Energy in China: ‘We call it the Three Gorges of the sky. The dam there taps water, we tap wind’

Energy in China: ‘We call it the Three Gorges of the sky. The dam there taps water, we tap wind’

  • So, they’ve found an apparently cost-effective way to build 1.5MW wind turbines. (I’ll not ask what the breakthroughs were that would have prevented them from doing so 40 years ago — if not in China, then in developed countries of the West.) What does that mean for wind power? Let’s find out.

  • If one turbine could provide maximum output 100% of the time, then it would produce about 13 million kWh in a year. That’s 13,000 MWh or 13 GWh per year.
  • Icelanders use about 26,000 kWh per capita per year; Americans use about 13,000 kWh per capita; Germans use about 6,000 kWh per capita. If we take 10,000 kWh per capita per year as representative of the more extravagant developed countries, then one 1.5MW wind turbine running at full capacity with no downtime could meet the demand of 1300 of these high-impact consumers. It would take a lot of turbines to completely meet the demand of, say, 300 million Americans (nearly a quarter million turbines if Americans dropped their consumption to a mere 10,000 kWh per capita per year).
  • I doubt that anybody is seriously contemplating the idea of meeting the entire demand from wind power alone, or from any other single source — renewable or otherwise. Still, even as a mental exercise, the first reaction of most people is that a quarter million wind turbines is fantastical beyond the point of being ludicrous. I mean, a QUARTER MILLION!!!
  • But hold on a minute. How ludicrous is it, really, even as a thought experiment?
  • There would be one turbine, on average, for every 1,300 population. How densely populated is the area where you live? I live in Washington County, Oklahoma, which has a population of a little less than 50,000 on a little more than 400 square miles. On average, then, we’d need around 40 wind turbines of the 1.5MW variety (still imagining for the sake of calculation that they can run at full capacity most of the time). That many turbines on 400 square miles means one turbine per 10 square miles, if they were evenly distributed. Have you ever walked a 10-square-mile area? Alternatively, the 40 turbines could be put in a wind farm to power the whole county so that it can maintain the still-extravagant consumption level of 10,000 kWh per capita per year.
  • Somebody is bound to rebut, “I live in Midtown Manhattan. Even if there were a place to put just one wind turbine, the land itself would cost $1.5 billion per square inch.” I guess my counter-rebuttal would be that large, dense cities might have to organize a wind farm or two in the hinterland (as long as we’re keeping with the mental exercise of sole-sourcing our power from the wind).
  • A quarter million turbines? Piece of cake. Reduce this by the amount of distributed microhydro power that can be produced, and it’s even less. Add in photovoltaics and the reduction in electricity consumption due to passive solar, and it’s even less than that. So let’s get with the program. ( would be one place to start.)
  • By the way, I wonder how those Germans manage, consuming less than half the amount of electricity per capita than Americans? They won’t need nearly as many big wind turbines.

One Response to “Energy in China: ‘We call it the Three Gorges of the sky. The dam there taps water, we tap wind’”

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