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Wind power in the backyard: an interview with Erik Frye

Wind power can be efficiently used to generate energy in numerous places throughout the United States.

In America, windmills are sometimes seen as obsolete structures, objects that belong in old western flicks. However, Erik Frye from ecostore Real Goods, explains why the same technology used in windmills is far from being old-fashioned and how they could be a very potent source of energy.

Erik Frye: “A technology that dates back a long time but is still appropriate for today’s need is wind power. This is a water pumping wind machine here (he shows us a demo model in the Real Goods’ extensive backyard).

Something different about this type of wind machine compared to the electrical-generating ones, these have multiple vanes, a very durable device.”

faircompanies: How important is location? Do the wind towers need to be placed in specific locations?

Erik Frye: They usually have to be 30 feet above the nearest turbulent air. The ideal system will be you’ve got one of these things about 140 feet above your house. Anyplace you’ve got trees or mountains is maybe not the best place for a wind machine. The open plains.

The wind maps exist for the states and there’s certain regions, the Badlands, you know. Through Montana and Wyoming: great place for wind machines to be.

Can wind power replace other sources of energy?

We can meet all the needs of the whole country by the appropriate application of large wind machines. There is just not the infrastructure to draw that power out and bring it to the places, distribute it where it’s needed.

But if there were, there would be no energy crisis in this country at all. We’re blessed with, like, huge amount of wind in that region (the plains states).

And that is an appropriate technology. In Europe, that’s what the countries over there are doing. They’re not going to war, they’re investing in the appropriate technologies to meet their energy needs and wind is a huge component in that.

What is maintenance like for this type of technology?

They last a long time. You know, maintenance is always an issue. You have to plan for someway to either drop the tower or climb up the tower to do maintenance.

They have maintenance issues that solar doesn’t have.Electricity is actually very hard to store. You can use it as your making it. A lot of energy goes into pumping water. So, direct water pumping is maybe a better way because you don’t have the inefficiencies.

Every time you change from one type of energy to another, from wind energy to rotary to making electricity to pumping water, there’s extra steps involved compared with just turn that wind into rotary motion to pumping water.

What if there is no wind?

One of the things you notice though is that when the wind is not blowing nothing’s happening. We do have sun and so a hybrid combination between sun and wind usually meets the need of most off-grid people.

You can rely upon the sun in this climate for 9 months out of the year. During the other 3 months of the year, it’s usually pretty windy and stormy, so that’s a pretty good match and the right application for the right place.

So what is the best method to produce electricity?

To have as many applications and technologies available. We’re aiming towards that. We know what the limitations are and it’s really up to the engineers and inventors. I don’t know if they even need that many more inventors.

A lot of great technology out there needs to be developed. Enough research’s probably been done. We need to develop some of this technology that have not been commercialized and made available to civilians.

What about fusion technology?

The fusion, that’s far enough out there. You know, it’s doing just a fine job up there. I don’t think we need it here. It’s kind of hard to contain. A lot of research money goes into impractical things.

Whereas, if just a fraction of that money were applied, we’d be there. We’d be there now. We need to get there. I don’t know how much longer we can be waiting on a fossil fuel based economy.