Archive for Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Wind beats a familiar tattoo

January 9, 2008

I heard the whining of the wind through the windows this morning and it carried me back to my childhood in western Kansas. Spring was a prime time for endless wind whipping over the pancake terrain. It blew all sorts of things before it such as dried tumbleweeds and anything else relatively light and loose. The tumbleweeds thudded against the outside of our house day and night. When I lay in my bed trying to go to sleep, I could hear the soft bumping sounds they made like a bass chorus to the high keening sound of the wind. It felt natural to me because that was all I had ever known. I woke up and became a little uneasy when the atmosphere became unnaturally silent.

One of the modern energy alternatives being utilized in today's ecologically aware world is the wind. There's no question that it's a force which can move solid particles. Southwestern Kansas often felt its destructive force when high winds picked up dried out topsoil and moved it through the air, forcing motors to short out, choking humans and destroying crops. But the hardy people who lived in its realm depended on it for water. We used windmills to pull the water up from deep wells in the ground. Every home and every pasture of any size was graced with a windmill. Pasture windmills usually had a stock tank with provision made for run-off.

Our home had a large tank positioned above a small cinder block building which also served as a cold-water shower. This was mostly used by the men who helped us harvest in the summer. Once, one of them made an extremely hurried exit after he looked up and saw a large snake entwined around the pipe leading to the shower head.

The windmill was for many years our only source of water. We were, by necessity, careful about how much we used. My father eventually installed a system of pipes so that we had running water in the house. However, when there were lulls in the wind which lasted more than a few days, we had to be really, really careful of our water use. The livestock also drank from a tank supplied by the windmill.

When the supply of water became too precarious, my father had to have water trucked in for both people and livestock. Fortunately, that was a rare event. Most of the time, the background of my life was the wind and the busily whirring blades on the windmill. Even today, one of my favorite prints is one by Peter Curry showing a windmill in a pasture with a full tank of water at its base. It says home to me.

We couldn't store the wind energy, and we could only store a limited amount of the water. Since the wind blew almost constantly, we usually had no worries about water, but there were always times when the wind didn't blow. This too is something of a problem with current wind harvesting turbines, because the power they supply is intermittent, but with new technological developments in batteries and by networking our power grids over a large area, our extreme dependency on foreign oil might well be eased.

Even now, our nation is looking into the viability of wind power. Many European nations are using wind power for a portion of their energy needs. Denmark has a penetration of 20 per cent. It sells almost half of its wind power production to Norway. Spain and Germany are growing in their use of wind power. China, India, Mexico and our own country are among those serious about harnessing wind energy. Some day, our wide-open spaces in Kansas may be invaluable to our economy.

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