Wind energy is a type of renewable, cost-effective and sustainable energy harnessed by wind turbines to generate electricity or to be used in many other applications such as pumping water or grinding grain.
The propellers extract the wind’s kinetic energy to activate the shaft and then the generator and eventually produce electricity. Wind energy has been used for many years and, today, many countries are taking advantage of this eco-friendly energy.
This explores wind energy and its uses and applications. We look into wind energy works; how to develop wind energy projects; cover the wind energy basics; and then look into annual production of wind energy in several superpower countries. We will also wrap up the article with the pros and cons of wind energy to help you reconsider your options.
Wind Energy Basics
Let’s get the basics first to help you understand wind energy and how it works. It is not a complex energy topic like other energy sources.
To understand it, we need to explore how the turbines work in harnessing this energy. The only hindrance to the proliferation of this energy has been the initial costs hence many developing countries are hesitating to invest in it.
How does wind energy work?
Wind energy is harvested by wind turbines which, upon extracting wind’s kinetic energy, turn in higher speeds proportional to the wind speed. Wind speeds vary from one area to the other. The wind speeds in the sea move at relatively higher speeds than the speeds on land.
Wind turbines basically have two or three propellers connected to the rotor which is connected to the shaft. The shaft will activate the generator and spin it to generate electricity.
Turbines are available in two different designs, viz. vertical-axis and horizontal-axis. But the horizontal-axis is more common than the egg-beater-like vertical axis.
After generating electricity, the wind plant can transport it to the utility grid where it will be provided to the end-user. Watch this short YouTube video to get a glimpse of how these turbines work.
Windmills vs. Wind turbines
While they look similar structure-wise, these two components differ in many respects. Many people use them interchangeably and that constitutes misinformation.
Windmills use many blades, and are designed to pump water and grind grain but electricity. In the structure of windmill, these blades are connected to the axle and go straight to the pump gears or grinding wheel.
The picture below illustrates the difference in the structure between the turbine and windmill. The wind turbine is on the right whereas the windmill is on the left:
How wind projects are developed?
In order to meet the increasing demands of energy and to leverage on eco-friendly wind energy, wind projects are developed in many countries.
However, wind projects can be complex and thus, need a careful plan on how to get started.
Check the step-by-step guide below on how these wind projects are developed.
1). Determine a potential land site with potential wind speed
The prerequisite of developing any wind project is to determine the efficiency of wind resources in whichever place you choose. Usually, wind projects are erected in rural areas with plenty of land sites.
When assessing the place, you need to check if the speeds are effective to generate electric power.
The minimum yearly average of wind speeds ranges from 11 mph to 13 mph. This assessment can be done in collaboration with weather services agencies or airports.
2). Check the available transmission lines
The end result of developing the wind projects is to send the power to the grid using the transmission lines. If there are any in close proximity then that’s an advantage because you will reduce infrastructure costs.
If your projects are going to be far from transmission lines, then you should factor in thousands of dollars for such installation because high voltage transmission lines are costly.
3). Secure the land
If the aforementioned steps have proven to be successful, you need to secure the land. It could be private or public land.
Many land owners are leasing their lands to wind energy developers.
Equally important is to assess the quality of the roads because wind turbines are heavy equipment. Also, it is important to check with the community if they would love to have the wind turbines installed in their precinct because these turbines can be noisy.
4). Find out who to sell to
You need to find out who you are going to sell the electricity to in order for your system to pay for itself back. If utility companies are nearby, you can sell to them.
However, note that finding a willing buyer is not an easy task because wind energy can be expensive and utilities are willing to purchase cheaper energy sources. Nonetheless, the government can be a potential buyer of wind energy if you generate excess of it.
5). Apply for funding
Once you have everything seemingly set in place, you can consider applying for funding.
Purchasing wind turbines for a wind farm involves millions of funds, unless you are planning to have mini-wind scale systems. Small-scale systems can be great in off-grid applications to power telecommunications.
After you have secured funding, it is then that you can communicate with manufacturers for your custom designs of wind turbines. At this stage your wind project will see a way forward to start running if you have assigned a reputable engineering company for the installations.
Uses and Applications
Wind energy is used in a variety of applications. It can be used to charge batteries, generate electrical power, process grain or pump water for your agricultural production. We explore the on-shore and off-shore applications below
These are land-based applications. We explore win farms, water pumps and small-scale wind power systems.
Small-scale wind power
Small-scale wind power systems are cost-effective and are abundantly used in many households for their everyday power needs. They are mostly used in telecommunications.
Hybrid systems are also formed in which the wind turbines are combined with solar panels or diesel systems in power production. Normally, small-scale wind systems refer to units rating below 50 kW. The mid-range ones rate from 50 kW to 1 MW.
Other small-scale wind power systems are used to store energy in batteries which can then be used to provide electrical power to hospitals, libraries, schools and households.
Oftentimes, these systems can range from 50 W to 10 kW with the propeller diameter of 0.5 m to 7 m.
These farms involve a collection of several wind turbines located in the same area to produce electricity in synergy. The number of these turbines can escalate to hundreds of them in a single location.
These are large installations which are very costly and require massive funding aid. There could be on-shore and off-shore wind farms.
Moreover, wind farms need to be in close proximity with the transmission lines infrastructure where electricity can be taken into utility grid with ease.
Just like windmills, wind energy can also be used to pump water. The propellers can harness the wind energy to generate more power which can be used in pumping water.
Wind turbines are even more effective than the traditional windmills because of their potential to generate electricity.
Off-shore Wind Farms
Off-shore wind farms are erected in large volumes of water to generate more power using the high wind speeds in such water volumes. The ocean is more efficient than the land with wind speeds.
Watch this YouTube video to see how these are constructed in the ocean.
These off-shore wind energy projects are huge but very efficient hence the U.S government has decided to fund the developers.
However, off-shore wind farms can be costlier. But, the U.S. Department of Energy is funding developers that are willing to make use of the coasts to generate electricity from wind.
Such funding initiatives can encourage one to pursue these opportunities of wind farms. The funding will help address issues such as project installation challenges, high-cost and grid connections.
Pros and Cons of Wind Energy
Wind energy is undeniably most cost-effective and sustainable way of producing green energy. But, it is not immune to challenges as we shall see under the cons section below.
Compared with traditional fossil fuel sources, wind energy is the best with reduced emissions and no maintenance or replenishment of wind.
- It is cost-effective in a long run
- Wind turbines prices have been reduced to over 80% from the 80s and are still decreasing
- It is sustainable and renewable – we will never deplete the wind resources as they originate from the sun and scientists have predicted that it will exist for billions of years to come
- No carbon dioxide emissions like in nuclear power, gas and fossil fuel power generation
- Government off-sets cost of installations with incentives and taxes
- There is an abundant government funding for off-shore wind farms
- It can be installed almost anywhere
- It has a broad range of applications such as water pumping and grain grinding
- Small-scale wind energy projects can save homeowners hundreds of dollars in a year
- There are no maintenance and service costs to worry about after installing wind energy turbines
- Wind energy can be a profitable business since the world leaders strive towards renewable energy sources
- It is intermittent because wind speeds are not consistent. Unless you store it in batteries, wind energy can be a disappointment if you rely on it only but find out the wind speeds for that day cannot generate the power
- Start-up costs can be too expensive
- Wind turbines are noisy
- Wind turbines are often installed in the rural areas
- The turbines can kill bats and birds when they flying into them
- Wind turbines are heavy equipment which can be challenging to transport except for off-shore farms where ships can easily transport the equipment.
- Manufacturing, transportation and installation of wind turbines emit some gases thus contributing to global warming. However, the use of these turbines in generating electricity does not emit any harmful gases.
Facts and Figures
Here we look at annual wind energy consumptions in several countries which include the UK, South Africa, Australia, Canada and the USA.
Annual wind energy consumption in the US – the U.S total wind power capacity installed in 2017 has amounted to 84944 MW. In 2016 the U.S had an installed wind capacity of 8203 MW. It is evident that the technology keeps on improving yearly. The investment for the past had amounted to $143 billion.
Annual wind energy consumption in Europe – In 2017, 16.8 GW of wind power capacity was installed in Europe. Wind energy is prioritized and is considered the second large power producer second only to gas installations among other sources. The year 2017 has seen many developments in Europe with 12484 MW for on-shore and 3154 MW power output for off-shore.
Annual wind energy production in Australia – Australia has generated about 12199 GWh during 2015/16. Wind energy, biomass, solar energy and other renewable energies are regarded as primary energy producers in Australia, while fossil fuels are regarded as secondary.
Annual wind energy production in Canada – Canada produced 12239 MW in 2017 which can supply about 3 million households. The country has added 10 wind projects which amounted to 341 MW. These projects have incurred an investment of $800 million.
Potential and Trends
Experts anticipate the development of large turbines by the year 2030 which can be responsible for massive wind energy production.
For off-shore capacities in the U.S it is projected to be about 4 MW to 11 MW and on-shore about 2 MW to 3.25 MW. However, experts agree that more research and development are pending to achieve this mission.
Many countries are realizing the potential of wind energy but are hindered by the exorbitant startup costs. In EU, there is potential to see turbines up to 20 MW in size.
Wind energy is a competitor of solar energy as the most cost-effective energy source to supply electricity to residential and commercial buildings.
The energy has been harnessed for hundreds of years ago. Modern technology has evolved with a wide range of wind turbines to maximize power production. Today, for example, we have different wind turbines such as horizontal-axis and vertical-axis.
This article has focused more on exploring the wind energy basics, the uses and the applications. We have highlighted the pros and the cons, as well as the annual wind energy productions in several countries.