austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

Mariah blows the stars around and sets the clouds a-flying

There's been a lot of talk lately about putting up wind farms, for good reasons. Wind farms offer a romantic image of wind farmers contentedly looking out at field dotted with wind cows and the wind chickens hopping eagerly about the wind barn, menaced only by the wind banker who doesn't move by walking but instead tucks his arms to his side and slithers around, promising to tear up the wind mortgage only if Betty Boop agrees to marry him. Maybe that was a cartoon, but it's still a powerful image, particularly when the wind horses and the wind goats free Betty.

You may have heard something like how the Danes get 75 percent of their energy needs from their wind farms, unless it was the Dutch. Certainly you have my permission to hear things like that. But we have to be careful before building all that many new wind farms, not just out of natural concern for the effects on already-depressed wind milk and wind soy prices.

Wind farms work by harnessing teams of windmills together. Windmills in turn (that's not a pun) work by changing the energy of the wind streaming past the vanes into spinning, which is turned into electricity, because electrons have very poor senses of balance (this is why you never see electrons lining up to ride the tilt-a-whirl or the cyclone rides; they're just covering when they say they'd rather try skee-ball) and can be made to give up their energy with even a modest twist. But this requires turning the linear movement of air into a rotating movement of the windmill blades, which is clearly impossible. There's still no good reason any of this should work. It must just be a huge coincidence, but since it seems to be holding steady we'll let that pass.

The real problem is that by making the windmill turn the wind going past it gets slowed down, and that's where the crisis sets in. Without the windmills the wind would just blow on past following its natural migratory patterns evolved by a complex set of responses to the Earth's magnetic field, the presence of natural predators, great circle routes, and the existence of natural rest havens like the lobby of any large yet revolving door-less skyscraper. But the presence of a windmill stops the wind dead, if it's doing its job and let's not talk about the problem of shirking windmills in the modern age.

With the wind stopped, the air has to stop too. That means it's going to fall down, bouncing on the ground and rolling no doubt until it finds a cabinet to get stuck underneath. Even if it doesn't the result is more air all over the place. There's no way to get rid of it effectively. Sure, you can sweep, but that takes almost forever and the windmills are at work all day every day grinding more air to a halt. The poor residents of Danelandia, unless that was Dutchlandia, have to struggle on beneath what would be a suffocating ocean of air if it wasn't just air.

Sure there are compensating advantages for having all this extra air. Since it serves as a high-pressure system of air right over the country, hurricanes are warded away from northern Europe. And with the extra air this means that things which weren't bouyant before are getting to be, as the mass of whatever is in them becomes less than the mass of the equivalent volume of air. Birds can take a load off their wings as the lighter ones stop needing to flap and turn over to simply gliding, and some of the groundhogs which have watched their weight have found they can tunnel up to about human eye-level. This would worry the humans except the groundhogs are swift to explain that they're actually guinea pigs, which relieves everyone's concerns. It's a wash for hot air balloons, since they need more hot to keep up with the more air.

So we have to be careful about building more wind farms. I'm careful enough I think I might never get to building my first. And you?

Trivia: The dynamos for Thomas Edison's first Pearl Street Station were rated at 200 horsepower each, with the generators having capacity for 1,200 electric lights. Source: Edison: A Biography, Matthew Josephson.

Currently Reading: Space Opera: An Anthology of Way-Back-When Futures, Editor Brian W Aldiss.


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