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October 10, 2008

Double Farming the Land... Get Two For The Price Of One!

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IStock_000007044322XSmall If you’ve never been to Kansas, you should go - especially the out lying towns that sprung up in the early 1900s to handle the grain produced by the heartland of America.  Recently I was on a family vacation to visit relatives and found myself driving for miles and seeing nothing but fields of various grains in every direction.  This is the most flat yet beautiful country side I’ve ever seen.  Everywhere you look you see various crops and once in a while a lonely group of cows or an abandoned rail line.

While driving the endless expanses of the Kansas planes we would periodically come across a farm house with an outcropping of trees.  In every instance I noticed something unusual... all the branches and leaves of the trees pointed in the same direction as if they had been growing toward the horizon.  As we drove through little towns such as Chase (which didn’t even have a stop sign) the scene repeated itself - more trees with growth in only one direction... weird.

When we arrived at Great Bend (our first destination) I stepped out of the car and was immediately pushed off my feet by a strong wind - my giant brain suddenly realized why the trees were all growing in the same direction... a never ending breeze across the planes.  After we were settled into our hotel I started thinking about all the flat open land we had just driven over and wondered why no one had thought of building wind farms here.  After all, crops can easily grow under a large wind turbine - unlike a giant solar array that would screen out the sun light.

The problem occurred to me that this area is somewhat arid and requires irrigation.  Most farmers use Center Pivot Irrigation which uses a deep well and a large mobile arm that traverses an arc or complete circle.  While it moves it irrigates the crop below and can be easily moved out of the way for harvesting.  If you built wind turbine towers in this area you’d have to be strategic on where you locate them. 

My initial thought was that they would interfere with the farmer’s ability to use these irrigation machines - but with a little thought I realized you could actually build the turbine towers in the corners of the square property plots and never interfere with the irrigation or harvesting - effectively double farming the land for both crops and energy (see illustration). 

Wind Turbine in Farm Land

The only other problem I could see was the lack of an infrastructure to either store or transport the energy produced. Building the wind farms would be straight forward and probably could be done in very little time following harvest.  However, the high tension lines required to move the newly generated power could be a problem - you’d need right-of-ways for those large towers and high power lines...

The other option is to use the power locally, but that would require some form of storage. The weak link of both solar and wind is the current inability to effectively store the energy produced.  If you could store it and run machinery on it (e.g. crack water and run farm equipment on the hydrogen produced) you might find people more readily willing to have these large fans sitting on their property.  All things considered, I believe there are natural energy resources just waiting to be tapped - this is just another example. till next time...

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