05/13/2013 05:11 pm ET Updated Jul 13, 2013

More About Wind

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In all the recent talk about alternative energy, solar and wind initiatives have been advantageous enough for government, venture capitalists, and individuals to pursue with some optimism and substantial investment. The way, however, has been fraught with peril: permitting issues, changing regulatory standards, legal challenges by neighbors and environmental organizations, the vicissitudes of the capital markets, the vagaries of politics, the interests of the conventional energy companies, and the shifting supply and demand for fossil fuels, suddenly set on end by the emergence of substantially increased estimates of new volumes of natural gas to be released by hydraulic fracturing (known as fracking.) For some, fracking is the new saving science, irrespective of the controversial environmental consequence of this new technology.

Wind is of particular relevance to the ocean, and the proposals for near and offshore sites for major clusters of wind turbines have proliferated over the last decade. European nations, particularly Denmark and Germany, lead the way. As one enters Copenhagen by train, for example, the vista is filled with row after row of elegant, slow-turning wind vanes, generating a significant portion of the city's electrical demand.

Other projects have followed as a recent review of the industry publication, Ocean News and Technology, reveals. For example, in March 2013, the so-called London Array became the world's largest operational offshore wind farm, with 141 of the proposed 175 Siemens turbines online and capable of a generation capacity of over 500 megawatts of energy for residences and businesses in the United Kingdom. According to the publication, "When complete, it will be capable of generating enough energy to power nearly half a million homes and reduce harmful carbon dioxide emissions by over 900,000 tons a year."

A second significant example is the Atlantic Wind Connection, the first offshore "backbone" transmission off the East Coast of the United States, connecting five major turbine arrays from northern New Jersey to Virginia, to include on- and off-shore converter stations linked by a connected grid of underwater cables and hubs. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2016.

Other projects have been installed in Norway and Italy and are proposed for Maine and Oregon, the latter conceived as arrangements of floating turbines tethered in deep-water locations, out of sight of land where wind is stronger and more consistent, with each structure assembled ashore, then placed, installed and maintained by using conventional tug and service vessels. In April 2012, Maine approved a proposal by Statoil, the Norwegian oil and energy company, to build a four turbine, 12-15 megawatt floating demonstration farm some 20 kilometers offshore in 500 feet of water, using a spar design, the above water assembly ballasted by a deep underwater vertical buoy attached to the ocean floor with catenary cables.

In early 2013, the U.S. Department of Energy grant of $4 million was awarded to Principle Power, a partnership of multiple companies, and a projected total investment of $47 million. The Windfloam Demonstration Project, a 30 megawatt array, is to be located 25 kilometers west of Oregon's Port of Coos Bay. This design uses a different underwater structure, a triangular, reinforced grid assembly for floatation, with heave plates for stability and a cable mooring system; the prototype has been in successful operation off the coast of Portugal since 2011.

And, finally, the energetic Danes have continued their wind development, primarily through Dong Energy, a merger of six companies with complementary experience in oil and gas exploration, biomass energy, and wind, primarily in the North Sea and northern Europe. The current project, the Anholt Wind Farm, represents 111 additional fixed platform turbines scheduled for completion by summer of this year. This project has been delayed in part by turbulent weather conditions that hampered the working of a fleet of installation vessels. Nonetheless, the company claims it is on schedule to quadruple its international offshore wind capacity by 2020.

Wind is air in motion. It drives wave and weather, a natural variable that moves across the surface of the earth from calm to catastrophe. It is free. Its energy is simple and direct. Harnessing the wind, however, is not so easy. But our ingenuity has found ways to use the wind to sail our ships, explore our world, lift our water, grind our grain, and generate our power, wind power that, for all its technical requirements and physical limitations, seems a more direct and intuitive way to engage nature, a desirable and benign alternative to the distress around us generated by and for our insatiable demand. Wind is air in motion.