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Description of Wind Energy for the Rest of Us

Wind Energy for the Rest of Us: A Comprehensive Guide to Wind Power and How to Use It is a sprawling book, one minute discussing how to install small wind turbines safely, the next explaining how farmers in Indiana can earn millions of dollars in revenue by installing their own multimegawatt wind turbines.

The book by industry veteran Paul Gipe goes where other books on wind energy have feared to tread. Gipe eschews the typical neutral tone so common among books explaining wind energy technology and its place in the world. Instead, the outspoken author states his views explicitly, describing what works—and just as importantly what doesn’t—and why it matters. He’s at his best when extolling the phenomenal success of an industry that grew out of muddy farm fields in Denmark and windy California passes only three decades ago.

Never one to mince words, Gipe uses Wind Energy to tackle the sacred cows of futurists and inventors, such as vertical-axis and ducted wind turbines, while at the same time flaying those who question whether wind energy works and provides the environmental benefits promised. The overwhelming evidence, says Gipe, proves that modern wind energy delivers on its promise.


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Distilling more than three decades of experience with wind energy and renewable energy policy, Gipe has no patience for proponents of panaceas, revisionist historians, and defeatists who wring their hands and whine that North Americans don’t have the skills, ability, and will to develop wind energy for their own—and their community’s—benefit.

Wind Energy argues that North Americans have risen to great challenges in the past and can again do so. Others have shown us the way. To prove his point, Gipe introduces Germany’s stromrebellen—electricity rebels—to North American readers and explains how they are changing the face of wind energy. Half of all the wind energy in Germany has been developed by farmers, community organizers, and their neighbors. And most of the remainder has been developed by small to midsize companies. German utilities are nowhere to be seen.

As one electricity rebel explains in Wind Energy, “Wind is a local resource. It is our resource. And we want to make money out of it.” Another says, “We want renewable energy. We can do it ourselves. We bring our own capital. And we accept the change to the landscape that results because it is ours.”

There’s a lesson for North Americans in that, says Gipe. We can do it too. Wind Energy makes clear that communities on both sides of the Atlantic have the know-how to develop their own wind resources for their own benefit. They need not rely on Florida Power & Light or Electricité de France to develop wind energy.

Wind Energy is also the only book that places the development of wind energy in its political context and reveals who really developed the technology and why.

Gipe counters revisionists who peddle a deceptive myth that it was the North American aerospace industry, big business, and US government research that developed the technology we have today. Not so, says Wind Energy. Modern wind turbines were developed by an eclectic band of machinists, farmers, small-time entrepreneurs, and antinuclear campaigners in Denmark that were all part of a revolutionary movement. These citizen activists literally took power into their own hands, built their own wind turbines, and then connected them to the grid. They didn’t wait for their politicians to take action. They took action—and their politicians eventually followed.

The most famous of these early wind turbines was the giant at Tvind—a wind turbine built by students not the aerospace industry, not the utilities, not the government. Wind Energy says Tvind shook the world of wind energy and in doing so showed not only the Danish government how it should be done but also gave hope to renewable energy activists around the world, including neighboring Germany, that they could do it too.

It’s in Wind Energy’s chapters on the history of wind energy where Gipe expands on themes from his 1995 book Wind Energy Comes of Age. He argues, for example, that engineers—like doctors—are governed by ethical limits. Technology doesn’t develop in a vacuum, says Gipe, it’s a response to the needs of its time and reflects the moral and political outlook of those involved. He cites the controversial example of one of the greats of wind engineering, Ulrich Hütter.

The German aeronautical designer was long a proponent of simplifying a wind turbine’s drivetrain by integrating the bearings supporting the rotor with the gearbox. Only in this way, believed Hütter, could wind turbines generate cheap electricity. Slavishly adopting this strategy, both German and US designers from the aerospace community fielded flimsy, flailing wind turbines that were not only noisy but unreliable, giving wind energy a black eye that took decades to overcome.

Little known in the wind industry and never before appearing in an English-language book was Hütter’s past, a delicate—and controversial—topic. Hütter was an early member of the Nazi Party, and his wind turbine work was aimed at aiding and abetting Nazi racial philosophy. Working at a test field not far from the infamous Buchenwald concentration camp, Hütter developed wind turbines that would be used to resettle Eastern Europe—after it had been cleared of its inhabitants.

Fortunately, explains Gipe, modern wind energy didn’t arise from the aerospace and defense contractors that Hütter represented. Instead, modern wind turbines owe their success to prosaic farm machinery—from designs that grew from the ground up, not the top down. Ironically, Hütter’s legacy was created, says Gipe in Wind Energy, by a group representing the antithesis of a fascist, technocratic state: students, farmers, and communitarians. They ignored Hütter’s wind turbine design but adapted his blade building technique as their own and soon were building reliable wind turbines that proved far more successful than those of Boeing, Grumman, McDonnell Aircraft, and Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm.

The most successful German wind turbine manufacturer today, tellingly, adopted the Danish blade design and radically rejected Hütter’s design philosophy. Rather than use an integrated drivetrain, they eliminated the drivetrain entirely and drove the generator directly with the rotor.

Similarly, Wind Energy takes a no-holds-barred look at two favorites of futurists: vertical-axis wind turbines (VAWTs) and ducted or diffuser augmented wind turbines (DAWTs). Although rightly ignored by most serious books on wind energy, Wind Energy examines in depth the historical precedents for both technologies.

Most significantly for policy makers and students of wind energy, Gipe eviscerates VAWT design, noting that the inventor of the technology that now bears his name, Georges Darrieus, chose not to build one of the turbines himself. No, says Wind Energy, Darrieus opted instead to build what is today the standard configuration wind turbine. That says volumes, according to Wind Energy.

Worse, Gipe writes, some VAWT inventors are little more than charlatans enabled not only by clueless TV personalities and Internet bloggers but also by mainstream publications such as Canada’s Globe and Mail.

The curse of legitimate wind turbine manufacturers, Gipe likens VAWTs to vampires that continually rise from the dead to suck the life out of serious renewable energy policy. He hopes Wind Energy drives a stake through the heart of this technology and puts it in the grave for good.

No other book on wind energy confronts VAWTs true believers as forcefully as Wind Energy, including the deranged view that VAWTs are some secret new technology superior to all other wind turbines and that this technology is being suppressed by a worldwide conspiracy. There is indeed a conspiracy, Gipe admits, a conspiracy of physics, facts, and results. VAWTs have been relegated to the back alleys of renewable energy for a reason. They haven’t delivered.

DAWTs don’t escape scathing criticism in Wind Energy either. Currently backed by big-name venture capitalists, including none other than former vice president Al Gore, ducted wind turbines have long been the domain of hustlers and fast talkers—and engineers willing to turn a blind eye to the outlandish claims of their employers.

In an apparent bidding war with VAWT “inventors” as to who can fail to meet their projections by the widest mark, DAWT promoters have not only consistently fallen short of delivering electricity “too cheap to meter,” they have also fallen far short of delivering a working wind turbine—period.

Wind Energy reveals for the first time that New Zealand’s pension fund has “invested” $55 million in a ducted wind turbine venture—two times more than it lost in a domestic DAWT fiasco in the late 1990s. As though it didn’t learn its lesson the first time, New Zealand is placing its bets on a design hyped by US DOE as an “innovative” and “breakthrough” technology. Buzzwords that are red flags, warns Wind Energy. This, says Gipe, is the very same DOE that developed the “breakthrough” aerospace technology of the 1970s and 1980s that failed so spectacularly in the field.

Written for a North American reader, whether in Canada or the United States, Wind Energy is the only book on the subject that gives equal treatment to small and medium-size wind turbines as well as the commercial-scale turbines found in wind farms worldwide. Despite the expanded coverage, Wind Energy still includes the down-to-earth advice on small wind turbines that were a hallmark of Gipe’s earlier books.

Extremely critical of small wind turbines for their unreliability and poor performance in his previous book, Gipe lauds the progress made by manufacturers in the past decade. Wind Energy notes that new small wind turbines introduced in the 2000s deliver 50% more than the same size turbines of the late 1990s. Better yet, the introduction of standardized testing and certification now assures consumers that these improved turbines can deliver on their claims.

As elsewhere in Wind Energy, Gipe doesn’t mince words, telling readers that they should never buy a small, household-size wind turbine that hasn’t been certified. He also warns the media, who often unquestioningly swallow outlandish claims, that it should simply ignore so-called inventions—and especially their inventors—if the product hasn’t been certified. Such a simple proscription would have saved the Globe and Mail from embarrassingly endorsing an “inventor” who was later indicted for fraud.

And unlike most modern books on wind energy, Gipe doesn’t overlook the prosaic water-pumping windmill or small wind turbines used to charge batteries at remote off-the-grid sites.

Wind Energy devotes an entire chapter to the advent of very large diameter wind turbines in what experts are calling the silent wind revolution. It is not VAWTs, DAWTs, or other flashy new inventions that’s revolutionizing wind energy. It’s boring refinements of existing technology that’s making wind energy more economical in more places than ever before.

The exciting story behind the new wind turbines is that they are both more cost effective and also better able to use scarce transmission capacity. These new wind turbines are easier to integrate into the existing grid than those of only a few years ago.

Wind Energy is the first book on wind energy for a lay audience to explain how, with these new turbines, storage isn’t as necessary as it once might have been. Thus, modern wind turbines can provide much higher penetrations—a higher percentage of supply—than ever before thought possible. They also make more land area suitable for wind energy, greatly expanding its potential near urban areas where people live.

In combination with other sources of renewable energy, these new wind turbines allow engineers and policy makers to begin considering how to design power systems with 100% renewable energy. Some are now even calling for systems for 200% or 300% renewable energy to offset fossil fuels in heating and transportation. This, says Wind Energy, is revolutionary.

Also new in this edition of Wind Energy is an expanded chapter on the siting of wind turbines and their real as well as alleged environmental impacts. Gipe hopes that Wind Energy puts to rest once and for all concerns about property values, carbon emissions, energy balance, and safety of wind power plants, citing an extensive body of research during the past several decades. The chapter also includes an expanded treatment of aesthetic design and numerous examples of different land uses—some surprising—that are compatible with wind energy.

Unlike other books on wind energy, Gipe shows how it’s done, whether raising a micro wind turbine or removing a large wind turbine in a commercial wind power plant. The chapter on installing wind turbines in Wind Energy now includes a new photo sequence illustrating the removal of a large wind turbine from a cooperative-owned wind farm in Germany—a first for a book on wind energy.

Also for the first time, Wind Energy publicly reveals the typical rates farmers and landowners are paid for leasing their land to wind project developers—a taboo subject among secrecy-loving North American corporations. It is sure to stir controversy when farmers discover that they’re paid less than half what the state of Texas charges for the right to develop its land.

Importantly, Wind Energy introduces a new way to develop wind energy in North America through community ownership. Most books on wind energy focus only on small, household-size wind turbines or on commercial wind farms developed by absentee owners. In contrast, Wind Energy not only covers this familiar terrain in one book but also explains why it’s better when wind projects are developed and owned locally by the people who live nearby. As Gipe explains it, this third way of developing wind energy increases acceptance and economic benefits among the communities where the turbines are located.

And unlike other books on wind energy, Gipe closes with a politically ambitious challenge to North Americans. Wind Energy suggests that it’s not only technically possible to off-load 100% of the fossil-fired electricity generation in both Canada and the United States, but that it’s the only ethical choice we have. If that’s not daunting enough, Gipe goes a step further than any before him by arguing that we can also convert our passenger vehicle fleet from liquid fuels to electricity. It’s doable, writes Gipe, if we have the will to do so.

Wind Energy is a massive work containing more than 450 illustrations, including many of Gipe’s own photos from a lifetime chasing windmills from one continent to another. With more than 100 tables, numerous sidebars, and commentary on the technology—what is and is not important—Wind Energy is an insider’s take on a booming worldwide industry that’s here to stay.

Gipe is internationally recognized as not only an authority on wind energy but also renewable energy policy. He has received a string of awards for his work from the American Wind Energy Association, the Canadian Wind Energy Association, the World Wind Energy Association, the Small Wind Conference, and the World Renewable Energy Congress. He has also been applauded from the floor of the Ontario Legislative Assembly and is credited as the architect of Ontario’s standard offer contract and subsequent feed-in tariff program—North America’s most comprehensive renewable energy policy in three decades.

He has lectured on wind and renewable energy, energy policy, and community power from Patagonia to Tasmania, from southern Italy to northern Denmark, and from Alaska to Florida. Gipe has been buffeted by the Roaring Forties on the coast of New Zealand to nearly being swept off the Canso Causeway in Nova Scotia.

Gipe has worked with renewable energy most of his professional life. In 2012, he opened the Husum wind exhibition, the largest wind energy trade fair in the world, alongside Germany’s minister of the environment and Schleswig-Holstein’s minister for climate change.

His previous books have been used by laypeople and professionals alike. If one can be judged by his enemies, Gipe notes proudly that he and his work have been attacked by the likes of the Heartland Institute and their sycophants, and climate-change deniers and their affiliated antiwind energy mouthpieces.

Wind Energy for the Rest of Us is Gipe’s seventh book on wind energy.

Bibliographic Data

Gipe, Paul. Wind Energy for the Rest of Us: A Comprehensive Guide to Wind Power and How to Use It. Bakersfield, California: wind-works.org, 2016. 560 pages. ISBN: 978-0-9974518-1-8.

8 x 10 x 1 inch

2.9 lbs (1.3 kg)

428 Illustrations

118 Tables

Includes bibliographic references and index

Library of Congress Control Number: 2016912305

621.31’2136—dc22

Retail price: $65 USD

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