Posted by: terrapraeta | November 10, 2009

Blow the House Down

on’t hang on
Nothing lasts forever, but the earth and sky
It’s there always
And all your money won’t another minute buy
Dust. . . all we are is dust in the wind
Life’s too short brothers and sisters
Dust. . . all we are is dust in the wind

Kansas, Dust in the Wind

This valley I live in is a strange place. I’ve mentioned before how the plants here can’t seem to keep track of the seasons…… it’s a function of the high altitude sun, I think. Even in the dead of winter, the sun can be HOT. It can snow one day… like it did last week… and a few days later the snow is gone, and the soil is positively warm to the touch. I know… I was walking around barefoot just yesterday.

Aside from the sun dynamic, the winds are also strange. This is the windiest place I have ever lived ā€“ the first summer I was here, we were living in a tent on BLM land for the first few weeks. The windiness was getting to me and we were in danger of getting booted by the rangers next time they came by, so we were looking for alternatives. Luckily, we found one ā€“ an eighteen foot Souix tipi in exchange for help collecting firewood and assorted other jobs. The day after we found it, we went up to help raise it. When we returned to our tent to get ou stuff, the wind had snapped one of the tent poles. It was a good day to move!

Yet, for all this, I’ve been told that this is a lousy area for wind turbines. I couldn’t believe it. Didn’t make any sense. But since then I have literally stood, braced against the wind and watched a turbine do nothing. Total stillness. Weird. Makes me wonder if, opposed to all conventional wisdom, the turbines here should be mounted closer to ground level. I don’t know if it would work, but it is quite obvious, if you take the time to observe it, that the wind here is high altitude, or ground level and not in between.

Can you imagine it? A wind turbine mounted at ten feet rather than fifty or greater? The big industrial scale ones obviously wouldn’t work… but I wonder what the home scale turbines would do in that situation? What I need to do is meet one of the people here that has one and suggest it. They’d probably just think I was crazy, but then ā€“ if it’s not generating power for them, what have they got to lose?



  1. They used to have a big wind turbine testing site south of Boulder. They found out that Colorado winds chew them up… too gusty, too unpredictable…

    Why mess with the turbines when there is all this sun? Colorado has got it made… plus lots of locations can do microhydro…

  2. Hey Vera,

    I dig what you’re saying… but at the same time, I really prefer… if I ever bother with alternative energy (I may end up too transient) to use as wide a variety of things as possible. Part of it is mindset — just like with food, seasonality and variety are key. And part of it is simple practicality. Wind and hydro are better ways of generating electricy (from an efficiency standpoint) whereas solar is ideal for heating and cooling.

    Besides… all these individuals that already have turbines… maybe if they try something outside the “common wisdom”, they’ll discover something about the world šŸ˜‰


  3. Could be… I read recently somewhere that the small turbines are mostly duds… don’t perform as promised and break down…

    Dunno… I am leaning towards just saying F it and going with battery power, pedal power, or without… šŸ™‚ Who sez we need all them gadgets…

    All I really need is a good light here and there, and no all around the house either…. The only thing I’ll miss is my juicer.

  4. huh. I dunno. I know of people using them successfully, but that’s just particular examples, so who knows.

    Whaddaya mean battery power? Batteries are not power, they’re merely storage. Still needs to come from some where. Now pedal power… alrighty then šŸ˜‰

    My biggest issue with energy is actually related to refrigeration. Sure, I can can and dry, but some things I prefer to freeze… especially if we are looking at hunting. And then there are products that I would like to be able to keep chilled short term. There is some interesting info out there on passive solar cooling, but I haven’t yet figured out exactly how that works or if I could use it.


  5. In a dry climate, big double earthenware pots filled with sand in between and covered by a wet cloth work well for small amounts of cool food. They use’em in Africa.

    Frezers are more of an issue… folks at Earthaven run big freezers on I think 24 volt power from solar, or the water turbine. Used to be people just hung game up in a cool place and it lasted for some time… they salted the rest of it.

    Hey, maybe we could have home made batteries off the pedal power? Gas lights suck. Oil lights are wonderful for ambiance, but not for directed work so much.

  6. 3 things needed for utility scale wind: 1.wind resource, 2.nearby power transmission lines/station, 3.nearby population center (to consume power).


    The wind in CO is likely getting pushed up, over and around the mountains, thus more turbulent and choppy, which does eat turbines, which prefer a more laminar flow (higher off the ground level, the better.)

    But there are plenty of wind turbines sited on sides/tops of mountains, so you’re probably missing item 2 or 3. And just to be sure about 1, check a nat’l wind resource map.

    There are some small scale urban turbines out there (some like a dna coil or screw rotor design) that can be quiet, self speed limiting (so they don’t over-run) and better handle turbulent/intermittent wind, but they are not well proven/documented. And if the wind is turbulent/intermittent, then the “efficiency” drops in accordance…


    Can’t think of (m)any passive solar applications for refrigeration. Passive solar cooling (or venting) for buildings: yes, plenty.


    A typical domesticated human can generate about 100W, sustained for about an hour. Check the data display on your nearest exercise treadmill/machine for fun. (the best cyclists can run as high as 300W sustained for an hour). Say your very efficient fridge uses 1000W*hrs/day… That’s Olympic peddling for 3 hrs/day, normal human peddling for 10hrs/day.

    My PV setup averages about 10,000W*hrs/day… (~15KWhr in summer, 5KWhr in winter)


  7. Hey Jim!

    Time for the expert to chime in…. cool dat šŸ˜‰

    I’m not really interested… in the long run, anyway, in tying in to the grid. At the same time I’m also not interested in huge battery systems… so I’m looking at intermittent power regardless. In practice, that may change but right now I’m just thinking about possibilities.

    I am in a unique location here… not at the top of the mountains, but rather 7000 feet below the tops in a large mostly flat valley. We get some gustyness but we also get some incredible sustained winds… but like I said in the article, I can literally be bracing against the wind and looking at a turbine that is moving not at all. So it occurs to me that there is something in the shape of this valley that drives the wind at surface level and at cloud level (we can also watch the clouds move, oftentimes) but the middle levels are dead calm. Its weird. So again… I’m imagining possibilities… and wondering what people that *have* turbines already have got to lose by experimenting.

    Jeff Vail wrote about a passive solar fridge some years back. Involved a box set into the ground, insulated during the day and open at night. That’s about all I remember of the “tech details” but it is something that I filed away to look into further. That and “Annualized Geo-Solar” which I understand only marginally better….. but looked like an incredibly effective way to go… especially in this climate.


  8. I think I recall the fridge box that you refer to – or maybe I’m thinking of something similar, like making “desert ice”. It works using a well insulated box, with a tray, and a thin layer of water in the tray. The box top is opened at night, exposing the water to the sky.

    The key is no cloud/dust/vapor atmospheric cover (insulation) and low humidity, so that the water is directly exposed to cold, outer space. Heat flows out, and it freezes.


  9. Hey —

    Ahha! There’s the bit I missed. I didn’t catch that you *included* water int he system… I was thinking of it as just natural condensation and evaporation and couldn’t see how that would work in a a dry climate where very little condensation occurs…. should have asked you about it years ago!

    But that still doesn’t account for summer… it won;t freeze overnight unless the ambient is cold enough…. although it cold chill… hmmm…

    thanks Jim šŸ˜‰


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