Wind is a promising, alternative source of energy. In the rush to find fossil fuel’s replacement as the next cheap and plentiful energy source for powering the human machine, wind gets a lot of attention. After all, it’s certainly in no small supply (except when you need to get that kite airborne), and the idea of continuous, zero-pollution energy is too enticing to ignore. Oh, and there’s the fact that mankind burns through about 400 quadrillion British Thermal Units (BTUs) annually, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Four hundred quadrillion doesn’t even sound like a real number, but consider that a single BTU is about as much energy generated by a lit match and that may help put it into perspective.
It’s not like wind hasn’t been earning its keep. For centuries, we’ve used it to mill grains, power ships and even to generate electricity, starting in the 1930s. But as energy demand climbs, so have efforts to turn wind into a viable option for producing electricity on a large scale. Wind turbines in particular are what people think of when discussing wind power. These turbines can measure more than 400 feet (122 meters) tall and weigh in at close to 400 tons. Here are some unsung, and surprising, facts about wind power.
Wind is one of the Oldest Forms of Energy
Ancient sailors first harnessed the power of the wind. Wind power dates back to at least 5000 B.C., with the earliest known use for powering sails. This is perhaps a no-brainer, but early sailors were not just the first to figure out an easier way to get from Point A to Point B. They laid the groundwork for humankind’s understanding of important concepts such as thermodynamics and lift. These principles would be key for other innovations, beginning with the very first windmills, which were powered by sails. These devices were used as mills and water pumps, and paved the way for an agricultural revolution by automating otherwise time-consuming activities.
This technology was carried to the New World, where it played an important role in settling the wilderness and plains of early America. As new technologies emerged, the windmill lost ground to steam engines and inexpensive electric power when, in the 1930s, the Rural Electrification Program brought inexpensive electricity to the rural. But wind is coming full circle, making a comeback as the price and accessibility of fossil fuels make it an increasingly prohibitive method for energy production.
One Megawatt of Wind Energy = 2,600 Fewer Tons of Carbon Dioxide
CO2! Wind energy has great potential for carbon dioxide reduction. So, with all the noise about clean energy, what kind of improvement are we really talking about with wind? Consider that every year 1MW of wind energy can offset approximately 2,600 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), and the interest comes into focus. The simple math is less fossil fuel consumption equals less CO2. And measuring carbon reduction has become a key benchmark for monitoring the progress of alternative energy adoption.
In Massachusetts (USA), for example, the average resident produced 4.5 tons of CO2 as a result of using electricity in 2004. Just 1MW of wind energy could power up to 400 homes without emitting any CO2. And besides reducing CO2 levels, wind power is dramatically easier on water supplies, with the same 1MW of wind energy saving about 1,293 million gallons of water.
In 2007, the NSA Determined Wind Farms Pose no Threat to Birds
One of the chief concerns among wind opponents is the danger the installations pose to native wildlife. After all, these massive turbines spin at lethal speeds and the colossal structures take up large swaths of space that would otherwise be wilderness, or open flight paths for birds. One particularly highly publicised wind farm, Altamont Pass in California, has been a lightning rod of controversy because of the impact poor planning has had on the bird population. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, as many as 1,300 eagles, falcons, hawks and other predatory species are killed each year because the wind turbines were constructed along a critical migration route.
Research conducted at other wind farms, however, has shown that bird populations have not been significantly impacted, and the National Academy Of Sciences has stated that bird fatalities from wind farms represent a fraction of the total number of bird deaths caused by humans.
Wind Power is Actually Solar Power
Surprise, surprise. The sun’s the mastermind behind wind power, too. And what’s the source of this magical, unending source of free and clean energy? The sun. The sun warms up our planet, but because of surface irregularities and its rotation, the Earth doesn’t heat uniformly. These variances in temperature also cause irregularities in air pressure, and air molecules migrate from areas of high air pressure to areas of low air pressure. This results in wind, the intensity, duration and direction of which are influenced by a number of factors including weather, vegetation, surface water and topography.
All of these variables add to wind’s unpredictability and contribute to the concern that it could never be consistent enough to meet all of our energy needs. Some of the most predictable winds occur offshore, which, of course, adds to construction costs.
World Wind Power Production Quadrupled from 2000 to 2006
Is the future a wind-powered world? With so much potential, companies are positioning themselves to take advantage. In fact, production surged between 2000 and 2006. And even later, in 2009, while world economies plunged, the wind industry thrived.That year alone, the installed wind power capacity, or the amount of energy capable of being produced by existing equipment, increased to 158,000 megawatts. World production is currently capable of serving the needs of 250 million people, and more than 70 countries have installations.
The United Nations recently issued a report that said making the jump from fossil fuels to renewable energy (not wind exclusively) would require more than $12 trillion over the next two decades. This level of commitment will not come easily, especially while traditional resources remain relatively inexpensive. So, in order to continue the growth curve established between 2000 and 2006, it’s going to take serious government incentives to encourage development.
In 2008, U.S. Wind Turbines Generated Enough Energy to Power Colorado
The U.S. generated 52 billion KW hours in 2008, about 1 per cent of total nationwide electricity production at the time. This may sound insignificant, but it was enough to power nearly 5 million homes — or the entire state of Colorado. As new technologies help drive down the costs associated with wind farming, the practice will, no doubt, become more and more accessible. These developments, along with government subsidies, tax breaks and other incentives, will contribute to furthering wind power production. One such initiative is green pricing programs, or options provided to customers that give them the choice to pay a premium for electricity that comes from renewable sources.
U.S. Wind Resources Could Power the Nation 10 Times Over
Could wind farms fuel the future? Some studies say they could — and then some!Although the industrial application of wind power for producing electricity has been in development for decades, it is still a relatively young technology with much to prove in terms of viability. The motivation to move forward isn’t based on what wind offers today, but rather the staggering potential it holds. Yes, it is currently an expensive endeavor requiring loads of cash and the enthusiasm of a Labrador. But when you consider the simple abundance and regularity of the wind, nothing else really comes close to matching what may be possible.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory states that the potential of land-based resources (wind farms installed on land as opposed to the open ocean) alone could provide America with its electricity needs 10 times over.
A 2009 Harvard study found that a network of turbines operating at even a modest 20 percent of capacity could supply more than 40 times the worldwide demand for electricity. If this study, and others like it, are even in the ballpark, then continuing the exploration of wind as an alternative to fossil fuels is a no-brainer.
Conclusion : As the feasibility, both technologically and financially, of these types of activities is determined, and the energy industry discovers ways to make wind as profitable as current energy markets, the number of states and countries eager to capitalise on this natural resource will likely only increase.
Source : HowStuffWorks