Wind power has recently become a hot topic as global concerns over the environmental impact of fossil fuels have risen, and the threat of draining the world’s fossil fuel reserves has loomed. In 2008, wind power accounted for roughly 1.5% of the world’s electricity production, having doubled between 2005-2008. Wind power electricity production varies enormously between countries; in Denmark, it accounts for 19% of electricity production, whilst China produces only 0.4% of its electricity from wind.
How is electricity generated from wind?
In basic terms, electricity is generated by the movement of a magnet inside a metallic coil, or the movement of a metallic coil around a magnet. The changing magnetic field induces an electric current. Therefore all forms of electricity generation rely on a force of movement; where fossil fuels are used to generate electricity, the fuel is used to heat water, converting it to steam. The steam drives the turbines, which move the coil around a magnet to generate electricity. For wind power, wind turns the blades of the wind turbines to produce the electricity. The turbines of the wind farm are connected with a power collection system, usually a mid-voltage system (34.5kV). A transformer, located at a substation, increases the voltage of the current to allow the electricity produced by the wind turbines to flow into the high voltage National Grid.
The history of wind power
Wind power has always been used in the powering of boats and ships, or in ventilating buildings. Since the 600s, windmills have been used to mill grain and as a pump system for irrigation, which became particularly central to agriculture in the United States. Small individual turbines had been to provide electricity to isolated American ranches.
However, the wind turbines as we know them today were first patented in 1891 by Professor James Blyth. The first wind turbine was erected in Marykirk, Scotland and had cloth blades. Later in the 1890s, Poul la Cour, a Danish scientist, invented the wind turbine to generate electricity on a larger scale. The wind power industry emerged in the late 1970s, with the production of small wind turbines by several Danish companies. Now wind turbines are widespread across the globe, and production of electricity from wind is growing.
Advantages and disadvantages of wind power
Wind turbines are a low cost alternative to fossil fuels or hydroelectricity, and are relatively inexpensive to maintain. Wind turbines consume no fuel and produce no damaging emissions. However, production of electricity from wind is always less reliable as wind levels constantly change. There is also an argument that they detract from the aesthetics of the countryside, particularly along coastlines. Plans to erect wind farms in rural locations in the UK often meet with much protestation from locals.
The future of wind power
The potential power to be generated from wind is much greater than the current energy consumption of the world, by approximately five times. However, this is a theoretical potential; practical considerations mean that the potential energy available to convert to electricity, while still significant, is much lower than this. This is because many sites suitable for wind power generation are far from demand centres, which would mean much more financial expenditure to lay transmission lines and build substations. However, many incentives for wind power have been put in place, such as subsidies, tax credits (as in the USA), green credits and feed-in tariffs. For environmentally-conscious companies using wind power, many will pay a premium price for the electricity, some of which subsidises and builds new wind power infrastructures.
Wind power is an exciting alternative to the fossil fuel, and its use has developed enormously over the past few years to take a more prominent position in world energy production. Although the potential of the resource is vast, there are still some significant hurdles to fully harnessing the possibilities of wind power.
Please see this article and further information about our language services on TJC Oxford.