The wind has been a friend of mine since my early childhood days in St. Petersburg, Florida. Each year during, hurricane season, both the wind and waves would pick up days before an approaching storm. When we were not at the beach body surfing the breakers, we would get out the Western Flyer and sail the wind. My buddy and I would take turns sitting in this red wagon to steer while the other would stand up, arms out stretched, holding the corners of a bed sheet in each hand and the other end tied around our waist to create a large sail. Depending on the wind speed, we could get quite a ride.
In 1993, my wife and I bought our first sailboat, a twenty-three footer aptly named Mariah IV, docked on Lake Mead. Strangely enough, we began learning how to sail by entering into club races. Racing gave us the skills to sail the boat from point “A” to point “B” and then to point “C” in the most direct and efficient manner. This meant that we controlled how the boat used the wind instead of letting the wind dictate our destination. The Boulder Basin of Lake Mead is six miles wide and eleven miles long so there was plenty of sailing room. We soon learned how the surrounding mountains would cause the wind direction to shift as much as 15 to 20 degrees without notice. We learned to predict a gust of wind by watching the water and reading the ripples referred to as “Cat Paws” as they crossed the water toward the boat. We learned how the water cooled faster than the shore when the sun set, creating a “On Shore” breeze and how it reversed in the mornings when the sun rose to reheat the water surface.
From 1993 until 2003, my wife and I spent almost every Saturday and Sunday on our boat on Lake Mead. The one thing we learned is that the wind can be fickle, especially when you are racing. There were days when the wind would blow twenty plus miles per hour and we would practically fly across the lake with just a single headsail. However, there were many a hot day when there was not a puff of air to be felt and the only thing to do to escape the heat was to motor out to the center and jump in the water. The lake turned into a very large swimming pool on many a hot summer day.
Wind as an energy source
There has been a bit of controversy over the establishment of wind farms in Nevada. Aside from the visual and audible annoyance that leads companies to place these farms away from populated areas, there is one key factor that will determine the success of the project. That factor is wind speed.
In reality, wind energy is a converted form of solar energy of which we have plenty of here in Southern Nevada. As I alluded to above, the sun’s radiation heats different parts of the earth at different rates-most notably during the day and night, but also different surfaces like water and land which absorb or reflect at different rates. This in turn causes portions of the atmosphere to warm differently. Hot air rises, reducing the atmospheric pressure at the earth’s surface, and cooler air is drawn in to replace it and voilà you have wind.
Air has mass, and when it is in motion, it contains the energy of that motion (“kinetic energy”) and just as my wife and I used that energy to sail across Lake Mead, that energy can also move the blades on a wind generator which is then converted into electricity.
However, consistent wind speed is a crucial element in the generation of electricity. Unlike my sailboat, which could drift along nicely in light breeze of about 5 mph; an annual average wind speed greater than 9 mph, is required for small wind electric turbines, the type that you would see on a sailboat to charge up the batteries. On the other hand, utility-scale wind power plants require much more energy and minimum average wind speeds of 13 mph (usually measured in “m/s” or meters per second which would equate to 6 m/s).
Most of the people that live in Southern Nevada think that the wind blows constantly and that this would be an ideal area for wind generation. My wife and I (along with a Yacht Club full of sailboat enthusiasts), can testify that there are a lot of days, particularly between June and October, when the wind does not blow at all. In fact, if you check out the Nevada Wind Map and Resource Potential from the U.S. Department of Energy (http://www.windpoweringamerica.gov/wind_resource_maps.asp?stateab=nv) you will see that only a few mountain ridges near Laughlin and some up in Northern Nevada fall within acceptable annual average wind speeds of around 6.5 m/s and greater at 80-m height; which are generally considered to have suitable wind resource for wind development. A wind map of your state can be found by clicking on this map of the U.S. http://www.windpoweringamerica.gov/wind_maps.asp
So is wind energy right for Nevada? Would you invest?