The Atchison County Courthouse is dwarfed by wind turbines in Rock Port, Mo. A wind farm consisting of four 250-foot-tall turbines provide enough energy to power the town of 1,400.

AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

How Will Wind Help?

While it is affected by seasonal variations, wind can become a source for clean, renewable energy.

Wind turbines come in two main forms -- vertical and horizontal. The horizontal variety, looking like giant propellers, is most commonly shown in advertising today. Vertical turbines look more like modern sculpture, almost like a giant egg beater set in a field.

Both use modified airfoil designs to capture the wind as a motive force to spin the turbine. As they spin, they generate electricity. This electricity is either used directly as a supplement to a larger system or captured and stored.

One advantage of wind is the generating potential is not linear. For example, in linear generation one turn of the generator would produce one kilowatt hour of electricity. However, wind generation produces electricity to a power of three. This means the amount of wind needed to spin the generator through one rotation actually produces three kilowatt hours.

While having this advantage, the number of wind farms (or banks of turbines), is relatively small at this point in time.

Connors, like many other energy scientists, says wind-powered electricity would be used as part of a larger package of renewable energy sources including geothermal, hydro, solar and biomass. Nuclear power is often added to the list as it's a carbon-free energy source.

This portfolio will likely co-evolve with the growing number of electric vehicles, as well as a growing technology base including the proposed "smart" electrical grid, which will shunt surplus electricity to where it's needed most, based on real-time demand calculations.

But even then, Connors said he was looking at the year 2050 (at least) for an all-electric vehicle fleet given a Moses scenario. A Moses scenario, he said, was an ideal set of circumstances where government regulations, policy and public opinion all aligned allowing for a smooth, seamless trip to a future promised land.

"It doesn't happen often," he said. In fact, he used hybrid cars as an example. The first commercially available hybrid, the Toyota Prius, hit U.S. markets about 10 years ago. Only now, more than a decade later, are they becoming commonly available as a car option. And given the fact it takes anywhere from 15 to 20 years for the country's auto fleet to fully shed older models for new, as well as the lack of commercially viable and accepted electric cars, 2050 would be an ideal date but not one likely to be reached.

For now it looks as if wind will move more trees than cars -- but that may change in the distant future.

For more information about renewable energy sources, follow the links on the next page.