Wind Energy - Large Scale
Initial Version (February 7, 2013) by George Barnes, student at Truman State University
Wind power is an example of a renewable energy source. Renewable energy is any energy that is derived from natural resources that are naturally replenished at a constant rate so are therefore never going to be depleted. Other examples include solar, wave and geothermal energy. Whilst the energy is free, what must be noted is that both the start-up costs and the conversion can be very high, especially when compared with some other sources of energy.
In recent times, renewable energy has become much more popular. This has been driven by climate change worries, high oil prices and increasing government support. Whilst renewable energy sources are still seen as the “alternative”, the world is definitely taking steps in the right direction in terms of how to obtain the energy we need.
One of the biggest differences between renewable energy and more traditional sources is reliability. Renewable energy is dependent on geographical/natural factors so can never be seen as 100% reliable. It must therefore be complemented with other energy sources, including renewable sources such as solar, biomass, and geothermal.
Context within NORA
The provision of virtually all material needs involves the use of energy, and large-scale wind energy can help provide that by generating electricity.
Energy Wind energy is one type of energy resource. An increased use of wind energy can contribute to reducing our need for fossil fuels and thus reduce pollution and global warming.
Use of wind energy can help to reduce air pollution from the combustion of solid or liquid fuels.
Water Use of wind energy can potentially reduce water pollution from spilled liquid fuels (if less of those are needed).
Wind turbines do not require much land area themselves, but do need to be placed at a safe distance from houses and certain wildlife habitats, and in places that receive sufficient wind. The places where they can be advantageously placed are therefore limited.
Wind turbines are large structures built of steel and other materials, which are derived from mineral ores.
Depending on where they are placed, wind turbines may interfere with birds and other wildlife.
Wind energy is one of the oldest sources of energy that humans use. Using the wind as propulsion using a sail has been used for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Ancient sailors understood the lift from the wind and used it everyday even if they were not able to explain how or why such a thing occurred. The first windmills developed were built approximately 500-900 A.D. in Persia and were built with the task of automating the tasks of water pumping and grain grinding.
The first windmills to appear in Western Europe appeared around the twelfth century. The European windmills were of a slightly different design to the Persian windmill and used a horizontal-axis system rather than the vertical-axis configuration that the Persians used.
The use of windmills increased over the next few centuries. In the late 1300’s, the Dutch sought to refine the windmill design. The refined design developed by the Dutch was eventually in use, draining areas of the Rhine River delta.
The first instance of wind energy being used to produce electricity did not come until the summer of 1887 in Scotland. Prof James Blyth developed a 10m high, cloth-sailed turbine, which he installed at the bottom of the garden of his cottage in Kincardineshire, Scotland. Blyth used the turbine to charge accumulators, which had been developed by the French, and to then power the lights in his cottage.
Wind power has seen major development over the last century. During the period 1935-1970 there was major experimental work on wind power in the United States, Denmark, France, Germany and Great Britain. The many experiments carried out came to the conclusion that using large scale wind turbines to produce electricity could work, however they failed in producing a practical large-scale turbine.
Wind energy in the United States began to get much more attention on a Federal level after the “Arab Oil Crisis” of 1973 and in the 1980’s, the state of California began offering incentives for wind development. This lead to the Altamont Pass wind farm being built, it was commissioned in 1981 making it one of the oldest wind farms in the United States. The installation of wind turbines also increased steadily throughout Europe and much of Asia.
The 1990’s saw the first multi-megawatt wind turbines being built in Europe. This caused wind farms to become much more financially efficient as the cost of energy from larger electrical output wind turbines used in utility-interconnected or wind farm applications dropped. The 90’s also saw the construction of the first offshore wind farm, which was built off the coast of Denmark in 1991.
Wind energy has carried on expanding through the 2000’s. The increase in oil prices after 2003 led to increased interest in wind energy development as more and more people become aware that the world is running out of oil. It has led to interest in all forms of renewable energy increasing.
Modern wind farms
A wind farm is made of wind turbines, which are used to produce electric power. According to the Annals of the Association of American Geographers, “wind power is expanding faster than any other renewable energy resource”. The reason wind power is increasing in popularity is easy to see. The energy obtained from the wind turbines is clean and plentiful. The environmental impact of wind farms is also relatively minor when compared with other traditional forms of energy. When located on land, wind farms may spread over a large area of land but that land can also be used for agricultural purposes, as farm animals tend to ignore the turbines. Wind farms can also be located off shore. Building a wind farm out to sea has several advantages. Firstly, wind speeds out at sea tend to be much higher meaning that the turbines can harvest a greater amount of energy. Secondly, the largest reason for opposition to building on-shore wind farms is that they ruin the aesthetic beauty of the land. Building the wind farms off shore pretty much solves this problem completely.
As with everything, there are both advantages and disadvantages to large-scale wind farms. These pros and cons will be outlined and discussed in this paper in order to understand the bigger picture when it comes to using wind power.
Advantages of Large Scale Wind Farms
Wind power is becoming the fastest growing source of renewable energy and it has done for several reasons. By and large it is considered one of the “greenest” sources of renewable energy. The turbines themselves require no fuel to operate and emit no form of air pollution once operational. Of course there is a high amount of energy required to build, transport and set up each individual turbine. However the energy consumed in this process is usually the same as is produced by the turbine within about nine months of operation. This means that within a year of going operational, the turbines are providing clean energy to the grip and having no negative affect on the energy market what so ever.
Another advantage of building large-scale wind farms (in the case of on-land farms) is that although the turbines may be spread over a very large area, the land the turbines are built on can be used for other purposes. The most common use is agriculture. Animals are able to graze as they would anywhere else and tend to ignore the turbines despite them being massive structures. This gives wind power an advantage over some other sources of energy where the production site can only be used for that sole purpose. This is true with regards to large-scale solar power where a large, dedicated site is required. This advantage will no doubt be more significant to some countries than others. In smaller countries such as the United Kingdom, the amount of land available to be used for wind farms is not very high. Also, the population density in countries such as the UK is very high which is going to create many problems when trying to find suitable locations for wind farms. This is why it is more beneficial for wind farms to be built on land that can be used for farming thus being able to use the land to the greatest advantage. In larger countries such as the United States and China, the amount of land available is much higher so this will no doubt be much less of an issue.
Wind power is also one of the more reliable forms of renewable energy. Wind farms are obviously located in areas where the wind speeds are deemed to be consistent and high. The wind turbines generally require wind speeds of 16km/h or higher in order to be sustainable. This is a fairly lower figure in terms of the wind speeds experienced in some areas. Wind farms located off shore can reap the benefits of strong sea winds blowing over the water and use them to generate electrical power.
Disadvantages of building large scale Wind Farms
The largest opposition to building wind farms is that they are aesthetically unpleasant and ruin the natural beauty of the environment. The general opinion appears to be divided with some liking the way they look and others being strongly against them. The article entitled “Opposing Wind Energy Landscapes: A Search for Common Cause” from Annals of the Association of American Geographers highlights and discusses this issue.
This is one of the biggest driving forces behind building wind farms out at sea. When placed offshore, wind farms are much less visible and therefore deemed to be more acceptable by the majority of those against on-shore wind farms. However there are also similar issues with building offshore wind farms. Wind turbines are very large man made structures that can still be seen even when they are built a reasonable distance out to sea. A proposed wind farm of the coast of Dorset, England would consist of 333 wind turbines. If this proposed wind farm was built, the Jurassic Coast may lose its World Heritage Site status. Now whilst the wind farm would produce enough energy to power 820,000 homes, it could also have a severe impact on the Dorset tourist industry if the World Heritage Site status was revoked.
Ownership of the Wind Farms
What is also a significant topic with regards to wind power is who actually owns and controls the wind farms. Community wind farms involve wind farm projects being owned by local organizations such as schools, farmers, and businesses. More information can be found at http://www.energy4all.co.uk/home.asp, which is a company specialising in community based energy schemes.
However in recent times there seems to have been more of a trend of much larger companies being in control of the wind farms. Independent Power Producers (IPP) are entities that own facilities that generate electric power, which in turn can be sold to consumers. Eskom is an example of an IPP and an outline of what they do can be found on their website here: http://www.eskom.co.za/c/article/552/home/.
Approaches to greater abundance
Customer-owned wind farms (e.g., in Denmark)
Darrell Dodge, Illustrated History of Wind Power Development
National Renewable Energy Laboratory (US) - Wind Resource Assessment. Site with links to wind resource maps of the United States and of many other countries.
Norges teknisk-naturvitenskapelige universitet website: The historical development of the wind turbine.
Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) Wind Farm Policy
John K. Kaldellis*, D. Zafirakis (2011) “The wind energy (r)evolution: A short review of a long history”
Daily Mail, November 30, 2012. Jurassic Coast's status as World Heritage site in jeopardy from off-shore windfarm that would blight views across the Channel.
Wind Energy - The Facts (WindFacts), "a European project financed by the Intelligent Energy - Europe programme of the Executive Agency for Competitiveness and Innovation that ran from November 2007 to October 2009."
Bat Conservation Trust, Wind Farms and Wind Turbines: A position statement from BCT.
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