Ancient civilizations used the power of the wind to sail the seven seas. Further techniques to harness wind even involved powering furnaces for higher heat or building windmills to simplify their daily tasks. In our generation, however, we harness to power the lives we live.
A Human Experience
The human experience always remembers the presence of the sun and wind. The sun rises on each day of our lives. We feel its warmth upon our skin, as well as its heat on a hot summer day. The wind has a similar impact upon our lives, though, I believe, in a more tangible manner. We feel the sun's heat, but we feel the wind's touch.
When the wind pushes behind us, we walk more efficiently. When it pushes against us, we take just a bit longer to move. Depending on the climate, we would either revel in its caress or try to escape its stingy arctic kiss.
During humanity's evolution, we have learned to become ever efficient at using wind power to ease the burden of our daily needs. Our generation took the next step by harnessing wind for electricity generation.
Brief History of Wind
Persians saw the first recorded use of wind power for pumping water and grinding grains (Energy.gov). In the late 1880s, civilization saw the first wind-powered electrical generator created by Charles F. Brush (Third Planet Windpower). However, like any other new technology, it quickly found its way onto the shelves of obscurity until oil and gas pricing renewed interest (Energy.gov).
Welcome, fellow Steemians, to our sixth installment in the Energy series. In this post, we will discuss wind power and its basics, the effect upon the environment, and much more! We did not address the topic of wind energy in our first installment (Energy - Overview).
In our Energy series, we discussed how various forms of power production ultimately produce electricity. Coal, nuclear, concentrating solar, and hydroelectric power plants product electricity similarly albeit with different sources of fuel. Wind power is not too different except that here, the wind is the driving source of power production.
Wind Power Generation
Basics of Wind Power
The production of electricity from wind power is simplicity itself. The wind hits the blades of the turbine and causes it to rotate. The turbine, through its rotation, converts the kinetic energy of the wind into electrical energy produced by a generator that spins with the turbine. The generator creates Direct Current (DC) electricity and sends it to an inverter typically stationed at the base of the wind tower. The inverter converts DC to Alternating Current (AC) before transfer to that station's transformers.
If you recall our prior discussion on solar power, we need to convert DC to AC for reliable transfer of voltages across distances.
Energy flows through cabling and reaches a transformer whose output can be modified depending on how far it needs to travel. Various sub and control stations link wind turbines together for a controlled power disbursement.
Power Plant Demographics
Power Plant Types
In the United States, Energy.gov classifies wind projects by utility-scale or distributed wind. Utility-scale projects represent the use of multiple turbines across a large area for considerable amounts of power production. Distributed wind projects are on a much smaller scale and focus on smaller communities (WINDExchange-Energy.gov).
Each project consists of either the most common horizontal-type turbines or the least common vertical-type. The difference between the two is how the turbine blades are mounted: horizontally or vertically. Vertical-type turbines are most effective where space is more confined, and winds are more subject to gusting conditions (Wind Power). However, vertical-type turbines do not produce as much power as horizontal types.
Maximizing Wind Use
Our prior discussion on solar power showed us systems that automatically adjusted positions of photovoltaic cells and mirrors to receive the most sunlight possible for maximum power generation. We create technology to maximize the use of fuel for the most significant output.
Wind power is no different. Wind power systems measure the direction and strength of the wind. The systems will adjust the position of either the turbines or blades for the maximum wind resistance against the turbine. Maximum wind resistance provides the most significant power output (Acciona).
The map shown above represents the contribution of wind energy to each state's energy portfolio. The higher the value and darker the color, the more the state utilizes in wind energy. Similar maps exist for all areas of the globe where countries use wind.
Nowadays, there is nary a country unwilling to explore large-scale use of wind power. During 2018, the worldwide capacity of wind power reached approximately 600 GW of power (World Wide Energy Association).
Six hundred gigawatts of power is equivalent to almost 600 nuclear power plants operating nearly at full strength. However, this is just a comparison. There isn't a 600 GW wind power plant operating anywhere. Companies may need to spread out wind turbines to ensure they can capture as much wind as effectively as possible.
Companies base potential capacity and location for power plants on the wind resources available throughout various areas of a region. The higher the supply and stability of wind flow, the more likely companies will invest in its development.
The total capacity, across the globe, exists between thousands of wind turbines. For instance, the United States wind power output is approximately 100 GW across about 57,000 turbines.
Wind Power Advantages
The environmental impact is moderate to significant in that various sizes of land are disturbed for the turbine's construction and development compared to other forms of power production. Also, recovery of the area is possible in much shorter time frames. It would take perhaps a year or so to ultimately reclaim a space used for wind power as opposed to decades to centuries for nuclear power.
Now, regarding the areas of land use for wind, the industry is minimizing the amount of land used protect wildlife affected by turbine operation.
Clean Energy Source & Use
In my opinion, wind power presents the cleanest form of energy covered in this series. The use of wind power produces no greenhouse gases. It does not have the potential to contaminate the ground, water, or air significantly.
Depending on the type of turbine, there may be a use of lubricants and oil to keep the system running. Once again, however, the amount of chemicals used is significantly smaller than other forms of power production discussed.
The various existing Wind Energy groups actively and publically seek out issues that would affect its publicity and safety record. There are issues, for instance, with noise and the collision of birds bats upon the turbine blades.
The industry admits it is a problem they are responsible for solving and are working on solutions. One solution developed was to reduce turbine operations during migratory bat seasons voluntarily (Wind Power). It is certainly interesting because I haven't read about any other power plants or industry volunteering to do anything like that for wildlife as openly as the Wind Power industry.
Wind Power Disadvantages
Any change in the environment impacts the ecosystem in one way or another. Since building a power plant only benefits humans, it is safe to state that there will be some harm to the environment. Wind power is no exception to the rule. A goal of power production must include reducing the impact of any project to as low as reasonably achievable.
Wind power is arguably the least reliable form of electricity production available. If the wind isn't blowing one day, there will be no power. Also, if the wind isn't blowing consistently enough, power production is unreliable.
If you want reliable wind resources, you need to go where the wind blows. The areas where these exist are in remote regions where people don't live. Companies will need to invest more resources into delivering power reliably to populated areas.
Low frequency pulsing noises are frequent and annoying enough to cause distractions in everyday life. However, they do not appear to have any outstanding health effects outside of this observation. The nature and design of wind turbines, however, do allow for reasonably faster designs of turbines and blades that do not affect power output (World Sustainability Forum). Fortunately, the industry appears to be listening.
The industry and participating organizations recognize that turbine blades are a threat to birds and bats, as plenty of them have died as a result of collisions. Energy.gov reports the industry is taking strives to reduce this problem (Energy.gov) (WINDExchange-Energy.gov).
Wind power, similar to solar, produces clean electricity with a minimal impact on the environment when compared to coal, nuclear, and hydroelectric power.
The Achilles heel of wind power, unfortunately, is that we cannot create wind power plants without a viable and sustainable source of wind.
We are only able to operate wind turbines during certain wind speeds and must be very careful where we build the turbine to avoid impacting human and wildlife routines.
It is arguably the cleanest form of electricity production available to date.
Each topic presented poses different challenges during research. It is essential to cite all available references for this work to ensure that all readers can validate the information presented as they desire. The goal, ultimately, is the dissemination of accurate and thoughtful information.