energy technologies hold the key to curbing air pollution and global warming.
One of the oldest forms of energy harnessed by human beings, wind power
today is one of the most promising alternatives to our society's current
dependence on fossil fuels. Using advanced technologies, modern wind turbines
are able to produce electricity for homes, businesses, and even utilities,
with much less environmental cost than traditional fossil fuels. Wind
power, already one of the most widely used alternative sources of energy
today, will continue to prosper as new turbine designs currently under
development reduce the costs of wind power and make wind turbines economically
viable in more and more places.
Wind turbines are moved by the wind and convert this kinetic energy directly
into electricity by spinning a generator. They use air foils or blades
like the wing of an airplane to turn a central hub, which is connected
through a series of gears to an electrical generator. The generator technology
is identical to that employed by traditional fossil fuel generating plants.
Wind turbines range from small residential systems to large utility systems;
wind power systems are modular and can be scaled easily to any application
Currently, wind power is used extensively in four major types of applications:
- Remote Power
-- Small wind turbine systems are often the most inexpensive source
of power for remote sites. The turbines for this system are very simple
and can operate unattended for long periods at harsh sites. Common applications
include telecommunications, rural residences, and water pumping. Remote
power systems using small American-made wind turbines have been installed
in more than 70 countries around the world.
- Grid Connected
-- This application of wind turbines is widely used for producing electric
power on-site at homes, farms, and businesses which are already served
by a utility grid. Because the average wind turbine generates electricity
only 25 to 30 percent of the time, it may be important in areas where
winds are seasonal or where storage systems are not cost-effective to
be connected to the electric utility grid.
-- Wind turbine systems are most promising as sources of centralized
electric power. In the hills of Southern California, for example, thousands
of turbines are installed in wind power plants, known as "wind farms."
- Hybrid Systems
-- Remote wind power systems often incorporate additional generating
systems such as diesel generators and solar arrays. These "hybrid" systems
provide improved reliability of power supply and operational flexibility.
When the power from the wind turbine is not sufficient to operate the
load, the alternate power source comes on-line. The alternate source
is used far less frequently in a hybrid system than if the wind system
were not present.
While wind power
may be one of the most environmentally benign sources of power, wind energy
developers and environmentalists alike are concerned that bird deaths
from collisions with wind turbines could pose a major obstacle to widespread
deployment of the technology. In light of the problem, biologists are
trying to discover which factors precipitate these accidents so that engineers
can design turbines which raptors and other birds will be better able
to avoid. While the overall impact may be slight, the fact that there
is an impact at all shows that indeed there are costs to each and every
Despite some minor
bumps in the road, wind energy has received high praise overall from energy
and environmental experts, and offers utilities pollution-free electricity
that is nearly cost-competitive with today's conventional sources. Major
utilities that implement modern wind harnessing technologies into their
energy production strategies stand to gain significant economic advantages
while offsetting emissions of carbon dioxide and other harmful pollutants.
Wind power is just another example of how some of humankind's earliest
forms of energy provide a key link to a non-polluting, economically-viable
HISTORY OF WIND POWER
Wind power has perhaps the longest history of any of today's mainstream
or alternative energy sources. More than 5,000 years ago, the Egyptians
used the wind to sail ships on the Nile. Later, people built the first
turbines to grind grain.
These machines looked like paddle wheels and were used in Persia as early
as 200 B.C. By the 14th century, the Dutch had taken the lead in improving
the design of windmills. They invented propeller type blades and used
wind power to drain the marshes and lakes of the Rhone River delta.
In America, early European settlers used windmills to grind wheat and
corn, to pump water, and to cut wood at sawmills. By the early twentieth
century, small windmills were used for pumping water and electric power
generation in Europe, the United States, Africa, and elsewhere. In addition
to thousands of small wind electric generators, a few larger systems were
built in North America and Europe.
In the 1970s, increases in the price of oil and other fossil fuels helped
wind power return as an economically viable, alternative source of energy.
Governments all over the world, especially in North America and Europe,
instituted research and development programs. These efforts led to the
development of modern wind turbines, which have dramatically reduced the
cost of generating electricity from wind power.