Japanese Breakthrough Makes Wind Power Cheaper Than Nuclear

19th January 2012

By Karl Burkartmnn.com/green-tech

The International Clean Energy Analysis (ICEA) gateway estimates that the U.S. possesses 2.2 million km2 of high wind potential (Class 3-7 winds) — about 850,000 square miles of land that could yield high levels of wind energy. This makes the U.S. something of a Saudi Arabia for wind energy, ranked third in the world for total wind energy potential.

Let’s say we developed just 20 percent of those wind resources — 170,000 square miles (440,000 km2) or an area roughly 1/4 the size of Alaska — we could produce a whopping 8.7 billion megawatt hours of electricity each year (based on a theoretical conversion of six 1.5 MW turbines per km2 and an average output of 25 percent. (1.5 MW x 365 days x 24 hrs x 25% = 3,285 MWh’s).

The United States uses about 26.6 billion MWh’s, so at the above rate we could satisfy a full one-third of our total annual energy needs. (Of course, this assumes the concurrent deployment of a nationwide Smart Grid that could store and disburse the variable sources of wind power as needed using a variety of technologies — gas or coal peaking, utility scale storage via batteries or fly-wheels, etc).

Now what if a breakthrough came along that potentially tripled the energy output of those turbines? You see where I’m going. We could in theory supply the TOTAL annual energy needs of the U.S. simply by exploiting 20 percent of our available wind resources.

Well, such a breakthrough has been made, and it’s called the “wind lens.”

Imagine: no more dirty coal power, no more mining deaths, no more nuclear disasters, no more polluted aquifers as a result of fracking. Our entire society powered by the quiet “woosh” of a wind turbine. Kyushu University’s wind lens turbine is one example of the many innovations happening right now that could in the near future make this utopian vision a reality.

Yes, it’s a heck of a lot of wind turbines (about 2,640,000) but the U.S. with its endless miles of prairie and agricultural land is one of the few nations that could actually deploy such a network of wind turbines without disrupting the current productivity of the land (Russia and China also come to mind). It would also be a win-win for states in the highest wind area — the Midwest — which has been hard hit by the recession. And think of the millions upon millions of jobs that would be created building a 21st century energy distribution system free of the shackles of ever-diminishing fossil fuel supplies.

It’s also important to point out that growth in wind power capacity is perfectly symbiotic with projected growth in electric vehicles. EV battery packs can soak up wind power produced during the night, helping to equalize the curve of daytime energy demand. So the controversial investment currently being entertained by President Obama to pipe oil down from the Canadian Tar Sands would — in my utopian vision — be a moot point.

It is indeed a lofty vision, but the technology we need is now in our reach. And think of the benefits of having our power production fed by a resource that is both free and unlimited. One downside often cited by advocates of coal and gas power is that wind turbines require a lot more maintenance than a typical coal or gas power plant. But in a lagging economy this might just be wind power’s biggest upside — it will create lots and lots of permanent jobs, sparking a new cycle of economic growth in America.

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  • Frank Ntiti

    When will this technology be available so I can get it to Africa.

    • Shaniqua

      But you will still have to include reenlabwe energy in your searches because it is part of the whole gamut of a still wider and unfolding field and so you will have to include in your searches solar energy and natural resources as well because, after all, the whole purpose of harnessing wind energy is to produce electricity and to support engineering involved in designing and manufacturing wind-availing technologies. Look to those schools located in the Mid-west and west coast where the greatest wind forces are located Kansas, Oklahoma, for example, and California and find what degree programs they are founding and that are underway.

  • Sylvia Button

    This is heartening news! Thanks for this important information and for the video.

  • Jennifer Swiftwater

    When we put our beautiful minds to it, all problems can be met with breathtaking solutions. Go, mankind, go!

  • Paul

    I don’t see one word about how much it’s going to cost to build all those turbines. Nor how much the average electric bill is going to be to pay for all that construction.

  • Chris Higginson

    So the plan is to pollute an area a quarter the size of Alaska with giant threshing machines that will kill all migratory birds, cost an inestimable amount, employ countless people on an ever increasing scale?
    So that people an continue to heat/cool their houses and drive cars pointlessly for fun?
    We need a far better solution to the problem than this.

    • Fran Barlow

      So the plan is to pollute an area a quarter the size of Alaska with giant threshing machines that will kill all migratory birds, cost an inestimable amount, employ countless people on an ever increasing scale?

      Emotive words, but little substance. Wind turbines don’t ‘pollute’ any more than any other feature of the built environment, and directly emit zero pollution. There’s far more harm birds, including migratory ones from loss of habitat than direct morbidity, and climate change plus human residential encroachment threatens habitat. I hear very little complaint from enemies of windfarms about roads, rail, tourism, housing, coal plants land clearance and so forth.

      The costs of deployment will have been entirely estimated before any commercial project goes ahead, and the people will be counted for sure. It seems unlikely that as a function of MWhe more people will be employed on maintaining wind farm operation than maintaining coal plant operations, but if the composition of employment shifts from harvest, transportation, preparation of fuel feedstock, and direct operation of the plant, to maintenance of systems, and from off-shore employees to onshore ones who are typically living locally, I’d call that a win.

      • Chris Higginson

        Hello Fran,

        I am not sure if you have visited Alaska but I am sure that once you have you will see what a blot a scheme like this would have on the pristine environment up there. It is Mr Burkart who suggested that this would be the price to pay for wind energy and that is before considering all the pylons, cables, roads and widespread interference with every aspect of the landscape.
        But of course this scheme will not just happen far away in Alaska, it will happen near your back yard.
        Have you ever lived near one of these giant windmills?
        They make a horrible varying vibrational noise that is far worse than the wind howling around the chimneys. When they burst into flame they drop molten metal all over the place with streams of burnt acrid smoke trailing away downwind. The ones that will be located at sea will involve almost impossible complications with regard to maintenance.

        People who live near these machines complain of all sorts of ailments that possibly have to do with electromagnetic energy, but that will have to be investigated more. Be aware that there will be problems, just as there are for people who live near any sort of high energy electrical device.

        Also please remember that the cost estimates will be done by people who have an interest in these sorts of projects going ahead, so for them to be honest and dispassionate is a difficult call.

        As for the pollution aspects of these turbines, please bear in mind that the manufacture of these machines involves a huge investment in buildings, energy, transport etc etc. They don’t just appear in situ.

        As for complaints by people who live near these contraptions, have a look at the houses for sale near them, and the reduced prices the sellers have to ask, and the reluctance of anyone with free choice to want to buy a house near one.

        The tourism aspect is curious. Do you believe that people will want to pay to come and stare at these machines? I assure that in France people just want to get away from them.

        It might also interest you to know that when there is no wind, which is quite a lot of the time, the electricity companies have to “power” these windmills to turn so that the “brushes” do not deteriorate, so when you see them all turning gently in no wind, they are absorbing and “taking” energy from the grid, rather than generating it.

        When I mentioned “inestimable cost”, that was from the author who suggested that the employment benefits for people working on these projects would grow exponentially. I am pleased that I am not a tax payer in a country that considers projects that do not have limits and over-run penalties for contracts of this nature.

        I notice that you are interested on “on shore” and “off shore” jobs. Please be assured that wide-scale deployment of windfarms in the United States will definitely involve the importation of prefabricated materials from the Far East, which coincidentally is that where the author of this article is based.


        Thanks for your input in this debate which is an important one for all of us.

    • Revolva

      So chris, the current oil pipeline projects and oil exploration at the moment are preferable to this?? What oil company are YOU working for? Giant threshing machines?? LMFAO Employ countless people?? WTF’s wrong with employing countless people? Especially in the production of clean energy…Kill ALL migratory birds?? Yeah riiiight …every migratory bird on the planet is going to decide to fly at a much lower altitude than ever bore, line up in formation and aim for these huge blenders….put the crack pipe down bro….you’re making an fool of yourself

      • Chris Higginson

        Hello Revolva,
        Perhaps it would be wise for you to learn to debate the subject rather than distribute insults and then hide behind a pseudonym.
        Please see some of the points I have raised with Fran, engage brain and then make a reasoned, sensible response.

      • Joe

        These are not loud windmills.

  • dan

    right on chris.
    the answers not the energy production, it’s the consumption.
    not saving lifestyles, but saving lives.

    however, i’m not knowledged in electricity… but what if you lined that lens with copper? and put magnets on the blades? isn’t that somehow creating electricity?

    • Chris Higginson

      Hello Dan,

      People have tried rotating magnets on windmill blades which is a crude way of turning a rotor in a controlled magnetic field. All these windmills do is convert one form of energy into another form of energy, in this case electricity. They can be used, and have been used for hundreds of years to mill wheat and pump water. One of the most efficient and “clean” ways to use wind energy is to use sailing ships, but in the old days that involved huge destruction of forests to build these ships, however there was a lot of employment back then in the ship building industry, which is one of the things that Fran seems to value.
      I fear that people overvalue these wind turbines because they have been presented as a “green” solution, and I am not convinced that they are. There are so many aspects to consider.

  • DM


    1. Polution? How about Nuclear waste and/or carbon imprint??
    2. Kill ALL migratory birds? Really, every last one of them?
    3. What makes you think that it’s an “inestimable amount”? You think they’ll just start building it without architects or structural engineers too?
    4. Employment is a good thing.
    5. I don’t know if this is about driving cars pointlessly for fun. I’m gonna leave that one alone.

    • Chris Higginson

      Hello DM, whoever you are.
      Yes what about Nuclear Waste? Have you any idea what a tiny volume nuclear waste needs? And how securely it can be kept under control? If the amount of effort that is going into creating windmills was expended on making nuclear energy safe and containable, the odds are that we would all be a lot better off.
      Yes I said all migratory birds for the sake of brevity, please be sensible about this. Birds use wind channels to migrate and these windmills are probably going to be built in the same wind channels. Geese, Storks and other large birds migrate at altitude, but many small birds migrate at low level, so low in fact that they are easily trapped by nets strung across valleys.
      I used the expression “inestimable amount” because the author, Mr Burkart suggested “millions upon millions” of jobs would be created by this deployment of windmills. I don’t know about you, but I am not interested in technology that costs so much that I have to take out a loan to afford to boil a kettle of water.
      As for driving, the quickest way to make people economise on energy is to make it expensive, that is the Capitalist Way. And that isn’t going to happen in an election year. But it will happen in the future.

  • ano

    What’s up with the tagline at 4:19?
    “Unfair and biased”

  • Pete McDowell

    I bet all the coal miners are thrilled to death.

    • Chris Higginson

      Sadly many coal miners have already died either in accidents or medical complications due to their profession.
      Would they be better off learning to polish windmill blades instead of working underground?

  • David M Myles

    Anywhere you happen to be standing on the earth 30,000 feet below your shoes there is an effectively unlimited supply of heat. The oil industry routinely drills to 20,000 feet. The ambient temperature at that depth is around 700 degrees, you can run a closed system ge generator (average price of three quarters of a million dollars used) that produces 6 megawatts off that forever. In addition Geothermal energy acts as a price stabilizer that offsets U.S. dependence upon highly volatile fossil fuel power markets. This is because geothermal power does not need outside fuel to operate””geothermal relies on a constant source of free fuel. Geothermal is capital intensive, thus all of the fuel is essentially paid for upfront. However, once the power project is built, most of its power production costs are known and few market parameters can modify them.
    I understand that the initial investment is a bit more expensive. As opposed to a natural gas plants which initial costs make up one third of the total investment in the plant, geothermal plants initial investments account for two thirds of the total costs of the planet. That dichotomy is more than adequately compensated for by the fact that continuing operations of a geothermal plant cost less due to not requiring any fuel and producing no waste, Co2, particulate emissions, or really anything other than electricity and heat. Add to that that you could literally pipe the excess heat to local homes to reduce the need for individual home heat generation. Hell we could pipe hot water to homes for showers! Greenhouses right next door! We could have free public showers. Clean Homeless people! Dare I say it? JOBS!

  • Charlotte C

    Thrilling design>> so excited to see this public ready!!!

  • Steve

    I know math is hard, and 62% of statistics are made up. It’s fairly easy to check “1.5 MW x 365 days x 24 hrs x 25% = 3,285 MWh’s” OTOH, 3K/26B != 0.33. It’s closer to 1.2*10^(-7)

    Not to take away from the cool news of a 300% increase in turbine efficiency (with hopefully <300% increase in cost & risk), but hopefully Karl can provide a correction here. References for the numbers would be nice too.

  • Paul Mack

    The only reason this wouldn’t work if properly done is greed. Its been the same way for years and people need to voice really loud what needs to be done, and between wind and solar energy the world can be saved from more polution and waste.

  • Jerry

    It might stand a chance; not because it’s a good idea but because the bankers could make a ton of dough on odious loans. We all know if the banker is for it, it will fly. Money or lack thereof is irrelevant to folks who can produce currency via button pushing.

  • Randall

    It is extremely naive for anyone to think they can nurse hundreds of megawatts from the wind without affecting the weather system. Wind is an process of weather to equalize high and low pressure systems. Pulling energy out of this part of the complex and natural weather process will impact the entire global weather response. Killing birds will be the least of our worries.

    There is no such thing as a free lunch in any endeavor including green energy. There will always be unintended consequences.

    We need high density energy solutions that do not impact large tracks of land and whose waste can reside in relatively small space allotment. We need nuclear. We also need to be a lot smarter about how we deploy it.

  • WhiteLabRat

    @Chris The reality is once you have given a population color television, the internet, and Mall of America you will have to pry them from said population’s cold dead hands even if they only dream of having it in the future. So instead of looking to shift the world in a direction that I and much of the population will resist every step of the way you could try a solution that people will actually agree to. Posts like this do not help anyone and I for one could do without the negative attitude attached to what is an interesting and potentially useful discovery. And not matter how much it costs it will cost less than the result of not doing anything productive…

  • India karl

    @chris higginson
    since trolls live under bridges, they don’t need heating or cooling, and they don’t drive, so you’re taken care of. but what “far better solution” would you suggest for the rest of us chris?

    • Chris Higginson

      Hello India Karl

      Oddly enough I don’t live under a bridge although I am very sensitive about what energy I use at home and the implications of that. Personally I use far less “heat” in my house in winter than most people for two reasons, first it is vastly more economical and secondly I think it is bad for health. All the people who overheat their homes tend to be ill with all sorts of flu’s and other ailments, in places where winter is very cold. It is similar, but not so marked for people who use too much air-conditioning energy, they also risk various ailments associated with that.

      As for the rest of “you”, the best solution is education and evaluation of your particular situation. For example some people live in an environment where solar energy is the obvious solution, and research here is making great strides, and solar is far more predictable and usable than wind.
      Some people live where hydro power is the solution, although many of those applications have already been explored.
      There are people exploring the ideas of Tesla, who believed that “free energy” was available from the Cosmos, however his ideas and inventions have been suppressed and hidden by the “powers that be” so we are not able to fully investigate his ideas.
      There are people who live near thermal energy. How much energy could be derived from this source I don’t know, but it seems to me to be worth investigating before cluttering up the landscape with countless windmills.
      So my main suggestion is to reduce your own energy consumption, and hope that others will follow your example. Don’t follow the example of Al Gore, who I understand has a huge carbon footprint under him.

  • Coltrane

    Don’t let facts get in the way of a feel good story. The whole fracking witch hunt has tuned out to be a lie. It’s easy to scare people who have no idea what you are talking about.
    Oh, and those wonderful electric cars ended up costing us $250 grand each after the government incentives.

  • hernan schoninger

    this type of technology will never reach all countries unless they can afford it, otherwise, if we lived in an economy based on this type of technology resources and we would have used in our homes, visit http://www.thevenusproject.com

    este tipo de tecnologia nunca llegara a todos los paises a no ser que puedan pagarla, de otra manera, si vivieramos en una economia basada en recursos este tipo de tecnologia ya las tendriamos en uso en nuestras casas,, visitar http://www.thevenusproject.com

  • Chris Higginson

    Hello Coltrane
    You must have seen the Utube video of perfectly serviceable electric cars being crushed for “economical” reasons, rather than let people buy them after their “lease”.
    There is also the “air car” which runs on compressed air. That died a natural death after the promoters extracted their development scam money from their respective governments.

  • Name (required)Paul

    to all the naysayers. Grow up and smell the turbines. Wildlife can be protected and mufflers can be engineered. Why shoot down this idea before it gets off the ground? You must prefer the current state of our energy woes, coal fired, nuclear, and petroleum based technologies. So easy a caveman can do it!

  • Clifton

    Nice people! I’m thinking the best idea’s are learning how to control Nuclear power and waste to the point of no concern. Also the thermal heat source 30k feet into the earth’s crust sounds like an idea which would work and cause minimal waste, or Habitat distrubance. Chris and and
    David you sound like educated men who need to be heard, wish someone would listen. Good luck

  • al

    Why increase supply when decrease the demand may be the better solution to the energy prob,if there’s one. What of the materials used in these, will future hold disposal sites that can contain the eventual end life of these manufactured items, what will the foot print be in the process to create these.
    Jobs? Worry yes , not enough you think, or is it too many people born without a future planned source of income. Scrabble for the system, fear of poverty , diminished social status, all drivers of this system, some become extremely wealthy,
    some very poor. When we have less desperation then time to think may be possible,otherwise the scrabble for the daily crust of bread and such is paramount quite likely. The eco days may be delayed due to economic considerations.
    Please if this scheme is implemented will yet again the cost be unequally spread by a user fee say , rather than by progressive levy. A dollar to the person earning 10 grand is quite a larger percentage than a dollar to the person who earns 200 grand. The dollar seems much smaller to the 200 grand person. Simple , I hope to understand.

  • Mike Conley

    The bulk of exploitable wind in the US is in regions of low population. Long-distance transmission corridors would have to be leased or purchased to transport this energy to the population centers, and transmission lines would have to be installed in those corridors.

    New transmission lines cost $2 Million per mile, and of course the cost of land varies, but it isn’t dirt cheap. It doesn’t seem that acquiring corridors and building transmission lines was factored into this author’s calculations.

    For about $2 an installed watt, small modular reactors or molten salt reactors can be used 24/7/365. They neither melt down or require water cooling, which means they can be located virtually anywhere.

  • Davy

    The conservation of energy tells us that true energy cannot be made nor destroyed, only converted from one ellement into another.

    The most sensible avenue would be to use it responsibly, not waste off-peak electricity that cannot be stored on a national footing.

    The off-peak supply should be used to produce hydrogen to be used by the locals in their vehicles throughout the day, In the more remote settings such as the Shetlands and the ilk.

    The wholistic view of wind power is one of a non-starter because of the way it is being both exploited and mis-used, and from the start was never going to be allowed by the existing giants and owned avenues of policy.

    Pool ones physical and spiritual energy together and use it to work together for a common benefit, stay grid free and use gian energy wisely.