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18.2: Wind Energy

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    Wind energy arises from the motion of the air. It is driven by solar energy (differences in air temperature causes air currents). The wind turns a turbine, which powers a generator (figure \(\PageIndex{a}\)). The rotor blades of a wind turbine work like an airplane wing or helicopter rotor blade. When wind flows across the blade, the air pressure on one side of the blade decreases, and this causes the rotor to spin. The rotor connects to the generator, either directly or through a series of gears that speed up the rotation and allow for a physically smaller generator. Similar to the electricity generation from coal, natural gas, or nuclear energy, the rotating motion causes magnets spin within wire coils to produce electricity. According to the American Wind Energy Association, 39% of all new electrical generating capacity in the United States in 2019 was due to wind. 

    Diagram of the inside of a wind turbine, showing wind turning rotor blades, which powers a generator
    Figure \(\PageIndex{a}\): (1) As the wind blows over the blades of a wind turbine, it causes the blades to lift and rotate. (2) The rotating blades turn a shaft that is connected to a generator. (3) The generator creates electricity as it turns. Image and caption (modified) from EPA (public domain).

    Advantages of Wind Energy

    Wind is among the lowest-cost sources of renewable energy, and its expansion creates jobs (figure \(\PageIndex{b}\)). Like many renewable energy sources, wind turbines do not release air pollutants or contribute to climate change, and they do not require water for cooling. Because a wind turbine has a small physical footprint relative to the amount of electricity it produces, many wind farms are located on crop and pasture land. They contribute to economic sustainability by providing extra income to farmers and ranchers, allowing them to stay in business and keep their property from being developed for other uses. For example, energy can be produced by installing wind turbines in the Appalachian mountains of the United States instead of engaging in mountain top removal for coal mining. Offshore wind turbines on lakes or the ocean may have smaller environmental impacts than turbines on land, and winds are up to 50% stronger and steadier offshore than on land (figure \(\PageIndex{c}\)).

    Details about how Samsø uses 100% renewable energy
    Figure \(\PageIndex{b}\): The Danish island of Samsø was the first region in the country to transition to 100% renewable energy, relying on offshore wind, onshore wind, straw (a biofuel), and solar. The text in the image is, "Samsø : The Energy Self-sufficient Island. The first island to become complete energy self-sufficient in 10 years. Samsø: Island Facts— Area: 114 km2, Population: 4,000, Investment: DKK 368 million. 11 Onshore Wind Turbines— 1 turbine generates enough electricity to power 630 houses. The turbines transmit electricity to the mainland when more electricity than the island can consume is generated. Offshore Wind Turbines- 10 103-m-high offshore wind turbines constructed in 2003 produce more energy than the island uses for transport. 11 1-MW Onshore Wind Turbines generate 28,000 MWh. That's more electricity than the island's total consumption and the equivalent of 690,000 gallons of oil. 3X Straw-fired Plants— Traneberg- heats 263 households, Ballen/Brundy- heats 232 households, Onsbjerg- heats 76 households. Solar Plant- One of the heating plants receives heat from 2500 m2 of solar panels. This is combined with a 900 KW wood chip-fired boiler. Excess Energy- Excess electricity produced from offshore wind farms is invested in new energy projects. Images by GDS Infographics (CC-BY) and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (public domain).
    Tall, white wind turbines, each with three blades on a desert landscapeA row of tall, white wind turbine, each with three blades, floating at sea. Sailboats are tiny in comparison.
    Figure \(\PageIndex{b}\): Wind turbines may be on land (onshore, left) or in the ocean (offshore, right). Left image by Joshua Winchell/USFWS (public domain). Right image by CGP Grey (CC-BY).

    Disadvantages of Wind Energy

    Wind energy does have a few challenges. Wind turbines are only effective in regions with strong enough winds to generate sufficient electricity. Even in regions with strong winds, wind availability is intermittent. This can be mitigated by the use batteries to store energy, but battery capacity, despite continuous technological advances, is still limited. There are aesthetic concerns to some people when they see them on the landscape, and some people do not like the sound that wind turbine blades make. A few wind turbines have caught on fire, and some have leaked lubricating fluids, though this is relatively rare. Turbines have been found to cause bird and bat deaths particularly if they are located along their migratory path, although communication towers and domestic cats are bigger threats. There are some small impacts from the construction of wind projects or farms, such as the construction of service roads, the production of the turbines themselves, and the concrete for the foundations. 


    Modified by Melissa Ha from the following sources:

    This page titled 18.2: Wind Energy is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Melissa Ha and Rachel Schleiger (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative) .

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