Wind Power Explained Simply (The Science of Electricity)

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In addition, the wind is always blowing somewhere, so distributing wind turbines across a broad geographic area helps smooth out the variability of the resource. In practice, many utilities are already demonstrating that wind can make a significant contribution to their electric supply without reliability problems. Xcel Energy, which serves nearly 3.

In Colorado, Xcel recently relied on wind power to provide more than 50 percent of its electricity on several nights when winds were strong and power demand was low. Xcel has also produced 37 percent of its electricity from wind power in Minnesota under similar conditions [ 10 ]. There are also several areas in Europe where wind power already supplies more than 20 percent of the electricity with no adverse effects on system reliability. For instance, three states in Germany have wind electricity penetrations of at least 40 percent [ 11 ].

The challenge of integrating wind energy into the electric grid can increase costs, but not by much. Extensive engineering studies by utilities in several USregions, as well as actual operating experience in Europe have found that even with up to 20 percent penetration, the grid integration costs add only up to about 10 percent of the wholesale cost of the wind generation.

However, because wind has low variable costs, it can reduce overall system operating costs by displacing the output of units with higher operating costs e.

Energy 101: Electricity Generation

Increasing our use of wind power can actually contribute to a more reliable electric system. This gives grid operators greater flexibility to respond to such events. Promising developments in storage technology could also improve reliability in the future, though there is plenty of room to greatly expand wind use without storage for at least the next couple of decades.

AE Kids : Wind Power

Modern electric wind turbines come in a few different styles and many different sizes, depending on their use. The most common style, large or small, is the "horizontal axis design" with the axis of the blades horizontal to the ground. On this turbine, two or three blades spin upwind of the tower that it sits on. Small wind turbines are generally used for providing power off the grid, ranging from very small, watt turbines designed for charging up batteries on a sailboat, to kilowatt turbines that power dairy farms and remote villages.

Like old farm windmills, these small wind turbines often have tail fans that keep them oriented into the wind. Large wind turbines, most often used by utilities to provide power to a grid, range from kilowatts up to the enormous 3. In , the average land-based wind turbines had a capacity of 1. Utility-scale turbines are usually placed in groups or rows to take advantage of prime windy spots.

Wind "farms" like these can consist of a few or hundreds of turbines, providing enough power for tens of thousands of homes.

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From the outside, horizontal axis wind turbines consist of three big parts: Inside the nacelle is where most of the action takes place, where motion is turned into electricity. Large turbines don't have tail fans; instead they have hydraulic controls that orient the blades into the wind. In the most typical design, the blades are attached to an axle that runs into a gearbox.

The gearbox, or transmission, steps up the speed of the rotation, from about 50 rpm up to 1, rpm. The faster spinning shaft spins inside the generator, producing AC electricity. Electricity must be produced at just the right frequency and voltage to be compatible with a utility grid. Since the wind speed varies, the speed of the generator could vary, producing fluctuations in the electricity. One solution to this problem is to have constant speed turbines, where the blades adjust, by turning slightly to the side, to slow down when wind speeds gust.

Wind power

Another solution is to use variable-speed turbines, where the blades and generator change speeds with the wind, and sophisticated power controls fix the fluctuations of the electrical output. A third approach is to use low-speed generators. Germany's Enercon turbines have a direct drive that skips the step-up gearbox. An advantage that variable-speed turbines have over constant-speed turbines is that they can operate in a wider range of wind speeds. All turbines have upper and lower limits to the wind speed they can handle: The "cut in" and "cut out" speeds of turbines can affect the amount of time the turbines operate and thus their power output.

Though wind turbine prices have increased some since see below for more information , in areas with the best resources, wind power is cost competitive with new generation from coal and natural gas plants. In fact, analysis by the DOE Lawrence Berkeley Lab found that wind prices have been competitive with wholesale power since As wind power costs become more competitive, demand is growing exponentially all over the world. Global wind power capacity increased from just over 6, MW in to more than , MW by the end of [ 14 ].

Growth has recently been most significant in the United States, China, India, and Europe, but markets in Canada, and the rest of Asia and the Pacific are emerging quickly as well. Global Wind Energy Council. At the end of , the USwind power market reached more than 60, MW. As of , the United States had the second most installed wind capacity behind China total wind capacity: The PTC provides a 2.

Despite its being one of the primary drivers of wind development, the federal government has allowed the PTC to expire on three separate occasions since These lapses in the PTC led to a boom-bust cycle that drastically slowed the wind power industry for many months at a time. The PTC has remained intact since late , and was extended through as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of [ 18 ]. At the end of , Congress passed a limited extension of the PTC for wind projects that begin construction in [ 19 ]. State-level renewable electricity standards RES , also commonly called renewable portfolio standards RPS , require that a minimum percentage of electricity generation comes from renewable energy.

By creating demand for more renewable energy, these policies also work as a primary driver of USwind development. Nine of the top 10 states in total installed wind capacity have RES policies, and wind power accounted for an estimated 89 percent of the state RES-driven renewable energy capacity additions from to [ 20, 21 ].

In addition to serving the near-term market, the 29 states plus Washington, DC with renewable electricity standards are also designed to stimulate significant new development for years to come. Other state level policies are also driving the USwind power market, including renewable electricity funds and various tax incentives. In addition, voluntary green power markets and utility "green pricing" programs have resulted in a smaller, but quickly expanding market for wind development.

The DOE reports that in , more than 35 million megawatt-hours of renewable energy generation was sold in voluntary markets—a significant contribution to the total USrenewable energy supply, Wind power accounted for 83 percent of those voluntary sales [ 22 ]. With increasingly competitive prices, growing environmental concerns, and the call to reduce dependence on foreign energy sources, a strong future for wind power seems certain. The Global Wind Energy Council projects global wind capacity will reach , MW by , almost double its current size, with growth especially concentrated in the Asia and Europe [ 23 ].

Turbines are getting larger and more sophisticated, with land-based turbines now commonly in the MW range, and offshore turbines in the MW range.

Harnessing the Wind

The next frontiers for the wind industry are deep-water offshore and land-based systems capable of operating at lower wind speeds. Both technological advances will provide large areas for new development. As with any industry that experiences rapid growth, there will be occasional challenges along the way.

Like much of the USeconomy, the financial crisis has taken a heavy toll on the wind industry, slowing down the financing of new projects and stymieing progress of the growing USwind manufacturing industry. There are also concerns about collisions with bird and bat species in a few locations. But new manufacturing facilities, careful siting and management practices, and increased public understanding of the significant and diverse benefits of wind energy will help overcome these obstacles. Environmental Impacts of Wind Power. Besides showing that it could be done, it estimated that achieving this goal would create over , new USjobs, reduce global warming emissions by million metric tons per year about 20 percent , and save 4 trillion gallons of water [ 24 ].

Added to this list of benefits would be greatly improved air and water quality for future generations and much less vulnerability to fluctuations in fossil fuel prices. While getting to that level will require a determined national effort, wind energy is more than ready to meet the challenge. Global Wind Report Wind energy top source for new generation in ; American wind power installed new record of 13, MW. American wind power now generates over 10 percent of electricity in nine states.

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  4. Energy You Can Count On. National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Spatial and temporal distribution of USwinds and wind power at 80 m derived from measurements. Journal of Geophysical Research , doi: Anatomy of a Wind Turbine. Congress extends wind energy tax credits for projects that start in Renewable portfolio standards in the United States: A technical analysis of the energy resource.

    How Wind Energy Works

    Wind is caused by the uneven heating of the atmosphere by the sun, variations in the earth's surface, and rotation of the earth. Mountains, bodies of water, and vegetation all influence wind flow patterns [2] , [3]. Wind turbines convert the energy in wind to electricity by rotating propeller-like blades around a rotor.

    The rotor turns the drive shaft, which turns an electric generator. Three key factors affect the amount of energy a turbine can harness from the wind: As of the third quarter of , the U. Siting a wind farm varies from one location to another, but there are some important matters for land owners to consider: Wind power project or WPP involves development through own resources and manpower or by availing the technical services from consultant organisations: The amount of land required for a wind farm varies considerably, and is particularly dependent on two key factors: Typically, wind turbine spacing is determined by the rotor diameter and local wind conditions.