Wisdom of Life

Wind Energy

An Air Current…

. . . is powerful, and its conversion into a useful form of energy using wind turbines to make electricity, windmills for mechanical power, wind pumps for water pumping or drainage, or sails to propel ships is beneficial to society.

A large wind farm may consist of several hundred individual wind turbines which are connected to the electric power transmission network. Offshore wind farms can harness more frequent and powerful winds than are available to land-based installations and have less visual impact on the landscape but construction costs are considerably higher. 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.

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. Any effects on the environment are generally less problematic than those from other power sources. As of 2011, 83 countries around the world are using wind power on a commercial basis. As of 2010 wind energy production was over 2.5% of worldwide power, growing at more than 25% per annum. The monetary cost per unit of energy produced is similar to the cost for new coal and natural gas installations. Although wind power is a popular form of energy generation, the construction of wind farms is not universally welcomed due to aesthetics.

Although very consistent from year to year, wind power has significant variation over shorter timescales. The intermittency of wind seldom creates problems when used to supply up to 20% of total electricity demand, but as the proportion increases, a need to upgrade the grid, and a lowered ability to supplant conventional production can occur. Power management techniques such as having excess capacity storage, dispatchable backing supplies (usually natural gas), storage such as pumped-storage hydroelectricity, exporting and importing power to neighboring areas or reducing demand when wind production is low, can greatly mitigate these problems.



Mechanical Power

Sailboats and sailing ships have been using wind power for thousands of years, and architects have used wind-driven natural ventilation in buildings since similarly ancient times. The use of wind to provide mechanical power came somewhat later in antiquity. The windwheel of the Greek engineer Heron of Alexandria in the 1st century AD is the earliest known instance of using a wind-driven wheel to power a machine.

The first practical windmills were in use in Iran at least by the 9th century and possibly as early as the 7th century. The use of windmills became widespread across the Middle East and Central Asia, and later spread to China and India. By 1000 AD, windmills were used to pump seawater for salt-making in China and Sicily. Windmills were used extensively in Northwestern Europe to grind flour from the 1180s, and windpumps were used to drain land for agriculture and for building. Early immigrants to the New World brought the technology with them from Europe.

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 steam locomotives. 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.

Electrical Power

In July 1887, a Scottish academic, Professor James Blyth, built a cloth-sailed wind turbine in the garden of his holiday cottage in Marykirk and used the electricity it produced to charge accumulators which he used to power the lights in his cottage. His experiments culminated in a UK patent in 1891. In the winter of 1887/8 US inventor Charles F. Brush produced electricity using a wind powered generator 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 used to produce hydrogen and Oxygen by electrolysis and a mixture of the two gases was stored for use as a fuel. La Cour was the first to discover that fast rotating wind turbines with fewer rotor blades were the most efficient in generating electricity and in 1904 he founded the Society of Wind Electricians.

By the mid-1920s, 1 to 3-kilowatt wind generators developed by companies such as Parris-Dunn and Jacobs Wind-electric found widespread use in the rural areas of the midwestern Great Plains of the US but by the 1940s the demand for more power and the coming of the electrical grid throughout those areas made these small generators obsolete.

During the 1920s the first vertical axis wind turbine was built by Frenchman George Darrieus and in 1931 a 100 kW precursor to the modern horizontal wind generator was used in Yalta, in the USSR. In 1956 Johannes Juul, a former student of la Cour, built a 200 kW, three-bladed turbine at Gedser in Denmark, which influenced the design of many later turbines.

In 1975 the United States Department of Energy funded a project to develop utility-scale wind turbines. The NASA wind turbines project built thirteen experimental turbines which paved the way for much of the technology used today. Since then, turbines have increased greatly in size with the Enercon E-126 capable of delivering up to 7 MW. Wind turbine production has expanded to many countries and wind power is expected to grow worldwide in the twenty-first century.


Wind Energy

Wind is the movement of air across the surface of the Earth, from areas of high pressure to areas of low pressure. The surface of the Earth is heated unevenly by the Sun, depending on factors such as the angle of incidence of the sun’s rays at the surface (which differs with latitude and time of day) and whether the land is open or covered with vegetation. Also, large bodies of water, such as the oceans, heat up and cool down slower than the land. The heat energy absorbed at the Earth’s surface is transferred to the air directly above it and, as warmer air is less dense than cooler air, it rises above the cool air to form areas of high pressure and thus pressure differentials. The rotation of the Earth drags the atmosphere around with it causing turbulence. These effects combine to cause a constantly varying pattern of winds across the surface of the Earth.

The total amount of economically extractable power available from the wind is considerably more than present human power use from all sources. Axel Kleidon of the Max Planck Institute in Germany, carried out a “top down” calculation on how much wind energy there is, starting with the incoming solar radiation that drives the winds by creating temperature differences in the atmosphere. He concluded that somewhere between 18 TW and 68 TW could be extracted. Cristina Archer and Mark Z. Jacobson presented a “bottom-up” estimate, which unlike Kleidon’s are based on actual measurements of wind speeds, and found that there is 1700 TW of wind power at an altitude of 100 meters over land and sea. Of this, “between 72 and 170 TW could be extracted in a practical and cost-competitive manner”.


Wind Farms

A wind farm is a group of wind turbines in the same location used for production of electricity. 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.

Almost all large wind turbines have the same design — a horizontal axis wind turbine having an upwind rotor with three blades, attached to a nacelle on top of a tall tubular tower. 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.

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 including; The London Array (offshore) (1000 MW), BARD Offshore 1 (400 MW), Sheringham Shoal Offshore Wind Farm (317 MW), Lincs Wind Farm (offshore), (270 MW)Shepherds Flat Wind Farm (845 MW), Clyde Wind Farm (548 MW), Greater Gabbard wind farm (500 MW), Macarthur Wind Farm (420 MW), Shepherds Flat Wind Farm (845 MW), Lower Snake River Wind Project (343 MW) and Walney Wind Farm (367 MW).

Green Resource Center

City of Houston’s Green Building Resource Center wind turbine installation.


Offshore Wind Power

Offshore wind power refers to the construction of wind farms in large bodies of water to generate electricity. These installations can utilize the more frequent and powerful winds that are available in these locations and have less aesthetic impact on the landscape than land based projects. However, the construction and the maintenance costs are considerably higher relative to onshore wind farms. Currently, offshore wind farms are at least 3 times more expensive than onshore wind farms of the same nominal power. However, these costs are expected to fall as the industry matures.

Siemens and Vestas are the leading turbine suppliers for offshore wind power. DONG Energy, Vattenfall, and E.ON are the leading offshore operators. 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.

> Wind Power Capacity and Production

Worldwide there are now many thousands of wind turbines operating, with a total nameplate capacity of 238,351 MW as of end 2011. 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. and led until once again overtaken by the U.S. in 2008. China has been rapidly expanding its wind installations in the late 2000s and passed the U.S. in 2010 to become the world leader.

At the end of 2011, worldwide nameplate capacity of wind-powered generators was 238 gigawatts (GW), growing by 41 GW over the preceding year. 2010 data from the World Wind Energy Association, an industry organization states that wind power now has the capacity to generate 430 TWh annually, which is about 2.5% of worldwide electricity usage. Between 2005 and 2010 the average annual growth in new installations was 27.6 percent. Wind power market penetration is expected to reach 3.35 percent by 2013 and 8 percent by 2018. Several countries have already achieved relatively high levels of penetration, such as 28% of stationary (grid) electricity production in Denmark (2011), 19% in Portugal (2011), 16% in Spain (2011), 14% in Ireland (2010) and 8% in Germany (2011). As of 2011, 83 countries around the world were using wind power on a commercial basis.

Europe accounted for 48% of the world total wind power generation capacity in 2009. In 2010, Spain became Europe’s leading producer of wind energy, achieving 42,976 GWh. Germany held the top spot in Europe in terms of installed capacity, with a total of 27,215 MW as of 31 December 2010.

> Growth Trends

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).

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 US$36 billion.

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. 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.

> Penetration

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 compensate for the varying power generation produced by wind plants. Studies have indicated that 20% of the total annual electrical energy consumption may be incorporated with minimal difficulty. These studies have been for locations with geographically dispersed wind farms, some degree of dispatchable energy or hydropower with storage capacity, demand management, and interconnected to a large grid area enabling the export of electricity when needed. Beyond the 20 percent 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.

A wind energy penetration figure can be specified for different durations of time. On an annual basis, as of 2011, few grid systems have penetration levels above five percent: Denmark – 26%, Portugal – 17%, Spain – 15%, Ireland – 14%, and Germany – 9%. For the U.S. in 2011, the penetration level was estimated at 2.9%.

> Variability and Intermittency

Electricity generated from wind power can be highly variable at several different timescales: hourly, daily, or seasonally. However, wind is always in constant supply somewhere, making it a dependable source of energy because it will never expire or become extinct. Annual variation also exists, but is not as significant. 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. There is an 80% chance that wind output will change less than 10% in an hour and a 40% chance that it will change 10% or more in 5 hours.

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, 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 require reserve capacity that can also compensate for variability of wind generation. Wind power can be replaced by other power sources 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).

Pumped-storage hydroelectricity or other forms of grid energy storage can store energy developed by high-wind periods and release it when needed. 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 plants 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.

While the output from a single turbine can vary greatly and rapidly as local wind speeds vary, as more turbines are connected over larger and larger areas the average power output becomes less variable. Studies by Graham Sinden (2009) suggest that, in practice, the variations in thousands of wind turbines, spread out over several different sites and wind regimes, are smoothed, rather than intermittent. As the distance between sites increases, the correlation between wind speeds measured at those sites, decreases.

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 the use of 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; 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 U.S. it is estimated that to upgrade the transmission system to take in planned or potential renewables would cost at least $60 billion.

Solar power tends to be complementary to wind. On daily to weekly timescales, high pressure areas tend to bring clear skies and low surface winds. In comparison 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. Thus the intermittencies of wind and solar power tend to cancel each other out to an extent. In 2007, 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.

The combination of diversifying variable renewables by type and location, forecasting their variation, and integrating them with despatchable renewables, flexible fueled generators, and demand response can create a power system that has the potential to meet our needs reliably. Integrating ever-higher levels of renewables is being successfully demonstrated in the real world:

In 2009, eight American and three European authorities, writing in the leading electrical engineers’ professional journal, didn’t find “a credible and firm technical limit to the amount of wind energy that can be accommodated by electricity grids”. In Fact, not one of more than 200 international studies, nor official studies for the eastern and western U.S. regions, as well as International Energy Agency, has found major costs or technical barriers to reliably integrating up to 30% variable renewable supplies into the grid, and in some studies much more.

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 in the table on the right. 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. The additional costs, which are modest, can be quantified.

A report on Denmark’s wind power noted that their wind power network provided less than 1% of average demand on 54 days during the year 2002. 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. 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.

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

> Small-Scale Wind Power

Small-scale wind power is the name given to wind generation systems with the capacity to produce up to 50 kW of electrical power. Isolated communities, that may otherwise rely on diesel generators, may use wind turbines as an alternative. Individuals may purchase these systems to reduce or eliminate their dependence on grid electricity for economic 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 domestic wind turbines may use grid energy storage, thus replacing purchased electricity with locally produced power when available. 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.

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, traffic warning signs, street lighting, or wireless Internet gateways may be powered by a small wind turbine, possibly combined with a photovoltaic system, 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. The risks associated with mechanical or catastrophic failure have thus plagued urban wind development in densely populated areas, rendering the costs of insuring urban wind systems prohibitive. 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.

A Carbon Trust study into the potential of small-scale wind energy in the UK, published in 2010, 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 tons 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. A report prepared for the UK’s government-sponsored Energy Saving Trust in 2006, found that home power generators of various kinds could provide 30 to 40 per cent of the country’s electricity needs by 2050.

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.


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