With energy issues becoming a daily subject in the news, wind energy is gaining notoriety. Here is an overview of wind farms and their potential.
An Overview of Wind Farms
A wind farm is simply a collection of wind turbines in a location used to produce electricity. Wind farms can be found in the United States, but are far more prevalent in Europe. China is also beginning to invest large amounts of resources in wind farms as its energy needs grow.
The fundamentals of electricity production through wind farms are pretty simple. Highly efficient wind turbines are placed in locations where they will receive the maximum amount of wind energy. These turbines can be traditional horizontal windmills or vertical eggbeater windmills.
Regardless, the wind turns the blades as it passes, which turns a generator within the turbine. The turning motion converts the wind energy into electricity when the generator cranks, which is then sent into a utility company power grid or stored in batteries. This process is similar to hydropower with wind being used instead of water.
The stereotypical wind farm is an exercise in topography. The goal is to find locations where wind exists as frequently as possible. Put in practical terms, ideal spots are in areas where ground variation occurs as wind is produced when different surface areas heat up at different rates. As each surface heats up, the air rises and cooler air rushes in to replace it. Thus, we have wind. Given this situation, ideal locations for wind farms are often along shorelines or in valleys funneling winds from the shore.
Many people are under the impression that wind farms are located only in areas of land where winds are howling through valleys and over hills. While this is certainly true, the current trend is to build wind farms off the shorelines of countries.
The advantage of offshore wind farms has to do with the frequency and generation of winds. Shorelines represent fertile wind generation areas. On top of this, the open space of the ocean allows winds generated from remote locations to move towards shorelines. If you have ever spent time going sailing, you have an understanding of how strong these winds can be. On top of all of this, placing wind farms in the ocean avoids the cost of buying pricey space on land.
Wind farms are up and functioning in most first world countries. The bigger issue is getting them to produce enough energy at as low a price as possible to make them a viable energy production platform.