Friday, January 7, 2011
At the end of 2009, worldwide nameplate capacity of wind-powered generators was 159.2 gigawatts (GW). Energy production was 340 TWh, which is about 2% of worldwide electricity usage; and has doubled in the past three years. Several countries have achieved relatively high levels of wind power penetration (with large governmental subsidies), such as 20% of stationary electricity production in Denmark, 14% in Ireland and Portugal, 11% in Spain, and 8% in Germany in 2009. As of May 2009, 80 countries around the world are using wind power on a commercial basis.
Large-scale wind farms are connected to the electric power transmission network; smaller facilities are used to provide electricity to isolated locations. Utility companies increasingly buy back surplus electricity produced by small domestic turbines. Wind energy, as an alternative to fossil fuels, is plentiful, renewable, widely distributed, clean, and produces no greenhouse gas emissions during operation. However, the construction of wind farms is not universally welcomed because of their visual impact and other effects on the environment.
Wind power is non-dispatchable, meaning that for economic operation, all of the available output must be taken when it is available. Other resources, such as hydropower, and load management techniques must be used to match supply with demand. The intermittency of wind seldom creates problems when using wind power to supply a low proportion of total demand, but as the proportion rises, problems are created such as increased costs, the need to upgrade the grid, and a lowered ability to supplant conventional production. Power management techniques such as exporting excess power to neighboring areas or reducing demand when wind production is low, can mitigate these problems.
History of wind power
Medieval depiction of a wind mill
Windmills are typically installed in favourable windy locations. In the image, wind power generators in Spain near an Osborne bullHumans have been using wind power for at least 5,500 years to propel sailboats and sailing ships. Windmills have been used for irrigation pumping and for milling grain since the 7th century AD in what is now Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan.
In the United States, the development of the "water-pumping windmill" was the major factor in allowing the farming and ranching of vast areas otherwise devoid of readily accessible water. Windpumps contributed to the expansion of rail transport systems throughout the world, by pumping water from water wells for the steam locomotives. The multi-bladed wind turbine atop a lattice tower made of wood or steel was, for many years, a fixture of the landscape throughout rural America. When fitted with generators and battery banks, small wind machines provided electricity to isolated farms.
In July 1887, a Scottish academic, Professor James Blyth, undertook wind power experiments that culminated in a UK patent in 1891. In the United States, Charles F. Brush produced electricity using a wind powered machine, starting in the winter of 1887-1888, which powered his home and laboratory until about 1900. In the 1890s, the Danish scientist and inventor Poul la Cour constructed wind turbines to generate electricity, which was then used to produce hydrogen. These were the first of what was to become the modern form of wind turbine.
Small wind turbines for lighting of isolated rural buildings were widespread in the first part of the 20th century. Larger units intended for connection to a distribution network were tried at several locations including Balaklava USSR in 1931 and in a 1.25 megawatt (MW) experimental unit in Vermont in 1941.
The modern wind power industry began in 1979 with the serial production of wind turbines by Danish manufacturers Kuriant, Vestas, Nordtank, and Bonus. These early turbines were small by today's standards, with capacities of 20–30 kW each. Since then, they have increased greatly in size, with the Enercon E-126 capable of delivering up to 7 MW, while wind turbine production has expanded to many countries
14 Th Century WIND TURBINE
Distribution of wind speed (red) and energy (blue) for all of 2002 at the Lee Ranch facility in Colorado. The histogram shows measured data, while the curve is the Rayleigh model distribution for the same average wind speed. Energy is the Betz limit through a 100 m (328 ft) diameter circle facing directly into the wind. Total energy for the year through that circle was 15.4 gigawatt-hours (GW·h).The Earth is unevenly heated by the sun, such that the poles receive less energy from the sun than the equator; along with this, dry land heats up (and cools down) more quickly than the seas do. The differential heating drives a global atmospheric convection system reaching from the Earth's surface to the stratosphere which acts as a virtual ceiling. Most of the energy stored in these wind movements can be found at high altitudes where continuous wind speeds of over 160 km/h (99 mph) occur. Eventually, the wind energy is converted through friction into diffuse heat throughout the Earth's surface and the atmosphere.
The total amount of economically extractable power available from the wind is considerably more than present human power use from all sources. An estimated 72 terawatt (TW) of wind power on the Earth potentially can be commercially viable, compared to about 15 TW average global power consumption from all sources in 2005. Not all the energy of the wind flowing past a given point can be recovered (see Wind energy physics and Betz' law).
Distribution of wind speedThe strength of wind varies, and an average value for a given location does not alone indicate the amount of energy a wind turbine could produce there. To assess the frequency of wind speeds at a particular location, a probability distribution function is often fit to the observed data. Different locations will have different wind speed distributions. The Weibull model closely mirrors the actual distribution of hourly wind speeds at many locations. The Weibull factor is often close to 2 and therefore a Rayleigh distribution can be used as a less accurate, but simpler model.
Because so much power is generated by higher wind speed, much of the energy comes in short bursts. The 2002 Lee Ranch sample is telling; half of the energy available arrived in just 15% of the operating time. The consequence is that wind energy from a particular turbine or wind farm does not have as consistent an output as fuel-fired power plants; utilities that use wind power provide power from starting existing generation for times when the wind is weak thus wind power is primarily a fuel saver rather than a capacity saver. Making wind power more consistent requires that various existing technologies and methods be extended, in particular the use of stronger inter-regional transmission lines to link widely distributed wind farms. Problems of variability are addressed by grid energy storage, batteries, pumped-storage hydroelectricity and energy demand management.[13
Typical components of a wind turbine (gearbox, rotor shaft and brake assembly) being lifted into positionIn a wind farm, individual turbines are interconnected with a medium voltage (often 34.5 kV), power collection system and communications network. At a substation, this medium-voltage electric current is increased in voltage with a transformer for connection to the high voltage electric power transmission system.
The surplus power produced by domestic microgenerators can, in some jurisdictions, be fed into the network and sold to the utility company, producing a retail credit for the microgenerators' owners to offset their energy costs.
Grid managementInduction generators, often used for wind power, require reactive power for excitation so substations used in wind-power collection systems include substantial capacitor banks for power factor correction. Different types of wind turbine generators behave differently during transmission grid disturbances, so extensive modelling of the dynamic electromechanical characteristics of a new wind farm is required by transmission system operators to ensure predictable stable behaviour during system faults (see: Low voltage ride through). In particular, induction generators cannot support the system voltage during faults, unlike steam or hydro turbine-driven synchronous generators. Doubly-fed machines generally have more desirable properties for grid interconnection. Transmission systems operators will supply a wind farm developer with a grid code to specify the requirements for interconnection to the transmission grid. This will include power factor, constancy of frequency and dynamic behavior of the wind farm turbines during a system fault.
Worldwide installed capacity 1997–2020 [MW], developments and prognosis. Data source: WWEASince wind speed is not constant, a wind farm's annual energy production is never as much as the sum of the generator nameplate ratings multiplied by the total hours in a year. The ratio of actual productivity in a year to this theoretical maximum is called the capacity factor. Typical capacity factors are 20–40%, with values at the upper end of the range in particularly favourable sites. For example, a 1 MW turbine with a capacity factor of 35% will not produce 8,760 MW·h in a year (1 × 24 × 365), but only 1 × 0.35 × 24 × 365 = 3,066 MW·h, averaging to 0.35 MW. Online data is available for some locations and the capacity factor can be calculated from the yearly output.
Unlike fueled generating plants, the capacity factor is limited by the inherent properties of wind. Capacity factors of other types of power plant are based mostly on fuel cost, with a small amount of downtime for maintenance. Nuclear plants have low incremental fuel cost, and so are run at full output and achieve a 90% capacity factor. Plants with higher fuel cost are throttled back to follow load. Gas turbine plants using natural gas as fuel may be very expensive to operate and may be run only to meet peak power demand. A gas turbine plant may have an annual capacity factor of 5–25% due to relatively high energy production cost.
In a 2008 study released by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the capacity factor achieved by the wind turbine fleet is shown to be increasing as the technology improves. The capacity factor achieved by new wind turbines in 2004 and 2005 reached 36%.
KitegenWind energy "penetration" refers to the fraction of energy produced by wind compared with the total available generation capacity. There is no generally accepted "maximum" level of wind penetration. The limit for a particular grid will depend on the existing generating plants, pricing mechanisms, capacity for storage or demand management, and other factors. An interconnected electricity grid will already include reserve generating and transmission capacity to allow for equipment failures; this reserve capacity can also serve to regulate for the varying power generation by wind plants. Studies have indicated that 20% of the total electrical energy consumption may be incorporated with minimal difficulty. These studies have been for locations with geographically dispersed wind farms, some degree of dispatchable energy, or hydropower with storage capacity, demand management, and interconnection to a large grid area export of electricity when needed. Beyond this level, there are few technical limits, but the economic implications become more significant. Electrical utilities continue to study the effects of large (20% or more) scale penetration of wind generation on system stability and economics.
At present, a few grid systems have penetration of wind energy above 5%: Denmark (values over 19%), Spain and Portugal (values over 11%), Germany and the Republic of Ireland (values over 6%). But even with a modest level of penetration, there can be times where wind power provides a substantial percentage of the power on a grid. For example, in the morning hours of 8 November 2009, wind energy produced covered more than half the electricity demand in Spain, setting a new record. This was an instance where demand was very low but wind power generation was very high.
Wildorado Wind Ranch in Oldham County in the Texas Panhandle, as photographed from U.S. Route 385Intermittency and penetration limitsMain article: Intermittent Power Sources. See also: Wind Power Forecasting.
Electricity generated from wind power can be highly variable at several different timescales: from hour to hour, daily, and seasonally. Annual variation also exists, but is not as significant. Related to variability is the short-term (hourly or daily) predictability of wind plant output. Like other electricity sources, wind energy must be "scheduled". Wind power forecasting methods are used, but predictability of wind plant output remains low for short-term operation.
Because instantaneous electrical generation and consumption must remain in balance to maintain grid stability, this variability can present substantial challenges to incorporating large amounts of wind power into a grid system. Intermittency and the non-dispatchable nature of wind energy production can raise costs for regulation, incremental operating reserve, and (at high penetration levels) could require an increase in the already existing energy demand management, load shedding, or storage solutions or system interconnection with HVDC cables. At low levels of wind penetration, fluctuations in load and allowance for failure of large generating units requires reserve capacity that can also regulate for variability of wind generation. Wind power can be replaced by other power stations during low wind periods. Transmission networks must already cope with outages of generation plant and daily changes in electrical demand. Systems with large wind capacity components may need more spinning reserve (plants operating at less than full load).
Pumped-storage hydroelectricity or other forms of grid energy storage can store energy developed by high-wind periods and release it when needed. Stored energy increases the economic value of wind energy since it can be shifted to displace higher cost generation during peak demand periods. The potential revenue from this arbitrage can offset the cost and losses of storage; the cost of storage may add 25% to the cost of any wind energy stored, but it is not envisaged that this would apply to a large proportion of wind energy generated. The 2 GW Dinorwig pumped storage plant in Wales evens out electrical demand peaks, and allows base-load suppliers to run their plant more efficiently. Although pumped storage power systems are only about 75% efficient, and have high installation costs, their low running costs and ability to reduce the required electrical base-load can save both fuel and total electrical generation costs.
In particular geographic regions, peak wind speeds may not coincide with peak demand for electrical power. In the US states of California and Texas, for example, hot days in summer may have low wind speed and high electrical demand due to air conditioning. Some utilities subsidize the purchase of geothermal heat pumps by their customers, to reduce electricity demand during the summer months by making air conditioning up to 70% more efficient; widespread adoption of this technology would better match electricity demand to wind availability in areas with hot summers and low summer winds. Another option is to interconnect widely dispersed geographic areas with an HVDC "Super grid". In the USA it is estimated that to upgrade the transmission system to take in planned or potential renewables would cost at least $60 billion.
In the UK, demand for electricity is higher in winter than in summer, and so are wind speeds. Solar power tends to be complementary to wind. On daily to weekly timescales, high pressure areas tend to bring clear skies and low surface winds, whereas low pressure areas tend to be windier and cloudier. On seasonal timescales, solar energy typically peaks in summer, whereas in many areas wind energy is lower in summer and higher in winter. Thus the intermittencies of wind and solar power tend to cancel each other somewhat. A demonstration project at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy shows the effect. The Institute for Solar Energy Supply Technology of the University of Kassel pilot-tested a combined power plant linking solar, wind, biogas and hydrostorage to provide load-following power around the clock, entirely from renewable sources.
A report on Denmark's wind power noted that their wind power network provided less than 1% of average demand 54 days during the year 2002. Wind power advocates argue that these periods of low wind can be dealt with by simply restarting existing power stations that have been held in readiness or interlinking with HVDC. Electrical grids with slow-responding thermal power plants and without ties to networks with hydroelectric generation may have to limit the use of wind power.
Three reports on the wind variability in the UK issued in 2009, generally agree that variability of wind needs to be taken into account, but it does not make the grid unmanageable; and the additional costs, which are modest, can be quantified.
A 2006 International Energy Agency forum presented costs for managing intermittency as a function of wind-energy's share of total capacity for several countries, as shown:
Increase in system operation costs, Euros per MW·h, for 10% and 20% wind share
Germany 2.5 3.2
Denmark 0.4 0.8
Finland 0.3 1.5
Norway 0.1 0.3
Sweden 0.3 0.7
Capacity credit and fuel savingMany commentators concentrate on whether or not wind has any "capacity credit" without defining what they mean by this and its relevance. Wind does have a capacity credit, using a widely accepted and meaningful definition, equal to about 20% of its rated output (but this figure varies depending on actual circumstances). This means that reserve capacity on a system equal in MW to 20% of added wind could be retired when such wind is added without affecting system security or robustness. But the precise value is irrelevant since the main value of wind (in the UK, worth 5 times the capacity credit value) is its fuel and CO2 savings.
According to a 2007 Stanford University study published in the Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology, interconnecting ten or more wind farms can allow an average of 33% of the total energy produced to be used as reliable, baseload electric power, as long as minimum criteria are met for wind speed and turbine height.
Installation placementMain article: Wind farm. See also: Wind atlas
Good selection of a wind turbine site is critical to economic development of wind power. Aside from the availability of wind itself, other factors include the availability of transmission lines, value of energy to be produced, cost of land acquisition, land use considerations, and environmental impact of construction and operations. Off-shore locations may offset their higher construction cost with higher annual load factors, thereby reducing cost of energy produced. Wind farm designers use specialized wind energy software applications to evaluate the impact of these issues on a given wind farm design.
Wind power density (WPD) is a calculation of the effective power of the wind at a particular location. A map showing the distribution of wind power density is a first step in identifying possible locations for wind turbines. In the United States, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory classifies wind power density into ascending classes. The larger the WPD at a location, the higher it is rated by class. Wind power classes 3 (300–400 W/m2 at 50 m altitude) to 7 (800–2000 W/m2 at 50 m altitude) are generally considered suitable for wind power development. There are 625,000 km2 in the contiguous United States that have class 3 or higher wind resources and which are within 10 km of electric transmission lines. If this area is fully utilized for wind power, it would produce power at the average continuous equivalent rate of 734 GWe. For comparison, in 2007 the US consumed electricity at an average rate of 474 GW, from a total generating capacity of 1,088 GW.
Wind power usageFurther information: Category:Wind power by country and Installed wind power capacity
Installed windpower capacity (MW) # Nation 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
- European Union 40,722 48,122 56,614 65,255 74,767
1 United States 9,149 11,603 16,819 25,170 35,159
2 Germany 18,428 20,622 22,247 23,903 25,777
3 China 1,266 2,599 5,912 12,210 25,104
4 Spain 10,028 11,630 15,145 16,740 19,149
5 India 4,430 6,270 7,850 9,587 10,925
6 Italy 1,718 2,123 2,726 3,537 4,850
7 France 779 1,589 2,477 3,426 4,410
8 United Kingdom 1,353 1,963 2,389 3,288 4,070
9 Portugal 1,022 1,716 2,130 2,862 3,535
10 Denmark 3,132 3,140 3,129 3,164 3,465
11 Canada 683 1,460 1,846 2,369 3,319
12 Netherlands 1,236 1,571 1,759 2,237 2,229
13 Japan 1,040 1,309 1,528 1,880 2,056
14 Australia 579 817 817 1,494 1,712
15 Sweden 509 571 831 1,067 1,560
16 Ireland 495 746 805 1,245 1,260
17 Greece 573 758 873 990 1,087
18 Austria 819 965 982 995 995
19 Turkey 20 65 207 433 801
20 Poland 83 153 276 472 725
21 Brazil 29 237 247 339 606
22 Belgium 167 194 287 384 563
23 Mexico 2 84 85 85 520
24 New Zealand 168 171 322 325 497
25 Taiwan 104 188 280 358 436
26 Norway 268 325 333 428 431
27 Egypt 145 230 310 390 430
28 South Korea 119 176 192 278 348
29 Morocco 64 64 125 125 253
30 Hungary 18 61 65 127 201
31 Czech Republic 30 57 116 150 192
32 Bulgaria 14 36 57 158 177
33 Chile ? ? ? 20 168
34 Finland 82 86 110 143 147
35 Estonia ? ? 59 78 142
36 Costa Rica ? ? ? 74 123
37 Ukraine 77 86 89 90 94
38 Iran 32 47 67 82 91
39 Lithuania 7 56 50 54 91
Other Europe (non EU27) 391 494 601 1022 1385
Rest of Americas 155 159 184 210 175
Rest of Africa
& Middle East 52 52 51 56 91
Rest of Asia
& Oceania 27 27 27 36 51
World total (MW) 59,024 74,151 93,927 121,188 157,899
There are now many thousands of wind turbines operating, with a total nameplate capacity of 157,899 MW of which wind power in Europe accounts for 48% (2009). World wind generation capacity more than quadrupled between 2000 and 2006, doubling about every three years. 81% of wind power installations are in the US and Europe. The share of the top five countries in terms of new installations fell from 71% in 2004 to 62% in 2006, but climbed to 73% by 2008 as those countries — the United States, Germany, Spain, China, and India — have seen substantial capacity growth in the past two years (see chart).
The World Wind Energy Association forecast that, by 2010, over 200 GW of capacity would have been installed worldwide, up from 73.9 GW at the end of 2006, implying an anticipated net growth rate of more than 28% per year.
Wind accounts for nearly one-fifth of electricity generated in Denmark — the highest percentage of any country — and it is tenth in the world in total wind power generation. Denmark is prominent in the manufacturing and use of wind turbines, with a commitment made in the 1970s to eventually produce half of the country's power by wind.
In recent years, the US has added substantial amounts of wind power generation capacity, growing from just over 6 GW at the end of 2004 to over 35 GW at the end of 2009. The U.S. is currently the world's leader in wind power generation capacity. The country as a whole generates just 2.4% of its electrical power from wind, but several states generate substantial amounts of wind power. Texas is the state with the largest amount of generation capacity with 9,410 MW installed. This would have ranked sixth in the world, were Texas a separate country. Iowa is the state with the highest percentage of wind generation, at 14.2% in 2009. California was one of the incubators of the modern wind power industry, and led the U.S. in installed capacity for many years. As of mid-2010, fourteen U..S. states had wind power generation capacities in excess of 1000 MW. U.S. Department of Energy studies have concluded that wind from the Great Plains states of Texas, Kansas, and North Dakota could provide enough electricity to power the entire nation, and that offshore wind farms could do the same job.
China had originally set a generating target of 30,000 MW by 2020 from renewable energy sources, but reached 22,500 MW by end of 2009 and could easily surpass 30,000 MW by end of 2010. Indigenous wind power could generate up to 253,000 MW. A Chinese renewable energy law was adopted in November 2004, following the World Wind Energy Conference organized by the Chinese and the World Wind Energy Association. By 2008, wind power was growing faster in China than the government had planned, and indeed faster in percentage terms than in any other large country, having more than doubled each year since 2005. Policymakers doubled their wind power prediction for 2010, after the wind industry reached the original goal of 5 GW three years ahead of schedule. Current trends suggest an actual installed capacity near 20 GW by 2010, with China shortly thereafter pursuing the United States for the world wind power lead.
India ranks 5th in the world with a total wind power capacity of 10,925 MW in 2009, or 3% of all electricity produced in India. The World Wind Energy Conference in New Delhi in November 2006 has given additional impetus to the Indian wind industry. Muppandal village in Tamil Nadu state, India, has several wind turbine farms in its vicinity, and is one of the major wind energy harnessing centres in India led by majors like Suzlon, Vestas, Micon among others.
Mexico recently opened La Venta II wind power project as a step toward reducing Mexico's consumption of fossil fuels. The 88 MW project is the first of its kind in Mexico, and will provide 13 percent of the electricity needs of the state of Oaxaca. By 2012 the project will have a capacity of 3,500 MW. In May 2010, Sempra Energy announced it would build a wind farm in Baja California, with a capacity of at least 1,000 MW, at a cost of $5.5 billion.
Another growing market is Brazil, with a wind potential of 143 GW.
South Africa has a proposed station situated on the West Coast north of the Olifants River mouth near the town of Koekenaap, east of Vredendal in the Western Cape province. The station is proposed to have a total output of 100 MW although there are negotiations to double this capacity. The plant could be operational by 2010.
France has announced a target of 12,500 MW installed by 2010, though their installation trends over the past few years suggest they'll fall well short of their goal.
Canada experienced rapid growth of wind capacity between 2000 and 2006, with total installed capacity increasing from 137 MW to 1,451 MW, and showing an annual growth rate of 38%. Particularly rapid growth was seen in 2006, with total capacity doubling from the 684 MW at end-2005. This growth was fed by measures including installation targets, economic incentives and political support. For example, the Ontario government announced that it will introduce a feed-in tariff for wind power, referred to as 'Standard Offer Contracts', which may boost the wind industry across the province. In Quebec, the provincially owned electric utility plans to purchase an additional 2000 MW by 2013. By 2025, Canada will reach its capacity of 55,000 MW of wind energy, or 20% of the country's energy needs.
(Distribution of wind speed (red) and energy (blue) for all of 2002 at the Lee Ranch facility in Colorado. The histogram shows measured data, while the curve is the Rayleigh model distribution for the same average wind speed. Energy is the Betz limit through a 100 m (328 ft) diameter circle facing directly into the wind. Total energy for the year through that circle was 15.4 gigawatt-hours (GW·h).)
Wind is a form of solar energy. Winds are caused by the uneven heating of the atmosphere by the sun, the irregularities of the earth's surface, and rotation of the earth. Wind flow patterns are modified by the earth's terrain, bodies of water, and vegetative cover. This wind flow, or motion energy, when "harvested" by modern wind turbines, can be used to generate electricity.
How Wind Power Is Generated
The terms "wind energy" or "wind power" describe the process by which the wind is used to generate mechanical power or electricity. Wind turbines convert the kinetic energy in the wind into mechanical power. This mechanical power can be used for specific tasks (such as grinding grain or pumping water) or a generator can convert this mechanical power into electricity to power homes, businesses, schools, and the like.
Wind turbines, like aircraft propeller blades, turn in the moving air and power an electric generator that supplies an electric current. Simply stated, a wind turbine is the opposite of a fan. Instead of using electricity to make wind, like a fan, wind turbines use wind to make electricity. The wind turns the blades, which spin a shaft, which connects to a generator and makes electricity.
Wind Turbine Types
Modern wind turbines fall into two basic groups; the horizontal-axis variety, like the traditional farm windmills used for pumping water, and the vertical-axis design, like the eggbeater-style Darrieus model, named after its French inventor. Most large modern wind turbines are horizontal-axis turbines.
Horizontal turbine components include:
blade or rotor, which converts the energy in the wind to rotational shaft energy;
a drive train, usually including a gearbox and a generator;
a tower that supports the rotor and drive train; and
other equipment, including controls, electrical cables, ground support equipment, and interconnection equipment.
Wind turbines are often grouped together into a single wind power plant, also known as a wind farm, and generate bulk electrical power. Electricity from these turbines is fed into a utility grid and distributed to customers, just as with conventional power plants.
Wind Turbine Size and Power Ratings
Wind turbines are available in a variety of sizes, and therefore power ratings. The largest machine has blades that span more than the length of a football field, stands 20 building stories high, and produces enough electricity to power 1,400 homes. A small home-sized wind machine has rotors between 8 and 25 feet in diameter and stands upwards of 30 feet and can supply the power needs of an all-electric home or small business. Utility-scale turbines range in size from 50 to 750 kilowatts. Single small turbines, below 50 kilowatts, are used for homes, telecommunications dishes, or water pumping.
- WIND TURBINE IN DESRT LANDSCAP IN WESTREN USA
Wind Energy Resources in the United States
Wind energy is very abundant in many parts of the United States. Wind resources are characterized by wind-power density classes, ranging from class 1 (the lowest) to class 7 (the highest). Good wind resources (e.g., class 3 and above, which have an average annual wind speed of at least 13 miles per hour) are found in many locations (see United States Wind Energy Resource Map). Wind speed is a critical feature of wind resources, because the energy in wind is proportional to the cube of the wind speed. In other words, a stronger wind means a lot more power.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Wind-Generated Electricity
A Renewable Non-Polluting Resource
Wind energy is a free, renewable resource, so no matter how much is used today, there will still be the same supply in the future. Wind energy is also a source of clean, non-polluting, electricity. Unlike conventional power plants, wind plants emit no air pollutants or greenhouse gases. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, in 1990, California's wind power plants offset the emission of more than 2.5 billion pounds of carbon dioxide, and 15 million pounds of other pollutants that would have otherwise been produced. It would take a forest of 90 million to 175 million trees to provide the same air quality.
Even though the cost of wind power has decreased dramatically in the past 10 years, the technology requires a higher initial investment than fossil-fueled generators. Roughly 80% of the cost is the machinery, with the balance being site preparation and installation. If wind generating systems are compared with fossil-fueled systems on a "life-cycle" cost basis (counting fuel and operating expenses for the life of the generator), however, wind costs are much more competitive with other generating technologies because there is no fuel to purchase and minimal operating expenses.
Although wind power plants have relatively little impact on the environment compared to fossil fuel power plants, there is some concern over the noise produced by the rotor blades, aesthetic (visual) impacts, and birds and bats having been killed (avian/bat mortality) by flying into the rotors. Most of these problems have been resolved or greatly reduced through technological development or by properly siting wind plants.
Supply and Transport Issues
The major challenge to using wind as a source of power is that it is intermittent and does not always blow when electricity is needed. Wind cannot be stored (although wind-generated electricity can be stored, if batteries are used), and not all winds can be harnessed to meet the timing of electricity demands. Further, good wind sites are often located in remote locations far from areas of electric power demand (such as cities). Finally, wind resource development may compete with other uses for the land, and those alternative uses may be more highly valued than electricity generation. However, wind turbines can be located on land that is also used for grazing or even farming.
For More Information
Much additional information on wind energy science and technology and wind energy development issues is available through the Web. Visit the Wind Energy Links page to access sites with more information. In particular, the DOE Wind Energy Technologies page has good information on wind energy basics, and is the source for much of the information presented here. The American Wind Energy Association web site has an excellent FAQ page with information about wind technology, and the The Danish Wind Industry Association web site has extensive information about wind energy and technology, including a 28-minute video introducing wind technology.