Wind Power Energy
Wind power energy is perhaps one of the most common forms of renewable energy, on par with hydroelectric energy.
What’s so great about wind power is that it is completely free, non-polluting and never ending. In other words, it is always renewable – so long as the wind blows, there will always be energy to harness.
Wind power has been harnessed since a long time ago – in fact, from the time humans started putting sails on boats, which is estimated to be during the ancient Egyptian times, 3200 BCE.
In fact, if you think about it, without wind power, human expansion and colonization of the world might not have been possible. Man would not have been able to travel such great distances within short periods to be able to explore new land beyond the seas and oceans.
Besides wind sails, wind energy had also been harnessed for other purposes in the past. Windmills have been used since the 7th century AD to mill grain and irrigate the land. Wind energy also played an important part in the railroad industry then as it was used to pump water from water wells to the steam locomotives.
However, the wind power industry as we know it today only started in 1979, with the production of the first energy generating wind turbines.
Since then, the use of wind power energy has increased dramatically. Today, it is one of the main forms of renewable energies being harnessed.
According to Wikipedia, in 1996 the global wind power output was of 6,100 MW (megawatts), by the year 2000 the output was of 17,400 MW, in 2005 it was of 59,091 MW and number that doubled by 2008 with 120,791 MW, an impressive growth.
The United States has a total capacity, by 2010, of 36,300 MW, which accounts by 2% of the electricity generated. Texas is the state with a greater output of wind power energy with a capability of producing 9,728 MW. It is also in Texas that resides the Roscoe Wind Farm, the world greatest wind farm with 627 wind turbines and a total capacity of 781.5 MW. Costing more than $1 billion, the Roscoe Wind Farm is capable of giving power to more than 250,000 homes.
According to the World Wind Energy Association, about 197 GW of wind power capacity had been installed worldwide by 2010, an impressive number when one reconsiders that in 2006 the global capacity was of 73.9 GW. The top three countries with the greatest wind power energy capacity are the United States, China and Germany, followed by Spain and India. Noticeably, Portugal comes just a little bit below in the list, which is impressive for such a small country.
How wind power energy is generated
Today, wind power energy is mainly generated through wind farms. Wind farms are fields filled with wind turbines that generate electricity. These turbines are connected to a power collection system and a communications network. While some wind farms are located inland, others are located offshore to take advantage of the stronger winds blowing over the water bodies.
The wind turbines may rotate on a horizontal or vertical axis. Turbines that rotate on a horizontal axis are older in design and more common.
Horizontal-axis wind turbines (or HAWT) are usually built on strong sturdy towers that absorb the huge static loads brought about by the varying wind power. The main rotor (or rotating device) shaft and electricity generator are located at the top of the tower, pointed into the wind (usually by motor mechanisms). As the wind blows and the rotor and its blades rotate, the mechanical energy is converted by the generator into electricity.
The rotor blades are usually afixed upwind (i.e. in front of the tower and hence would experience the wind first) on its tower, as turbulence is often produced behind the tower. Usually made of glass-fibre or carbon-fibre reinforced plastics, these blades are usually stiff and positioned a considerable distance from the tower, so that the blades would not be pushed into the tower by strong winds. The blades are also slightly tilted forward into the wind and functions like an aeroplane wing – the lower side generates a higher pressure than the upper side, resulting in a light that causes the rotor to rotate.
On the contrary, with vertical-axis wind turbines (or VAWTs), the main rotor shaft is positioned vertically. There is no longer a need for the tower, and the rotor and generator can be located near the ground. With such a design, the turbine need not be pointed into the wind and hence is useful in places where the wind direction changes regularly. It is also useful to install such wind turbines on rooftops, as the redirection of wind over the roof by the building can help double the speed of wind turning the turbine.
However, the drawbacks of VAWTs are generally lower wind speeds for the same turbine size, and more severe wind shear. This is because the blades are located neared to the ground. Turbulence may also be created by air flow or other objects near the ground, leading to problems such as vibrating noises and the increased wearing away of bearings used in the mechanical parts of the turbine.
The problem with wind power energy
The problems with wind power energy are similar to that for most renewable energies.
Firstly, there is the high cost of setting up the wind farms. Huge wind turbines are costly and rare, and wind farms may require large pieces of land.
The reliability of electricity output generated by the wind farms is another issue. Changes in the strength and direction of wind for any particular location can be hard to predict exactly. In the event of a wind drought, the electricity supply for communities dependent on wind power energy would be severely affected.
As such, the use of wind power energy probably has to be coupled with other renewable energies, such as solar energy, geothermal energy or hydroelectricity for more stable electricity production levels.
Because of these problems, fossil fuels are today still considered more cost effective than renewable energies like wind power energy. However, as technology advances and fossil fuel prices rise, it will only be a matter of time before renewable energies gain a much bigger share of the energy market.
Beyond the facts
If you found the information on wind power energy in this page useful, don’t just keep it for your term paper or research thesis. Share this information with those around you to create greater awareness about the advantages and disadvantages of renewable energies like wind energy.
If we are to reduce our dependency on non-renewable energies (e.g. oil and coal) which are highly polluting and contribute substantially to global warming and climate change, there first needs to be greater awareness and understanding about the potential benefits of renewable energies and the potential problems they bring.
With greater awareness and attention on the matter, there can be closer examinations of the pros, cons and viability of harnessing wind energy. And more effort would be put into resolving the shortcomings that these sources of energy have. And only then can the use of renewable energies like wind power, hydroelectricity, geothermal energy and solar energy, flourish.
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And if you think that wind energy is one of the amazing green innovations ever to be made, let others know about it.
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