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Our energy future: Wind

Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 10, 2009

Editor's Note: The perils of our country’s energy dilemma are well known and often discussed. As the nation’s best scientists, engineers, businessmen and policymakers work to come up with a solution, one thing is becoming ever more clear. The tonic to our nation’s energy illness will not be one catch-all, but, rather, the combination of budding industries of alternative energy — the fruits of “energy diversity.” Over the next five days, we will take a look at how a variety of these developments in different types of energy are playing out on campus and in the greater Ann Arbor area. Through this series, we hope to get a glimpse of what this area’s best researchers and entrepreneurs are doing to solve America’s energy quagmire.

In 2008, more than 120 gigawatts of energy were generated from wind around the world, according to the World Wind Energy Association, a global nonprofit that works to promote wind energy technology.

However, a recent University of Delaware study estimated that 72 terawatts (1 terawatt = 100 gigawatts) of commercially viable wind power is available.

That means that, as a planet, we’re only using about .17 percent of the potential wind energy on Earth. It also means that, if utilized correctly, wind energy could satisfy the world’s total energy needs five times over.

With the current economic crisis and the United States’ increased dependence on foreign oil, it is now more crucial than ever to tap into this abundant and free natural resource.

But you don’t have to tell that to the state of Michigan.

With 3,288 miles of coastline — more than any other state except Alaska — Michigan has incredible wind capture potential. And there are many people in and around Ann Arbor who are working to help reach it.

The day after signing a Memorandum of Understanding to mark a collaboration with Denmark’s Minister of Climate and Energy last month at the Michigan League, Gov. Jennifer Granholm highlighted the Scandinavian country’s experience with wind power in her weekly radio address.

“Denmark leads the world in wind power technology, an industry employing 20,000 people in a nation with half Michigan's population,” she said. “In fact, Denmark has a 2.2 percent unemployment rate.”

Denmark was completely dependent on imported fuel until after the 1973 oil crisis, when Danish officials resolved to find alternative energy sources.

“So, in a week where we saw our state's January unemployment rate rise to 11.6 percent, driven in large part by continued job losses in the automotive manufacturing sector,” Granholm said in the radio address, “Denmark's story is nothing short of inspirational.”

Now at 12 percent and steadily rising, Michigan has the highest unemployment rate in the country. The state has been crippled by the decline of the auto industry, something that has sped up as the country falls deeper into recession.

Call it lofty, or even impossible, but Granholm is hoping that the synergy of two crises — one a unique economic struggle for the state of Michigan and one a profoundly existential test for humanity — will create the “perfect storm” to spark much-needed economic growth and restore Michigan’s place as the world’s innovative manufacturing nerve center.

If wind power were made more viable and, consequently, in higher demand, Michigan could build the equipment and infrastructure that not only Michigan — which has so much wind capture potential and currently imports 80 percent of its energy — but the whole world would have its sights on.