Wind Power

What Wind Power is:

Wind power is the energy or electricity produced by using the wind to turn a turbine.

How Wind Power is made:

Wind power is wonderfully simple! In fact if you’ve ever blown a pinwheel you’ve essentially made wind power, you just haven’t turned it into electricity. For producing electricity, a turbine is positioned so that it’s blades catch the wind. The wind spins the turbine, and the turbine spins the magnet in the generator. In the case of wind power, bigger is better, which is why the turbine blades of industrial trubines are usually over 50 meters long. It’s also all about location, location, location because electricity is only produced when the wind is able to spin those giant blades. Wind turbines are best positioned on high ground or off-shore, and are often made so that the head where the blades are connected can spin to be positioned in the direction of the wind.

How much of our current electricity is produced by Wind Power:

Wind power generation currently is responsible for about 4.1% of the total electricity generated in the U.S. (up from 3.46% in 2012!). The good news is that the U.S. is one of the largest and fastest growing wind markets. In 2012, 43% of all new electricity generation were wind turbines.

Potential energy supply:

The Department of Energy envisions that 20% of all electricity used in the U.S. could be produced from wind power by the year 2030. This estimate includes 4% generated off-shore. If we took full advantage of off-shore wind, more than 17 TW of electricity could be generated by wind power, which is 4 times as much electricity as the U.S. uses in a year.

Materials and how we get them:

The wind tower is made of steel built on a cement foundation. The casing for the tower and the gear box (or nacelle) is made of fiberglass which is a type of reinforced plastic made in a factory out of silica sand, limestone, and soda ash. The rotor blades are also made of fiberglass.

Waste produced and how we deal with it:

While producing electricity, wind turbines don’t make any sort of waste. The only waste associated with wind turbines is what comes from the manufacturing and construction of the turbines.

Cost:

The average price of wind power in 2012 was about $0.04 per kWh. An industrial sized turbine costs $1-2 million per MW of capacity. Wind power has significant economy of scale. Small turbines are much more expensive per watt than large turbines.

Challenges:

Wind power requires wind, of course. And wind can be unpredictable. With our current grid and battery technology, it is difficult to store wind power for use when the wind dies down. Off-shore wind harvesting would provide a more steady source, but requires greater infrastructure and is often poo-pooed by NIMBY’s (Not In My Back Yard folk) who don’t want turbines showing up in their water view.

The best location for wind turbines is usually in rural areas, which means the power must be transported to urban areas where it will be used, requiring transmission lines to be built.

There has been some problems with birds getting caught by the blades of wind turbines and noise pollution, but this can usually be solved by better siting and technological advances.

It’s also worth mentioning that there have been complaints of health issues associated with the vibrations caused by the spinning rotors. If you’d like more information on why some people oppose wind power – at least on the industrial production level, you can check out Wind Watch.


For an introduction on sources of electricity, look here.
For an explanation of how we make electricity, look here
Clean Coal,
Nuclear Energy,
Hydroelectricity

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