Prospecting for Wind: A Gold Prospector Would Set out with a Pack Mule, Provisions, a Pickaxe, and a Shovel, Whereas Today's Wind Prospector Is Armed with a Computer, the Internet, Google Maps, and a Host of Meteorological Tools

By Swapp, Andy; Schreuders, Paul et al. | Technology and Engineering Teacher, May-June 2011 | Go to article overview

Prospecting for Wind: A Gold Prospector Would Set out with a Pack Mule, Provisions, a Pickaxe, and a Shovel, Whereas Today's Wind Prospector Is Armed with a Computer, the Internet, Google Maps, and a Host of Meteorological Tools


Swapp, Andy, Schreuders, Paul, Reeve, Edward, Technology and Engineering Teacher


Why would anyone want to prospect for wind? The word "wind" often carries a negative connotation because of its destructive force. Farmers and ranchers are continually concerned about soil erosion caused by wind. The danger of wind is even a concern in the building of homes. A cool breeze in the summer is welcome, but strong winds during a tornado or hurricane can prove to be deadly. Fortunately, today most local building codes follow the guidelines established by the International Building Code (IBC) that requires that homes in most areas of the U.S. withstand a 40 m/s (90 mph) wind as a minimum.

Many people use wind to help meet their needs. To a sailor on a sailboat, the wind is necessary. To the cattle rancher in the southwest, a windmill may be a good method to provide water to livestock and wildlife. Over the years, people have been able to harness or capture the wind in many different ways. More recently, we have seen the rebirth of electricity-generating wind turbines. Thus, the age-old argument about technology being either good or bad can also be applied to the wind. The wind can be a hazard or an asset. One situation where the wind is viewed as an asset is when it serves as a free energy resource, but to take advantage of this, there is some basic information that must be known about the wind and how to prospect for it.

What is prospecting for wind? It is helpful to start by breaking this question down:

* What is prospecting? The Oxford English Dictionary (2010) defines "prospect" as: "To conduct a survey or examination of; to evaluate in terms of future prospects"

* What is wind? In his book Power from the Wind, Dan Chiras (2009) describes the wind as follows: Wind is air in horizontal motion across the Earth's surface. All winds are produced by differences in air pressure between two adjoining regions. Differences in pressure result from differential heating of the surface of the Earth. Heating is of course the work of the sun (p. 26).

Prospecting

According to Chiras, there are different types of winds that can be used to drive wind turbines, including offshore, onshore, mountain/valley, global air circulation, and winds caused by storms (Chiras, 2009, pp. 26-34). Each type of wind has individual characteristics that need to be considered when looking for wind to develop into an energy-producing site.

Searching for a good site for a wind farm is much like searching for gold. Prospecting is the first step in finding a wind site to develop for energy production. In the past, a gold prospector would set out with a pack mule, provisions, a pickaxe, and a shovel, whereas today's wind prospector is armed with a computer, the Internet, Google maps, and a host of meteorological tools. Once gold was located and the samples assayed, the feasibility or profitability to mine was determined. In addition, further exploration might have been needed to determine the amount of gold. Wind prospecting is similar to this.

What may seem to be a "good" wind site, as indicated by a picnic being ruined due to a sudden gust of wind or by slower than average times at a track meet, might not be as good as it seems. The wind could be due to infrequent events, such as wind from a passing storm, which would make for a poor choice to install a multimillion-dollar wind farm. Wind is somewhat hard to pin down, since human senses tend to exaggerate the amount of wind present. However, human observation is a way that many "wind sites" are discovered.

What constitutes a "good" wind site? Many factors must be considered when selecting a site. The answer to this question must focus on the ability of the wind energy to do something useful for human beings, animals, and/or the environment. Thus, the main factor in choosing a good wind site is the amount of wind the site has to offer. If there is little or no wind, there is little or no energy to use.

There are many ways to prospect for wind. …

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Prospecting for Wind: A Gold Prospector Would Set out with a Pack Mule, Provisions, a Pickaxe, and a Shovel, Whereas Today's Wind Prospector Is Armed with a Computer, the Internet, Google Maps, and a Host of Meteorological Tools
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