Fighting Global Warming with Wind Energy

Global warming has caused significant changes in the climate of the Earth. National Geographic has reported on rising sea levels, melting glaciers, and the death of forests around the world. The use of fossil fuels has released greenhouse gases into the air and allowed the atmosphere to trap heat more efficiently. This has led to higher-than-average temperatures around the world and extreme weather events. The increase in greenhouse gases has led to global warming and, subsequently, climate change. One of the ways we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions is by changing how we source our energy. Both solar and wind energy are clean alternatives to oil, coal, and gas and as of the later part of 2020, they are now cheaper than coal. Here we will discuss the benefits of wind energy.

What Is Wind Energy?

Wind is actually created by the sun’s energy. As the sun heats the atmosphere and the surface of the earth, it creates uneven areas of heat and allows other areas to remain cooler. This creates differentials in air pressure, which causes the air to move toward areas of lower pressure and away from high-pressure areas. This produces the weather phenomenon known as wind.

Wind energy is usually collected using turbines that convert the kinetic or movement energy of wind to mechanical energy. By turning the turbines, wind creates energy that is transferred to a generator, which then produces electricity. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has categorized wind energy in three ways according to the ways in which it is produced.

Types of Wind Energy

The American Wind Energy Association indicates that wind energy is usually divided into three basic categories:

• Land-based wind energy usually consists of stand-alone wind turbines that are built in close proximity to each other. These installations of turbines are known as wind farms and are currently used by some electricity providers to generate power for customers.

• Offshore wind energy systems are similar to traditional land-based wind farms. Instead of being built on land, however, they are located offshore in the ocean. These wind energy plants are ideally suited for coastal areas in which available land may be scarce or expensive.

• Distributed wind energy systems are smaller and may consist of just one or two wind turbines that are used by individuals and businesses to generate power for their own property or to lower the cost of electricity that is delivered through the grid.

These systems are green-friendly and offer real help in managing the power needs of the United States and the world.

How Does Wind Power Work?

Wind turbines operate by turning kinetic energy into electrical energy. The U.S. Department of Energy outlines these simple steps:

• Wind creates air pressure against the blades of the turbine, which causes it to turn or rotate rapidly.
• Because the turbines are connected to internal shafts, this also causes the shafts to turn.
• The shaft is connected to a gearbox that amplifies the motion of the turbine and the kinetic power generated by a factor of 100.
• The energy is then transferred to a generator, which spins to create electricity. The power created can be used to power homes, businesses and to feed into the electrical grid.

How Much Power Does a Wind Turbine Produce?

The amount of energy generated by a single large wind turbine varies depending on the speed of the wind in the area and the size of the turbine.

According to figures compiled by the U.S. Geological Survey, more than 58,000 turbines are currently listed in the U.S. Wind Turbine Database. The mean capacity for each turbine is 1.67 megawatts.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates the average monthly household consumption of electricity at 867 kilowatt-hours each month.

Let’s put this into perspective. Operating at 33-percent capacity, the average turbine is capable of generating more than 402,000 kilowatt-hours each month. This is enough energy to power more than 460 homes. In just 94 minutes, these turbines generate enough electricity to power one average home for an entire month.

Average wind speeds are between 13 and 15 miles per hour in most of the areas in which wind turbines are feasible. If wind speeds exceed 45 miles per hour, however, most large wind turbines must be shut down to provide added protection for the equipment and machinery used to produce electricity.

Small wind electric systems designed for homes or businesses are usually rated at 100 kilowatts or less. These systems produce smaller amounts of power that can be used to supplement or replace the power needed. The Department of Energy has provided helpful guidelines on the appropriate wind turbines for a variety of uses:

• One to 10-kilowatt systems are typically used for pumping water or other small-scale tasks.
• Turbines rated at 20 to 500 watts are mostly used for charging batteries for land and marine vehicles.
• Systems designed for residential use range between 400 watts and 100 kilowatts. These systems must be rated to provide the power needed to supplement or replace electricity that would otherwise be derived from the grid.
• In general, a 1.5-kilowatt system will produce around 300 kilowatt-hours of power each month, which will offset a large portion of the average 877 kilowatt-hours required for most modern homes. This assumes that the area's average wind speed is about 14 miles per hour.

Consumers and business owners should consult with a manufacturer or installer of these wind turbine systems to determine the right size and configuration to replace some or all of their electrical requirements. These professionals can typically provide more detailed information on the capabilities and the expected power production of wind turbine systems.

What Is Wind Energy Used For?

The energy generated by wind turbines is primarily used to create electricity, which powers homes and businesses. We may not think of it but as individuals, we often harness the power of wind for sailboats and numerous recreational devices.

In practical terms, wind has also been used historically in windmills to grind grain and other substances. Finally, one of the most practical uses for wind energy is in pumping water in areas where a traditional electrical grid may not be available.

The electricity generated by traditional wind turbine systems can be used directly by property owners or fed into the electric grid to reduce the cost of powering homes and businesses.

How Wind Energy Is Currently Being Used

Wind power is already being used around the world to supply a significant portion of the electricity needed to serve homes, businesses and industrial enterprises:

Jysk Energi in Denmark supplies about 400 megawatts of clean wind energy to its customers. Along with traditional electricity production and solar cells, this allows the company to produce enough power to deliver electricity to many other parts of the country.

• According to CNBC, Amazon is currently building wind farms that will produce added power for the state of California. Based in the Tehachapi Mountains in California, the wind farm is part of Amazon's ongoing commitment to clean energy and green-friendly power. It will join several other wind farms already in operation, including one in Scurry County, West Texas, that produces 253 megawatts for Amazon operations and other uses.

• The American Wind Energy Association reports the success of Block Island Wind Farm, which went online in 2016. This 30-megawatt project brought down the cost of electricity in the area and boosted tourism, which has allowed Block Island access to high-speed internet services for the first time ever.

These success stories are not unique. In the United States and around the world, the power of wind energy is being felt in a positive way.

Benefits of Wind Energy

The Department of Energy lists some important benefits associated with wind energy, including the following:

• Wind power is a cost-effective way to generate electricity. According to federal figures, wind power costs about one to two cents per kilowatt-hour to produce when tax credits are factored into the equation. This makes wind energy one of the most cost-effective choices in managing the expenses associated with producing power.

• Wind energy is clean and green-friendly. Unlike the burning of fossil fuels like coal, the processes used to produce electricity from wind power do not create pollutants that could speed the progress of global warming. These pollutants include sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulates, all of which can cause damage to the atmosphere and can have economic and environmental effects on humans, animals and plants. Eliminating greenhouse gases produced by traditional fossil-fuel systems and replacing them with the clean energy produced by wind is a solid step in the right direction in addressing global warming issues.

• Wind power is renewable. sustainable and inexhaustible. While the wind may not blow every day, the uneven heating caused by the sun's rays make wind power a safe bet for as long as the sun continues to shine during the day. The investments made in wind power will continue to pay off well into the future.

• Jobs are created by the wind energy industry. The Department of Energy has gathered figures that indicate more than 100,000 workers are employed in the wind industry. Statistics also indicate that the wind turbine industry could potentially support as many as 600,000 jobs by 2050. These jobs include manufacturing, installing and maintenance positions that pay well.

• Investing in clean energy, including wind power projects, will help the U.S. economy stay competitive in the global marketplace. Currently, new wind power projects are responsible for about $10 billion in investments every year. This figure is expected to grow as wind power becomes a bigger part of the energy picture here and abroad.

Wind Energy Challenges

As wind turbines have become part of the energy-production landscape, some challenges have also been identified:

• Not all sites are appropriate for wind farms or wind plants. Some of the most suitable locations for these power-generating installations are far from existing electrical lines and services. The construction of power transmission lines is required to make these sites functional and profitable.

• According to WIND Exchange, a part of the U.S. Department of Energy, zoning codes and other restrictions may also prevent the installation of wind turbines in certain areas.

• Even in areas well-suited for wind plants, other uses for the land may produce more profits and may preclude the installation of turbine projects. Additionally, residential and commercial property values and activities could be affected by the noise produced by these systems when they are in operation. In most cases, locating wind turbines away from population centers is the most practical way to prevent these issues.

• Wind turbines are not always the lowest-cost alternative for producing power in some areas. This can make it less cost-effective to implement wind technologies for certain regions and municipalities. Bringing the cost of wind power down even further is necessary to make it the most practical option for areas where it can be installed successfully.

• Wind power plants may pose risks to local wildlife if not properly shielded or sited. More research is required to reduce the effects of wind power on birds and bats and to provide added protection for these important elements in the ecosystem.

New technologies have already been implemented that show great promise in providing added protection for wildlife. The Department of Energy is currently using ultrasound deterrents to keep bats safely away from the turbines. A system called IdentiFlight is also in use to predict the movements of birds more accurately, which can allow turbine operators to shut down their systems when wildlife is at risk.

Wind power is renewable and clean. Resolving the relatively minor issues that can arise as a result of these installations will help companies and countries to achieve a more balanced energy profile and will ensure the best and most practical solutions for green-friendly power production. This will, in turn, reduce the impact of global warming and climate change. Converting fossil-fuel production to wind power and other green-friendly energy sources may allow for the reversal of some of the most serious effects of these ongoing environmental problems.