I heard NASA astronaut Ed Lu talk on the technology of detecting and deflecting potentially earth-destroying asteroids tonight at a Long Now Foundation seminar [Edit: full audio podcast available here]. Ed is one of the most charming and engaging speakers I’ve ever heard. He explained that deflecting asteroids is fairly easy. But while we know how to build the sun-orbiting telescopes to detect asteroids that, probabilistically speaking, pose a very large threat of wiping out the human race, these telescopes do not yet exist. Ed told of the private effort he heads up to address this omission in governments’ efforts, with the humble goal of saving the human race.
His B612 Foundation, in partnership with Ball Aerospace, is building an asteroid-detection system called Sentinel, aimed at launch in 2018. Ed’s talk was perfect for the Long Now Foundation, which fosters thinking on the scale of centuries. Asteroid threat is an “attention-span problem blended with a delayed-gratification problem,” said host Stewart Brand.
My intent for this sporadic blog was to encourage and do multidisciplinary thinking about interesting problems. So here’s tonight’s thought, inspired by Ed Lu’s talk, brewing somewhere at the intersection of technology, environmentalism and philosophy:
If it makes sense to interfere with the natural process of earth impact by asteroids, solely for the convenience and pleasure of humans – and given that technology exists to manipulate the earth’s climate (geo-engineering/climate control through stratospheric sulfate injection, using Flettner-rotor atomizers, or feeding iron to phytoplankton) – why does it not make sense to do so (manipulate the climate) solely for the pleasure of humans?
I suspect the Gaia-worshipers may offer that it would be better not to interfere with the natural process of asteroid impact and to let the human race extinguish in a flash like the one that did in the dinosaurs. But there’s probably another group who would judge human interference with nature acceptable to save mankind but not acceptable merely to make a more pleasant climate. Well is nature sacred or isn’t it? If not, why stop with merely reversing global warming (using geo-engineering techniques as mentioned above)?
Why not pick a good temperature and set the global thermostat?
Microsoft reminds me of Richard Nixon – highly intelligent, methodical, somewhat paranoid, and ultimately self-destructive. I’ve always admired Microsoft’s tools division – the group that makes Visual Studio and C#. C# (ECMA approved, ISO standard) and Visual Studio are for me the pinnacle of software development. While Oracle has been a terrible custodian of the rather stagnant Java language and platform, Microsoft’s C# language has grown into an elegant mixture of imperative and functional language elements. C#’s implementations of generics uses reification to produce true (“first-class”) runtime objects while Java’s generics are a syntactical construct that does not alter the generated byte code. Last I checked, Java still had no anonymous delegates, lambda expressions or extension methods. These features are a very big deal if you’re handling big data and want a more maintainable and better performing code base than you can get from Python and the like.
I spend most of my time on a Mac using OSX, not Windows. Both operating systems have their strong points, but I prefer Windows for several reasons. I despise the Mac keyboard, its lack of Home and Delete keys. Years of abusive kayaking and mountain biking has left me with enough arthritis in my left hand that I curse every time I hit the cramped Command-C, X, V or Z key combination. The Windows equivalents, Control-C, etc., are pain-free. I vastly prefer Windows font rendering, which aims for readability rather than attempting to preserve the design of typefaces – something Steve Jobs considered sacred. Some people don’t notice the difference; 10 hours on the Mac leaves me with a headache. See this piece by Joel Spolsky for more details of the different philosophies of Apple and Microsoft on font rendering. Apple’s hardware, vastly superior to anything available for Windows (I haven’t played with the Surface yet), can’t quite tip the scales against the disadvantages of OSX; nevertheless I spend most of my time on a Mac because much of my work involves writing code for iOS and OSX – something you can only do on a Mac. I like to run several copies of my development environment and several copies of Word at the same time. The Mac is absolutely terrible at facilitating this; it’s easy on Windows. Oddly, when I mention OSX’s clumsiness in handling multiple instances of a program to my Apple fanboy friends, their usual reply is, “why on earth would you want to do that?” Actually, it’s to get work done.
As of March 5, this all changes. Today Xamarin announced their new Xamarin Studio product, which lets you build iOS and Android apps on Windows. Xamarin’s MonoDevelop for Mac is a great product that lets you build native iOS apps using C#. My aching left hand will be grateful for the ability to run it (and an iOS emulator) on Windows. Better yet, the new Xamarin product will let me use Microsoft Visual Studio as a development environment for building iOS apps.
There’s some beautiful irony in this: iOS development finally comes to Windows against the wishes of the Windows team (the group that builds the operating system), allowing me to use Windows, which is what the Windows team wanted all along but prevented because of something akin to both myopia and paranoia. Of course Microsoft’s tools division could have done this years ago; and I know a lot of developers there who always wanted to build such a product. But Microsoft’s paranoid management wouldn’t hear of it. Microsoft’s development tools – it seems from the perspective of most of Microsoft’s management – exist solely to promote the Windows operating system and nothing else.
There’s a lesson here for the Windows team. It seems unlikely that they’ll heed it.
Are you a real engineer – you know, the kind who actually knows the underlying mechanics of how the natural world works? Have you ever been evicted from an innovation workshop by some smug hipster with an art degree who your firm engaged to teach you how to think creatively? Has a self-proclaimed design guru called you a Debbie Downer because you categorically reject all spacecraft designs that include the note, “Insert warp drive here”?
Do you wear the 3rd Law of Thermodynamics on your sleeve? Do you recoil at greentech entrepreneurs who convince investors and politicians that with innovative design, photovoltaic conversion efficiency can breach the Shockley-Queisser limit or even the Carnot limit?
Do many TED talks make you want to hurl? You know the ones. Take the second most popular TED talk of all time, where Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor relates her “stroke of insight” – an incredible tale of the transcendent peace she experienced after a complete lateral stroke. She drags out the ever-popular (false – but don’t be a Negative Nancy) left-brain/right-brain stuff as an explanation for her mystical experiences. The high-rolling TED audience swoons. Taylor then dredges up an old TED staple, stating, “the left hemisphere is linear thinking.”
Ah – linear thinking. One TED speaker shows a graph of a straight line and another of an exponential curve. He explains the magic nature of exponentiality to the spellbound audience who has apparently forgotten their high school math class on compound interest and then releases his pearl: imagine how productive we can be if we employ nonlinear thinking instead of the linear variety. He equivocates discontinuous non-linearity with exponential nonlinearity and not a soul notices. Critical thinking is for left-brained losers.
Do you groan when Jane McGonigal declares an epic win with her assertion that behaviors learned in World of Warcraft can translate into solutions to real problems if we just swallow the right dose of newthink? McGonigal reports that humans have spent 5.93 million years playing World of Warcraft. She means, of course, 5.93 million man-years (or pear-shaped, Doritos-stained-fingered kid-years). She adds that 5.93 million years ago is when primates became bipedal (TED video at 6:05). She then addresses the evolutionary value of video games, noting that we’ve played WoW as long as we’ve walked on our hind legs. I’m not making this up. “This is true; I believe this,” as McGonigal likes to say.
If you’ve ever wanted to choke a perpetual-motion hocking idea-man, The Onion has an antidote:
This weekend I was pleased to take part in the Third Annual Berkeley Ancient Italy Roundtable (BAIR) conference. The event, chaired by Ted Peña, UC Berkeley Department of Classics, promotes interaction between an amazingly diverse group of scholars to develop a more cohesive professional community. This was a wonderful example of raw interdisciplinary innovation, essentially without commercial potential, done purely for the love of knowledge. Every time I’m in such a group, I can’t help but think that if I ran the corporate zoo, I’d institute a “20% time” (or similar) that required study outside an employee’s field rather than allocating 20% to in-field projects that are outside the employee’s normal job role (like Google and 3M used to do). The innovations that come out of “20% time” programs are rare to start with. I don’t mean they’re not worth the cost, just that they tend to produce a small number of high-value outcomes. Given that, why not push for even more creative thinking. After all, it’s easier to learn to think outside the box if you start by actually getting out of the box. Learning to work with lawyers, electron microscopists, aviation psychologists and the FAA makes aerospace engineers better at engineering. I think art and music classes make for better mathematicians, and I suspect digital archaeology teaches innovation better than many schools focusing directly on that goal. Radical innovation almost always involves stepping across knowledge and social boundaries. We’d probably be better at taking such steps if we got more practice.
The keynote talk for this year’s BAIR conference was by Professor John Dobbins of the University of Virginia. He combined art history, archaeology, architecture and advanced 3D modeling to study the Alexander Mosaic at Pompeii. Working with Ethan Gruber of UVA, Dobbins took us on a visual and intellectual journey to the House of the Faun in Pompeii, which held the most famous mosaic from antiquity – one showing the defeat of Darius by Alexander the Great. Dobbins examined the ancient viewing conditions that once existed in the House of the Faun and raised questions about how well the mosaic could be seen, tucked away in its exedra. He used a 3D model of the house including a lighting package set for summer and winter conditions in 100 BC, (rough date for the mosaic), and showed that modifications to the house, previously unexplained by archaeologists, were probably made to eliminate shadows of pillars that would otherwise ruin the viewing of the mosaic. With the 3D model and its lighting package, Dobbins could move the sun across the sky exactly as it would have happened in ancient times, seeing the lighting problems that emerged at different times of day and year. Dobbins made a case for the utility of this type of 3D modeling, not merely as a viewing aid but as as a research tool. He finishes by proposing a Roman date – i.e., after the Social Wars – for the Alexander Mosaic and suggesting that the mosaic and the expansion of the House of the Faun made sense with respect to the social and political context of Sulla’s conquest of Pompeii in 89 B.C and its subsequent absorption by Rome.
Another fabulous example of research across disciplines came from Patrick Beauchesne of UC Berkeley. Beauchesne works with bioarcheological studies of ancient Rome. He described findings regarding the daily lives of average citizens (as opposed to aristocratic circles), knowledge of whom has otherwise been lacking. He convincingly drew conclusions about the society from life course perspectives – ways to interpret the complex biocultural production of human bodies situated in specific historical contexts. Beauchesne noted that children in antiquity have been studied before, but mainly through biological lenses that focus on health and pathology derived from skeletal remains- of which Beauchesne described in some detail. He then used examples from the Roman antiquity to highlight how existing methods can be used in new ways to make inferences about the process of childhood in ancient Rome.
Sarah Witcher Kansa (Alexandria Archive Institute) shared new realizations about ancient life and architecture drawn from aspects of fauna remains including ratios of livestock to wild animal bone counts in Etruscan garbage pits. We then learned some secrets of Roman seawater concrete and how modern adoption of Roman concrete formulas could reduce the CO2 emissions from concrete, which constitute a surprisingly high percentage of global emissions (Marie Jackson, Civil & Environmental Engineering, Berkeley). Patrick Hunt (Medieval Studies at Stanford) led us through paleoclimatology and lichenometrics to determine the route Hannibal took across the Alps with African and Asian elephants. Patrick regularly crosses the Alps in the snow on foot, by the way. There were many more fine talks – all boldly crossing disciplinary boundaries. During a break I had a great discussion with Chris Johanson of UCLA on digital visualization techniques and aerial photography using helicopter drones.
My talk was on craniofacial anthropometry of Roman portraiture. It was connected to the work I did on the Getty Augustus (described here), and included an anthropometric comparison of the young general in the Ludovisi Sarcophagus battle scene against the Capitoline Hostilian, along with a case for the Vatican Pertinax being a modern forgery on the basis of measurements and statistics.
We can bridge knowledge boundaries if we put our interdisciplinary minds to it. Doing so may even be easier than crossing the Pyrenees, the Alps and flooded rivers with elephants in tow.
“Fail early and often.” This war cry du jour of speakers on entrepreneurial innovation addresses several aspects of what big companies need to learn from little ones about market dynamics at the speed of the internet. The shelf life of a product idea is pretty short these days. If you don’t cannibalize your own line, a nimble competitor will eat your lunch. Failure is a necessary step on the path to innovative solutions. Short-cycle failure is much cheaper than the long-cycle variety. Innovation entails new ideas, and the idea generation phase is not the time for Negative Nelly, the devil’s advocate, to demoralize your design team. A lot of bad ideas beget new insights that spawn good ideas.
My favorite story about letting crazy ideas fly deals with Pacific Power and Light, who supplies electricity to some remote spots in the Cascades. As the story goes, storms left thick ice on their power transmission lines. Linemen were sent out into the field, who climbed the icy towers and used long hooks to knock down the ice. The process was slow, expensive and dangerous.
PP&L’s brainstorming sessions initially yielded no clever solutions. They again attacked the issue, this time ensuring cognitive diversity by including linemen, accountants, secretaries, and the mail guy.
As a joke, a lineman suggested training bears to climb the poles and shake them. Someone else added that by putting honey pots on top of the poles, the bears would go for the honey without training, and perhaps shake the poles sufficiently to knock the ice off the lines. Continuing the silliness, someone suggested using helicopters to periodically fill the honey pots.
Bingo. A secretary, formerly a nurse’s aide in Vietnam, recalled the fury of the down-wash from the helicopter blades and asked if flying a helicopter near the power lines would be sufficient to shake the lines and knock the ice off. In fact, it is! By valuing cognitive diversity and by encouraging crazy thinking, the team found a solution. As the story goes, PP&L now uses helicopters to fly over the power transmission lines after ice storms and it works fabulously.
As is probably apparent to any student of mythology, literary form criticism or biblical criticism, the story is pure fiction. It appears in many tellings on the web, some dating back several decades. Veracity strike one: manuscript (version) differences indicate multiple independent secondary sources. Strike two: earlier versions have less textural detail than later versions (e.g., the lineman is named Bill in later tellings). Strike three: the setups for the convergence of a diverse group are strained and get more detailed over time (compare the aphorism setups in Gospel Mark vs. Matthew).
Sure, the story is fiction – but what of it? The tale itself is aphoristic – an adage. It does not rely on the credibility of its source or the accuracy of the details to be valid; it’s validity is self evident. Or as Jack Nicholson (R.P. McMurphy) is often quoted as saying in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, “Just because it didn’t happen, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.”
But as any movie fan with access to web-based movie scripts can attest, that quote never happened either. But just because McMurphy never said that just because it didn’t happen, doesn’t mean it isn’t true doesn’t mean that that isn’t true. (That last sentence contains a level-two embedded phrase, by the way.)
Further, just because Nicholson didn’t say it doesn’t mean it wasn’t said. It turns out a few others are cited as sources for this saying as well. The earliest one I could find. oddly enough, is Marcus Borg, theologian and New Testament scholar who found himself in the odd position of trying to defend Christianity while denying that Jesus said the things attributed to him. Borg’s tools are the same ones I used on the helicopter scriptures above.
Quote attribution is a tricky matter, especially when a more famous guy repeats a line from a less famous guy. Everyone knows the one about Oscar Wilde saying to James Whistler, “I wish I had said that.” To which, Whistler replied, “You will Oscar, you will.” I love this one, because it’s a quote about a quote. And none the worse when we discover, as you might expect, that it never happened – which, of course, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
The exchange between Whistler and Wilde is cited in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. They give the source as page 67 of Leonard Cresswell Ingleby’s 1907 book, Oscar Wilde. As you might expect from my mentioning it here, Inglesby’s book contains no such quote on page 67 or anywhere else in the book. However, the 1973 Monty Python skit, Oscar Wilde, does include this exchange between Whistler and Wilde. Inclusion by the Monty Python crew, who tend to research history better than most textbook authors, is reason enough to dig a bit further for a source. Oscar Wilde researcher Peter Raby would be the guy to check on this trivia. I did. Raby traces the quote back to rumors in the early 1900s. He finds that some time after Wilde’s death Herbert Vivien, Douglas Sladen and Frank Harris all recalled the quote but disagreed on whether Wilde or Whistler or neither were involved.
I will never be ashamed of citing a bad author if the line is good. – Seneca
Mix a little foolishness with your prudence: It’s good to be silly at the right moment. – Horace
In a world of crowdsourcing and open innovation, it barely matters – beyond frivolous patents of course – where an idea originates or if its pedigree is respectable. Fables about bears, helicopters and Jack Nicholson are fair game. Let a thousand crazy flowers bloom.
If the world is to be saved, it will be innovative engineers who save it.
There is a reasonable chance that the planet needs saving from greenhouse gas and too much carbon dioxide. It’s not certain, and the climate models have far more flaws than many admit (Trenberth’s missing heat, the missing carbon sink, etc.). But the case for global warming is plausible and credible. It’s foolish to try to quantify the likelihood of climate catastrophe; but the model’s credibility and its level of peer review is sufficient to warrant grave concern and immediate work.
Environmental activists, scientists and politicians have made real progress on the climate problem. Calamatists and deniers might not see it that way, because that progress has been by fits and starts. It has involved bitter ideological disputes, ugly politics, and money spent on absurd tangents and scams. But such is the path of progress in a democratic system; and no one has yet to find a better means of agreeing on how to live together.
Environmentalists are opinionated, irrational, pessimistic, Luddite ideologues, unwilling to change their minds or their methods despite evidence. At least that’s how their opponents see them. But national parks, low-emissions cars, lead-free paint, and elimination of chlorofluorocarbons have served us all rather well with acceptable costs; and noisy environmentalists can take much of the credit. It is hard to argue (though some have) that we aren’t better off as a result of the 1970 Clean Air Act. Environmental activism has been innovative and entrepreneurial. Bold individuals and grass-roots movements did their work by being disruptive. They sought and received investment, more in publicity than in money, from high profile Hollywood entertainers. They attached brands, like Jane Fonda, to their polemical products with great success. Richard Posner calls non-academic moralists like Rosa Parks and Susan B Anthony “moral entrepreneurs.” That term seems equally applicable to much of the environmental movement.
Environmentalism, packed with emotion and persuasive passion, is a fine tool for raising awareness. It has been wildly successful; and the word is out. Environmentalism is, however, an extremely poor tool for problem solving. Unfortunately, much of the environmental movement seems unaware of this limitation. It’s time for the engineers.
Scientists have done – and will continue to do – great work in climate modeling, energy research, and geoengineering theory. They’ve shown that global warming could disrupt ocean currents causing a new ice age, that synthetic algae biofuel warrants serious study, and that direct manipulation of climate – if you look far enough into the future – is not only possible but inevitable. Man-made or not, the earth’s climate will do something very unpleasant in the next 50,000 years and humans will likely choose climate engineering over extinction. Scientists will define the mechanism for doing this; engineers will translate concepts into technology. It will be scientists who demonstrate inertial confinement fusion but it will be engineers and innovators who make it utility scale.
Ozzie Zehner, author of Green Illusions, correctly observes that America has an alternative energy fetish. While walkable neighborhoods, conservation and home insulation get little press, solar power is everyone’s darling. The lens of technology is focused almost exclusively on a single cure for our energy problems: produce more energy. But the energy crisis can also be seen as cultural rather than technological. History gives evidence that increases in production and consumption efficiency lead to more consumption (Jevons Paradox). Ozzie proposes that better designed communities, reproductive rights, efficiency codes, insulation, and dwellings designed for sensible passive solar energy have great leverage since they address demand rather than supply.
In Green Illusions Ozzie is neither anti-capitalism nor anti-technology. Some of his proposals involve behavior change and others call for innovative design and engineering aimed at reducing energy demand. On the former, I’m not convinced that enough behavior change can happen in the time needed to seriously impact CO2 output. But I’m very optimistic about the potential for technology and capitalism to save us, Jevons Paradox and all, and despite claims that technology and capitalism are the roots of evil.
The present increasing disruption of the global environment is the product of a dynamic technology and science which were originating in the Western medieval world against which Saint Francis was rebelling in so original a way. - Lynn White, Jr, “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis”
Let’s change the system and then we’ll begin to change the climate and save the world. The destructive model of capitalism is eradicating life. – Hugo Chavez at the Dec. 2009 UN Climate Change Conf.
The environmental movement now seems far more interested in mutual confirmation of their moral superiority than on fixing things. Far too many environmental moral-entrepreneurs have let their fight take them to an ideological – perhaps religious – place where they dwell on ecological sin and atonement, and revel in the prospect that things are going to hell fast. Since it was technology, capitalism and Christian ethics that got us in this environmental mess, we need to reject the whole lot; and they certainly can’t be part of the cure… Not so fast.
The big variables in the CO2 game are population, per-capita energy use, device efficiency and production efficiency. Despite their local success, our moral entrepreneurs have had little effect on awareness and behavior change outside Europe and America, the so-called global north. The parts of the world just now creeping out of poverty have other priorities; per-capita usage and device efficiency will likely be driven more by economics than by morality. China, for example, now adds roughly one gigawatt of coal-based electricity generation every week. It has made it clear that no climate-related restrictions will impede its growth. And China exports about 99% of the solar panels they produce. If we cut US CO2 output to zero, it would amount to only a minor delay in the timing of any impending global warming catastrophe.
The global south is where the action is; but the successes of our environmental moral-entrepreneurs have not escaped the boundaries of the global north. Fortunately – and due solely to market forces – the fruits of our technological entrepreneurs travel around the globe at the speed of light. The Jevons Paradox is a dressed-up claim of elasticity of demand with regard to price. The efficiencies of Jevons’ concern were dollars per watt, not CO2 per watt. US electricity prices have climbed steadily (roughly constant when adjusted for inflation) for the past several decades. So Jevons is largely irrelevant in the US and is no reason to throw in the towel on production or consumption efficiency. To the extent that Jevons applies to scenarios where consumption is affected by regulation and peer pressure, it still begs for innovation to bring about higher efficiency devices and power generation means.
As the global south move out of poverty, they will buy refrigerators, air conditioners and cars. If all goes well, they’ll buy more efficient versions of those appliances than we did as we crawled out of poverty. If we’re luckier still, they’ll use electricity that comes from something other than the conventional coal plants they’re building at breakneck pace. That might be coal or gas with sequestration, small nuclear, or maybe fusion if we get our act together. It won’t be wind and it won’t be solar – for land-area reasons alone (do the math).
My main point here is a call for more innovation of the engineering type and less of the moral/environmental entrepreneur type. US environmentalism is becoming increasingly short-sighted, fighting a battle that, even if won decisively in the global north, is a miniscule fraction of the whole war. And that style of environmentalism has no tools to take its battle to the global south. What we can take to the global south is engineering innovation. We can’t keep that within our borders even when we try.
Engineering and innovation, with reasonable policy intervention (i.e., Jevons-neutralizing tax) can solve the problem of sustainable clean-energy generation. Behavior change is tricky and it takes time and finesse. Adoption of superior technology is much faster. I’m putting my money on the engineers.
I am all for wind power where it makes sense. It seems to make sense in certain high mountain passes in California where the wind is both strong and consistent – class 6 or 7 wind resources where class 3 or 4 is thought practical for power generation. For the most part, the US has thus far chosen its wind farm locations wisely in terms of energy generation. Some may say not so wisely from an aesthetic or habitat perspective, but that is not my concern here. Even without considering the base-load issues of wind (see previous post), projecting wind energy’s capability to supply a major portion of US energy demand by extrapolating from such high quality wind resources is ludicrous.
America’s wind farms on average have an output of about 1.4 watts per square meter of land they occupy. The Roscoe facility in Texas does somewhat better at about 1.9 w/sqm and California’s top locations do about 2.8 w/sqm. Data from the US Department of Energy National Renewable Energy Laboratory and AWS TruePower, a group that does wind analysis for DOE (which does seem a bit prone toward telling us what we want to hear) shows most of the US to fall far below these sites in capability.
Bold claims have been made by enthusiasts like Al Gore and advocacies like the Energy Justice Network about wind’s potential to power all our energy needs. Let’s take a quick look.
American energy demand in 2010 was 28,700 terawatts. Though peak demand is much higher than average demand, for the sake of easy (conservatively erring in wind’s favor) we can distribute that total energy consumption over 24 hours for the year and get an average power demand of 3.3 million megawatts for the US. The land area of the 48 contiguous states is 8.1 million square kilometers. With a 1.4 watts per square meter (equals 1.4 megawatts per square kilometer), we’d need 2.3 million square kilometers of wind farms to supply our 2010 consumption with wind. That amounts to 29% of the land area of the contiguous 48.
The portion of the US that would be needed to supply this power, without consideration of distribution, urban and reserved land, and wind resource quality then looks like this:
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has published a lot of the AWS TruePower work on potential wind sites in America, usually focusing on areas with a capacity factor of 0.3 or greater, broken down by wind speed. Their charts show most of the US as having some potential for wind generation, but many wind advocates are clearly unaware that the energy contained in wind is not proportional to its velocity. It may seem that the forces of nature conspire against us, but the energy content of two mile per hour wind is only 4% of the energy content of ten mph wind. Worse yet, wind turbines are designed for peak efficiency at one specific speed; thus a wind turbine designed for 10 mph (4.5 m/s) wind will get much less than 4% of its design power with a 2 mph wind (more on that here).
The below map is based on a similar one at the DOE Wind Program site. Using Photoshop’s Hue-Saturation-Brightness tool I whitened the useless wind resources from their color coded map, removing the color for wind regions below wind power class 3 at a height of 80 meters (260 ft). Here’s what’s left, from which it is very apparent that wind can play only a limited role in American energy even if we cover every square foot of land where quality wind blows – without regard for environmental, aesthetic and practical considerations.
When President Obama recently said “all of the above” about energy policy, he certainly meant all of the above where sensible. Large subsidies to wind (which have thus far gone primarily to direct expeditures, not R&D) do not meet this requirement. Unbridled wind advocacy, whether stemming from uninformed enthusiasm, dirty politics, or corporate greed, contributes to the wickedness of our energy problem by taming a small increment of it whilst creating the illusion that the solution approach is scalable. Engineering fundamentals show that the energy problem is indeed solvable, so there’s plenty of room for optimism. But let’s not set ourselves up for disappointment by ignoring the hard facts about wind.
Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts. - Daniel Patrick Moynihan
Everyone is entitled to their opinions, but not all opinions are entitled to be treated as truth claims. – The Multidisciplinarian