Tapping the Power of Offshore Wind

English: Vestas V90-3MW wind turbine of the Ke...

English: Vestas V90-3MW wind turbine of the Kentish Flats Offshore Wind Farm, Thames Estuary. www.kentishflats.co.uk (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

America lags behind Europe and Asia in its adoption of clean, renewable energy production. Offshore wind power is no exception. Since 1991, offshore wind farms have been successfully generating electricity in European waters. While there are now more than 1,662 offshore wind turbines generating power for European electric users, the first wind turbine in U.S. waters has yet to be installed. This is particularly striking, given that there is enough wind along the U.S. East Coast to power at least one-third of the country, according to an analysis by Stanford scientists.

Fortunately, this will change in the relatively near future as planning for offshore wind farms kicks into high gear – with Maryland taking the lead.

On Tuesday, April 9th, Governor O’Malley signed into law the Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2013. The bill earmarks $1.7 billion for development of an offshore wind farm in federal waters and incentivizes the construction of approximately 40 ocean-based wind turbines capable of producing enough electricity to power a third of the homes on the Eastern shore, with zero emissions. To offset the cost, consumers can expect to pay up to a $1.50 monthly surcharge on their electricity bills, but will only be charged if and when the windmills are constructed off the coast of Ocean City. This is a small price to pay.

By 2017, suppliers of electricity in Marlyand will be required to get up to 2.5 percent of their power from offshore wind.  Moreover, the 200-megawatt project could generate 850 jobs in manufacturing and construction and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by upward of 378,000 tons per year. According to the National Academy of Sciences, that could equate to a $17 million gain in annual public health benefits as a result of reduced fossil fuel use for electricity production.

Construction of the wind turbines may be another four or five years down the road, but if you have a penchant for DIY hackery, a spare weekend, elbow grease and a little bit of cash, you can harness your own wind power at home.

Remember William Kamkwamba, the Malawian teenager who built a wind turbine out of spare bicycle parts and scrap metal and wood? He taught himself the basics of electrical engineering out of an old school book and building a wind turbine that powered four lights, two radios, and a cell phone charger. He built his own homemade light switches and circuit breakers and has dabbled in radio transmitters. His turbine provided electricity in his home for the first time and allowed them to replace inefficient, expensive kerosene lamps.

We have plenty of savvy individuals in the US with similar passion for green DIY hackery. Kevin Harris put together an extremely thorough how-to article on building a $150 wind generator on his website. Mr. Harris’s turbine produces 50-250 watts, which makes puts its $150 price tag drastically cheaper than solar panels of the same output, even when you factor in the time needed to assemble it; 150 watt solar panels can cost in the neighborhood of $500 – $1,000.

If you have a breezy home, consider taking on a weekend project that will enable you to harness the wind to generate your own electricity. For a step-by-step guide, check out Kevin’s site.




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Shannon McGarry

Shannon McGarry, a Project Specialist at Campaign Consultation, Inc., was an environmental activist from age 7 when she organized neighborhood children to protest a housing development.  Her dedication to sustainable water & sanitation systems grew from her time as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Read More

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