Windmills: Curse or Cure?
Gyr Ater, Ph.D.

Abstract

We trace 3000 years of wind-turbine development.
We decry the wanton energy theft from Earth's atmosphere.
We recommend reversible wind turbines to restore energy to the atmosphere using available excess power.
We suggest a study program for dynamic control schemes, aimed at balancing the atmosphere's kinetic-energy content, so as to stabilize Earth's rotational speed.

 

Earliest History

Human beings first began to harness wind power in ancient times.  We no longer know who were first to do so, nor when they lived, but we reasonably believe the roots of wind power usage date to well earlier than 3000 years ago.  We presume that the earliest methods of wind-energy extraction took the forms of simple sail-like structures to intercept and channel wind forces for human use.  The low efficiency of these energy-conversion devices, and their relatively rare use at the time, meant that the total amount of energy which these ancient people extracted from Earth's precious atmosphere was not a large factor in slowing the global rotation rate during their time.

Chinese Windmills

Beginning about 2000 years ago, the people of China began to experiment with a more modern approach to wind power.  Instead of mere sail-like structures, they began to build more-efficient mechanisms to rob the atmosphere of its energy ― Windmills!  Surely those inventive Asians could not appreciate the global-slowing consequences their actions would lead to in the distant future!

Spreading Scourge

About 1000 years ago, windmills had begun to spread from the Orient through the Western World, creeping into everyday lives, and taking root throughout Europe, with the seductive promise of free energy for humankind!  We know today that there is no such thing as free energy.  A terrible price must be paid.

Dutch Windmills

In the years just prior to the beginning of the 15th Century, the Dutch people began to perfect a new and frightening form of the wind-energy suckers ― Tower Windmills.  The greatly improved collection efficiency of these monsters empowered the people of old Holland to expel the mighty sea from its seabed.  The taproot of evil began to grow deep.

American Windmills

The taming of the American West, where settlers contended with ever-present winds howling across the wide-open expanses of prairie, brought an explosion in use of tower windmills, beginning about the middle of the 19th Century.  Yet these machines were tiny sprouts compared with some leviathans to grow in the final quarter of the 20th Century.

 

Big Wind Rising

Until 1972, the electrical wind-power special-interest groups had no significant voice in the power structures of the world.  However, the sudden cost increases in fossil fuels, tied to geopolitical events beginning in 1973, lent new muscle to the nascent wind-generation industry.  Big Oil now faced an unexpected competitor ― Big Wind!

Through the remainder of the 20th Century, the narrowly focused aim of Big Wind was to improve the efficiency of extracting energy from Earth's fragile atmosphere.  On one hand, Big Wind would berate Big Oil for sucking more and more petroleum from Mother Earth's dwindling resources.  Yet on the other hand, Big Wind would openly attempt to suck more and more energy from Mother Earth's own finite atmosphere.

Oh, the irony!
Remember, "There is no such thing as free energy!"

We document elsewhere in these web pages how the world has attempted since 1972 to deal with this atmospheric energy loss and its companion Global Slowing.  By International Agreement, nations of the world have accepted the unprecedented concept of Leap Seconds.

Leap Seconds are no better than a cosmetic denial of the underlying problem itself; Global Slowing.

Our Earth is rotating more slowly now than ever before, and it's getting worse!

 

Returning Stolen Energy

Multi-Megawatt Behemoth Turbines have been deployed around the world at a great rate during the early years of the 21st Century.  They have alarmingly increased the amount of kinetic energy being sucked away from Earth's precious storehouse of total energy.  If we fritter away Earth's energy, we have only ourselves to blame.

Our kinetic atmosphere is a vital resource in the life-support mechanism of our planet.  We already recognize the dangers of a stagnant atmosphere.  Many populated locations around the globe are situated in bowl-shaped areas conducive to local atmospheric stagnation under adverse weather conditions.  Residents of Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Ciudad Mexico, and Milano, to name but a few, are all too familiar with the health-threatening effects of temporary stagnation.

Imagine the consequences of planet-wide, permanent atmospheric stagnation.  A stagnant planet is a dead planet!  We must stop Global Slowing.

Fortunately, there is a man-made solution to this man-made problem.  With proper management, we should be able to reverse the global-slowing damage we've already caused.

Pumped-Storage Analogy

Hydroelectric Generating Systems developed originally around water falling from a higher elevation to a lower one.  The kinetic energy of the falling water, directed through hydroelectric turbines, supplies large amounts of low-cost (not free!) electrical energy.

In areas where water is a scarce natural resource, we economically recycle the water after it passes through the generating turbines.  During periods of peak electrical power demand, the hydroelectric generators are called upon to supply peak-level demands of electrical power, and the used water is collected in a low-elevation reservoir.

However, during periods of reduced electrical power demand, typically at night, the available excess power from other sources is used to pump the water from the lower reservoir back up to the higher one.

We suggest a correspondingly economical approach to peak-power generation with wind turbines.

Reversible Turbines

Electrical generators and electrical motors are very similar.  In many applications, a single machine performs both functions, as for example, starter/generators in turbine aircraft engines.  We should take advantage of that fortunate dual-use possibility in our wind turbines.

Imagine: Energy Suckers could serve double duty as Energy Replacers!

(1) Energy Restoration

After appropriate adjustments to their mechanical designs, large wind turbines could be driven from available external electrical power during times of reduced customer demand on the electrical grid.

During these off-peak periods, kinetic energy could be pumped back into the atmosphere, for recovery at later time.  Then, only as needed to support high demands at peak times, the turbines would be reversed back to their original energy-sucking modes of power generation.

[Editorial note: In a later article, Dr. Ater discusses potential efficiencies and biosphere enrichment possibilities from locating power plants advantageously near wind-turbine farms.  See "Co-Located Power Stations".]

Of course, in the early stages of this new era in atmospheric-energy restoration, the main goal will be to pump enough energy back into Earth's atmosphere so as to return Earth's rotational speed to its traditional value.  Once that goal is accomplished, attention naturally will turn to our newly found ability to fine-tune the vagaries of short-term fluctuations in our planet's rotation rate.

(2) Dynamic Global-Speed Control

Recent history of global slowing has been sprinkled with brief periods of fluctuations in its observed rate of decay.  We should expect some of those small fluctuations to continue, even after we have successfully corrected the underlying energy theft from Earth's atmosphere, on an average basis. 

However, with the powerful tools of Reversible Wind Turbines at our disposal worldwide, the next step will be toward dynamic control of the pumped-storage-style exchanges in our atmospheric kinetic energy.  In principle, small, stepwise adjustments to the wind-turbine systems of the world could temporarily add to or subtract from, the net energy in earth's rotational system, by whatever amounts are needed to cancel those second-order speed fluctuations.

Future research will discover if these small adjustments need to be made daily, or at some other interval, for best control.  The resulting control strategy will enable future generations to maintain the length of each day to its allotted 24 hours, with a greater precision than we have seen since humans first began tapping into wind power, several millennia ago.

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