How Will Wind Power Affect Our Future?


The question “Is wind energy for real?” was posed in a Facebook post I saw this week. I was informed it was all just hype. My first thought was that if you were to go to the Southwest, you would be able to see firsthand wind power development. We in the Southeast and Northeast only occasionally see wind generators, so we don’t understand the significance of wind power for the future. Wind energy generation is rapidly expanding across Europe, especially in Germany. Tilting at windmills is no longer an accurate metaphor for the development of wind energy gathering. The use of wind power will play a significant role in the eventual phase-out of fossil fuels.

The declining price of wind energy to produce electricity is a significant factor in its growing popularity. Wind energy has reduced in price over the past three decades to become competitive with fossil fuels in terms of price per watt. Wind power in the 1970s cost $2.00 per kilowatt-hour (kW-h), and turbine blades were 32 feet long. Current federal incentives have brought the price of installing wind turbines with 130-foot blades down to about.05 cents per kW-hr. The price of wind energy is expected to decrease while that of fossil fuels is expected to rise.

Larger blades, as said before, are more effective in generating power. This is because a larger blade’s surface area attracts more wind. In the mid-1990s, 40 turbines were needed to provide enough electricity for a town of 8,000 people; today, a single, giant turbine is sufficient.

The efficiency of the wind turbine is the subject of much-continuing study on a global scale. Designs for turbines with blade spans of about 300 feet are now in development. Using blades of this size will reduce the price of wind energy until it is competitive with the generation of fossil fuels. Energy Unlimited, based out of West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, has patented a blade with a variable length so that they can make use of the longer blade. This cutting-edge feature lengthens or shortens in response to wind speeds. A controller at the tower’s base monitors wind speeds and automatically extends or retracts the inside blade as necessary. When the wind is too strong, conventional turbines must be turned off. The variable blade has been used as a prototype in the desert in Palm Springs, California, since 2002. More studies on turbine parts, blade forms, and wind forecasting are being conducted in universities and laboratories for the technically inclined. As a result of this study, wind turbine efficiency will increase, and the price of wind energy will decrease even further.

The use of wind turbines to produce electricity is rapidly increasing. As more efficient turbines enter the market, their introduction is the primary factor limiting expansion. From 2005 to 2006, global investment in wind power increased from $11.8 billion to $17.9 billion. By 2016, the market is expected to grow to $60.8 billion, according to a study by Clean Edge Research. Wind was the second-largest source of new generating capacity in the United States in 2006, behind only natural gas. The American Energy Association reports that 11.6 GW of wind-producing capacity was erected in the United States, an increase of more than 2.4 GW (or 27%), enough to provide electricity for roughly 2.9 million homes. The base cost of wind energy has dropped from roughly 80 cents/kWh to as low as 4 cents/kWh during the past 20 years, thanks to a significant R&D effort sponsored by the DOE and commercial collaborations. The cost of wind energy becomes very competitive, sometimes lower than conventional generation sources, when paired with the government tax incentives that provide an incentive of 1.9 cents/kWh for the first ten years of a project and other tax factors.

2006 Canada added 657 MW to its wind-producing capacity, bringing the total to over 1.3 GW. By 2010, the Canadian Wind Energy Association hopes to have achieved its target of installing 10,000 MW of wind energy, which would be enough to meet 5% of Canada’s total electricity demand. Achieving what Denmark has already accomplished—generating over 20% of its power from wind—is within Canada’s reach. Twenty percent of Canada’s electricity needs may be met by wind power, making it the country’s second-largest electrical generator behind hydro and ahead of nuclear power, natural gas, and coal.

The United States and Canada lag behind European countries in their use of wind power. In 2007, 8,554 MW of new wind turbines were installed across the European Union, an increase of 935 MW from the previous year. In a typical wind year, the 119 Terawatt hours generated by the total installed wind power capacity by the end of 2007 will provide 3.7% of the electricity needs of the European Union. Wind energy supplied less than 1% of Europe’s electricity needs in 2000. By 2020, the European Union member states have committed to using wind energy for 20% of their total generating capacity.

Many Asian countries are rapidly adopting wind power. In 2006, India increased its use of wind power by 1.8 GW. Suzlon Energy, headquartered in Pune, is the world’s most financially successful manufacturer of wind turbines. However, China expects to install more than 30 GW to power 30 million average Chinese homes by 2020. In 2006, China’s installed capacity was 2.6 GW.

The most frequently cited problems in adopting wind power are:

No way, not in my yard

Windmills are unsightly and noisy. Therefore, most people would rather not have them in their yards. I’ve noticed this to be especially true of ocean vistas. This is a considerable obstacle that must be overcome. It’s possible that a further-out platform is required for generating wind energy, which would increase transmission challenges.

Avian and bat mortality

This worry is fading away gradually. It has been proven in a small number of studies so far that the primary issue is the site chosen for the wind turbines. The turbines that are located in known migration routes are the most problematic. As a result, plans for the placement of future turbines take into account the potential impact on wildlife. Alternate blade colors and audible warnings are also under consideration as potential solutions to this problem.

Damages the Travel Industry

There have been some preliminary examinations of this viewpoint, but no definitive results have been drawn. If the turbines can be hidden from view, everyone is content, but this may not always be possible.

I am a Metallurgical Engineer with a BS and MS. Semiconductors have been developing for 36 years. Expertise in developing a business strategy for a new venture. Currently, I’m an oyster farmer keen on using solar power to reduce its impact on the planet. To see my blog, click here.

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