Renewable energy rundown: Wind energy
This is the second part in a SaveOnEnergy series discussing the ins and outs of different forms of renewable energy. Come back next week for part three.
Harnessing the power of the wind is not a new idea. In fact, humans have been using wind power for hundreds of years. From filling the sails of massive ships to the classic windmills powering grain mills, wind power has a long history.
In today’s time, turbines dominate the wind industry. While turbines are reminiscent of windmills, these innovative mechanisms differ greatly from their older counterparts in many ways. Texas leads the country in wind energy and has invested heavily in large turbine projects spanning over miles of land.
So, how do turbines capture wind power? Read on to learn the basics of wind energy.
What is wind energy?
The first question to ask is this: what is wind? Wind is moving air caused by uneven heating of the Earth by the sun, as well as the Earth’s rotation.
One example of this uneven heating is the daily wind cycle. As the EIA describes it, “During the day, air above the land heats up faster than air over water. Warm air over land expands and rises, and heavier, cooler air rushes in to take its place, creating wind.”
Interestingly, wind energy actually falls into a category of solar energy. If it weren’t for the sun using its power to unevenly heat the Earth’s atmosphere, we wouldn’t feel wind!
Through different kinds of technology, we have been able to harness the power of the wind and use it to generate electricity. Windmills were once the most popular method of generating wind energy, but now the main piece of technology used is the wind turbine.
What are wind turbines and how do they work?
Wind turbines appear similar to pinwheels – except they generally stand between 328 and 639 feet tall. Turbines are normally made predominantly from steel, fiberglass, and iron, along with small pieces made from copper and aluminum.
Wind turbines collect the wind’s kinetic energy when it flows over the turbine blades. As the wind flows over the blades, air pressure on one side of the blade decreases. This creates an uneven level of pressure on the two sides of the blade, causing a simultaneous lift and drag. The lifting force is more powerful than the drag, causing the rotor to spin. This rotor is connected to a generator, which transforms this kinetic energy into electricity.
In the past 30 years, turbine technology has improved significantly. The cost of manufacturing turbines has decreased while incentives to use wind energy have increased. In fact, wind power generation in the U.S. in 2000 was about 6 billion kilowatt hours (kWh). In 2019, U.S. wind power generation had risen to 300 billion kWh.
Texas dominates the wind energy market. The Lone Star State generates more than 26 percent of the wind power in the country. Despite the ongoing pandemic, many large turbine projects will resume or be completed on schedule.
What are the benefits of wind energy?
Wind energy is a form of renewable energy – meaning the Earth creates wind on its own on a consistent basis. Additionally, wind turbines are a cleaner alternative compared to oil and coal because they do not release harmful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
As more residents and companies are turning to wind energy, there is less demand for nonrenewable power sources. This can lead to a cleaner environment and may slow down the climate crisis.
That being said, wind turbines do have some impact on the environment. Turbine pieces are manufactured in factories that may be powered by those nonrenewable sources. Further, building large turbine farms normally requires construction on large pieces of land and can negatively impact the ecosystems where they are built.
Overall, investing in wind energy may have some short-term effects on the environment. However, the long-term benefits can outweigh the negative impacts.
Can wind energy power my home?
One of the biggest drawbacks to wind power is that is remains largely inaccessible for individual residents. While installing a single solar panel on your home’s roof is certainly possible, 600-foot turbines are not as easily obtainable.
However, that’s not to say that wind energy can’t power your home. Many energy providers invest in turbine farms and wind power projects, so they have access to electricity generated by wind. Because of this, these providers offer energy plans that can power your home using wind power (among other forms of clean energy). This can help you lower your home’s carbon footprint and may even lead to lower energy rates.
Many residents in Texas enjoy a deregulated energy market, meaning they’re free to choose an energy provider that offers green energy plans.
The following are the other entries in the series:
Renewable Energy Rundown: Solar
Renewable Energy rundown: Hydropower
Renewable Energy Rundown: Biomass
Renewable Energy Rundown: Geothermal
Caitlin Cosper is a writer within the energy and power industry. Born in Georgia, she attended the University of Georgia before earning her master’s in English at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.