Archive for September, 2011

Blog Post 2: Water

Three Forms of Peak Water

Water is the building block of life. Although fossil fuels are important, it is impossible for humanity to survive without water. “Peak Water” is a concept associated with the availability of water and how sustainably managed water is becoming limited all over the world. It might seem like water is as abundant as always considering that sinks, sprinklers and water parks are still running, but “constraints on water resources are appearing, raising questions about ultimate limits to water availability. In some parts of the world, including the U.S., the demand for water is outstripping the supply, causing political disputes and economic uncertainty, and raising the specter of ‘peak water’.” [Gleick] Peak water does not mean that the world is going to run out of water, but it is becoming more difficult economically, environmentally and physically to obtain fresh water. Peak water has been broken down into three categories depending on the situation: where the water is located and what exactly is depleting that source of water. These three concepts are peak renewable water, peak non-renewable water, and peak ecological water.

Peak renewable water is made up of renewable water sources, such as groundwater basins, rivers, streams and rainfall [these are natural watersheds]. Although these points of water supply are considered renewable, that does not mean that they are boundless. “Each watershed only has a certain amount of renewable water supply that is replenished every year.” [Palaniappan & Gleick]

Watersheds only have a certain amount of water that can naturally be renewed yearly. Over time if a certain watershed is over consumed or tampered with physically or chemically, it can eventually become nonrenewable.

Peak nonrenewable waters are watersheds that are used substantially, but come from sources that are essentially nonrenewable. These include groundwater aquifers that are very slow at replenishing and eventually are over-pumped and lose their ability to regain water. These aquifers become overused or polluted, making them nonrenewable. Continuing to overuse these sources of water eventually causes economic challenges to attaining water from that same source. Getting the water becomes difficult and expensive “leading to a peak of production, followed by diminishing withdrawals and use.”  [Palaniappan & Gleick]This graph shows the ultimate peak of rising water production over time. Overburdening these systems becomes costly and in times of need can make water that much more scarce.

The last form of peak water is peak ecological water. This peak does not necessarily have to do with running out of water so much as it has to do with causing irreversible ecological damages overtime due to overconsumption of water. Water is essential not only to plants and animals, but also ecosystems. When we humans remove water from an ecosystem, even temporarily, it takes away vital sources of water from that ecosystem. This peak is simple, in that if you take from one source; others that relied on that source, such as plants and animals, have less water to implement into their lives.

All of these peaks are happening all over the world and eventually will bring the cost of water into question. We are fortunate to not really pay for water (the resource) here in America, but if it becomes too burdensome to reach the water we need, we will start feeling those costs. 

Gleick, P. (n.d.). Is the U.S. Reaching Peak Water? – Forbes. Information for the World’s Business Leaders – Retrieved September 12, 2011, from

Palaniappan, M., & Gleick, P. (2010). Peak water limits to freshwater withdrawal and use.National academy of Sciences,107(25), 11155–11162. Retrieved September 12, 2011, from

Power, M. (n.d.). Peak Water: Aquifers and Rivers Are Running Dry. How Three Regions Are Coping . Retrieved September 12, 2011, from

Robert B. Jackson, Stephen R. Carpenter, Clifford N. Dahm, Diane M. McKnight, Robert J. Naiman, Sandra L. Postel and Steven W. Running. Water in a Changing World.Ecological Applications
Vol. 11, No. 4 (Aug., 2001), pp. 1027-1045


Blog Post 1: Energy

The Problems Facing Wind Energy

I’ve always been a fan of wind energy but never really got acquainted with the details of how it is harnessed. I’ve also never looked into the challenges that wind energy faced and what we must do to overcome these issues. The whole process of wind energy starts with exactly that, wind. We all know wind, what it is, how it feels, but how do we take something we can’t hold with our hands and turn it into energy. The flow of the wind, also known as motion energy is what is harvested to create renewable energy. It is this breeze that glides through your hair while delicately picking it up, and it is that same wind flow that has enough energy and speed to knock you over.

The energy produced by the wind can be turned into two forms of power, mechanical power and electricity. Mechanical power from the wind has been used for centuries by use of the wind mill. Wind mills were used for certain tasks, such as pumping water or grinding grain. Electricity is created from the wind when the captured mechanical power is pumped into a generator. This electricity can be used to power almost everything we use in life, from homes to street lamps.

The principle source of collecting wind energy right now is by use of the wind turbine. Essentially wind turbines change the kinetic energy in the wind (motion energy) to mechanical power, which can be collected to create electricity. Pretty simple huh? Well if it were that simple then we would have wind farms packed full and wind turbines would be everywhere creating useful and renewable power, but they aren’t. Why is this? Wind energy has a few issues ahead of it before it becomes main stream.

The overall problems facing wind energy can by surmised into three major points, “environmental effects, insufficient production, and high production costs.” These complications do not necessarily invalidate wind energy production, but they do express the need for innovation and understanding.

When it comes to environmental issues, wind energy has the lowest impact of most energy production methods, but that does not mean there are no implications from the use of wind turbines.

Comparison of habitat impacts of wind energy to other energy sources [Saidur].

Habitat impacts Coal Natural gas Oil Nuclear Hydropower Wind
Air and water pollution
Global warming
Thermal pollution of water
Flooding of land
Waste disposal
Mining and drilling
Construction of plants

The worst effects of wind energy on the environment are impacts on wildlife, noise and aesthetics. Wind turbines are guilty for killing a number of birds who collide with the blades that spin through the air, but this is a low number of birds compared with overall human related bird deaths.

Leading human-related causes of bird kills in United States [Saidur].

Human-related causes Number of birds kill per year (million)
Cats 1000
Buildings 100
Hunters 100
Vehicles 60–80
Communication towers 10–40
Pesticides 67
Power lines 0.01–174
Wind turbines 0.15

As far as visual impacts are concerned, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and people will have to grow used to the idea of rows of turbines lining the landscapes. On the other hand, noise pollution is a critical issue that people have with wind energy. The noise emitted from the turbine blade’s spinning process lowers property value and therefor negatively effects communities with residential areas.

Mike Sandiford, of the Melbourne Energy Institute, supports wind energy, but argues that “variable energy sources such as these will not be used for base-load power” [ENERGY]. Wind energy is a great source to power lights or other tasks within an electric grid, but to provide the energy needed to power “the grid”, turbines would have to be practically everywhere, which is an impossibility. This insufficient production of energy is the pivotal problem facing wind energy. Wind turbines must be placed in certain areas where wind is consistently blowing and strong enough to spin the rotors of the turbine. These areas are normally in remote areas that are not close to where energy needs are, such as cities. A natural challenge is the availability of wind; it is uncontrollable and is not necessarily there when needed.

Wind turbines also have high production costs as compared with other energy sources. The initial investment of wind turbines is steeper than fossil fueled systems, with roughly eighty percent of the costs placed on machinery, site preparation and installation. On the other hand the long term cost of using wind energy is cheaper than generator backed fossil fuel energy, because it does not have fuel costs and the maintenance costs are low.

There are many challenges facing wind farms of the future, but they do have a future as long as innovation continues to tinker at the problems. The world must start thinking long term if it ever hopes to solve the environmental crisis we are in or the impending fuel crisis we face in the future.

Andrew Mills, Ryan Wiser, Kevin Porter, The cost of transmission for wind energy in the United States: A review of transmission planning studies, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Available online 13 September 2011, ISSN 1364-0321, 10.1016/j.rser.2011.07.131.


ENERGY. (2010). Teaching Science: The Journal of the Australian Science Teachers Association, 10-11. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.


NREL: Learning – Wind Energy Basics. (n.d.). National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) Home Page. Retrieved September 12, 2011, from


R Sontag, A Lange, Cost effectiveness of decentralized energy supply systems taking solar and wind utilization plants into account, Renewable Energy, Volume 28, Issue 12, October 2003, Pages 1865-1880, ISSN 0960-1481, 10.1016/S0960-1481(03)00066-1.

Rosenbloom, E. (n.d.). A Problem With Wind Power []. :: Industrial Wind Energy Opposition. Retrieved September 12, 2011, from


Saidur, R. R., Rahim, N. A., Islam, M. R., & Solangi, K. H. (2011). Environmental impact of wind energy. Renewable & Sustainable Energy Reviews, 15(5), 2423-2430. doi:10.1016/j.rser.2011.02.024


Wind Power Problems, Wind Energy Problem and Wind Turbine Damages. (n.d.). Wind Power Problems, Wind Energy Problem and Wind Turbine Damages. Retrieved September 12, 2011, from

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