The search for alternative energy options has grown from what was once could be considered a handful of people compared to today, where a growing number of people are turning away from dependence on fossil fuels. One such option is harnessing the power of the wind using wind turbines, which have continued to benefit from technological advances over the past decade. Each year, the wind power capacity in the United States has increased by 30 percent from the previous year.
Wind is a Plentiful and Sustainable Resource
To fully understand the wind energy basics, it helps to know how wind is created. What many people do not realize is that wind is actually a form of solar energy. It is considered a byproduct of the sun. The sun’s rays heat the Earth unevenly because of surface irregularities, such as mountains, valleys and bodies of water. Because of these irregularities, the sun’s heat is absorbed at different rates, which produces wind in several ways.
For example, during the daytime, air over land heats faster than air that is over the ocean. The heated air expands and rises, which then draws in the cooler air that is over the water. This generates wind. When evening arrives, the process is reversed as the air over the land cools faster than the air over the water.
The Earth’s revolution around the sun also adds to the production of wind. Atmospheric winds are created because of the difference in land temperatures between the equator and the North and South Poles.
Provided the rays of the sun continue to heat the Earth, wind will remain a sustainable resource, unlike fossil fuels that are buried deep in the earth in limited supply.
Evolution from Windmill to Wind Turbine
Windmills have harnessed the energy of the wind for thousands of years throughout the world. From as early as 5,000 BC, wind energy was used to propel boats along the Nile and pump water and grind grain around 500 BC in Persia. Around 1,000 A.D. wind power had spread to The Netherlands where it was used to drain wetlands along the Rhine River.
During the last 150 years, windmills have been used in the United States to pump water and generate electricity from the kinetic motion created by the wind. Today, advancements in wind harvesting have led to the creation of the modern wind turbine. In 2013, the U.S. Department of Energy funded the deployment of the first grid-connected offshore wind turbine in the United States by the University of Maine.
How is Wind Energy Created?
The term wind energy refers to the process of harvesting the wind’s kinetic energy and converting it into mechanical power with a wind turbine. Situated at heights of 100 feet or more, wind turbines are able to catch wind that is less turbulent and faster than wind that is present at lower elevations. With two or three propeller blades that act similar to airplane wings form a rotor on the turbine’s shaft. Wind is pulled inward underneath the blade, causing the rotor to turn. When the lift is combined with the wind against the front of the blade, referred to as drag, the rotor spins like a propeller. As the wind turns the propeller blades on the wind turbine, the wind energy powers the turbine’s electric generator, which converts it to electrical current. This power is then used to pump water, grind grain or converted into electricity that can provide power to homes and businesses.
Wind turbines can be used as a stand-alone off-grid, combined with a photovoltaic/solar cell system or connected to a utility’s power grid. Wind plants or farms can be created from a large number of wind turbines to be used to supply power to electric providers instead of generating electricity from burning non-renewable fossil fuels, which pollute the Earth, such as diesel fuel or coal.
The potential for harnessing the power of the wind is limitless as there are plentiful amounts of wind to go around. For those who rely on solar energy, adding a wind turbine to their existing system will help increase the efficiency of their system. Wind energy provides numerous benefits between its sustainability and its lesser impact on the environment, thus making it a greener option for producing electricity throughout the world.