What Is Wind Energy
Wind energy refers to power from the wind, often collected by turbines and sails. Humans have used wind energy for thousands of years. We were using sails to navigate the Nile River as early as 5,000 BC. China was powering water pumps, and in Persia windmills with woven reed blades were grinding grain by 200 BC (eia.gov). Merchants and Crusaders brought the technology back to Europe, and by the 11th century, everyone had it.
Until the oil shortages of the 1970’s, wind energy technology stalled. Since then, wind energy has transformed the energy outlook for the world. Previously just a way for rural residents to power their water pumps, wind energy is now the fastest growing type of green energy.
How Does Wind Energy Work
The face of wind energy that we see and experience is turbines and the resulting electricity they generate. The way it happens is not mysterious.
Wind is caused by the uneven heating of the earth’s surface by the sun. The daily wind cycle is caused when daytime temperatures above land heat up faster than above water. As the warm air over land expands and rises because it is hot, heavier, cooler air rushes in, creating wind. This cycle reverses by night because air over land cools quicker than air over water.
An even bigger wind cycle happens planet-wide when atmospheric winds circle the Earth because the land at the equator is hotter than the land at either pole. Wind energy taps into this Earthly perpetual motion by capturing the wind’s endless energy in turbines and sails.
Turbines come in two main types, horizontal and vertical. Almost all turbines in use now are horizontal. Other types of turbines are in development. Turbines are a simple technology that uses blades to collect energy when the wind flows over the blades creating lift that spins the blades. Then a drive shaft connected to the blades turns electric generator that makes electricity.
Building wind farms isn’t as simple as erecting some turbines on a windy knoll on afternoon. The amount and speed of wind is everything in wind farming. Luckily, wind speed is known to increase with altitude and over open areas. Mountain gaps that funnel wind are good prospects for wind farming, as are the smooth tops of rounded hills, flat open plains, and water. Click here for a fascinating interactive map detailing wind currents in the US.
Wind speed typically increases with altitude and increases over open areas without windbreaks. Good sites for wind turbines include the tops of smooth, rounded hills; open plains and water; and mountain gaps that funnel and intensify wind.
Facts About Wind Energy
- Wind Power is Old as Dirt
Humans have been using the power of the wind practically since the second wind blew. Literally windmills and sails date back at least to 7,000 years ago.
- Wind Turbines are Getting Bigger and Better
According to energy.gov, the size of wind turbines has increased 127% from their size in 1999. Today’s turbine typically has 8,000 components, 170’ blades and stands as tall as the Statue of Liberty.
- Taller Turbines Make More Energy Available
It’s even windier higher up in our atmosphere, so the increasing size of wind turbines will enable us to expand the area that can be wind farmed.
- Wind is Getting Cheap as Dirt.
Wind is the largest renewable generation capacity in the US at 82 gigawatts (GW), or the amount of electricity needed to power 20 million homes. Recently in the Wind Technologies Market Report, it was reported that leveled prices (the price the utility pays to buy the energy from the producer) as low as .02 cents a kilowatt hour (kWh) were a reality today.
Uses of Wind Energy
The eia.gov divides energy use into sectors: the industrial sector, including manufacturing, agriculture, mining, and construction; the transportation sector, including vehicles that transport people and things; the residential sector, which includes all types of domiciles; the commercial sector which includes offices, schools, malls, and other public places; and the electric power sector, which refers to utilities that consume primary energy to generate electricity for the other sectors.
Since wind energy is converted to electricity, it can be said to be used in all energy sectors.
Actual use of wind energy in its raw form is not common anymore. A few rural areas still use windmills to operate water pumps. Today we use most of our wind energy in the form of electricity generated by wind turbines.
Due to our increasing energy needs and the cleaner impact of wind energy, the US could potentially create over half a million new jobs, save consumer’s 149 billion dollars and 260 billion gallons of water by continuing to use and develop wind energy. In fact, these happy projections are estimated to last until at least 2050’s.
5 Good Jobs in Wind Energy
Unless you live under a rock, you have probably heard the good news about jobs in renewable energy. The eia.gov website estimates that the wind industry in the US now employs over 101,000 people who manufacture most of the components for turbines at nearly 500 factories in 41 states.
Click here to go to energy.gov’s interactive career map where there is a long list of jobs in the wind industry. The website notes that in addition to the jobs they list, there are many other occupations involved in supporting the wind industry such as communications, safety, and administration.
Here are a few selections from the list of wind industry occupations.
- Entry level jobs are available transporting the component parts of wind turbines from the factory to the construction site. Such jobs may include heavy-load freight drivers, logisticians, and rail or water freight movers.
- Another entry level job in wind energy is meteorological technician. These workers are hired “to install, maintain, relocate and decommission meteorological towers and equipment used to capture information about the potential wind resource at identified locations.” Successful meteorological technicians may become wind technicians with certification and field experience.
- At the mid-level the wind industry employs buyers. These workers purchase raw materials and parts for wind turbine components and other related construction. They also evaluate, bid, and negotiate contracts with suppliers. Buyers may become sales engineers with a bachelor’s degree and relevant experience.
- Training and development managers are at the advanced level of employment in the wind industry. This employee coordinates, oversees, and assists in the development and implementation of educational programs aimed at enhancing the knowledge and skillset of all employees.
Many opportunities exist in wind energy today, with increasing opportunities forecast for the future.
Best Wind Energy Projects
Wind energy is dominating the conversation on sustainable energy this year. Perhaps it is the cantankerousness of the North Sea splashing around, or it could be the huge scale of the turbines. But for certain wind energy makes a visual impact.
Watching the blades of the turbine spin, or listening if you are close enough, draws your attention and reminds you how much human endeavor can do when we have resolved to get something accomplished.
The breathtaking image below represents just one of Vattenfall’s giant turbines, allegedly capable of powering a British household with just one revolution.
The energy.gov sponsored the Wind Vision Project to create a roadmap to realizing our country’s enormous potential for wind energy. Wind Vision is all about how to conceptualize a new vision for wind energy through 2050 and what that vision should include. The Wind Vision report ends with “a roadmap of technical, economic, and institutional activities to optimize wind’s potential contribution to a cleaner, more reliable, domestic energy generation.”
All the news about wind energy is good news. From the environmental payoffs to the actual price per kilowatt, the news is all good.
- Wind is a viable source of energy for every state in the United States and should be available in every state by 2050.
- Wind energy is affordable. Wind energy is expected to save consumers $280 billion by 2050.
- Wind energy reduces air pollution emissions. By 2050, wind energy is projected to prevent the emission of about 12.3 gigatons of greenhouse gases.
- Using wind energy conserves water. We can save enough water to fill 400,000 Olympic-size swimming pools (260 billion gallons).
- Wind energy benefits the community. Revenue from lease payments and property taxes from wind energy will reach $3.2 billion annually by 2050.
Vattenfall off Scottish Coast
As part of a larger project, Swedish energy giant, Vattenfall, has installed an 8.8 MW capacity offshore wind turbine from Vestas at the European Offshore Wind Deployment Center (EOWDC) located off the coast of Scotland.
This turbine is the most powerful turbine ever built, exceeding the previous size of 8.4 MWs on MHI Vestas’ flagship platform. It is only the first of 11 turbines planned for the project.
This turbine is so large and powerful that, according to Project Director Adam Ezzamel, “just one rotation of the blades can power the average U.K. home for a day” (Merchant). Turbines keep getting larger. The Vestas 8.8 has a tip height of 191 meters with 80-meter-long blades. By 2024, Vestas turbines’ capacity will average nearly 12 MW.
Upon completion, the facility will have a capacity of 93.2 MW and will produce 312 gigawatt-hours (GWhs) per year, amounting to power for nearly 80,000 homes and 23 percent of Aberdeen’s electricity use. The turbines will displace an estimated 134,128 metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution.
Vineyard Wind: Off Martha’s Vineyard
Offshore wind in the US will grow at a rate of 50 percent this year, and nowhere more so than off the Atlantic coast. Massachusetts and Rhode Island have just awarded contracts with a combined 1,200 megawatts of capacity for what will likely become the US’ biggest offshore wind complex.
Back in 2016, Massachusetts lawmakers set out to build 1.6 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2027. The project, Vineyard Wind, will contribute 800 megawatts and expects to be operational and selling power by 2021.
Rhode Island will award its 400-megawatt offshore wind project, Revolution Wind, to Deepwater Wind. Deepwater is the developer of the 30-megawatt demonstration-scale Block Island project off Rhode Island’s coast, which is the only offshore wind power installation in the US to date.
Noting that the Revolution Wind project is 10 times the size of Block Island, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo said, “Rhode Island made history when we built the first offshore wind farm in the United States. Today, we are doing it again” (St. John).
Gansu, the Jiuquan Wind Power Base
Called either the Gansu Wind Farm Project or Jiuquan Wind Power Base, China’s largest wind energy installation is in the Gansu province on the edge of the Gobi Desert. Gansu has more than 7,000 turbines and is one of the world’s largest wind farms as well as one of the first massive wind installations. Estimates say this farm alone could generate enough electricity to power a smallish country.
China has over 92,000 wind turbines with a generating capacity of 145 gigawatts (GW) which is nearly twice that of the US. Presently worldwide, one out of three wind turbines are in China. China continues to install turbines at a rate of more than one per hour (Hernandez).
Wind energy refers to power from the wind, often collected by turbines and sails. Wind is caused by the uneven heating of the earth’s surface by the sun. The daily wind cycle starts when daytime temperatures above land heat up faster than temperatures above water. As the warm air over land expands and rises because it is hot, heavier, cooler air rushes in, creating wind. This cycle reverses by night because air over land cools quicker. Turbines capture the wind and convert it into electricity. Currently in the US, wind turbine electric generation accounts for “nearly 6.3% of total U.S. utility-scale electricity generation” (eia.gov).
The present is rosy for the wind industry. The eia.gov website estimates that the wind industry in the US now employs over 101,000 people who manufacture most of the components for turbines at nearly 500 factories in 41 states.
The future is bright and busy for the wind energy industry. Due to our increasing energy needs and the cleaner impact of wind energy, the US could potentially create over half a million new jobs, save consumers’ 149 billion dollars and 260 billion gallons of water by continuing to use and develop wind energy. These happy projections are estimated to last until at least 2050’s. Imagine that even now, China is building and installing an estimated one wind turbine per hour, and you get an idea of what is to come. estimated
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Thanks to Wind Power Monthly for the featured image.