Wind as an Energy Source
Wind is one of the cleanest, if not the cleanest, renewable energy sources available to us. What most people don’t know is it is also the fastest growing energy sector.
Wind is an indirect version of solar power. Different surfaces on the Earth react differently to being hit by sunlight, particular in regards to heat. As sunlight heats up surfaces, they warm up at different rates. The surround air also warms up at different rates, fertilizing the wind process. Temperatures over a body of water like a lake will always be cooler than temperatures over rocky ground. Hot air rises and cool air rushes into fill such voids. As this process occurs, the rushing air manifests as wind and an incredibly cheap and clean energy source.
The fact that wind is a naturally occurring event makes it a great energy source. Consider the following:
- Wind is a renewable energy source because it will exist as long as sunlight beats down on us.
- Wind has been used by man as an energy source ever since we’ve sailed boats.
- The first windmills were used to turn wheels to grind grain in Iran.
- American colonist used windmills to move water, grind grain and cut wood.
- Wind energy harnessed by windmills was a dominant source of energy in rural America in the 1920s.
- In modern times, California is the biggest user of wind power and produces twice as much electricity as any other state.
- Modern windmills actually come in two forms, vertical and horizontal models.
- Horizontal windmills are the stereotypical version that comes to your mind when the word is mentioned.
- Vertical mills look like upside down egg beaters, but are hypnotic when they spin.
- Unlike traditional utilities, most energy produced by wind is done by private businesses and sold to utilities through an electric grid hookup.
- Wind power in the U.S. generates a whopping 17 billion kilowatts per year, more than enough to provide all electrical needs for the city of Chicago.
- More than 30 states have wind farms generating and supplying electricity to utility companies.
- California, Texas, Minnesota, Iowa, and Wyoming are the dominant forces in producing energy from wind.
- The biggest energy producer from wind is Germany, which is also dominant in solar power production.
For many, these wind findings will be a surprise. The sole fact that there is enough power produced by wind energy to handle a city the size of Chicago is pretty impressive. As we move into the 21st century, new technology is heading in the direction of creating wind energy platforms for individual residences.
Reasons Wind Power Is a Viable Energy Solution
Using the wind to harness energy from our environment is hardly a new concept. Ancient Persians are believed to have been the first group to use windmills to turn grain grinding machines. The Dutch, of course, are also famous for their windmills and so on. In modern days, however, wind energy platforms are much more refined and used primarily for energy production.
To get energy from wind, we must focus on a concept known as kinetic energy. Do to micro-climate situations, wind is produced fairly readily in a natural process. The sun heats the ground, but does so at different rates. In areas where the ground is heated faster, the air rises as temperatures go up. Air from cooler surrounding areas then rushes in to fill the gap. We then convert it into usable electricity by catching it with wind turbines. The wind is caught by the blades of a spinner, which turns, cranks a generator and electricity is produced. This process is natural and simple, but produces a monstrous amount of energy. If we could harness all the wind in the world, we would have more than 10 times the amount of energy we need for the entire globe. Of course, harnessing it is the problem.
There are a number of reasons why wind power is part of our energy solution. First, it produces no pollution or greenhouse gases. Second, it is renewable and will last for as long as our son – about another four billion years. Third, wind energy is available in practically any country, which means no reliance on foreign sources. Fourth, wind power produces more jobs per watt produced than all other energy platforms, including oil and coal.
Wind power is growing in use and popularity in places such as Germany and China. In the United States, California has three large wind farms that are used to provide power during massive energy use periods in the summer. The process is viable, but we must accept it and pursue better technology to wring the most out of the huffing and puffing of Mother Nature.
A wind farm is simply a collection of wind turbines in a location used to produce electricity. Wind farms can be found in the United States, but are far more prevalent in Europe. China is also beginning to invest large amounts of resources in wind farms as its energy needs grow.
The fundamentals of electricity production through wind farms are pretty simple. Highly efficient wind turbines are placed in locations where they will receive the maximum amount of wind energy. These turbines can be traditional horizontal windmills or vertical eggbeater windmills.
Regardless, the wind turns the blades as it passes, which turns a generator within the turbine. The turning motion converts the wind energy into electricity when the generator cranks, which is then sent into a utility company power grid or stored in batteries. This process is similar to hydropower with wind being used instead of water.
The stereotypical wind farm is an exercise in topography. The goal is to find locations where wind exists as frequently as possible. Put in practical terms, ideal spots are in areas where ground variation occurs as wind is produced when different surface areas heat up at different rates. As each surface heats up, the air rises and cooler air rushes in to replace it. Thus, we have wind. Given this situation, ideal locations for wind farms are often along shorelines or in valleys funneling winds from the shore.
Many people are under the impression that wind farms are located only in areas of land where winds are howling through valleys and over hills. While this is certainly true, the current trend is to build wind farms off the shorelines of countries.
The advantage of offshore wind farms has to do with the frequency and generation of winds. Shorelines represent fertile wind generation areas. On top of this, the open space of the ocean allows winds generated from remote locations to move towards shorelines. If you have ever spent time going sailing, you have an understanding of how strong these winds can be. On top of all of this, placing wind farms in the ocean avoids the cost of buying pricey space on land.
Wind farms are up and functioning in most first world countries. The bigger issue is getting them to produce enough energy at as low a price as possible to make them a viable energy production platform.