Renewable energy resources are generally defined as energy that comes from resources which are naturally replenished on a human timescale such as wind, sunlight, geothermal heat, and water in the form of rain, and tides, waves.
Wind power is the conversion of wind energy into a useful form of energy, such as using wind turbines to produce electrical power, windmills for mechanical power. Wind has
been recognized as a source of energy, in some capacity, for several
hundred years. People used wind as the sole power source for boats, to
pump water, or grind grain.
Wind is a form of solar energy. Wind is caused by the uneven heating of the atmosphere by the sun, the irregularities of the earth's surface, and rotation of the earth. Wind flow patterns are modified by the earth's terrain, bodies of water, and vegetative cover. This wind flow, or motion energy, when "harvested" by modern wind turbines, can be used to generate electricity.
The terms "wind energy" or "wind power" describe the process by which the wind is used to generate mechanical power or electricity. Wind turbines convert the kinetic energy in the wind into mechanical power. This mechanical power can be used for specific tasks. A generator can convert this mechanical power into electricity to power homes, businesses, and schools.
Wind turbines, like aircraft propeller blades, turn in moving air and power an electric generator that supplies an electric current. Simply stated, a wind turbine is the opposite of a fan. Instead of using electricity to make wind, like a fan, wind turbines use wind to make electricity. The wind turns the blades, which spin a shaft, which connects to a generator and makes electricity.
windmill used for the production of electricity was built in Scotland in
July 1887 by Prof James Blyth of Anderson's College, Glasgow. Blyth's
10 meter high, cloth-sailed wind turbine was installed in the garden of
his holiday cottage at Marykirk in Kincardineshire and was used to
charge accumulators developed by the Frenchman Camille Alphonse Faure,
to power the lighting in the cottage, thus making it the first house in
the world to have its electricity supplied by wind power.
offered the surplus electricity to the people of Marykirk for lighting
the main streets of the town. They turned the offer down because they
thought electricity was the work of the devil. Although he later built a
wind turbine to supply emergency power to the local Lunatic Asylum,
Infirmary and Dispensary of Montrose the invention never really caught
on as the technology was not considered to be economically viable.
There are two basic types of modern wind turbines: the horizontal-axis variety, and the vertical-axis design, like the eggbeater-style Darrieus model, named after its French inventor. Horizontal-axis wind turbines typically either have two or three blades. These three-bladed wind turbines are operated "upwind," with the blades facing into the wind.
Wind turbines are available in a variety of sizes, and therefore power ratings. The largest machine has blades that span more than the length of a football field, stands 20 building stories high, and produces enough electricity to power 1,400 homes. A small home-sized wind machine has rotors between 8 and 25 feet in diameter and stands upwards of 30 feet and can supply the power needs of an all-electric home or small business. Utility-scale turbines range in size from 50 to 750 kilowatts. Single small turbines, below 50 kilowatts, are used for homes, telecommunications dishes, or water pumping.
As you can imagine, there are advantages to using wind as a source of energy. But there are, however, disadvantages that must be considered. Both are listed below.
Wind is a renewable non-polluting resource
Wind energy is a free, renewable resource, so no matter how much is used today, there will still be the same supply in the future. Wind energy is also a source of clean, non-polluting, electricity. Unlike conventional power plants, wind plants emit no air pollutants or greenhouse gases. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, in 1990, California's wind power plants offset the emission of more than 2.5 billion pounds of carbon dioxide, and 15 million pounds of other pollutants that would have otherwise been produced. It would take a forest of 90 million to 175 million trees to provide the same air quality.
Even though the cost of wind power has decreased dramatically in the past 10 years, the technology requires a higher initial investment than fossil-fueled generators. Roughly 80% of the cost is the machinery, with the balance being site preparation and installation. If wind generating systems are compared with fossil-fueled systems on a "life-cycle" cost basis (counting fuel and operating expenses for the life of the generator), however, wind costs are much more competitive with other generating technologies because there is no fuel to purchase and minimal operating expenses.
Although wind power plants have little impact on the environment compared to fossil fuel power plants, there is some concern over the noise produced by the rotor blades, visual impacts, and birds and bats having been killed by flying into the rotors.
Supply and Transport Difficulties
The major challenge to using wind as a source of power is that it is intermittent and does not always blow when electricity is needed. Wind cannot be stored (although wind-generated electricity can be stored, if batteries are used), and not all winds can be harnessed to meet the timing of electricity demands. Further, good wind sites are often located in remote locations far from areas of electric power demand (such as cities). Finally, wind resource development may compete with other uses for the land, and those alternative uses may be more highly valued than electricity generation. However, wind turbines can be located on land that is also used for grazing or even farming.
Wind turbines can be built on land or offshore in large bodies of water like oceans and lakes. Though the United States does not currently have any offshore wind turbines, the Department of Energy is funding efforts that will make this technology available in U.S. waters.