All About Wind Energy
Written by: Bill Herren
Wind power relies on the conversion of natural wind into a renewable energy source. Wind power can be generated from wind turbines, windmills, windpumps, and sails. As an alternative to fossil fuels, wind power provides enough electricity to power homes, businesses, and schools. Its abundance makes it a sensible, cost-effective option. As a clean energy source, it leaves less of an imprint on the environment than conventional energy sources. Eighty three countries around the world have taken advantage of wind power, accounting for 2.5% of total worldwide electricity usage. The wind power market is expected to grow 8% by 2018.
The History of Wind Energy
Wind power heralds as one of the oldest renewable technologies invented by mankind. Wind-driven sailboats and ships have existed for thousands of years. Ancient architects used wind-powered ventilation to cool buildings. Wind-driven machines originated later in antiquity, roughly around the 1st century AD. During the 9th century, Persia built and used the first windmills. The use of windmills spread across the Middle East and Central Asia before reaching China and India. By 1000 AD, windmills became the energy source to pump seawater into China and Sicily to harvest its salt content. Societies in Northwestern Europe used windmills to grind flour. Windpumps were also used to drain land for agricultural production and for building. Immigration brought wind power to the Americas.
The development of water-pumping windmills allowed farming and ranching to flourish in areas devoid of accessible water. Windpumps contributed to the expansion of the railway systems throughout the world by pumping water from wells for steam locomotives. The first proposition for coal-to-wind power conversion came in 1881 by Lord Kelvin. This spurred many inventions from 1887 to the mid-1920s, including a cloth-sailed turbine and wind-powered generators. Modifications made the wind turbine and wind-powered generator the backbone of wind-powered energy.
How it Works
As one of the oldest renewable technologies to produce energy, wind power works by using one of the planet’s freely given natural resources. Mechanical or electrical power materializes through the kinetic energy of the wind. As a result, power generation increases and wanes with wind speeds. Unlike fossil fuels, wind power cannot deplete or produce pollution. Power generation remains proportional to the cube of its speed, which means that power increases by a factor of eight as wind speeds double. Wind power generation relies on wind turbines to capture the kinetic energy produced by wind speeds. In order to produce sufficient quantities, wind turbines must be constructed in a location where speeds reach 16 to 20 mph and at an elevation of 50 meters. Power plants should also be located nearby. Wind turbines function similarly to the propeller blades on an airplane. As the hub of the turbine rotates, it turns the generator that creates electricity.
- How Wind Power Works
- Wind Energy Basics: How Wind Turbines Work
- How Wind Energy Works
- How a Wind Turbine Works
- Harness the Power of Wind
The Uses of Wind Energy Today
Modern wind-driven technology that creates energy takes the conversion process a step further than its predecessors. The use of wind turbines remains at the forefront of mechanical power production. The incorporation of electric generators has become the newest addition that transcends the process by creating electrical power. In fact, wind farms can generate enough electricity to power residential homes, businesses, and schools. Further developments could power entire electrical grids. Large-scale wind farms have the capability to assist power stations in generating electricity. The downside to using wind power lies in its inconsistent production. As wind speeds begin to drop, so does energy production. This makes it difficult to power electrical grid applications that require a continuous flow of electricity.
- Wind Power: A Clean, Renewable Form of Energy
- Renewable Energy Sources in the United States: Wind Power
- Wind Energy Foundation: FAQs
- Wind Energy Technology: An Introduction
Environmental and Economic Impact
Fossil fuels have earned a reputation for negatively impacting the environment. They also have contributed to economic instability with drastic price swings. Fortunately, wind power offers a sufficient supply of energy that will not harm the environment or the economy. Wind energy produces no emissions related to climate change. Wind turbines use free fuel immune to market fluctuation. It only takes less than a year to build a wind farm, a fraction of the time to construct a coal or natural-gas power plant. Wind farms can generate enough energy to pay back all of the money spent on the construction and installation of wind turbines. Wind power does not produce acid rain, mercury in fish, respiratory illnesses, coal mine slag, and other environmental pollution. It also does not require water for operation, an important attribute as water shortages become a major issue on the global front.
- The National Resources Defense Council: Wind Energy
- Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects (2007)
- Studying the Impacts of Wind Energy: Environmental Scientist Rick Webb Serves on NRC Committee
- Wind Energy Benefits (PDF)
The Future of Wind Energy
Wind energy has made positive strides insomuch that it will have a strong presence in the future. If expansion continues at the pace set today, wind turbines will proliferate for decades. Opponents of wind energy claim that the turbines are eyesores, kill birds, and disrupt the natural beauty of the environment. Many believe that wind farms will crowd natural landscapes. Fear not. Offshore wind energy will rapidly increase on the open seas, where wind production is greater than on land. Wind farms will continue to pop up in windy areas, such as the Great Plains. Popular states for wind turbine constructions are Iowa, Texas, and Nebraska. Turbines may also appear on large buildings – such as skyscrapers – in urban environments. The future holds plentiful amounts of wind turbines ready to create clean, renewable energy for millions of people.
- Finally Time for Wind?
- The Future for Wind Farms
- The Future of Offshore Wind Energy
- The Future of Wind Power: Future Uses and Adaptations
- Will Offshore Wind Finally Take Off on U.S. East Coast?
Resources for Students
- Hands-On Activity: Wind Energy
- Working with Wind Energy Lesson Plans
- Should We be Tilting at Windmills? Take the Wind Farms Quiz!
- Renewable Energy Informational Sheets for Students: Wind Energy
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