Wind is created by uneven heat in the atmosphere caused by the sun.
This makes the surface and the rotation of the earth irregular. Bodies of water, terrain, and plants directly influence wind flow.
Though people have been using wind energy for centuries with windmills powering water pumps, wind turbines are a fairly new invention.
Wind turbines convert wind into an available form of electricity, and they can power anywhere from a single home to hundreds of homes.
There are 3 different types of wind energy.
1) Utility-scale wind: turbines that are bigger than 100 kilowatts which direct electricity to the power grid which is then distributed by utilities or operators,
2) distributed/ “small” wind: turbines equal to or less than 100 kilowatts are used to power a house, farm, or small business,
3) offshore wind: turbines in water which are used around the world except in the U.S.A.
How does wind power work?
Wind is harvested by wind turbines to create electricity.
The turbines convert kinetic energy into mechanical energy when the turbine blades turn, powering the electric generator which supplies electric currents or electricity.
Turbines are made of steel and stand up to 325 ft. tall. The “hub” secures the blades and the “nacelle” protects the gearbox, shaft, controls, and generator.
The turbine also has equipment which assesses the wind and will rotate to face the wind. Additionally, it will pitch/angle its blades in order capture the most energy efficiently.
Turbines are most often built as a group and function like a wind power plant.
The electricity travels from the turbines and down into the power grid where operators distribute the electricity where it is needed.
Transmission lines that are smaller (distribution lines) collect electricity created at the wind farm and takes it to bigger transmission lines. From here the electricity can travel longer distances until the smaller distribution lines take the electricity to towns and homes.
What can wind energy be used for?
Wind energy can be used singularly to power a ranch, farm, house, or small business.
Several turbines are used to power larger sections such as towns. Wind energy can be used as a supplement to energy in order to cut down energy costs.
Wind energy can power houses, businesses, water pumps, and anything else that requires electricity.
How are wind farms developed?
Factors such as wind resources, land access, transmission line access, sell-ability of the electricity, and other such developing factors play a role in where the wind farms are set up.
After those factors are taken into account, the developer conducts transmission studies, resource assessment, and siting and permitting over a several year period.
Usually the developer must lease the land from a private landowner which can help fuel a small economy.
In the early stages of development, the developer works to create contracts with an electricity purchaser and will start to put together the turbines.
The developed project has a life span of about 20-30 years. After the project is up and running (after its development stage) its maintenance shifts to the project owner or the operator.
What are potential problems?
Though the turbines have no real impact on the environment, there have been concerns about the noise they make as well as the birds that have been killed by flying into the blades.
However, most of these problems have been reduced with technological development.
Another problem comes in the form of financial issues because the initial investment cost is higher than it is for fossil fuels.
However, wind energy cost has decreased a lot over the last ten years. Also, over the course of its life span, it is much cheaper to use wind energy because there are no additional fuel purchases and they have comparatively very small operating expenses.
Most of the cost is just in the up-front material used to create the wind turbines.
Why wind energy?
Wind powered electricity is clean, renewable, and doesn’t deplete natural resources such as water to power it. There is always wind to harvest.
Wind also cuts down on greenhouse gas emissions as it continues to replace the fossil fuels that cause global warming.
The wind industry also feeds our economy billions of dollars every year. Since 2008 it has generated private investment exceeding $100 billion in the U.S.A.
The wind industry also helps out rural communities through lease-based payments to citizens who own land.