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Just a few observations from a non-expert:

  1. The larger the dispersal of wind farms, the less the risk of intermittency.  The average weather system is a few hundred miles across - with calm in the middle and wind around the periphery - and it moves across the country.  Thus if the grid is broad enough, and had sufficient transmission capacity, the net amount of wind power available to the entire system becomes relatively constant - and ever more constant/stable as the size of the grid/transmission capabilities increase.

  2. There is a power loss inherent in power transmission - which goes up the greater the distance power is "transmitted.  This power loss is lost as heat/radiation which contributes to global warming.  Thus there is still a benefit to producing power as close to demand as possible.

  3.  The development of fuel cell technology will greatly increase the ability to store power (as hydrogen) when compared to batteries.  It also makes electric vehicles much lighter, longer range, and more efficient.  So this must be a priority.

  4. The costs of redundancy increase dramatically as utilization is reduced.  Thus many of the costs of a gas fired power station are constant whether it is generating electricity or not.  These increased costs of redundancy and their effect on electricity prices will have to be factored into any overall cost model.

  5. Increasingly the "quality" of electricity will become an issue.  Many processes - computers, hospitals - require absolutely reliable, stable supplies with no "brown outs".  A new distribution infrastructure may be required to provide "priority" (and higher priced) electricity to essential services and interruptible supplies to e.g. recharging a fuel cell/battery overnight which can happen at any time during the night provide the interruption does exceed a set time.  This may be possible today for major factories etc. - but may have to become part of the grid capability for ordinary consumers as well.

  6.  As Jerome has already pointed out - the big requirement for such a huge infrastructural and financial project is certainty and stability in the regulatory and financial environment - something that Governments can best provide.  However the "small government" and "magic of the markets" economic philosophies currently still dominant will make it difficult for the US, in particular, to adopt such a long term, planned, big government, interventionist and stable regulatory environment.  This level of development almost requires a "socialist" model of Government and thus will be fought tooth and nail by Capitalists who prosper from the shock impact of major electricity supply failures which can soften up the populace for major price increases.  After ll it is shortages which create "value" in te capitalist model.

Therefor we can expect a lot of opposition to the Gore "socialist" model and a derisory, piecemeal, fragmented, and spasmodic approach to continue - particularly as the wind industry is already dominated by European firms with little lobbying power in Washington.  Expect the mother of all political battles if this is to happen - it requires a political, cultural, and ideological change in US politics.  Reality based policy initiatives cut little ice in the political bubbles of Presidential campaigns.

"It's a mystery to me - the game commences, For the usual fee - plus expenses, Confidential information - it's in my diary..."
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Jul 18th, 2008 at 12:13:56 PM EST

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