National Geographic News: NATIONALGEOGRAPHIC.COM/NEWS
 

 

Ireland to Build World's Largest Wind Farm

Bijal P. Trivedi
National Geographic Today
January 15, 2002
 
Ireland has approved plans to build the world's largest wind farm on a
sandbank just six miles (ten kilometers) offshore from Arklow, a town
about 40 miles (70 kilometers) south of Dublin.

The Arklow
Sandbank—a sliver of land 15 miles (24 kilometers) long and just
more than half a mile (one kilometer) wide—is one of the windiest
locations in Ireland and will seat 200 wind turbines. The wind farm is
expected to generate about 10 percent of the country's energy needs by
the time the project is complete.



The farm will be capable of generating 520 megawatts of electricity.

Currently Europe leads the world in its use of wind power. Denmark generates 15 percent of its energy needs using wind power with Germany and Sweden close behind. By 2020 Denmark expects to generate 50 percent of it power demands using wind.

"In Europe environmental concerns really drive energy policy which then drives the growth of wind power," said Randall Swisher, executive director of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) in Washington, D.C.

Wind energy also receives far greater government subsidies in Europe than it does in the U.S. "In the United States, subsidies for wind energy amount to hundreds of millions, whereas subsidies for coal and gas run in the billions," said atmospheric scientist Mark Jacobson of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, who is an expert on energy systems.

Currently wind supplies less than one percent of the Unites States' energy needs. But wind is gaining popularity in America, albeit slowly.

Last year the United States spent $1.7 billion installing new wind-generating equipment, half of which supported new wind farms in Texas. This new capacity is enough to supply nearly half a million households and will reduce emissions of carbon dioxide—a leading greenhouse gas—by three million tons and other noxious gases by 27,000 tons, according to the AWEA.

Proponents of wind energy say that it is an emission-free, quiet, and renewable source of energy. And it reduces the country's reliance on foreign oil.

Others argue that wind energy is unpredictable and that the windiest sites in the country—on the Great Plains—are far from coastal regions where the power is needed. Creating a power grid of transmission lines to carry wind-generated power from these sites would be an expensive proposition, said David Keith, of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Jacobson counters that greater numbers of wind farms will produce an almost constant source of power. And, unlike coal and natural gas, there are no fuel-transportation costs.

Currently Cape Wind Associates LLC of Boston has proposed building the country's first offshore wind farm on Horseshoe Shoal in Nantucket Sound, off the coast of Cape Cod in Massachusetts.

At peak production the wind farm would crank out 420 megawatts—enough to power about half a million homes.

"Horseshoe Shoal is an ideal environment for a wind farm," said Jim Gordon, president of Cape Wind Associates. The area gets some of the strongest offshore winds in the U.S., is out of fishing and shipping routes, and is five miles (eight kilometers) offshore—almost out of sight.

Should the project go ahead, Cape Wind Associates expects to be generating power by 2005.

"Everyone loves wind," said Gordon. "But when it comes to building wind farms, no one wants them in their backyard."

The wind turbines look like enormous airplane propellers mounted on tall metal poles that rise out of the ocean. Once the blade is mounted, the turbines reach a height of 130 meters (426 feet). The Cape Wind farm with its 170 turbines is expected to occupy an area of 25 square miles (65 square kilometers).

Brian Parsons of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado, believes that 5 percent of the country's energy demands could be met with wind power by 2020. "But it would be a big challenge," he said.

Swisher agrees: "We could supply 6 percent of the energy needs by 2020, and that's a conservative estimate assuming the current growth rate continues and it's business as usual.

"And we could easily do twice as much if environmental issues become more of a concern," said Swisher.

However, the wind industry will be hard-pressed to have such explosive growth this year. A key incentive, the federal wind production tax credit, which expired December 31, was not renewed. Bills to renew the PTC are in negotiations.

National Geographic Today, 7 p.m. ET/PT in the United States, is a daily news magazine available only on the National Geographic Channel. Click here to request it.
 

© 1996-2008 National Geographic Society. All rights reserved.