Saturday, May 28, 2005

Argentine Town Hopes Wind Equals Windfall

The town gets more than half of its electricity from four windmills, two of which began operating three weeks ago. Last month, a small village nearby was designated as one of five places in the world that would be powered solely by alternative fuels as part of a U.N. pilot project. And in June, Pico Truncado plans a grand opening for the first wind-powered hydrogen production plant in Latin America.

The isolated town is in the perfect position to catch the eastbound winds that consistently pour over the Andes and build to speeds of 40 to 70 mph.
I like the idea of using windmills in a town where the wind blows at that speed. Seems like a great place to put windmills and where it has the best chance of being economical.
The town has begun to sense the potential benefits from its invisible resource. This year, an Argentine oil company announced it was launching feasibility studies for an internationally financed, $19 billion wind-powered facility that would export hydrogen around the world.

"It was a very democratic decision," said Juan Carlos Bolcich, president of the Argentine Hydrogen Association and the director of the facility. "At town council meetings, the population said, 'What's going to happen when our natural gas is depleted?' "

The German government agreed to help finance the installation of two new windmills in 2001. Two years later, the town decided to stake its future on the wind, announcing that it would spend $500,000 to partly finance the construction of the hydrogen production plant.

Despite predictions that hydrogen could be a feasible replacement for petroleum, significant hurdles remain. The technology to generate hydrogen is fairly expensive, and creating a method to transport it as well as building networks of hydrogen filling stations would add significantly to the costs.
This part of the story I am not so keen on. I am not a big believer that economic decisions should be made democratically. This reminds me of the story in Michael Moore's Roger and Me movie, where the city of Flint(?) saw that GM was pulling out and that they needed a new source of income. So they decided to invest in tourism and built motels and a museum and themepark around the idea of building automobiles. They were all convinced it was going to be a success, it had to be a success because otherwise people would not have jobs and have to move. But, some how the idea of a automobile museum just didn't catch on and the whole thing was a huge economic disaster.

So this part about creating hydrogen is a bit concerning to me. As I have stated multiple times, I am not a big believer in the hydrogen economy. It is just too bad that you can't just transfer energy down a copper wire, that would make things so much easier. Oh wait, you can do that! Instead of hydrogen, why not just export the extra electricity generated? Seems like that would be easier to do and just as beneficial environmentally if it helped to reduce coal burning electricity plants elsewhere.

And how exactly are they going to transport the hydrogen, in a bunch of Hindenburgs? Notice how this article has no numbers as to how much energy is lost in the transformation to hydrogen or how much the hydrogen would sell for, or how to transport it? I really think you want to transport energy as a liquid. They should figure out a way to turn the electricity into methanol or another easy to transport liquid that then could be used in vehicles. With methane if you put it under pressure you can get liquefied natural gas and transport it that way. But I believe you need a much higher pressure to do that with hydrogen.

via The Seattle Times

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