How Wind Energy Works: Advantages And Disadvantages of Wind Energy
You can find them dotting the wind-swept countryside and off the coast. They occupy hillsides and airy plains. Wind turbines, the silent white sentinels powering more and more homes with wind energy.
Wind energy garners the respect of environmentalists, government bureaucrats, and energy companies alike. In a future devoid of fossil fuels, wind energy appears key to keeping the lights on.
It's easy to wonder, as the turbines spin at an almost imperceptible hum, how wind energy works.
Information about wind energy abounds. Many trusted resources offer wind energy definitions and explain the many the uses of wind energy.
Image Source: Pixabay
The facts from these resources help parse the advantages and disadvantages of wind energy.
But facts about wind energy remain dispersed around the web. It’s hard to find a single, authoritative definition of wind energy.
In fact, how wind energy works remains a mystery to many, despite its prevalence.
But don’t worry. We’ve weeded through the mess of information about wind energy. The result? This authoritative guide on wind energy, which:
- Provides a wind energy definition
- Explains how wind energy works
- Shows the uses of wind energy
- Gives a solid dose of facts about wind energy
- Lists the advantages and disadvantages of wind energy
This guide can get a bit detailed when explaining just how wind energy works, but we promise to keep it understandable.
First, let’s get navigate the history of this industry to arrive at a wind energy definition. Then, we can dissect a wind turbine and how wind energy works.
You may want to grab a kite…
Wind Energy Definition: The Evolving Uses of Wind Energy
Our modern wind energy definition includes electricity. But this current (pardon the pun) definition of wind energy dates back only a few decades.
Ask an ancient Greek for a wind energy definition and he or she will offer a much different answer. Humans have known how wind energy works and understood the uses of wind energy well before modern turbines.
One of the earliest and most common uses of wind energy? Sailing. Ships relied on windy days well before the wind energy definition meant electric power.
Image Source: Pixabay
Massive, above-ground propellers once used wind energy for other purposes. Windmills helped turn massive stones to, for example, grind wheat into flour.
And we cannot forget one of the most fun uses of wind energy: flying kites. It may seem silly, but the same wind energy definition used by kites applies to glider planes, blimps, and even airplanes.
The definition of wind energy has morphed to encompass all these various uses, making it hard to pin down.
Here’s a modern wind energy definition which encompasses all of these forms: using wind to generate mechanical motion to propel an object or transfer into another form of energy.
How Wind Energy Works: From the Air to Your Outlets
Wind turbines meet the definition of wind energy. They convert kinetic energy into mechanical energy capable of powering a generator.
Most wind turbines resemble cooling fans. They work like them as well — except in reverse.
Every turbine's propeller spins a shaft connected to a relatively standard generator — almost identical to ones powered by steam or coal.
Not all wind turbines look like above-ground propellers, though, as two types of wind turbines have become commonplace. The first, horizontal axis turbines, resemble propellers. The other, vertical axis turbines, spin in place like tops. Most look like oversized eggbeaters, and both have blades set at angles optimized for "catching" the wind.
One of the keys to how wind energy works is how hard the wind blows, which seems like one of the more logical facts about wind energy; the relationship, however, isn’t straightforward.
Turbines’ power generation capacity has a cubic relation to wind speed. In other words, an uptick in speed creates a cubed growth in energy.
For example, when wind speed doubles, it increases electrical output by a factor of eight. This is known as the “wind resource,” a quantitative measure of the wind’s ability to generate power. It takes into account how fast, how often, and when the wind blows at a certain location. The larger all three factors, the more wind energy a turbine can use.
The Uses of Wind Energy: Putting the Earth’s Moving Air to Work
But what are the exact uses of wind energy today? Information about wind energy from our sources shows that it’s everywhere, contributing to our current power grid.
Utility-grade turbines produce wind energy on a large scale, making between 100 kilowatts and several megawatts of energy. The larger the turbine, the greater its cost-effectiveness. And when these large turbines are arranged in larger groupings, they create massive wind energy harvesting “wind farms.”
These groups of turbines expand the wind energy definition to much larger scales. A decent-sized wind farm contributes significant wind energy to the electrical grid, making it one of the more efficient uses of wind energy.
Large-scale wind farms, especially located offshore, may be one of the most cost-effective uses of wind energy. Seaside winds generally blow harder.
But wind energy production via turbine isn’t limited to utilities. One of the main uses of wind energy is powering private homes. The site of a miniature wind turbine spinning atop a pitch roof has grown common. Especially in remote locations.
These smaller turbines’ wind energy often isn’t alone. They often work in tandem with solar photovoltaic systems or diesel generators. Small satellite dishes and water pumps also benefit from the uses of wind energy. These uses of wind energy most often appear in remote locations, far from a formal electric grid.
Facts About Wind Energy: Things You Didn’t Know
It seems simple enough: moving air spins propellers. But not all information about wind energy shows the full picture.
Did you know wind energy is actually a form of solar energy?
The sun’s effect on the Earth’s atmosphere varies from location to location. This sends pockets of air from one location to another — in other words, wind.
Our planet’s rotation helps, as do bodies of water and sharp changes in terrain. But it all begins with the sun.
Another one of the lesser-known facts about wind energy in modern times? It’s not as young as you may think.
The earliest electricity-generating windmills first appeared in the 1920s, helping power remote farms and locations well off the grid. The New Deal in the 1930s and -40s helped connect these locations to existing electric grids, reducing windmill need and stifling the growth of wind energy for decades.
Curiosity about wind’s energy potential didn’t arise again until the 1970s. An energy crisis forced the U.S. to revisit its information and stance about wind energy.
Image Source: Pixabay
The U.S. government funded research into the uses of wind energy. The resulting designs weren’t successful. But the resulting research did provide facts about wind energy used in today’s turbines.
The current era of wind energy didn’t arrive until the early 1980s. Then, smaller companies and entrepreneurs in California installed 15,000 mid-sized turbines. The state also provided tax incentives and funding for alternative energy sources. It was the first suceessful use of wind energy on a larger scale.
Information about wind energy spread. Thanks to federal funding and improvements in both the production of turbines and their efficiency, the industry took off in the late 1990s.
Wind energy remains one of the fastest-growing alternative power sources in the country. About 45,000 megawatts of wind energy were added to the grid worldwide in 2012, a 10 percent growth over the previous year.
Europe has been fueling wind energy’s growth with much more vigor, and for much longer. Some of its countries, such as Denmark, get nearly a third of all their power from wind energy. And as the U.S. begins investing more in offshore wind farms, wind energy’s contribution to the global power grid will only increase.
Wind Energy Advantages and Disadvantages: Information About Wind Energy’s Pros and Cons
Any discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of wind energy begins with environmental friendliness. Eco-warriors love wind turbines for not producing pollution of any kind. A lack of carbon dioxide always tops the list of "pros" when deciding wind energy advantages and disadvantages.
Wind energy advantages and disadvantages often begin and end with this fact about wind energy: it remains one of the cleanest and most-sustainable sources of power we have.
Wind energy generates electricity without emitting greenhouse gases and other pollutants, unlike its fossil fuel counterparts. This lack of greenhouse gases and toxic emissions dominates the advantages and disadvantages of wind energy discussions.
But the pros-cons debate doesn't end there. Wind energy advantages and disadvantages abound. Facts about wind energy also often overlook how safe the technology is.
Unlike nuclear or coal power plants, the many uses of wind energy do not have an inherent danger such as a nuclear leak or deadly pollutants. Both those producing and consuming wind energy face a lower risk of disease or accident.
Wind energy is also very adaptable, considering the size of the turbines. Few locations are physically off limits for wind turbines. They produce wind energy on land, atop hills, or even in the middle of large bodies of water such as lakes or oceans.
The advantages and disadvantages of wind energy seem to favor the former — pros always seem to outweigh the cons. Few can find fault in such a clean and plentiful energy source. But wind energy can also be finicky. You can’t build effective, efficient wind farms just anywhere.
Only certain locations generate the correct wind speeds, for a sustainable amount of time, with optimal air density, to merit a wind farm.
Discussions of wind energy advantages and disadvantages often overlook this inconvenient fact.
And not all winds are the same. Thanks to differences in air density, wind speeds may not be the deciding factor in wind energy potential. It’s one of the more unusual facts about wind energy.
For example, the winter winds of the northern plains states and summer winds of the dry southwest have different wind energy potential, even at the same speeds. This is due to variations in air density.
Deciding where to plant a wind farm is also costly. Assessing the viability of locations for wind farms requires time and funds. To date, the U.S. government and states have, for the most part, funded this search for wind energy potential.
The final and least-know disadvantage: modern wind turbines aren’t particularly efficient. They only capture a fraction of the wind’s actual energy. In some cases, as little as one-fifth of wind’s total energy is converted into electrical power, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.
These debates about the advantages and disadvantages of wind energy usually evaporate thanks to one of the key facts about wind energy: it’s still evolving. The wind energy advantages and disadvantages list will continue to change as the technology grows.
As research and experience guides each new iteration of the technology, the cons in the debate will slowly disappear.
Wind energy has done much of humanity's heavy lifting for some time. Well before it powered our homes, wind energy moved ships, ground wheat and pumped water.
The uses of wind energy have changed. Today, wind is much more likely to power your light bulbs than a millstone.
Information about wind energy keeps evolving as humanity invents increasingly clever uses for the technology. Still, the advantages and disadvantages of wind energy remain the same.
But wind's own behavior defines the advantages and disadvantages of wind energy. The discussion still surrounds a balance between clean energy and stringent requirements.
As wind energy evolves, so it will shake loose many of the disadvantages burdening it today. Combined with solar and a bit of human will power, wind may help drop the use of fossil fuels altogether.
AdvisoryHQ (AHQ) Disclaimer:
Reasonable efforts have been made by AdvisoryHQ to present accurate information, however all info is presented without warranty. Review AdvisoryHQ’s Terms for details. Also review each firm’s site for the most updated data, rates and info.
Note: Firms and products, including the one(s) reviewed above, may be AdvisoryHQ's affiliates. Click to view AdvisoryHQ's advertiser disclosures.