It’s 2008 and I’m about to attend my first-ever WINDPOWER Conference & Exhibition. Standing at the entrance of the exhibit hall inside Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center, my nerves seem to be growing along with the hustle and bustle inside the room. Frantic final touches are being made before the doors officially open to attendees. I scan the hall, but can’t see the end walls in either direction. Someone mentions the tradeshow floor is over a quarter-mile long and wide. I look down at my shoes, and sigh.
Within the next few days, I’m supposed to act like a sponge, absorbing as many stats and as much data as I can about wind power. I’ve already collected a couple pages of notes from the Opening Session. Discussions abound about the Department of Energy’s (DOE) latest report that wind power can meet 20% of the nation’s electricity needs by 2030.
I am an editor, new to the field of renewables. These are impressive stats for me, coming from a family that built a home heated and cooled by geothermal energy when I was a child (virtually unheard of in the 80’s), and that recycled and purchased energy-efficient lighting before it was ever in vogue. But, wind power is a whole new world for me, and I’m anxious to learn more.
Fast-forward seven years to the present day, and I’m proud to say I haven’t missed a WINDPOWER show yet. My journey as an editor has landed me an honorable, new position with WTWH Media’s Windpower Engineering & Development team, who I’ll have to the privilege of attending WINDPOWER 2015 with in Florida this May.
Although I’m no longer an industry newbie, wind power still has the ability to impress me. The dedicated workers and wind advocates are hardworking, knowledgeable personnel, who I continue to learn from to this day.
Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of visiting the odd blade and tower manufacturing plant, I’ve seen turbines in transport, and have even braved the high waves of the Baltic Sea in Germany during an impending storm to visit an offshore wind farm (Baltic I).
I’ve learned new things along the way, including a few life lessons. Here are my top three…
1. Set a goal (and stick to it)
The DOE’s goal for wind power to meet 20% of the country’s electricity needs by 2030 might have seemed fully attainable over half-a-dozen years ago. At the time, wind energy was all the rage. Over 12,000 attendees and some 770 exhibitors made their way to Houston for WINDPOWER 2008 alone. Since then, however, the economy crashed, government incentives waned, companies consolidated, and competition crept in (just think of the drop in solar panel prices over the last few years). Nevertheless, the wind energy market never lost sight of its goal. Most recently, the DOE’s Wind Vision report was released, providing a roadmap for wind to reach 10% by 2020, 20% by 2030, and 35% by 2050. The goal hasn’t waivered, despite challenges along the way.
2. Listen to others
Every industry faces criticism, and the wind industry is no different. The key, perhaps, is how blame or disapproval is managed over time—and, most importantly, whether it’s heard and given the attention it deserves.
As wind projects have increased in number over the last decade, so has the public’s interest in potential impacts to the environment (including to birds and endangered species) and to human health. Fortunately, the wind industry is listening, and taking steps to research and reduce these concerns.
For example, a 2014 Health Canada study found no evidence to support a link between exposure to wind-turbine noise and health effects reported by people living near turbines. Although ongoing research is still needed, the province of Ontario hasn’t taken the matter lightly. The Renewable Energy Approvals (REA) is now required by law for projects, and involves extensive acoustic audits of wind turbine noise emissions at the source, in addition to points of reception.
The potential impact of wind turbines on local wildlife has also led to global monitoring efforts (check out BirdWatch Ireland’s bird sensitivity mapping) and to local detection programs (read the latest article on the subject from Windpower Engineering’s very own Paul Dvorak here). Northern California’s Altamont Pass Wind Farm has even gone a step further, fully ceasing operation during peak avian migration times.
These are just a few examples of the efforts being made to reduce or eliminate unnecessary harm caused by wind farms. Critics might argue it’s isn’t enough, but the wind industry is listening.
3. Work together
Swiss researchers at EPFL’s Laboratory for Wind and Renewable Energy recently published a study that found that wind farms perform best when the sun is shining. The findings nicely highlight my next point: as significant as individual efforts might be, teamwork is ideal, and often essential, for success.
This is evident in every wind power project, which requires the efforts of numerous personnel—from the project developer and financier to the environmental consultants and engineers, plus everyone in between. A visit to the exhibition floor of any WINDPOWER event can provide a quick, if not overwhelming, estimate of just how many different companies and organizations might be involved in just one project.
Personally, my hope is to see even more teamwork in the future, so that more wind power projects become hybrid projects, whether that involves adding solar energy to mix or energy storage solutions. Too often, it seems, technologies are considered on an individual basis. But maybe a joint effort is the answer to our global energy crisis.
If I’ve learned anything over the last seven years, I think it’s that there is safety and support in numbers. Often times, together is better.
I look forward to WINDPOWER 2015 and, hopefully, meeting you in Florida. Event details can be found here.
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