Wind power

Wind power
Wind power: worldwide installed capacity [1]
Wind power: worldwide installed capacity forecast [1][2]
Burbo Bank Offshore Wind Farm, at the entrance to the River Mersey in North West England
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Wind power is the conversion of wind energy into a useful form of energy, such as using wind turbines to make electricity, windmills for mechanical power, windpumps for water pumping or drainage, or sails to propel ships.

The total amount of economically extractable power available from the wind is considerably more than present human power use from all sources.[3] At the end of 2010, worldwide nameplate capacity of wind-powered generators was 197 gigawatts (GW).[4] Wind power now has the capacity to generate 430 TWh annually, which is about 2.5% of worldwide electricity usage.[4][5] Over the past five years the average annual growth in new installations has been 27.6 percent. Wind power market penetration is expected to reach 3.35 percent by 2013 and 8 percent by 2018.[6][7] Several countries have already achieved relatively high levels of wind power penetration, such as 21% of stationary electricity production in Denmark,[4] 18% in Portugal,[4] 16% in Spain,[4] 14% in Ireland[8] and 9% in Germany in 2010.[4][9] As of 2011, 83 countries around the world are using wind power on a commercial basis.[9]

A large wind farm may consist of several hundred individual wind turbines which are connected to the electric power transmission network. Offshore wind power can harness the better wind speeds that are available offshore compared to on land, so offshore wind power’s contribution in terms of electricity supplied is higher.[10] Small onshore wind facilities are used to provide electricity to isolated locations and utility companies increasingly buy back surplus electricity produced by small domestic wind turbines. Although a variable source of power, the intermittency of wind seldom creates problems when using wind power to supply up to 20% of total electricity demand, but as the proportion rises, increased costs, a need to use storage such as pumped-storage hydroelectricity, upgrade the grid, or a lowered ability to supplant conventional production may occur.[11][12][13] Power management techniques such as excess capacity, storage, dispatchable backing supply (usually natural gas), exporting and importing power to neighboring areas or reducing demand when wind production is low, can mitigate these problems.

Wind power, as an alternative to fossil fuels, is plentiful, renewable, widely distributed, clean, produces no greenhouse gas emissions during operation, and uses little land. In operation, the overall cost per unit of energy produced is similar to the cost for new coal and natural gas installations.[14] The construction of wind farms is not universally welcomed, but any effects on the environment from wind power are generally much less problematic than those of any other power source.[15]



Medieval depiction of a wind mill
Windmills are typically installed in favourable windy locations. In the image, wind power generators in Spain near an Osborne bull

Humans have been using wind power for at least 5,500 years to propel sailboats and sailing ships. Windmills have been used for irrigation pumping and for milling grain since the 7th century AD in what is now Afghanistan, India, Iran and Pakistan.[citation needed]

In the US, the development of the "water-pumping windmill" was the major factor in allowing the farming and ranching of vast areas otherwise devoid of readily accessible water. Windpumps contributed to the expansion of rail transport systems throughout the world, by pumping water from water wells for the steam locomotives.[16] The multi-bladed wind turbine atop a lattice tower made of wood or steel was, for many years, a fixture of the landscape throughout rural America. When fitted with generators and battery banks, small wind machines provided electricity to isolated farms.

In July 1887, a Scottish academic, Professor James Blyth, undertook wind power experiments that culminated in a UK patent in 1891.[17] In the US, Charles F. Brush produced electricity using a wind powered machine, starting in the winter of 1887-1888, which powered his home and laboratory until about 1900. In the 1890s, the Danish scientist and inventor Poul la Cour constructed wind turbines to generate electricity, which was then used to produce hydrogen.[17] These were the first of what was to become the modern form of wind turbine.

Small wind turbines for lighting of isolated rural buildings were widespread in the first part of the 20th century. Larger units intended for connection to a distribution network were tried at several locations including Balaklava USSR in 1931[citation needed] and in a 1.25 megawatt (MW) experimental unit in Vermont in 1941.[citation needed]

In the 1970s, U.S. industries teamed with NASA in a research program which created the NASA wind turbines, developing and testing many of the features of modern utility-scale turbines.[citation needed]

The modern wind power industry began in 1979 with the serial production of wind turbines by Danish manufacturers Kuriant, Vestas, Nordtank, and Bonus.[citation needed] These early turbines were small by today's standards, with capacities of 20–30 kW each. Since then, they have increased greatly in size, with the Enercon E-126 capable of delivering up to 7 MW, while wind turbine production has expanded to many countries.

Today, wind generated energy is the fastest growing source of renewable energy[citation needed]. Wind power is expected to grow worldwide in the twenty-first century.[18]

Wind energy

Map of available wind power for the United States. Color codes indicate wind power density class.

The Earth is unevenly heated by the sun, such that the poles receive less energy from the sun than the equator; along with this, dry land heats up (and cools down) more quickly than the seas do. The differential heating drives a global atmospheric convection system reaching from the Earth's surface to the stratosphere which acts as a virtual ceiling. Most of the energy stored in these wind movements can be found at high altitudes where continuous wind speeds of over 160 km/h (99 mph) occur. Eventually, the wind energy is converted through friction into diffuse heat throughout the Earth's surface and the atmosphere.

The total amount of economically extractable power available from the wind is considerably more than present human power use from all sources.[19] The most comprehensive study as of 2005[20] found the potential of wind power on land and near-shore to be 72 TW, equivalent to 54,000 MToE (million tons of oil equivalent) per year, or over five times the world's current energy use in all forms. The potential takes into account only locations with mean annual wind speeds ≥ 6.9 m/s at 80 m. The study assumes six 1.5 megawatt, 77 m diameter turbines per square kilometer on roughly 13% of the total global land area (though that land would also be available for other compatible uses such as farming). The authors acknowledge that many practical barriers would need to be overcome to reach this theoretical capacity.

Others authors disagree with the bottom-up methodology and cites problems with such methods which can be "violating the first principle of energy conservation". [21][22] The principe is that the amount of energy which can be extracted from wind power can actually exceed the power currently present in the lower atmosphere using such bottom-up analyses. (i.e. There is 100 TW of total power in the lower 200m of the entire atmosphere and somes studies go well over that limit. [21][22]) Theirs results show 1 TWe for the limit of wind power energy, which is much lower than previous estimates.

The practical limit to exploitation of wind power will be set by economic and environmental factors, since the resource available is far larger than any practical means to develop it.

Distribution of wind speed

Distribution of wind speed (red) and energy (blue) for all of 2002 at the Lee Ranch facility in Colorado. The histogram shows measured data, while the curve is the Rayleigh model distribution for the same average wind speed.

The strength of wind varies, and an average value for a given location does not alone indicate the amount of energy a wind turbine could produce there. To assess the frequency of wind speeds at a particular location, a probability distribution function is often fit to the observed data. Different locations will have different wind speed distributions. The Weibull model closely mirrors the actual distribution of hourly wind speeds at many locations. The Weibull factor is often close to 2 and therefore a Rayleigh distribution can be used as a less accurate, but simpler model.

Wind farms

Landowners in the US typically receive $3,000 to $5,000 per year in rental income from each wind turbine, while farmers continue to grow crops or graze cattle up to the foot of the turbines.[23]

A wind farm is a group of wind turbines in the same location used for production of electric power. A large wind farm may consist of several hundred individual wind turbines, and cover an extended area of hundreds of square miles, but the land between the turbines may be used for agricultural or other purposes. A wind farm may also be located offshore.

Many of the largest operational onshore wind farms are located in the US. As of November 2010, the Roscoe Wind Farm is the largest onshore wind farm in the world at 781.5 MW, followed by the Horse Hollow Wind Energy Center (735.5 MW). As of November 2010, the Thanet Wind Farm in the UK is the largest offshore wind farm in the world at 300 MW, followed by Horns Rev II (209 MW) in Denmark.

There are many large wind farms under construction and these include BARD Offshore 1 (400 MW), Greater Gabbard wind farm (500 MW), Lincs Wind Farm (270 MW), London Array (1000 MW), Lower Snake River Wind Project (343 MW), Shepherds Flat Wind Farm (845 MW), Sheringham Shoal (317 MW), and the Walney Wind Farm (367 MW).

Wind power usage

Worldwide there are now many thousands of wind turbines operating, with a total nameplate capacity of 194,400 MW.[24] World wind generation capacity more than quadrupled between 2000 and 2006, doubling about every three years. The United States pioneered wind farms and led the world in installed capacity in the 1980s and into the 1990s. In 1997 German installed capacity surpassed the U.S., a position it held until passed by the U.S. in 2008. China rapidly expanded its wind installations in the late 2000s and passed the U.S. in 2010 to become the world leader.

Europe accounted for 48% of the world total in 2009. In 2010, Spain became Europe's leading producer of wind energy, achieving 42,976 GWh. However, Germany holds the first place in Europe in terms of installed capacity, with a total of 27,215 MW at December 31, 2010.[25] Wind power accounts for approximately 21% of electricity use in Denmark,[4] 18% in Portugal,[4] 16% in Spain,[4][25] 14% in the Republic of Ireland,[4] and 9% in Germany.[4][26]

Top 10 countries by nameplate windpower capacity (2010)[4]
Country Windpower capacity (MW)
China 44,733
United States 40,180
Germany 27,215
Spain 20,676
India 13,066
Italy 5,797
France 5,660
United Kingdom 5,204
Canada 4,008
Denmark 3,734
Top 10 EU countries by windpower electricity production (December 2010)[25]
Country Windpower electricity production (GWh)
Spain 42,976
Germany 35,500
United Kingdom 11,440
France 9,600
Portugal 8,852
Denmark 7,808
Netherlands 3,972
Sweden 3,500
Ireland 3,473
Greece 2,200
Austria 2,100

Growth trends

Worldwide installed capacity 1997–2020 [MW], developments and prognosis. Data source: WWEA

In 2010, more than half of all new wind power was added outside of the traditional markets in Europe and North America. This was largely from new construction in China, which accounted for nearly half the new wind installations (16.5 GW). [27]

Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) figures show that 2007 recorded an increase of installed capacity of 20 GW, taking the total installed wind energy capacity to 94 GW, up from 74 GW in 2006. Despite constraints facing supply chains for wind turbines, the annual market for wind continued to increase at an estimated rate of 37%, following 32% growth in 2006. In terms of economic value, the wind energy sector has become one of the important players in the energy markets, with the total value of new generating equipment installed in 2007 reaching €25 billion, or US$36 billion.[28]

Although the wind power industry was affected by the global financial crisis in 2009 and 2010, a BTM Consult five year forecast up to 2013 projects substantial growth. Over the past five years the average growth in new installations has been 27.6 percent each year. In the forecast to 2013 the expected average annual growth rate is 15.7 percent.[6][7] More than 200 GW of new wind power capacity could come on line before the end of 2013. Wind power market penetration is expected to reach 3.35 percent by 2013 and 8 percent by 2018.[6][7]

Offshore wind power

Aerial view of Lillgrund Wind Farm, Sweden

Offshore wind power refers to the construction of wind farms in bodies of water to generate electricity from wind. Better wind speeds are available offshore compared to on land, so offshore wind power’s contribution in terms of electricity supplied is higher.[10]

Siemens and Vestas are the leading turbine suppliers for offshore wind power. DONG Energy, Vattenfall and E.ON are the leading offshore operators.[10] As of October 2010, 3.16 GW of offshore wind power capacity was operational, mainly in Northern Europe. According to BTM Consult, more than 16 GW of additional capacity will be installed before the end of 2014 and the UK and Germany will become the two leading markets. Offshore wind power capacity is expected to reach a total of 75 GW worldwide by 2020, with significant contributions from China and the US.[10]

Electricity generation

Typical components of a wind turbine (gearbox, rotor shaft and brake assembly) being lifted into position

In a wind farm, individual turbines are interconnected with a medium voltage (often 34.5 kV), power collection system and communications network. At a substation, this medium-voltage electric current is increased in voltage with a transformer for connection to the high voltage electric power transmission system.

The surplus power produced by domestic microgenerators can, in some jurisdictions, be fed into the network and sold to the utility company, producing a retail credit for the microgenerators' owners to offset their energy costs.[29][30]

Grid management

Induction generators, often used for wind power, require reactive power for excitation so substations used in wind-power collection systems include substantial capacitor banks for power factor correction. Different types of wind turbine generators behave differently during transmission grid disturbances, so extensive modelling of the dynamic electromechanical characteristics of a new wind farm is required by transmission system operators to ensure predictable stable behaviour during system faults (see: Low voltage ride through). In particular, induction generators cannot support the system voltage during faults, unlike steam or hydro turbine-driven synchronous generators. Doubly fed machines generally have more desirable properties for grid interconnection[citation needed]. Transmission systems operators will supply a wind farm developer with a grid code to specify the requirements for interconnection to the transmission grid. This will include power factor, constancy of frequency and dynamic behavior of the wind farm turbines during a system fault.[31][32]

Capacity factor

Since wind speed is not constant, a wind farm's annual energy production is never as much as the sum of the generator nameplate ratings multiplied by the total hours in a year. The ratio of actual productivity in a year to this theoretical maximum is called the capacity factor. Typical capacity factors are 20–40%, with values at the upper end of the range in particularly favourable sites.[33] For example, a 1 MW turbine with a capacity factor of 35% will not produce 8,760 MW·h in a year (1 × 24 × 365), but only 1 × 0.35 × 24 × 365 = 3,066 MW·h, averaging to 0.35 MW. Online data is available for some locations and the capacity factor can be calculated from the yearly output.[34][35]

Unlike fueled generating plants, the capacity factor is affected by several parameters, including the variability of the wind at the site, but also the generator size- having a smaller generator would be cheaper and achieve higher capacity factor, but would make less electricity (and money) in high winds.[36] Conversely a bigger generator would cost more and generate little extra power and, depending on the type, may stall out at low wind speed. Thus an optimum capacity factor can be used, which is usually around 20-35%.

In a 2008 study released by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the capacity factor achieved by the wind turbine fleet is shown to be increasing as the technology improves. The capacity factor achieved by new wind turbines in 2004 and 2005 reached 36%.[37]


Wind energy "penetration" refers to the fraction of energy produced by wind compared with the total available generation capacity. There is no generally accepted "maximum" level of wind penetration. The limit for a particular grid will depend on the existing generating plants, pricing mechanisms, capacity for storage or demand management, and other factors. An interconnected electricity grid will already include reserve generating and transmission capacity to allow for equipment failures; this reserve capacity can also serve to regulate for the varying power generation by wind plants. Studies have indicated that 20% of the total electrical energy consumption may be incorporated with minimal difficulty.[38] These studies have been for locations with geographically dispersed wind farms, some degree of dispatchable energy, or hydropower with storage capacity, demand management, and interconnection to a large grid area export of electricity when needed. Beyond this level, there are few technical limits, but the economic implications become more significant. Electrical utilities continue to study the effects of large (20% or more) scale penetration of wind generation on system stability and economics.[39][40][41][42]

At present, a few grid systems have penetration of wind energy above 5%: Denmark (values over 19%), Spain and Portugal (values over 11%), Germany and the Republic of Ireland (values over 6%). But even with a modest level of penetration, there can be times where wind power provides a substantial percentage of the power on a grid. For example, in the morning hours of 8 November 2009, wind energy produced covered more than half the electricity demand in Spain, setting a new record.[43]

Variability and intermittency

Wildorado Wind Farm in Oldham County in the Texas Panhandle, as photographed from U.S. Route 385

Electricity generated from wind power can be highly variable at several different timescales: from hour to hour, daily, and seasonally. Annual variation also exists, but is not as significant. Related to variability is the short-term (hourly or daily) predictability of wind plant output. Like other electricity sources, wind energy must be "scheduled". Wind power forecasting methods are used, but predictability of wind plant output remains low for short-term operation.

Because instantaneous electrical generation and consumption must remain in balance to maintain grid stability, this variability can present substantial challenges to incorporating large amounts of wind power into a grid system. Intermittency and the non-dispatchable nature of wind energy production can raise costs for regulation, incremental operating reserve, and (at high penetration levels) could require an increase in the already existing energy demand management, load shedding, or storage solutions or system interconnection with HVDC cables. At low levels of wind penetration, fluctuations in load and allowance for failure of large generating units requires reserve capacity that can also regulate for variability of wind generation. Wind power can be replaced by other power stations during low wind periods. Transmission networks must already cope with outages of generation plant and daily changes in electrical demand. Systems with large wind capacity components may need more spinning reserve (plants operating at less than full load).[44][45]

Pumped-storage hydroelectricity or other forms of grid energy storage can store energy developed by high-wind periods and release it when needed.[46] Stored energy increases the economic value of wind energy since it can be shifted to displace higher cost generation during peak demand periods. The potential revenue from this arbitrage can offset the cost and losses of storage; the cost of storage may add 25% to the cost of any wind energy stored, but it is not envisaged that this would apply to a large proportion of wind energy generated. For example, in the UK, the 2 GW Dinorwig pumped storage plant evens out electrical demand peaks, and allows base-load suppliers to run their plant more efficiently. Although pumped storage power systems are only about 75% efficient, and have high installation costs, their low running costs and ability to reduce the required electrical base-load can save both fuel and total electrical generation costs.[47][48]

In particular geographic regions, peak wind speeds may not coincide with peak demand for electrical power. In the US states of California and Texas, for example, hot days in summer may have low wind speed and high electrical demand due to air conditioning. Some utilities subsidize the purchase of geothermal heat pumps by their customers, to reduce electricity demand during the summer months by making air conditioning up to 70% more efficient;[49] widespread adoption of this technology would better match electricity demand to wind availability in areas with hot summers and low summer winds. Another option is to interconnect widely dispersed geographic areas with an HVDC "Super grid". In the US it is estimated that to upgrade the transmission system to take in planned or potential renewables would cost at least $60 billion.[50]

In the UK, demand for electricity is higher in winter than in summer, and so are wind speeds.[51][52] Solar power tends to be complementary to wind.[53][54] On daily to weekly timescales, high pressure areas tend to bring clear skies and low surface winds, whereas low pressure areas tend to be windier and cloudier. On seasonal timescales, solar energy typically peaks in summer, whereas in many areas wind energy is lower in summer and higher in winter.[55] Thus the intermittencies of wind and solar power tend to cancel each other somewhat. The Institute for Solar Energy Supply Technology of the University of Kassel pilot-tested a combined power plant linking solar, wind, biogas and hydrostorage to provide load-following power around the clock, entirely from renewable sources.[56]

A report on Denmark's wind power noted that their wind power network provided less than 1% of average demand 54 days during the year 2002.[57] Wind power advocates argue that these periods of low wind can be dealt with by simply restarting existing power stations that have been held in readiness or interlinking with HVDC.[58] Electrical grids with slow-responding thermal power plants and without ties to networks with hydroelectric generation may have to limit the use of wind power.[57]

Conversely, on particularly windy days, even with penetration levels of 16%, wind power generation can surpass all other electricity sources in a country.[59] In Spain, on November 8, 2009 wind power production reached the highest percentage of electricity production till then, with wind farms covering 53% of the total demand.[60][61]

Three reports on the wind variability in the UK issued in 2009, generally agree that variability of wind needs to be taken into account, but it does not make the grid unmanageable; and the additional costs, which are modest, can be quantified.[62] A 2006 International Energy Agency forum presented costs for managing intermittency as a function of wind-energy's share of total capacity for several countries, as shown:

Increase in system operation costs, Euros per MW·h, for 10% and 20% wind share[12]

10% 20%
Germany 2.5 3.2
Denmark 0.4 0.8
Finland 0.3 1.5
Norway 0.1 0.3
Sweden 0.3 0.7

Capacity credit and fuel saving

Many commentators concentrate on whether or not wind has any "capacity credit" without defining what they mean by this and its relevance. Wind does have a capacity credit, using a widely accepted and meaningful definition, equal to about 20% of its rated output (but this figure varies depending on actual circumstances). This means that reserve capacity on a system equal in MW to 20% of added wind could be retired when such wind is added without affecting system security or robustness. But the precise value is irrelevant since the main value of wind (in the UK, worth 5 times the capacity credit value[63]) is its fuel and CO2 savings.

According to a 2007 Stanford University study published in the Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology, interconnecting ten or more wind farms can allow an average of 33% of the total energy produced to be used as reliable, baseload electric power, as long as minimum criteria are met for wind speed and turbine height.[64][65]


Cost trends

Turbine blade convoy passing through Edenfield in the UK.

Wind power has low ongoing costs, but a moderate capital cost. The estimated average cost per unit incorporates the cost of construction of the turbine and transmission facilities, borrowed funds, return to investors (including cost of risk), estimated annual production, and other components, averaged over the projected useful life of the equipment, which may be in excess of twenty years. Energy cost estimates are highly dependent on these assumptions so published cost figures can differ substantially. A 2011 report from the American Wind Energy Association stated, "Wind's costs have dropped over the past two years, in the range of 5 to 6 cents per kilowatt-hour recently.... about 2 cents cheaper than coal-fired electricity, and more projects were financed through debt arrangements than tax equity structures last year.... winning more mainstream acceptance from Wall Street's banks.... Equipment makers can also deliver products in the same year that they are ordered instead of waiting up to three years as was the case in previous cycles.... 5,600 MW of new installed capacity is under construction in the United States, more than double the number at this point in 2010. Thirty-five percent of all new power generation built in the United States since 2005 has come from wind, more than new gas and coal plants combined, as power providers are increasingly enticed to wind as a convenient hedge against unpredictable commodity price moves."[66]

A British Wind Energy Association report gives an average generation cost of onshore wind power of around 3.2 pence (between US 5 and 6 cents) per kW·h (2005).[67] Cost per unit of energy produced was estimated in 2006 to be comparable to the cost of new generating capacity in the US for coal and natural gas: wind cost was estimated at $55.80 per MW·h, coal at $53.10/MW·h and natural gas at $52.50.[68] Other sources in various studies have estimated wind to be more expensive than other sources. A 2009 study on wind power in Spain by Gabriel Calzada Alvarez Universidad Rey Juan Carlos concluded that each installed MW of wind power led to the loss of 4.27 jobs, by raising energy costs and driving away electricity-intensive businesses.[69] The U.S. Department of Energy found the study to be seriously flawed, and the conclusion unsupported.[70] The presence of wind energy, even when subsidised, can reduce costs for consumers (€5 billion/yr in Germany) by reducing the marginal price by minimising the use of expensive 'peaker plants'.[71]

The marginal cost of wind energy once a plant is constructed is usually less than 1 cent per kW·h.[72] In 2004, wind energy cost a fifth of what it did in the 1980s, and some expected that downward trend to continue as larger multi-megawatt turbines were mass-produced.[73] However, capital costs have increased. For example, in the United States, installed cost increased in 2009 to $2,120 per kilowatt of nameplate capacity, compared with $1,950 in 2008, a 9% increase.[74] Not as many facilities can produce large modern turbines and their towers and foundations, so constraints develop in the supply of turbines resulting in higher costs.[75]


Some of the more than 6,000 wind turbines in the Altamont Pass Wind Farm, in California, United States. Developed during a period of tax incentives in the 1980s, this wind farm has more turbines than any other in the US.[76]

Wind energy in many jurisdictions receives financial or other support to encourage its development. Wind energy benefits from subsidies in many jurisdictions, either to increase its attractiveness, or to compensate for subsidies received by other forms of production which have significant negative externalities.

In the US, wind power receives a tax credit for each kW·h produced; at 1.9 cents per kW·h in 2006, the credit has a yearly inflationary adjustment. Another tax benefit is accelerated depreciation. Many American states also provide incentives, such as exemption from property tax, mandated purchases, and additional markets for "green credits". Countries such as Canada and Germany also provide incentives for wind turbine construction, such as tax credits or minimum purchase prices for wind generation, with assured grid access (sometimes referred to as feed-in tariffs). These feed-in tariffs are typically set well above average electricity prices. The Energy Improvement and Extension Act of 2008 contains extensions of credits for wind, including microturbines.

Secondary market forces also provide incentives for businesses to use wind-generated power, even if there is a premium price for the electricity. For example, socially responsible manufacturers pay utility companies a premium that goes to subsidize and build new wind power infrastructure. Companies use wind-generated power, and in return they can claim that they are undertaking strong "green" efforts. In the US the organization Green-e monitors business compliance with these renewable energy credits.[77]

Full costs and lobbying

A House of Lords Select Committee report (2008) on renewable energy in the UK reported a "concern over the prospective role of wind generated and other intermittent sources of electricity in the UK, in the absence of a break-through in electricity storage technology or the integration of the UK grid with that of continental Europe".[78]

Commenting on the EU's 2020 renewable energy target, Helm is critical of how the costs of wind power are cited by lobbyists.[79] Helm also says that wind's problem of intermittent supply will probably lead to another dash-for-gas or dash-for-coal in Europe, possibly with a negative impact on energy security.[79]

In the US, the wind power industry has recently increased its lobbying efforts considerably, spending about $5 million in 2009 after years of relative obscurity in Washington.[80] By comparison, the US nuclear industry alone spent over $650 million on its lobbying efforts during a single ten year period ending in 2008.[81]

Environmental effects

Livestock ignore wind turbines,[82] and continue to graze as they did before wind turbines were installed.

Compared to the environmental impact of traditional energy sources, the environmental impact of wind power is relatively minor. Wind power consumes no fuel, and emits no air pollution, unlike fossil fuel power sources. The energy consumed to manufacture and transport the materials used to build a wind power plant is equal to the new energy produced by the plant within a few months. While a wind farm may cover a large area of land, many land uses such as agriculture are compatible, with only small areas of turbine foundations and infrastructure made unavailable for use.[15]

There are reports of bird and bat mortality at wind turbines as there are around other artificial structures. The scale of the ecological impact may[83] or may not[84] be significant, depending on specific circumstances. Prevention and mitigation of wildlife fatalities, and protection of peat bogs,[85] affect the siting and operation of wind turbines.

A study on wind farm noise reported that people are annoyed by sound from wind turbines at far less sound levels than they are by noises from railroads, aircraft, or road traffic. The study found the percentage of respondents who found noise levels highly annoying rose quickly as sound levels increased above about 37dbA (about the level of a conversation). [86]

Small-scale wind power

This wind turbine charges a 12 V battery to run 12 V appliances.

Small-scale wind power is the name given to wind generation systems with the capacity to produce up to 50 kW of electrical power.[87] Isolated communities, that may otherwise rely on diesel generators may use wind turbines to displace diesel fuel consumption. Individuals may purchase these systems to reduce or eliminate their dependence on grid electricity for economic or other reasons, or to reduce their carbon footprint. Wind turbines have been used for household electricity generation in conjunction with battery storage over many decades in remote areas.

Grid-connected wind turbines may use grid energy storage, displacing purchased energy with local production when available. Off-grid system users can either adapt to intermittent power or use batteries, photovoltaic or diesel systems to supplement the wind turbine. Equipment such as parking meters or wireless Internet gateways may be powered by a wind turbine that charges a small battery, replacing the need for a connection to the power grid.

In locations near or around a group of high-rise buildings, wind shear generates areas of intense turbulence, especially at street-level.[88] The risks associated with mechanical or catastrophic failure have thus plagued urban wind development in densely populated areas,[89] rendering the costs of insuring urban wind systems prohibitive.[90] Moreover, quantifying the amount of wind in urban areas has been difficult, as little is known about the actual wind resources of towns and cities.[91]

A new Carbon Trust study into the potential of small-scale wind energy has found that small wind turbines could provide up to 1.5 terawatt hours (TW·h) per year of electricity (0.4% of total UK electricity consumption), saving 0.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (Mt CO2) emission savings. This is based on the assumption that 10% of households would install turbines at costs competitive with grid electricity, around 12 pence (US 19 cents) a kW·h.[92]

Distributed generation from renewable resources is increasing as a consequence of the increased awareness of climate change. The electronic interfaces required to connect renewable generation units with the utility system can include additional functions, such as the active filtering to enhance the power quality.[93]

Research and development

Despite growing worldwide demand for wind energy, present wind technology is not optimized and there are still significant challenges. Most of the research has occurred in industry, and is not always easily shared. According to a research agenda from from a coalition of researchers from universities, industry, and government, supported by the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, wind energy research requires a drastic transformation. According to the report:

The gains that we are seeking require new innovations in fluid dynamics, control, materials, manufacturing, structures, and electric power distribution, as well of new ways of engaging the public in appreciating and accepting this technology, the associated transmission infrastructure and its effects on reducing climate change. Design and analysis tools need to be developed. Common computer codes need to be shared and refined in an open collegial way that cannot occur in industry. Researchers need to disseminate, debate, and share results openly, accelerating innovation in the subject.[94]

See also


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