The Rise and Potential of Wind Energy

Published: Thu 29 May 2014
A blog entry by Sarah Chamberland

Contributed by:

Sarah Chamberland
Manager
HHI

Sarah Chamberland's Blog

Wind energy is a powerful source of renewable energy. Renewable energy sources are natural and can be easily replenished by nature. This is not so in the case of fossil fuels. Petroleum, coal and natural gas are fossil fuels which take millions of years to form and are almost impossible to replace once they are exhausted.

The most important sources of renewable energy are wind, sun and water. Energy is also generated by using geothermal power. Geothermal energy is generated from the heat that builds up underneath the earth’s crust. This heat is primarily a byproduct of the radioactive decay happening in the earth’s core, and is not expected to subside any time soon. Water is a plentiful source of energy, and rainwater as well as tidal waves are widely used for energy production. Hydroelectric power projects have massive electricity generating potential, and huge thermal dams built across rivers significantly contribute in meeting energy requirements.

Bioenergy from sources such as biowaste, ethanol, biodiesel, biogas and landfill gas are also widely used, both for industrial as well as non-industrial purposes.

Wind energy has gained in popularity over the years. It is a clean and green source of energy, and does not release harmful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Windmills have been used for centuries to pump water and grind grains, and were one of the most important and distinct features of rural landscapes and farms.

Harnessing the Wind Energy in Modern Times

Wind turbines have taken the place of windmills and they now harvest the wind energy on a large and commercial scale. Winds are created by the uneven heating of the earth’s surface by the sun. Scientific studies estimate that around 2% of the solar energy falling on the earth’s surface is converted into wind energy. According to a study conducted by Harvard University, a comprehensive and well-planned global network of wind-power stations and turbines has the potential to meet a great chunk of the energy requirements of the world population.

Wind turbines make use of wind energy which is clean, green and constantly renewed, and is free of cost. It is important for wind power stations and turbines to be established in an area with strong wind activity. There should be access to all the resources required for generating power. Wind energy powers homes and small businesses, and can even run vehicles. It is a versatile source of energy and when required, production can be ramped up considerably. Depending on the demand for power, various wind turbines can be used to meet the requirement. Large-scale turbines generate more power whereas small-scale turbines generate less power. This gives flexibility to determine power generation as per demand.

Tapping into Wind Energy

Wind turbines are essential to tap into wind energy. Turbines placed in favorable locations can function efficiently and effectively. These are mounted on towers at an ideal height of more than 100 feet or 30 meters. This helps capture wind energy better. The winds are less turbulent and travel faster at these heights. It can be generalized that the higher the tower, the more the power or the energy generated.

A wind turbine has propeller-like blades mounted on a shaft. They form a rotor and rotate when strong gusts of wind blow. The propeller blades have an action similar to that of airplane wings. When strong wind blows, pockets of low pressure form beneath the blades of the turbine. This formation is called lift. The force or pull of these low-pressure air pockets is much stronger than the force of the wind against the face of the blades. This opposing force on the face of the blades is called drag.

A combined action of these two forces makes the rotor spin at great speeds, much like a propeller. This spinning or rotation at great speeds generates kinetic energy which is captured and converted into electricity by a generator.

Where Are Wind Turbines Installed?

Wind turbines are set up in areas where there is strong wind activity. Turbines can be installed in homes, moving boats and caravans, or on hill-tops. The wind generated in an area determines the success and scalability of the energy production systems set up in that area.

Wind turbines can function as stand-alone applications and generate power. They can also be connected to a utility power grid and supplement traditional power supply. This helps ease the demand on traditional sources of power. They can also be connected to, and combined with, a photovoltaic (solar cell) system and increase the efficiency of the solar power system.

Stand-alone turbine systems are commonly used for pumping water. Low demand for electricity can be easily quenched by these systems. They are commonly used in farms, ranches and individual homes to lower power bills.

A network of wind turbines forms a wind plant. They generate power commercially and on a large scale. Several utility providers use wind plants to supply power to consumers.

Thus we can see wind turbines act as independent sources of power as well as lend a helping hand to and supplement the traditional power distribution.

Installation of Turbines

Proper and sound groundwork is required for installing wind turbines.

The turbines are usually built on strong concrete foundations. These foundations are embedded at a depth of at least 1m meter below the ground surface. In a wind plant, the numerous wind turbines are connected by a network of cables. They too are embedded at a similar depth of around 1 meter. The rotor and the blades are very heavy and have to be installed with great care. Quality and reputed lifting and rigging systems and procedures should be employed. Lift plans must be well-planned and executed to enable proper setting up of wind turbines.

Conclusion

Wind energy has several benefits. It is renewable and does not release harmful pollutants into the atmosphere. The remote location of wind power installations and inconsistency in power generation poses a few problems, but with advancing technology they can be easily overcome. Experts expect wind power generation to meet 20% of America’s energy requirement in the coming future. This alone is a testimony to the immense potential and promise that wind energy holds.