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Dr. Bortrum

 

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06/29/1999

Blowing in the Wind

After retiring from Bell Labs in 1989, I organized a 3-day short
course on modern battery technology. Last week my colleagues
and I presented this course in Amsterdam for the 8th time.
Before the course, my wife and I took a Baltic cruise on the
Holland America ship the Maasdam, departing from
Copenhagen. In the square across the street from our hotel in
Copenhagen we walked under what I thought was a huge piece
of modern sculpture that looked like an overblown airplane
propeller with three blades. However, on reading the plaque
nearby, I must confess to being totally ashamed of myself for not
recognizing that this "sculpture" was actually a rotor from a
modern Danish wind turbine (don''t call them windmills!). Even
more depressing was the fact that I show a picture of just such a
wind turbine in my course lecture on alternate energy sources!

But that''s not all. Some 15-20 years ago, we spent a few days in
Palm Springs, where there is a very large collection of wind
turbines that generate a substantial amount of the power for the
region. At breakfast one day, after first commenting to the
waitress on the delicious coffee (it was the first time I had tasted
cinnamon in my Java), I remarked that many of the "windmills"
were not turning. The waitress turned out to be Danish and her
husband was an engineer working on the wind turbines (she
corrected my use of the term "windmill"). She told us that it was
the Danish turbines that were working while most of the
American ones were in trouble. Indeed, back in the 70s, when
the oil crisis was in full bloom, the U.S. government provided
monetary incentives for installing wind energy generators and
there were entrepreneurs out for the quick buck with inferior
turbine designs. The Danes, however, were quite competent in
this field and even today control half the world market for wind
turbines.

A couple years after that first visit, thanks to an introduction
from a friend who owned a share of a wind turbine, I visited the
engineer in charge of the maintenance of the "wind farm" in
Palm Springs. A word about the origin of the wind is in order
here. There are now over 3500 turbines located in the San
Gorgonio Pass region near Palm Springs. What happens is that
as the desert area east of the pass heats up during the day, the hot
air rises, sucking air through the pass in the mountains and
creating strong winds. The winds are strongest during the hottest
part of the day, coinciding with the power needs of the air
conditioners in the Palm Springs area. Therefore, the power
generated by the wind can be fed into the power grid at just the
time of maximum need for additional power.

Well, I arrived for my visit at around 11 AM that day and when I
tried to open the door to the building housing the maintenance
offices the wind was so strong that it took all my strength to pull
open the door. Admittedly, I am not known as an Arnold
Schwarzenegger type, but I was truly impressed when the
engineer said that the wind really wasn''t particularly strong that
day. We had a pleasant conversation and I was surprised to learn
that certain environmentalists were campaigning against the
turbines due to such things as the noise of the turbines when
spinning and the fact that the rotating blades can kill birds. It
certainly seems to me that wind power is the most innocuous
alternative energy source and is now competitive in cost with
power generated by coal-fired power plants. Concerning the
noise problem, there are two sources of noise: the aerodynamic
noise, a "swishing" sound as the blades rotate through the air,
and mechanical noise from the gearbox or generator in the body
of the turbine. The mechanical noise has been virtually
eliminated according to a very informative Danish wind power
website, www.windpower.dk/faqs.htm, while the aerodynamic noise
has been reduced by improved blade design. Attention is given
to generating "white" noise as opposed to pure tones, which can
be very annoying. The size of these turbines is impressive
indeed. The rotors may be over 150 feet in diameter and the
height may extend to 200 feet from ground to the tips of the rotor
blades.

For comparison purposes, the average power requirement of a
typical European household seems to be in the neighborhood of 1
kilowatt (the equivalent of having 10 100-watt light bulbs
burning at once). I suspect that we wasteful Americans need an
average of 2 kilowatts or more to sustain our lifestyle, especially
with our air conditioning and/or heating facilities. The total
energy is expressed in kilowatt-hours (if those ten light bulbs are
all burning for one hour, that''s 1 kilowatt-hour). Your electric
bill is based on the number of kilowatt-hours and, depending on
where you live, will be roughly 5 cents a kilowatt hour, give or
take a few pennies. Today the cost of wind power is quoted to be
in the 5 cents a kilowatt hour range and therefore is as cheap as
your normal electric power from coal or nuclear sources. There
is a lot of controversy, of course, about the true costs to health
and environment of coal or oil generated power and the costs of
nuclear waste disposal are barely beginning to be addressed.
Europe, with its much greater reliance on nuclear power than in
the U.S., seems as uncertain about nuclear waste disposal as we
are and, according to one of the participants in our course, they
are just shipping their waste around from place to place. So the
attractiveness of wind power, which is really another form of
solar power, seems even greater. The latest generation wind
turbines are capable of generating about 1,500 kilowatts (1.5
megawatts) of power, enough for roughly a thousand homes.

Well, after my humiliation at not recognizing a wind turbine
rotor, we embarked on our cruise and spent two days docked in
St. Petersburg. We were in what then was Leningrad in 1973
and it was interesting to compare our impressions. We restricted
ourselves to tours, one the mandatory tour of the Hermitage,
arguably one of the preeminent art museums in the world. On
the way to the Hermitage from the ship, we encountered a New
York style traffic jam, taking over 15 minutes to cross the bridge
over the Neva River. There were obviously more cars than we
saw in 1973 but the main problem seemed to be that the streets
were just not built to handle a large number of vehicles. There
were obvious signs of decay in many of the buildings on the way
to the museum but in general the people on the streets seemed
reasonably well dressed. One building we passed was pointed
out as being a scientific or engineering type academy which had
been restored to an impressive appearance as a "gift to the city by
the workers themselves", according to our guide.

Our introduction to the Hermitage was a bit on the down side.
Because of the traffic delays, many in our group needed to visit
the restroom facilities. For me, it is still somewhat disconcerting
to stand at the urinal with a woman mopping the floor a couple
feet away. For the ladies, who had no rubles, being charged for
toilet paper in their facility was solved on an individual basis.
The museum itself was as impressive as we remembered it but
there was one difference. Each room in the museum contains a
chair occupied by a woman serving as a watchdog over the art.
In 1973, these women were typically older women who looked
like the poorer, stereotypical Russian babushkas. Today, the
women we saw were almost all rather well dressed with
relatively sophisticated coiffures. Some were younger and one
or two even smiled! We couldn''t decide whether this was the
result of a desire on the part of the Hermitage to upgrade the
quality of its staff or an indication that upscale women have to
accept more menial jobs. Perhaps a sign of the times is the fact
that everywhere we stopped in St. Petersburg, as we got off the
buses we were besieged by hordes of very aggressive vendors
pushing everything from Russian dolls to hats to books for
dollars.

The young people on the streets looked like young people
everywhere and the women were for the most part well dressed.
There was however, a definite contrast with Tallin in Estonia,
once again an independent nation. We visited Tallin the day
before docking in Russia and that city was much more vibrant
with chic fashions prevailing.

In St. Petersburg the loving care devoted to the restoration of
many buildings after the horrible damage inflicted during the
900-day siege of Leningrad by the Nazis was evident. A prime
example is the Peterhof Palace with its many gold statues lining
the beautiful gardens and the newly opened rooms beautifully
restored to their former glory. The Church of the Resurrection,
also known as the Church of the Spilled Blood (where one of the
czars died after being wounded in the street) was also reopened
very recently. It is easily one of the most impressive buildings
we''ve seen, with the interior virtually completely lined with
small mosaics and an exterior fatade that is more interesting than
the well known St. Basil''s on Red Square in Moscow. A
fascinating story concerned a Nazi bomb that had lodged just
under Christ''s arm in the mosaic depiction in one of the domes.
The bomb went undetected in the dome for 20 years and was
finally discovered, cut out gingerly and blown up by the bomb
squad!

I was interested in finding out how our Russian guide felt about
the Kosovo situation. Tania was a woman my wife estimates to
have been in her thirties. Her opinion was that the bombings will
go down in history as a terrible mistake and that a possible result
could be a return to power of the Communists in Russia. She
said they have been telling the Russian people all along that
NATO is an aggressive force set on an eventual conflict with
Russia and now they are saying, "See, we told you so! Russia is
next." This feeling echoed the article by Chernomyrdin in the
Washington Post to which Brian Trumbore referred some weeks
ago.

Back to Palm Springs, that waitress effected a change in my
lifestyle and I still start off my mornings with cinnamon in my
coffee or Postum. (To the uninitiated, Postum is a caffeine-free
drink made from grains and molasses and was the first packaged
"instant" drink, preceding the instant coffees of today.) More on
the wind later, after I digest the 30+ pages of material I''ve
printed out from just a couple websites.

Allen F. Bortrum



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-06/29/1999-      
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Dr. Bortrum

06/29/1999

Blowing in the Wind

After retiring from Bell Labs in 1989, I organized a 3-day short
course on modern battery technology. Last week my colleagues
and I presented this course in Amsterdam for the 8th time.
Before the course, my wife and I took a Baltic cruise on the
Holland America ship the Maasdam, departing from
Copenhagen. In the square across the street from our hotel in
Copenhagen we walked under what I thought was a huge piece
of modern sculpture that looked like an overblown airplane
propeller with three blades. However, on reading the plaque
nearby, I must confess to being totally ashamed of myself for not
recognizing that this "sculpture" was actually a rotor from a
modern Danish wind turbine (don''t call them windmills!). Even
more depressing was the fact that I show a picture of just such a
wind turbine in my course lecture on alternate energy sources!

But that''s not all. Some 15-20 years ago, we spent a few days in
Palm Springs, where there is a very large collection of wind
turbines that generate a substantial amount of the power for the
region. At breakfast one day, after first commenting to the
waitress on the delicious coffee (it was the first time I had tasted
cinnamon in my Java), I remarked that many of the "windmills"
were not turning. The waitress turned out to be Danish and her
husband was an engineer working on the wind turbines (she
corrected my use of the term "windmill"). She told us that it was
the Danish turbines that were working while most of the
American ones were in trouble. Indeed, back in the 70s, when
the oil crisis was in full bloom, the U.S. government provided
monetary incentives for installing wind energy generators and
there were entrepreneurs out for the quick buck with inferior
turbine designs. The Danes, however, were quite competent in
this field and even today control half the world market for wind
turbines.

A couple years after that first visit, thanks to an introduction
from a friend who owned a share of a wind turbine, I visited the
engineer in charge of the maintenance of the "wind farm" in
Palm Springs. A word about the origin of the wind is in order
here. There are now over 3500 turbines located in the San
Gorgonio Pass region near Palm Springs. What happens is that
as the desert area east of the pass heats up during the day, the hot
air rises, sucking air through the pass in the mountains and
creating strong winds. The winds are strongest during the hottest
part of the day, coinciding with the power needs of the air
conditioners in the Palm Springs area. Therefore, the power
generated by the wind can be fed into the power grid at just the
time of maximum need for additional power.

Well, I arrived for my visit at around 11 AM that day and when I
tried to open the door to the building housing the maintenance
offices the wind was so strong that it took all my strength to pull
open the door. Admittedly, I am not known as an Arnold
Schwarzenegger type, but I was truly impressed when the
engineer said that the wind really wasn''t particularly strong that
day. We had a pleasant conversation and I was surprised to learn
that certain environmentalists were campaigning against the
turbines due to such things as the noise of the turbines when
spinning and the fact that the rotating blades can kill birds. It
certainly seems to me that wind power is the most innocuous
alternative energy source and is now competitive in cost with
power generated by coal-fired power plants. Concerning the
noise problem, there are two sources of noise: the aerodynamic
noise, a "swishing" sound as the blades rotate through the air,
and mechanical noise from the gearbox or generator in the body
of the turbine. The mechanical noise has been virtually
eliminated according to a very informative Danish wind power
website, www.windpower.dk/faqs.htm, while the aerodynamic noise
has been reduced by improved blade design. Attention is given
to generating "white" noise as opposed to pure tones, which can
be very annoying. The size of these turbines is impressive
indeed. The rotors may be over 150 feet in diameter and the
height may extend to 200 feet from ground to the tips of the rotor
blades.

For comparison purposes, the average power requirement of a
typical European household seems to be in the neighborhood of 1
kilowatt (the equivalent of having 10 100-watt light bulbs
burning at once). I suspect that we wasteful Americans need an
average of 2 kilowatts or more to sustain our lifestyle, especially
with our air conditioning and/or heating facilities. The total
energy is expressed in kilowatt-hours (if those ten light bulbs are
all burning for one hour, that''s 1 kilowatt-hour). Your electric
bill is based on the number of kilowatt-hours and, depending on
where you live, will be roughly 5 cents a kilowatt hour, give or
take a few pennies. Today the cost of wind power is quoted to be
in the 5 cents a kilowatt hour range and therefore is as cheap as
your normal electric power from coal or nuclear sources. There
is a lot of controversy, of course, about the true costs to health
and environment of coal or oil generated power and the costs of
nuclear waste disposal are barely beginning to be addressed.
Europe, with its much greater reliance on nuclear power than in
the U.S., seems as uncertain about nuclear waste disposal as we
are and, according to one of the participants in our course, they
are just shipping their waste around from place to place. So the
attractiveness of wind power, which is really another form of
solar power, seems even greater. The latest generation wind
turbines are capable of generating about 1,500 kilowatts (1.5
megawatts) of power, enough for roughly a thousand homes.

Well, after my humiliation at not recognizing a wind turbine
rotor, we embarked on our cruise and spent two days docked in
St. Petersburg. We were in what then was Leningrad in 1973
and it was interesting to compare our impressions. We restricted
ourselves to tours, one the mandatory tour of the Hermitage,
arguably one of the preeminent art museums in the world. On
the way to the Hermitage from the ship, we encountered a New
York style traffic jam, taking over 15 minutes to cross the bridge
over the Neva River. There were obviously more cars than we
saw in 1973 but the main problem seemed to be that the streets
were just not built to handle a large number of vehicles. There
were obvious signs of decay in many of the buildings on the way
to the museum but in general the people on the streets seemed
reasonably well dressed. One building we passed was pointed
out as being a scientific or engineering type academy which had
been restored to an impressive appearance as a "gift to the city by
the workers themselves", according to our guide.

Our introduction to the Hermitage was a bit on the down side.
Because of the traffic delays, many in our group needed to visit
the restroom facilities. For me, it is still somewhat disconcerting
to stand at the urinal with a woman mopping the floor a couple
feet away. For the ladies, who had no rubles, being charged for
toilet paper in their facility was solved on an individual basis.
The museum itself was as impressive as we remembered it but
there was one difference. Each room in the museum contains a
chair occupied by a woman serving as a watchdog over the art.
In 1973, these women were typically older women who looked
like the poorer, stereotypical Russian babushkas. Today, the
women we saw were almost all rather well dressed with
relatively sophisticated coiffures. Some were younger and one
or two even smiled! We couldn''t decide whether this was the
result of a desire on the part of the Hermitage to upgrade the
quality of its staff or an indication that upscale women have to
accept more menial jobs. Perhaps a sign of the times is the fact
that everywhere we stopped in St. Petersburg, as we got off the
buses we were besieged by hordes of very aggressive vendors
pushing everything from Russian dolls to hats to books for
dollars.

The young people on the streets looked like young people
everywhere and the women were for the most part well dressed.
There was however, a definite contrast with Tallin in Estonia,
once again an independent nation. We visited Tallin the day
before docking in Russia and that city was much more vibrant
with chic fashions prevailing.

In St. Petersburg the loving care devoted to the restoration of
many buildings after the horrible damage inflicted during the
900-day siege of Leningrad by the Nazis was evident. A prime
example is the Peterhof Palace with its many gold statues lining
the beautiful gardens and the newly opened rooms beautifully
restored to their former glory. The Church of the Resurrection,
also known as the Church of the Spilled Blood (where one of the
czars died after being wounded in the street) was also reopened
very recently. It is easily one of the most impressive buildings
we''ve seen, with the interior virtually completely lined with
small mosaics and an exterior fatade that is more interesting than
the well known St. Basil''s on Red Square in Moscow. A
fascinating story concerned a Nazi bomb that had lodged just
under Christ''s arm in the mosaic depiction in one of the domes.
The bomb went undetected in the dome for 20 years and was
finally discovered, cut out gingerly and blown up by the bomb
squad!

I was interested in finding out how our Russian guide felt about
the Kosovo situation. Tania was a woman my wife estimates to
have been in her thirties. Her opinion was that the bombings will
go down in history as a terrible mistake and that a possible result
could be a return to power of the Communists in Russia. She
said they have been telling the Russian people all along that
NATO is an aggressive force set on an eventual conflict with
Russia and now they are saying, "See, we told you so! Russia is
next." This feeling echoed the article by Chernomyrdin in the
Washington Post to which Brian Trumbore referred some weeks
ago.

Back to Palm Springs, that waitress effected a change in my
lifestyle and I still start off my mornings with cinnamon in my
coffee or Postum. (To the uninitiated, Postum is a caffeine-free
drink made from grains and molasses and was the first packaged
"instant" drink, preceding the instant coffees of today.) More on
the wind later, after I digest the 30+ pages of material I''ve
printed out from just a couple websites.

Allen F. Bortrum