Instead, they reoriented their buts and stacked them vertically, finding a potential win-win in the process. It’s yet to be seen how effective and widely adopted this new technology will be. And there are still many buts to be handled. Nevertheless, the work goes on, and the intention of generating clean energy without disregarding environmental conservation has not been abandoned for lazy 1But or 0But options. Maybe it has something to do with working on a form of nearly inexhaustible power that makes these folks so good at sustaining the iterative process of the Two But Rule and playing the long game.
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